May 20, 2010

In case of emergency...

We've all heard of  tourists being robbed (not at gunpoint or anything like that) when they were unaware of their belongings under various circumstances. It could be on a commuter train where the getaway was easy (read this) or in an extremely crowded tourist spot, like the Eiffel Tower on New Year's eve. And until my friend here in Paris, NN lost all her belongings at a beach in Spain, the magnitude of the deed didn't strike me. I mean, while we all know we have to be careful with our things to the best possible extent, not too many of us are prepared for the worst-case-scenario where the thief succeeds. She for one, lost all her papers - her passport, her French residence permit, student IDs, etc., all her keys - home, office, hotel room, all her money - cash, ATM cards, credit/debit cards, her return tickets to France and her mobile phone (which means she had none of her contacts)-  all with her handbag which she had set down next to her for a second while taking a picture of the sunset on the beach. Yes, she shouldn't have set it down. But on a vast, open space of a beach, you think it's fairly unlikely for someone to swindle you of all your belongings in one millisecond. Yet it did happen. What then? Luckily for her, she was traveling with a friend who was able to buy their tickets back and with a police report, she didn't need emergency travel documents for within the Europe. And because of the friend and all their reservations and the common nature of touristic fraud, they weren't required to disprove any illegal entry. She was able to travel back here and in a quick act of non-bureaucracy, she was able to get most of her papers replaced under a week's time. Of course it cost her heavily, but nonetheless.

Which set me thinking. What if you were traveling alone and this happened? And the thought was truly scary. What if indeed all was lost and you were alone, penniless in a foreign country? Sure you could get to the hotel somehow and scarper the rest of your belongings and owe a fine on your credit card for the keys. But what about your way back? You'd probably have to call a friend (on hotel charge) and have them wire you some immediate money to some place known and what not. Everything, a far bigger hassle than you'd want to find yourself in. And not worth any trouble at all. So what do you do?

1. Do not carry your most important papers when you are out sightseeing. Most hotels have safe deposit boxes with locks, the keys of which you can carry. It's probably prudent to stow it away there on hotel property and risk it on their safety procedure than carry it with you in a bag and risk the million thieves out there out loose. Better yet, if possible stash it on the inner coat pocket or something similar which remains close to you at all times (unless you remove your jacket at a restaurant and hey presto, it's gone again). This includes your return tickets, and other things that you wouldn't immediately be using in your short outing of the place.
2. Money matters. Weird as it may sound, it's best to leave some cash (a couple of 100 bucks) taped to your passport (in which case we assume you keep your passport safe) or inside your toiletry /makeupkit or in an equally unlikely place as a backup. And again, maybe it's best to avoid bulky wallets and the likes, which are primary targets anyways.
3.Contacts. Emergency contacts are there for a reason. Like for health emergencies and for situations like this. Either carry their information on some part of your luggage or have them memorized. Or have them stowed away in your email which you can hopefully access freely enough, thanks to all the hotels now having atleast lobby-enabled free wifi.

None of these apply to youth hostels. If you are staying in youth hostels, it's best to travel light, carry all your terribly important things, which should be minimal, on your person.

Is there anything I missed out? Is there anything you'd handle differently? Other than hitch hike your way back into town? Voice up.


Musing Gal said...

This reminds me.. often done mistake by Women... Please please put your handbags somewhere you can always see in the restaurants dont keep them under the table or hang on the chairs and forget it. When you come back for it later it may not be there. Leave it on your lap or on the table so you can see it.

Shantosh said...

Excellent tips. I am going to get the mini phone book, which I used in my school days, just in case I lose my cell phone. Old is gold..

Jaya said...

Musing Gal-> Thanks for the footnote. True.. people are so preoccupied with whatever they are doing that they tend to forget the most valuable of things. And so even though a restaurant can try to be cautious and stow away your stuff, it isn't their responsibility and they certainly aren't to blame if one misses things. It would be prudent to take a quick look around any place you sat around for a while, be it a park bench or a train seat. 5 seconds of watchfulness could save a whole lot of trouble. Thanks for the tip and the comment and keep visiting :)

Shant-> Thank you :) Apparently sometimes, old is gold. Thanks for the comment and keep visiting!

Madhumathi said...

This post reminds me when i just forgot to pick up my handbag in a restaurant. It hanged there on the back of my chair & when tummy was full, i just walked off not realising abt my handbag.. Only when i went half distance to home, i realised something was amiss. V rushed to the restaurant; apparently the next occupiers of tht seat had handed over to the manager. I got my handbag :) Till that moment, i was so tense thinking of all the things i had lost & wht effort it would take to have them replaced!!!
I am more careful for sure now:)
Hey..all this hap'd in Bangalore itself :), now i can imagine wht can happen in a foreign land.

Jaya said...

Madhumathi-> Well your experience proves there are good Samaritans out there. But on the other hand only those looking to steal will have anything to do with anyone else's belongings. Like in the case of my friend, I think the person who stole it for just there for the cash. It's too risky in any case using someone else's stolen documents and it was unlikely they were going to misuse that or use the credit cards (unless for Internet purchases). But then, I would think they could just leave the bag somewhere unattended for the police to find and restore to the owners who are only worried about retrieving their documents. But what the hell am I talking about? This is no ideal world and no one who thinks of the other person's loss would steal. It's a weird paradox. Thanks once again for the comments and visiting!

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