Travel safety: How to protect your home while you’re away, and protect yourself while away from home!

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Summer is prime traveling time. Many American families go abroad or visit family for extended periods of time in the summer, when children are on break from school. The sun is hot– who wouldn’t want to hit the beach?

It’s essential to remember that your house or apartment is still vulnerable to attack when you aren’t home. Check out these tips from the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security to protect your assets while you travel:

Home Security While You Are Away

  • Notify your RSO or PSO of your departure and return dates but don’t otherwise publicize your travel or vacation plans. Leave contact numbers with appropriate mission personnel.
  • Arrange to have a friend or colleague pick up your newspapers, mail, or other deliveries daily.
  • Secure your home. Close and lock all windows and doors. Don’t forget to lock garage or gate doors.
  • Consider purchasing timers to turn on outside and inside lights automatically at various times throughout the night.
  • Check outside lighting and replace older light bulbs. You don’t want a light burning out while you are away.
  • Ask a friend or colleague to check your residence periodically, ensuring your furnace or air conditioning is functioning and that timers and lights are working.
  • The decision to set the automated alarm system may vary from region to region. Power outages and brownouts may trip alarm systems. Check with your security officer for advice on setting alarm systems when you are away for long periods of time.
  • Unplug all unnecessary appliances such as televisions, stereos, and personal computers.
  • Mow your lawn just before leaving; make arrangements to have someone mow it again if you will be gone for an extended period of time. Also arrange for watering, if that is likely to be needed.
  • In the winter, make arrangements to have someone shovel walkways if it snows. At a minimum, have a neighbor walk from the street to your door several times.
  • If possible, ask a neighbor to park a car in your driveway (if you are taking yours).
  • If you use a telephone answering machine, turn off the ringer on the telephone. If you don’t have an answering machine, unplug or turn off ringers on all telephones.
  • Lock all jewelry, important papers, currency, and other valuable portables in a safe place such as a safe deposit box or home safe.
  • Ensure all personal and home insurance policies are up-to-date and that your coverage is adequate.

It’s also important to be safe while you’re traveling. At Self-Reliance Central, we’ve published other articles about travel safety, but here’s a quick refresher.

Personal Security While Traveling

  • Notify your RSO or PSO of your departure and return dates, but don’t otherwise publicize your travel or vacation plans. Leave contact numbers with appropriate mission personnel.
  • Check plane, train, and bus times before you travel.
  • Sit near other people or near aisles or doors. Learn the location of emergency alarms and exits.
  • Stay awake and alert when using public transportation.
  • Consider purchasing special clothing or accessories to hide your passport, money, or credit cards. Keep the majority of your funds in travelers checks and hidden; carry some in your wallet or handbag. Use a money clip. If you are robbed, you may lose the money in the clip but will retain important credit cards and documents.
  • Keep valuables out of sight and luggage close at hand. If carrying a handbag, keep it in front of you, closed, with the fastening toward your body. Keep a wallet in your front pants pocket.
  • Let go if your bag is snatched!
  • Do some research on the area you are visiting. Talk to your security officer or consular colleagues regarding travel advisories or warnings.
  • When traveling, dress casually; dress down where appropriate. Be aware of local customs.
  • Don’t wear excess jewelry. Reduce wallet and purse contents, particularly cards denoting affiliations, memberships, accounts, etc.
  • At airports, proceed through security checks and go to the boarding area as quickly as possible. These areas are usually the most secure in the airport.
  • In any crowded situation, be aware of any crowding or jostling, even if it appears innocent. This is often a ploy by pickpockets to distract you.
  • Be very careful any time you use a telephone calling card. Fraudulent uses of these cards are on the rise. Look for people observing your card or your fingers as you dial your code. Avoid being heard giving the number to local telephone operators.

And if you’re staying in a hotel, it’s especially important to be wary. Since you will not know the hotel’s layout as well as your home or a relative’s house, it’s even harder to protect yourself and your belongings. Here are some things to remember:

Personal Security in Hotels

  • Do not discuss your business or travel plans in public areas where they may be overheard. Discuss your travel plans and movements during your stay with as few people as possible.
  • Selecting a hotel room on the third to fifth floor generally will keep you out of reach of criminal activity from the street but still within reach of most fire truck ladders.
  • Do not entertain strangers in your hotel room.
  • Be alert to overly friendly locals who may have criminal intentions. They may offer to take you to a “special” restaurant. Their ruse may be to offer drugged refreshments.
  • Never leave valuables in your hotel room exposed or unattended, even in a locked suitcase.
  • Place valuables–money, jewelry, airplane tickets, credit cards, passport–in a hotel safe deposit box or room safe.
  • Familiarize yourself with escape routes in case of fire or other catastrophe.
  • Use the door chain or bolt lock whenever you are in your room. And pack a small rubber or wooden doorstop when you travel. Many doors don’t have locks. A doorstop will definitely prevent intruders.
  • Use the door viewer (peephole) before opening the door to visitors.
  • Do not discuss your room number while standing in the lobby or leave your room key on restaurant or bar tables.
  • Keep your room neat so you will notice disturbed or missing items quickly.Stay safe, travelers!