“How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.” ~Salman Rushdie
More than a few people have been asking me if I’m going to stay home in light of everything that’s happening in the world, and some are not-so-delicately telling me they think I’m crazy to travel.
“Look what’s happened in France (or Turkey),” they say. “I wouldn’t go near Paris (or Istanbul).”
“The people in Nice were just celebrating,” others will tell me. “I hope you aren’t going anywhere near there.”
“I can’t believe you aren’t going to cancel your trip,” a few comment. “I’m staying home where it’s safe.”
No offense—especially if you are one of the ones who has said any of that to me—but the United States is no safer than any other place in the world right now. Orlando. Dallas. Baton Rouge. Those are just the last three incidents here. By the time I’m done writing this, heaven knows what will have happened on US soil. In addition, unless my geography is way off, Italy is not in France, nor is it in Turkey.
Mike and I talk about this often, and I recently wondered if any place really is safer than any other?
“Alaska,” Mike said to me “I think Alaska’s pretty safe. Not too many people live there, and the state is just too darn big for terrorists to even consider doing something there.”
My dear husband is right, but I ain’t-a-going to Alaska again this summer.
But, let me be honest. I am a bit nervous. Anyone who says he/she isn’t is probably lying. My main concerns are my connecting flights (Germany) and picking up my group (one night in Rome). No matter what, though, I’ll be on my guard and follow my eight rules for staying safe.
1. Enroll in STEP. STEP—Smart Traveler Enrollment Program—is a free service that allows you to register with the government when you travel internationally. In addition to sending you travel warnings and advisories, the program is there to help you in an emergency. When we were in Barcelona two years ago, we received a number of warnings about possible demonstrations by Catalan nationals. We stayed away from the affected areas and had no problems. I also always have the number of the nearest consulate with me in case I need it.
2. Be Prepared. I think a lot of people have problems because they have not completed the preparations for their journey. Make copies of your passport, give one to a family member who is staying home, and keep at least one other with you and away from your real passport. If you are taking credit cards with you, give the numbers to a family member. When the robber broke into our apartment in the middle of the night, we were able to get in touch with our son immediately and have him cancel our credit cards before the robber could use them. Leave a detailed itinerary with addresses and phone numbers with that same family member. Finally, take at least some of the local currency with you so you can buy a coffee in the airport or pay for a taxi as soon as you arrive.
3. Call Your Credit Card Company. While this is really part of #2, it’s very important and should stand on its own. Before you leave, call your credit card company and let them know where you are going, when you are leaving, and when you’re returning so that they do not freeze your account. In addition, check your credit limit so you don’t overspend. Finally, if you don’t already have a credit card with a chip, request your bank send you one.
4. Don’t Draw Attention to Yourself. I always tell the people who travel with me to fit in. For example, I advise that they wear clothes like those that Italians wear—no shorts, really bright colors, sleeveless tops, flipflops—and that they don’t wear flashy jewelry, carry expensive cameras, or talk loudly. (You may think it’s a joke, but Americans have a reputation for being loud and flashy. Unfortunately, a few of them give all of us a bad rep.)
5. Carry Decoys. I once read that it’s a good idea to carry fake credit cards (or wallet) with you that you can throw at a thief should the need arise. How, you might ask, do you do get a fake credit card? I constantly get credit card offers in the mail, and a lot of them include a fake card. I save those and bring the with me. I’ve never had to use them, but I like the idea.
6. Separate Cash & Credit Cards. Do not keep all of your cash in the same place, and don’t keep your credit cards with the cash. I suggest keeping a small amount in an easy-to-reach place and additional cash in another safe location—money belt, neck wallet, etc.
7. Don’t Engage Beggars. Beggars are all over big cities, and one of the worst things you can do it give them money. I find that the easiest thing to do is walk by them without looking at them. Saying, “Nein! Nein!” (“No” in German) is also discouraging.
8. Be Aware. The biggest advantage you can have is being aware of your surroundings. Don’t take shortcuts unless you know where you’re going. Don’t constantly look at your smartphone while you’re walking. Don’t walk with a map in front of your face. Watch that no one is following you down an uncrowded street. The only time I felt uncomfortable being by myself in Europe was when I was in Modena and some guy tried to engage me while I was walking down a main street in town. Unfortunately, no one was around, but I finally found an open green grocer and walked in there. When I left, I went the long way to get to the train station so I could stay on the main road and not accidentally bump into him again on some side street.