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Advice & More July 2014

Potpourri: Tips to Help You Travel Smart and Safe this Summer

By Teresa Ambord

You could also purchase a tracking device which goes in your bag, deactivates in the air, reactivates on the ground and sends you a message telling you where it is. No kidding. Go to to find out more about this small electronic device.

Here are some tips gleaned from interviews with world travelers, from personal experience, and mostly from a great book you might want to check out, called How to be the World’s Smartest Traveler, by Christopher Elliott, also known as TWST, The World’s Smartest Traveler.


Reducing the Chances Your Luggage Will Be Lost

Before you go to the airport, make copies of your itinerary and store one in each bag, plus an extra luggage tag in each. Outside tags go missing sometimes. But things can go wrong before you get to the check-in counter. (from TWST)

I remember a somewhat terrifying moment while riding the shuttle from the parking lot into the airline terminal, headed for my Caribbean cruise. I’d stowed my dark red bag in the luggage area as the driver whipped around the giant parking lot, picking up other passengers. Another lady got on and stowed her dark purple similar bag near mine.

We arrived at her terminal first and she got off. Just before she disappeared into a terminal, I noticed the bag she was pulling looked familiar. A quick check of the baggage area showed hers was still there, mine was gone. Thank goodness the driver was quick and corrected the situation before she and my bag disappeared. I’ve thought about that incident many times, realizing that my bag had zero identification in it, so I might not have never seen it again. And I would’ve gone on a cruise with very little of anything. After reading TWST… this won’t happen again.


Other “Checked Baggage” Wisdom from TWST

At check-in, before your bag disappears into the belly of the airport, take a look at the three letter airport code representing your destination. TWST says the three letter abbreviations for airports are not always what you’d expect. That’s how a lot of bags go on trips, without you, to parts unknown.

Also, before letting it go, take a picture of your bag. It could help locate it, especially if it is unusual. On one cruise, a bright green bag was misdirected and its picture appeared on the in-cabin TVs until someone said, “hey I’ve seen that bag,” It was recovered.

You could also purchase a tracking device which goes in your bag, deactivates in the air, reactivates on the ground and sends you a message telling you where it is. No kidding. Go to to find out more about this small electronic device.


Driving and Traffic Outside the United States

According to TWST, you do not generally need an international driver’s license to drive in a foreign country (with some exceptions, like China or Russia, so check the specific country). Generally your U.S. driver’s license is suitable.

But traffic… that’s another story. You’ll need to be far more careful whether in a car or as a pedestrian. In many countries, cars drive on the opposite side of the road, but also, many have almost no traffic regulations.

In 2011 I went on a Caribbean cruise with a large group. The first port was Grand Cayman, where many of us went shopping. A friend stepped into what looked like a crosswalk, and in a split second, found himself rolling over the hood of a car that was rounding a corner. He wasn’t seriously injured, but spent the rest of the cruise in pain, limping around the ship and ports. He was simply obeying the traffic rules we’re used to in the United States. Bottom line… don’t count on it.


Your Passport

TWST says it can take up to six weeks to receive your passport, so if you need one, plan well in advance. Also if yours has been around awhile, he recommends you update it about nine months before the expiry date.

Here’s my experience with getting a passport. I was advised to go to a well-known portrait studio located in a big box store to get my passport photos. I told the photographer these were passport photos. Got them, took them to the post office to process the application, and was told they wouldn’t do. Why? In the photos my head was turned slightly to the right (to capture my good side!) and I was slightly smiling. Two no-nos, evidently. Be smarter than I was (and smarter than the photographer evidently) and make sure when your passport photo is taken you forget vanity, look straight into the camera and think about something serious like root rot.

I did get a refund at the portrait studio, as my receipt clearly stated the purpose was for a passport. In the end, the photos were redone at the post office, where I was properly advised.


Simple Courtesy

My niece has taught me much, after her extensive travels in Europe. I asked for her best tip, and she told me that Americans traveling abroad have become known for rudeness. She learned to say a few key words in the language of each country.

“Know how to say please, thank you, and how to ask if a person speaks English.” More importantly mind your manners and use those pleasantries.

Why are American tourists rude? I choose to believe these tourists simply assume they would not be understood, rather than smacking all Americans with a lack of courtesy label. But the upshot is, we often do appear to be rude people, whatever the reason. My niece also found most people were willing to help her if she tried to communicate in their language at least a little. “It shows respect for where you are.” Good advice, wherever you travel, domestic or abroad.


Your Wallet or Purse

TWST advises that you carry your pocketbook strapped to your shoulder, on the side not by traffic. So if traffic is on your left, wear your purse on your right side. Would-be thieves know you are distracted by the wonders of new sights to see, so “drive by” muggings are not uncommon in some areas. Don’t be easy pickings. Also, says TWST, your bag should be a decoy. Keep your serious money, credit cards, ID in an inside pocket, or possibly in a belt with pockets which is concealed under your clothing.

Personally I find whether I’m walking, even here at home in a store parking lot, there’s always a chance someone will ask me for a handout. They all have stories of being stranded or robbed or hungry. Who knows if the stories are true? I try to trust my instincts. I also try to remember before I leave home, to stick a little money in an easily accessible pocket. That way, if I am inclined to give the person something, I can quickly access a couple of dollars without opening my purse or wallet close enough that someone could reach out and abscond with it.


One More Thing…

Did you know, the last two weeks of summer are the heyday for pickpocketers? Those inclined to steal may view it the same way we view the end of a great clearance sale… “better grab a deal now while the getting is good.” More than ever, if you’re traveling during that time, be aware of how you carry your valuables.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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