If you're heading off for a summer vacation in the weeks ahead, there's something more than just sunscreen and traveler's checks that you'll want to pack — your common sense.
That's the advice of travel safety expert Bob Arno, who says it is "the easiest way to avoid getting pickpocketed or scammed while you're on the road." Unsuspecting tourists, unfortunately, can be easy prey for thieves.
So how can you protect yourself and your family — and still have a great time? Here's Arno's advice.
Before You Depart
When you research your destination, Arno says it is important to check on crime and security issues, too. The U.S. State Department's Travel Advisory Web site (www.travel.state.gov) can help with specific warnings from around the world. Local tour guides and hotel personnel are also good sources.
You can then adapt your awareness level to the specific situation. Example: Sneak thieves prey on tourists watching street entertainment. Remedy: Enjoy the entertainment, but keep a hand on your valuables.
If your destination is considered volatile or unpredictable, Arno suggests you make photocopies of all travel documents, including tickets, passports and itineraries. Carry them separately from the originals.
Arno's favorite luggage: Lockable, hard-sided bags, preferably aluminum. Attach two labels listing your name, country and e-mail address. Do not affix your street address to your luggage; that would tell a perpetrator the location of your empty home. Thieves can inform their partners-in-crime that your home is open for business. Put a third label inside the case.
Arno suggests you find out whether your hotel has an in-room safe. Ask if it will be large enough for your valuables and equipment (laptop, expensive camera). If not, your hard-sided luggage, if it has good locks, can double as a safe. It is less likely that an entire suitcase would be stolen from a hotel room than a small, valuable item. Plus, many hotels also have safe deposit boxes at the front desk.
For high-threat destinations, it is essential to use local escorts at all times. Plan to be met at the airport or other arrival point.
After You Arrive
You should try to project confidence and awareness on the street, says Arno. Con men and thieves are quick to pick up on who is vigilant and who is vulnerable. They will look for the easiest mark. Example: Any crowd — but particularly the rush and jostle of boarding a crowded bus or train — is a pickpocket's favorite opportunity. Precaution: Take a look at the faces around you and keep a hand on your purse or wallet.
Maintain a low profile while in public. Dress down. Don't wear flashy jewelry. Try to blend in.
Men and women have different risks, according to Arno. Women are more often targeted by pickpockets and bag-snatchers. Reason: Purses, having less contact with the body, are felt less than a pocket. Precaution: Carry a bag with a wide strap and wear the strap diagonally across the body.
For men and women: Carry little cash, and do not carry around your passport. If local authorities require that you carry identification, carry a photocopy of your passport ID pages.
Before going out in the evening, check with hotel staff about safe and unsafe streets. Example: While Barcelona, Spain, is elegant and fashionable in the daytime, some areas are notorious for muggings after dark, even close to popular restaurants.
When walking in the evening in unfamiliar streets, Arno suggests you divide your cash into two stashes. Have easy to reach money in your pocket, the rest in a hidden pouch. Best is the kind that hangs inside your trousers from a loop around your belt. Extreme precaution: Travel with three different credit cards and keep one in your hotel safe.
Arno warns you should never resist a mugging or bag snatching. He says that the thief may be "hopped up" on drugs, desperate, nervous or irrational. Do exactly as a mugger requests and keep your own hands in full view. Move slowly. Do not stare at the mugger with hostility. Do not resist handing over money, even if your cash is hidden in a pouch under your shirt. If the mugger detects this you may receive bodily harm, or worse, in his attempt to rip the pouch off your neck.
Observe as many details as possible about a thief's features and identifying marks. Example: tattoo on a hand or a wrist, birthmarks, scars teeth. Always report a mugging, pickpocketing or bag-snatch to local police and the American Consulate, and get a copy of the police report.
Personal digital assistants, pocket PCs and laptop computers are far more attractive theft items in foreign countries than in the United States. Example: Arno warns that "breakfast thieves" specialize in stealing laptops while their owners fill their plates at sumptuous hotel buffets.
Of course in most areas of the world only a small percentage of travelers are hit by thieves. But you can further lower that risk by being aware of potential trouble before it ruins your vacation. Arnold Diaz joined ABCNEWS' 20/20 in 1995, after establishing his reputation as one of the leading consumer and investigative reporters in the country during his 22 years at WCBS-TV in New York City.