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The Mature Traveler

Be Carefree on a Trip After You Take Precautions Against Theft

December 06, 1987|HANK KOVELL | Kovell is a veteran journalist in seniors' interests

Few things can shatter the enjoyment of a vacation more than the theft of money or valuables. Mature travelers are frequently the victims of bold daylight robberies because thieves assume them to be unable to attempt pursuit or because they may fear to take protective or retaliatory action.

The losses of valuables while traveling are not limited by any geographic boundaries. Large cities are easier for pickpockets, purse-snatchers and muggers to melt into the crowd or escape down familiar streets and alleys.

While law enforcement agencies around the world attempt to combat this scourge, they point out that much of the crime committed against mature travelers can be avoided by observing simple rules and common sense.

First on their list of suggestions is that expensive jewelry, wristwatches and valuable furs be left at home. Few travelers are impressed by what other tourists are wearing, and inexpensive yet attractive costume jewelry will serve for the occasional dress-up function. In the event that any of it is lost or stolen, it can be easily replaced from local boutiques at modest cost.

We are constantly reminded not to carry large sums of money while traveling and to use traveler's checks which, if lost, will be replaced by the issuing company. When bought from your bank, there is usually no charge for traveler's checks, yet an astonishing number of American travelers bypass this simple and inexpensive method of minimizing trouble on their vacations.

sh Safe-Deposit Box

Another means of protection is the hotel safe-deposit box; it's rare when a hotel does not offer this service, usually at no charge. Even the most hotels are not altogether free of the thefts or possibly a dishonest employee. It takes only a few moments when checking in to arrange for a safe-deposit box.

sh Items of Value

Plan on depositing in it your cash and traveler's checks, passport, airline tickets, jewelry, credit cards and other small items of value. When leaving your hotel to sightsee, take only what you will need for immediate use.

Strangers, whether in the United States or abroad, may not be as amiable as they appear, especially in pairs. It is wise to be suspicious of people who have no apparent reason for engaging you in conversation.

Don't permit any stranger to put his or her arm around you, or to otherwise touch you, as this is usually a ploy for him or an accomplice to pick your pocket or purse while you are distracted. These individuals are so clever and light-fingered that you may not know you have lost your wallet or other valuables until you get back to your bus or hotel.

According to law enforcement officials, one of the great mysteries to them are those trusting people who will leave suitcases, flight and camera bags or packages unattended in hotel lobbies, airports, bus stations and other public places while they visit the duty-free shop, restroom or newsstand. The sad excuse, "But I was gone for only a few minutes!" allows more than ample time for a fleet-footed thief to grab your property and disappear.

Equally as trusting, apparently, are vacationing couples on the beaches of the world or at poolside who think nothing of leaving wallets, cameras and wristwatches in a beach bag, under a towel or on a lounge chair while they frolic in the surf or pool. The refreshing dip may have been enjoyable, but the anguish suffered by the loss of stolen belongings will last for a long time.

Women are especially vulnerable because of having to carry purses, although losses from purse-snatching can be sharply curtailed by carrying only the barest of necessities for the day.

Even the simple precaution of carrying the purse on the side away from the street will discourage thieves whose specialty is to ride along on motor scooters and grab the purse strap of the victim. A clutch purse without straps and held under the arm is a further deterrent.

sh Buttons and Zippers

There is little that will thwart the determined pickpocket, but a pocket with a button is better than one without. A zipper is even better, although few items of wearing apparel have zippers on pockets. For men who must carry a wallet, an inside coat pocket or a front trousers pocket are better than a hip pocket. Some men's jackets now have Velcro fasteners on inside pockets.

sh Special Wallets

Many luggage and department stores feature a line of wallets for passports and money that can be hooked to the waistband of your slacks and that hang down inside the trousers. A similar item for women is one that hooks to a brassiere strap or other undergarment.

Another type can be strapped to one's leg just below the knee, but is useful only to those who wear slacks. Then there's the old standby, the money belt, which may be worn around the waist beneath outer clothing, out of view of would-be thieves. These items are available in lightweight fabrics, and are secured with Velcro fasteners.

The best advice: Take along asfew valuables as possible, get traveler's checks before your trip and use the free safe-deposit boxes offered by almost all hotels. Common sense applied to travel situations can result in a carefree travel experience for both young and old.

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