Playing It Safe

Getting There—And Around: Planes, Trains, and Disappearing Luggage
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You've probably heard that you're statistically more likely to get in an accident on the way to the airport than you are to crash when you're flying. But just in case you're considering a flight on an unfamiliar carrier, several websites, including the Aviation Safety Network, let you check airline safety records.

Make sure your stuff gets to your destination safely, too. On the plane, try to stash your carry-on in the overhead compartment across from you, not above you, says Peter Tarlow, founder and president of Tourism & More, a tourism security consulting company. That way, you'll be able to keep an eye on it throughout the flight.

Keep your eyes open as checked bags emerge onto the baggage carousel; ubiquitous black suitcases make it easy for someone to accidentally—or otherwise—take your luggage. Above all, leave valuables at home. "If you can't afford to lose it, don't take it," Tarlow says.

In transit, a cable lock that lets you secure your bag to train seats, benches, etc., can come in handy. Beth Whitman, who writes the Wanderlust and Lipstick series of travel guides for women, snoozed in peace in the Amsterdam airport during a ten-hour layover, her bag locked in place. Forget a lock? Loop the straps of your bag around your body so you'll know if someone tries to nab it.

Once you've arrived, public transportation can be a great, low-cost way to get around. But subways and buses can also be easy places to be overwhelmed by mazes of metro maps, complicated ticket machines, and that fight that's breaking out near the doorway.

"Especially in big cities, and around public transportation, any big distraction is a diversion," says Cameron Hewitt, writer and lead editor with Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Hewitt was on the Prague metro when the doors jammed at his stop. Everyone started to panic and push; when he and his group finally jumped off, his traveling companions realized their cameras were missing.

Before Evelyn Hannon, publisher and editor of Journeywoman.com (which offers travel tips and a newsletter for women), gets on a subway, she counts the number of stops she'll pass before she reaches her destination. That way, she spends less time focusing on the map, and more time paying attention to her onboard surroundings.

If someone does start to bother you—on public transportation or anywhere else—don't be afraid to yell loudly in your own language, says Hannon. "You'll be amazed at how quickly they'll disappear."

Women solo travelers may want to look for a seat next to another woman or a family instead of choosing an empty row. On trains, Whitman tries to get on last, so she's close to the door; if there's not a seat, she puts her back against a door or a wall to minimize groping.

Longer-haul buses, where passengers aren't getting on and off as often, tend to be less prone to quick thefts. But keep your wits about you at busy bus terminals, where luggage can walk away while you're in the restroom.

In developing countries, buses, ferries, and other public conveyances may not win safety prizes. So consider paying a little more for a newer or "deluxe" bus to make your ride smoother and safer. Wherever you are, "if you don't feel comfortable, get off," Tarlow says.

No matter how you do your traveling, take only what you need. Along with having less less to lose, "the lighter that you pack, the more agile you are in getting out of situations," says Whitman. And you'll be able to make a dash for that train.


Published: 10 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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