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Travel advisory

"Travel advisory" Continued...

The second rule is equally important: Do not take anything with you that you are not prepared to lose. This is not only because there are some things that are impossible to replace should they be lost or stolen—such as your grandmother’s engagement ring or your father’s gold watch—but because the emotional attachment you have to such objects may cause you to make irrational decisions if you are faced with the loss of the object. Remember: There is no object, no matter how expensive or emotionally significant, that is worth losing your life over—or the life of someone you are traveling with.

In many places, criminals are just interested in getting the goods and getting away. They are not interested in gratuitous violence, but at the same time they will not hesitate to shoot or stab you should you resist. If you give them the goods they are demanding, they will quite often not harm you. Unfortunately, when I was serving in Guatemala, several American citizens resisted robbery attempts and paid for their resistance by being beaten, shot, stabbed, and, in a few cases, even killed.

Of course there are places and cultures where gratuitous violence is the norm, and those places require special attention and greater security measures. But in general, if you leave precious items at home you remove the possibility that they will attract a criminal and you will not face the temptation to refuse to surrender them if you are threatened.

In light of these two rules, let’s discuss in detail how to minimize the risk posed by the items you will carry on your trip.

Wallets, cash and credit cards

Most people carry far more in their wallets than they need to—or should. In fact, many people are not even aware of everything that is in their wallets. There is a current series of TV commercials for the Capital One credit card that has the tagline “What’s in Your Wallet?” Unfortunately, many people cannot answer this simple question. Honestly, if your wallet were stolen right this minute, could you make a detailed list of everything that is in it? Would you be able to quickly notify your bank and credit card companies of the theft? If not, read on; this section is for you.

There are people I know who have wallets several inches thick, and I am not talking just about women; we men are just as guilty. Such a wallet is, unfortunately, a criminal’s treasure trove. Not only can criminals benefit from whatever cash and credit cards are in that wallet, but they can also frequently get enough information to do far more substantial damage to your bank account.

This is especially true in cases where people keep credit card and ATM PIN numbers written down in their wallets. If a criminal gets your wallet and he gets his hands on your credit and ATM cards, why make his life any easier by providing the PINs, too? Please don’t write PIN numbers down.

To compound this problem, many people will also have their bank account numbers listed in the wallet (or have a check with the account number on it) and people, as creatures of habit, tend to use the same PIN numbers for multiple accounts. Please do not use the same PIN numbers for multiple uses, especially sensitive things like banking and credit cards.

People also frequently make the mistake of keeping their Social Security cards in their wallets. The Social Security card is a document that, along with your driver’s license—which will in all likelihood be in your wallet—could allow someone to easily assume your identity. This crime is far worse than a simple theft. It is a crime that that can cause victims years of legal anguish.

If you need to show your Social Security card for some reason, like starting a new job, do so, but then take the card home and leave it in a secure location. You should also be careful not to write your Social Security number down in your wallet. Instead, you should memorize and safeguard it.

What, then, do you need in your wallet for an overseas trip? One thing is your health insurance card. Another is your driver’s license if you are going to drive, though obtaining an international driving permit is a good idea if it is accepted in the country you are traveling to in lieu of your U.S. license—especially countries where authorities may not be able to read your English-language license. If you’re not going to drive abroad, simply leave your driver’s license at home—it is one less thing to replace if your wallet is stolen, and your passport is the only identity document you really need to travel.

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