The Perils Inherent with Getting Away From it All

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By Carl Weiss

It’s that time of year when thoughts turn to going on vacation for a week or so in order to get away from it all.  In years gone by, most people wouldn’t give it a second thought while packing their bags about being extra vigilant before and during their trip.  Sure, they might tell a friend or neighbor to pick up the mail.  Perhaps they would suspend delivery of the newspaper.  But that’s about all the thought that they’d give it.

Now that we life in the digital era, a little extra effort needs to be taken before heading for the airport, unless we want our trip to be ruined before it even begins.  In fact, savvy travelers not only use the Internet to shop for the best travel deals, they also use it to check out their intended destination from the comfort of their homes. 

Paris, the City of Lights and Pickpockets

Crowds rip for the pickens.
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How would you like to travel to the City of Lights only to find out that the most famous Parisian tourist destination of them all had gone dark?  That’s what happened on May 22, according to Fox News.

PARIS – The Eiffel Tower closed to the public for most of the day Friday as workers protested a rise in aggressive pickpockets around the Paris landmark that attracts thousands of visitors daily. The walkout came a day after Paris authorities announced that crime against tourists in the French capital had dropped this year thanks to reinforced police presence and video surveillance.
The tower didn't open Friday morning because the staff was concerned about petty crime around the site. Clusters of tourists streamed beneath the tower, unable to reach its viewing platforms. It remained while staff and management held meetings about security measures, then reopened in the late afternoon, according to the company that manages the site. The tower is normally open every day of the year, but sometimes closes briefly for bomb threats or strikes.
Tower employee Denis Vavassori of the CGT union said the workers want a permanent police presence." It is a growing problem. There were always pickpockets at the Eiffel Tower but now we are really facing an organized group," he told The Associated Press.

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Parisian pickpockets… Sacre bleu!  While many people read about this news item, there are hundreds of other travel calamities to which the traveling public is completely unaware.  In a recent article in the Huffington Post, travel writer Charlotte Alfred pointed out the 10 Countries that have the highest murder rates.  While you would expect destinations such as Colombia (#10) and El Salvador (#4) to make the list, what might come as a shock to many is that the islands of St. Kitts (#8) and Jamaica (#6), along with Belize (#3) also make the top 10.

Danger on Land and at Sea

Of course, danger doesn’t only lurk on dry land.  In an April 2014 blog posted by, maritime lawyer Jim Walker points out the 10 Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations in the World.  His list includes such places as the US Virgin Islands (#8), Antigua (#7) and the Bahamas at #1.

“We have been warning about crime in Nassau ever since we started this blog in September 2009.  In October of that year two vicious robbers robbed a group of 11 terrified cruise passengers from a Royal Caribbean ship at gunpoint in Nassau.  Two months later, 18 cruise passengers were robbed during excursions from Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise ships.
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We receive more complaints about crime in Nassau than all of the other ports in the Caribbean combined.  Armed robberies, sexual assault of teenagers and young women, and the murder of a tourist makes this port a dangerous place to take your family.  The US State Department has issued multiple critical crime warnings for the Bahamas.”

Speaking of the State Department, at the time of this blog, there had been 36 travel warnings issued by them since the first of the year, including this update concerning Mexico:

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“Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day.  Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter organized criminal groups that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. Crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere, and U.S. citizens have fallen victim to criminal activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking, and highway robbery. While many of those killed in organized crime-related violence have themselves been involved in criminal activity, innocent persons have also been killed. The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico was 81 in 2013 and 100 in 2014.

Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico, and have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been temporarily prevented from leaving the area. Criminal organizations have used stolen cars, buses, and trucks to create roadblocks on major thoroughfares, preventing the military and police from responding to criminal activity. 

The number of kidnappings throughout Mexico is of particular concern and appears to be on the rise. While kidnappings can occur anywhere, according to SEGOB, during this timeframe, the states with the highest numbers of kidnappings were Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Michoacán, Estado de Mexico, and Morelos. Additionally, according to a widely publicized study by the agency responsible for national statistics (INEGI, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography), Mexico suffered an estimated 105,682 kidnappings in 2012; only 1,317 were reported to the police. Police have been implicated in some of these incidents. More than 130 kidnappings of U.S. citizens were reported to the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Mexico between January and November of 2014.”
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While we are all looking for a little excitement, dodging narcoterrorists and crooked cops is probably not what most of us have in mind.  A quick scan of other hotspots includes an update on the aftermath of the recent Nepal earthquake, as well as a reminder concerning Hurricane and Typhoon season.  (Due to El Nino, the Atlantic basin is expected to see a 70% lower chance for Hurricanes this year, while on the flip side, the Pacific is predicted to have a 70% greater percent probability of typhoons.)

The link to the State Department’s website is

You have been warned!

Don’t Broadcast Your Absence to Criminals

Speaking of warning, my last bit of advice has to do with most people’s propensity to blab about their vacations on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  It never ceases to amaze me that otherwise cautious Americans would be so foolish as to broadcast not only their travel plans in advance on social sites, but the details as they occur.  I have seen everything from a play-by-play from the airport as friends sit at the airport waiting for their flight to leave, to extensive photo sessions from foreign shores detailing the wonderful time they are having while away from home.

Don't post vacation pictures until you get back from vacation!
Just Don’t Do It

Let me point out to you the fact that in the world of cybercrime, crooks no longer need to cruise through your neighborhood in order to case likely suspects.  All they have to do is connect with your social nets.  A blog by crime reporter Ben Parsons reported a case of a burglar that taunted a victim by logging onto their Facebook page. 

“The crook said he planned to pawn their belongings and signed off with “regards, your nighttime burglar”.
Victoria Richardson, 42, whose web page was hijacked the day after the break-in, said the invasion of privacy made the crime doubly painful.
The home she shares with her husband Dan, 35, and their children in Marine Avenue, Hove, was raided between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
An iPhone, a Nintendo DS games console, a handbag containing a purse, cash and debit cards and a black Toshiba laptop were all stolen.  The next day someone logged on to the social networking website Facebook under Mrs. Richardson’s profile and started leaving illiterate taunts - claiming they had left the television behind because it was not good enough for them.
One read: “on my new laptop”. The next said: “listening to music on my new phone feels so good.”
They then wrote: “i have the laptop , phones ok but a bit scratched itll do tv was rubbish so i left it ,ds was a bonus now to the porn shop i goto , thank you toshiba is my favorite make”.
The final note read: “regards your nighttime burglar”.
Lesson learned, I hope.  If you do want to share your travel memories with friends and family, be smart and wait until you return to do so.  Your insurance agent will thank you.  Also, be smart when it comes to avoiding problems while away.  Never flash a lot of cash or wear expensive jewelry.  The only people you are likely to impress are those that make their living robbing tourists.  (A friend of mine who is with the police taught me years ago to carry the bulk of my cash in my socks.) 

Watch Out for the Wee Beasties

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Your dangers are not just limited to cyber-attacks, muggings and murder. You also have to think about infectious disease as well. The CDC recommends all overseas travelers check to see if they have the recommended vaccines and if not, they should get them. Many countries around the world are ripe with diseases we conquered in the USA decades ago. This means you have to be aware of where you go, what you eat and drink and if you are vaccinated for many of the wee beasties running ramped in the world. I found a great article from the American Health Association with a smart check list on dealing with travel and infectious diseases. In their blog called “GetReady”, their article: “Protect yourself from infectious diseases while traveling abroad”, states that;

“There's nothing like traveling the world to help you broaden your horizons. But don't let the lure of international travel lower your guard: It's important to take extra steps to protect yourself from disease while traveling overseas. Tossing bug repellent or hand sanitizer in your suitcase may be just as important as remembering your passport!”

Things You Can Do To Protect Yourself

So what can the average Joe and his family do to protect themselves before they that that loving vacation. Research the destination thoroughly. Pay close attention to travel warning and heed them. Make sure you get your vaccinations and create and implement a game plan for excursions, dining and electronic usage. Travel in groups if possible. Last but not least, make sure you have someone check your home regularly (like a next door neighbor). Have them pick up your paper and mail. Shut off your electronic devices like computers, routers and put away tables and any other devices that could compromise your identity. Buy a cheap cell phone to use on your vacation and get a disposable camera as well. If you lose these items you won’t be out of much. If you buy a smart phone, make sure it’s protected with TrendMicro Lookout or some other anti-malware software. Be ready to wipe its memory clean when you get back.
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Here’s are excerpts from an article from North Dakota State University website that provides a great checklist you should implement if traveling with electron devices abroad. The article also has additional information that every traveler needs to read. Here is just one of the checklist it provides:

“The guidelines and recommendations listed below outline and define steps you can take to protect yourself, your information, and your electronic devices.
·         If possible, do not take your work or personal devices with you. Use a temporary device, such as an inexpensive laptop and/or a prepaid "throw away" cell phone purchased specifically for travel.
·         If you must take your electronic device(s) with you, only include information that you will need for your travel.
·         Be sure that any device with an operating system and software is fully patched and up-to-date with all institutional recommended security software.
·         When not in use, turn off the device(s). Do allow them to be in "sleep" or "hibernation" mode when they are not in active use.
·         Be sure to password or passcode protect the device. Do not use the same passwords/passcodes that you use on your work and personal devices. The password/passcode should be long and complex.
·         Minimize the data contained on the device. This is particularly true of logins and passwords, credit card information, your social security number, passport number, etc.
·         Assume that anything you do on the device, particularly over the Internet, will be intercepted. In some cases, encrypted data may be decrypted.
·         Never use shared computers in cyber cafes, public areas, hotel business centers, or devices belonging to other travelers, colleagues, or friends.
·         Keep the device(s) with you at all times during your travel. Do not assume they will be safe in your hotel room or in a hotel safe.
·         Upon returning from your travels, immediately discontinue use of the device(s). The hard drive of the devices should be reformatted, and the operating system and other related software reinstalled, or the device properly disposed of.
·         Change any and all passwords you may have used abroad.”
You can read the entire article by click on this link: traveling abroad with electronic devices.
It’s a wild and wooly world out there.  If you don’t want your vacation to end in the police station or even worse the ER, then you need to take care before you find out the hard way about the perils of getting away from it all.

In this article I have explored the dangers of taking vacations especially abroad. I have provided many specific examples of the dangers inherent when traveling, including being hacked, mugged, having your pockets picked, murdered, being infected with deadly a disease and having your home broken into and robbed because you told the criminals you were on vacation. More importantly, I have provided several lists of items and links to other stories that will help a person protect themselves.
If you’d like to read similar articles about SEO, check out: “Unplug and Get Away From It All " and "The Scariest Stuff Online " or just type your Keywords into the search box at the top left of this blog.

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Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio

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1 comment:

  1. Tis true! You think you are posting to your friends and family about your vacation and it's really out there for everyone to see. Post about your vacay AFTER you have gone and not before you are leaving!