Friday, January 24, 2014

Travel Safety - 12 Easy Tips

While visiting the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, I attended a fascinating and informative lecture on travel safety titled “Street-Wise Travel Skills – A Traveler’s Guide to Staying Safe.” The session was led by Detective Kevin Coffey, founder of  and a 33-year police veteran.  And wow, he really knew what he was talking about!  I feel like I’m a pretty safe traveler but about 10 minutes into his talk, I realized that it’s a miracle that nothing bad has happened to me while traversing the planet.

Detective Kevin Coffey in action at the LA Times Travel Show
My travel safety mantra is this: Blend in, keep my eyes open, and use common sense. And it’s worked well for me so far. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the next time I travel I will be employing some of Detective Coffey’s tips!

Here are my 12 favorite safety tips from “Street-Wise Travel Skills – A Traveler’s Guide to Staying Safe”

1. Place your overhead luggage on the other side of the aisle

Think about it. While travelling on a plane/train/bus, if your luggage is over your head, you can’t really see what’s going on above you. If someone sticks their crotch in your face and says “Excuse me, I just need to get something out of my bag” your natural instinct is to look away. So now if they do take something from your bag, you’re not even looking up. If you place your bag across from you, you can see if others are digging around in your stuff.

2. Place your bag upside down and backwards in the overhead bin.

Additionally, you can make it just a little harder for someone to steal something out of your over head luggage by making it less accessible. If you place it upside down, wheels out/opening towards the back, then a potential thief will have a much more difficult time accessing your belongings.


Notice how easy it would be to open up the blue tote and grab something

3. Say what denomination bill you are handing over


You’ve been flying for hours, you just left the airport, you‘re in a taxi and eager to hit the hay. You hand the taxi driver a 50 but a few moments later he says “This is a 5, you owe me more money.” You could’ve sworn you handed him a 50 but at this point instead of arguing, you’d rather get on your way, so you hand him more money. This “bill switch-aroo” is a common trick but the fix is easy. Before you hand over your money to someone say “I’m not familiar with your currency, this is a 50 right?” Say it out loud so you both must acknowledge the value of the cash exchanged.


4. Put ID inside your luggage


Luggage tags get ripped off all the time. Once it’s gone, how will the airline contact you? Simply place your contact information inside your luggage. It’s that simple.

5. Never, ever give your credit card number to someone who has called you

This is something you should probably practice in everyday life but especially when you are traveling. In this scam, someone calls your hotel room pretending to be from the front desk. They say something is wrong with your credit card and they need the number right away. Usually they are very apologetic for bothering you so they promise you a free night or complementary dinner. But of course, it’s not the front desk calling, it’s a scammer. 


Whenever anyone calls you and asks for a credit card number, call them back using a trusted phone number, or walk down to the front desk.

6. Fake pizza parlor scam

This one really shocked me.  In this scam, fake pizza parlor fliers are distributed around the hotel. You’re starving for some pizza and it’s such a great deal that you call and order. Only you didn’t call a pizza joint, you called a thief’s garage and handed over your credit card information. Make sure it’s a real place or try to pay in cash.


If you are reading this, make sure your pizza is real

7. Pigeon poop or ketchup stain scam

Gross, I know. This scam involves several people. One squirts you with something fowl, another rushes over to “help” you out and starts wiping away, while yet another person skillfully unzips your bag and steals something valuable. The fix here is simply to be very aware and guard your belongings. Especially when there is fake poop involved.  Detective Coffey showed us a video of this scam in action and I was shocked by what a precisely orchestrated dance the thieves pulled off.

8. Loop your purse/bag strap around your chair

Most of us are guilty of this. We just dump our bag or purse wherever we sit down. Detective Coffey showed us some more videos of crooks grabbing purses at restaurants and backpacks in internet cafes. By simply hooking your bag through a chair or slipping a chair leg through a strap you can prevent a thief from snatching it up.

9. Take your items out of your bags before you get to security

Take your personal belongings (wallet, money clip, keys, watch etc.) out before you get to the security gate and place them a Ziploc bag. The idea here is that no one will see you fussing with your things and be tempted to snatch up your cash or nice watch. And if your things are in a bag you won’t accidentally leave a valuable item behind in the bin.


In this mess it's easy to leave something behind in the bin or drop it


 - In addition to these tips, there are also some inexpensive items you can purchase to make travel a little safer. There are obviously tons of products out there that offer additional safety and security but these are few new ones that I hadn’t used before -

10. Luggage Lock – 1 item, 3 problems solved

Take a moment and go find your backpack or luggage.  Then take a pen and insert it into the zipper. What happened? It popped right open! Putting a lock on your zipper won’t keep out a thief, as they can easily pry open the zipper and simply slide the locked fasteners back over the zipper to close it back up.


A demonstration of how easy it is to open and reclose luggage


You can purchase expensive luggage that won’t allow the zipper to be opened, however, there is a cheaper alternative that is almost as good!  Use a TSA approved luggage lock to secure the zipper fasteners to the handles of your bag.  If the zipper is opened, it cannot be zipped back together because the fasteners won’t move. Not only will this deter the bad guys from taking things out of your bag (since they know they won’t be able to close it back up), but it could also prevent another frightening crime where smugglers insert illegal items into your bag before a security checkpoint and then remove them on the other side.



The lock can also be used as a tether to secure your bag to furniture in your hotel room. Another scam involves a thief entering your hotel room while it’s being cleaned. They tell the staff they forgot something, maybe give them an extra tip, grab your bag and go. By tethering your bag to a piece of furniture, you make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for someone to casually pick it up and steal it.

11. Zipper Lock

As the name might suggest, this little device locks your zipper fasteners together. While not an optimal solution for luggage, they are quite effective at thwarting pickpockets.  During the lecture, we watched several videos of thief after thief gingerly pulling open the zipper of a backpack and stealing its contents. This tiny little lock will make it much more difficult for someone to pull apart your bag. It works like a carabineer so you have to put in a little extra effort to get it open.  These locks are especially useful when you are walking around and standing in crowds.


Zipper locks hold your fasteners together

12. RFID blocking products

It’s too bad that these days we not only have to worry about pick pocketing, but also e-pick pocketing too! RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification Devices. The tiny transmitters are embedded in ID cards, credit cards, and passports. They contain your financial and personal information that cyber thieves can steal with an RFID scanner. To protect your electronic information you can place your items in a variety of RFID blocking wallets and pouches. They are made of thin metal mesh that shields your personal information for the scanners.


There is never a sure way to guarantee the safety of all your belongings, but as long as you use common sense, keep your eyes open and wits about you, and maybe utilize a few gadgets, you will have a much better chance of enjoying your vacation without letting the bag guys win.

Quick disclaimer, I have no affiliation with, nor did I receive anything in exchange for this post. I just really loved Detective Coffey’s presentation and hope you will be a little safer after learning these tips! Check out Travel Nightmares! How to avoid them & how to deal with them, Travel NON Essentials – Things you think you need to pack but don’t, and Travel Essentials You Didn't Think to Pack for more travel tips!  

Liked these tips? Have a story of your own? Drop leave me a comment or share with your friends! =) Thanks!



  1. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed them! =)

  2. Those are great points. I consider myself a pretty safe traveler too but he made some points there that I didn't think of. I've had people try to slip by me with my money all the time when shopping overseas. Never works but still. I never thought of just calling out the denomination of the currency that I was handing to them.

  3. I always split my money across people if i am travelling in a group or keep them in different pockets to make sure i always have money if i end up losing luggage or getting robbed.

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