How Not to Get Robbed While Traveling: Part 1

Posted on
Jul 2, 2009
Posted in: Advice, Top Ten

Part 1: Protecting the home you leave behind from burglary

I hate thieves. I truly believe there is a special level of hell for people who steal from others (A very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater).

Like my refusal to eat sushi in land-locked states, my hostile feelings towards thieves stems from personal experience. I’ve been robbed a few times – both at home and while on vacation. Both times sucked profoundly. If you travel enough, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll get robbed or victimized. Almost. I think there are ways to mitigate your risk, or at the very least, reduce the feelings of suckiness that come after you have been robbed.

The chances of getting robbed while on vacation are two-fold: you might get your luggage or wallet stolen, but you’re also leaving an empty, vulnerable home behind. So take some actions to protect yourself – because hindsight is a bitch.

Before you go …

  1. Get a House-sitter. Apartments and condos are generally more secure, but if you can get your slacker friends to stay at your place, go for it. Be prepared to return to an empty fridge.
  2. Tell the neighbors (provided they’re trustworthy). It’s always good to have someone nearby keeping an eye on your place. I once had a crazy apartment manager who watched our every move. The only time I didn’t mind was when we were out of town; I assume he had our home under complete surveillance the whole time.
  3. Cancel your newspaper (or delay your mail). This goes out to the 5 people on the planet who still read physical newspapers: if Law & Order has taught me anything, it’s that criminals looks for houses with a pile of newspapers out front, indicating they no one is home.
  4. Get a timer for your lights. There’s no need to go all Richard Dean Anderson on this one (and somehow use a paperclip and a car door opener to rewire your house) but at least get a random timer that turns on your lights at different intervals throughout the week.
  5. Trim the hedges. This involves a lot more work, of course, but houses with fewer bushes in which criminals can hide often get robbed less than those with high, concealing hedges.
  6. Buy a safe. It’s not nearly as extreme as it sounds. My cousin recently bought one for $20, and installed it in 20 minutes (all he needed was a drill and screwdriver to mount it to his floor). Place it some place inconspicuous, and take comfort in the fact that if you get robbed, you made them work for it.
  7. Put everything in the cloud. Upload anything digital that you’d hate to lose if your computer was stolen. Google docs (via gmail) is an easy way to keep all your MS Office docs safe and accessible from anywhere, and a pro-account on Flickr not only keeps your photos safe, but videos, too. Because losing your computer is one thing. But losing that photo of a family friend hepped up on ecstasy at your brother’s wedding? That’s tragic.
  8. Buy home-owner’s or renter’s insurance. You should already have it; if not, a trip is a great excuse to get insured. Renter’s insurance is particularly cheap (ours is only about $150 a year), and you can often get it through the same company that provides you with car insurance. And once your stuff is insured, it’s usually covered wherever you take it (check your policy to be sure) – so you’ll be covered at home and on the road.
  9. Leave discretely. While no one’s likely staking out your home, if you spend days on the front lawn, testing out your new camping equipment, or pull out of the drive-way, honking your horn and dragging a sign that says “PEORIA OR BUST”, everyone’s going to know your house will be empty. So stay in the garage while loading up suitcases, and try to leave without too much fanfare.
  10. Get creative. My mother once purchased a mannequin on a whim at a garage sale. She though it was hysterical, and put it up in the foyer. For years, guests thought someone was standing right inside the door. Don’t fret if you can’t procure your own dummy (though now you have a legitimate excuse for buying a Real Doll). Just use your imagination: rabid dog warning signs, motion detectors hooked up to strobe lights, biohazard quarrantine notifications, etc.

None of this stuff is full-proof, of course, and you might still get hosed. But if you take a few precautions, you likely won’t lose anything that you can’t replace (and being insured means replacing that stuff is all the easier).

Stayed tuned for Part 2: How not to get robbed, pickpocketted, or otherwise screwed on vacation.

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