by Carmel L. Mooney
Usually, when we travel or leave home on a journey or road trip, we leave with a positive sense of adventure and excitement for places to be discovered and memories yet to be made. Typically, we leave on most family trips with some sort of plan or itinerary or at the very least a destination, a map, or a general idea of where we will be going or what we might be doing and a strategy on how we will get there. Although it’s true that most of us would rather focus on the positive light-hearted aspects of travel and fun like what to bring, what to wear, or what fun activities to choose from, we seldom spend time considering the importance of family safety and crime prevention in our travels. However, these are topics in today’s world we should address or consider before it’s too late.
Just as a long-distance endurance runner or desert camper makes provision for ample water and hydration and a snow climber or winter outdoorsman considers avalanche training or conditions, family travelers must also be proactive in planning ways to travel safely while avoiding crime.
With all travels, a safety plan or safety considerations are every bit as important as wearing appropriate clothing or gear in preparation for the weather or activities expected. But just as you would not pack or wear loose flip flop sandals for a high sierra rock climbing adventure or wear a parka for a summer family rafting trip, we do need to be mindful of appropriate safety precautions. And just as we would normally travel with a light sweatshirt or jacket even in the heat of summer in an attempt to be prepared for the unexpected rain shower, so should we be prepared for the unexpected in travel safety and crime prevention.
A little common sense can go a long way towards safer travels, and sometimes we simply overlook the smallest easiest precautions which can greatly reduce our chances of becoming prey to pick pockets, thieves, muggers, or worst of all someone who could harm our children.
Although some of the suggestions and information below may be uncomfortable to think about, they are important to consider. Most of the tips I mention below are suggestions directly from numerous law enforcement officers I have interviewed. All of us have our biases and opinions about crime and safety issues, along with the politics around these issues so you will have to pick and choose which suggestions work for you, your beliefs, and your family dynamics. Thankfully as Americans, we have rights that allow us to do a lot towards protecting our families. Some people do not know or exercise their rights and freedoms and thankfully in our nation that is their right as well.
First, let’s talk about travel transportation safety that will help to prevent your family in becoming an easy target. Before leaving, check your weather and road conditions particularly in the winter, along the coast, and in the high sierra. A good place is www.accuweather.com
Before vacations, you should check fluid levels and tires on your automobile and always carry flares and a sign that says “CALL POLICE”. A very important reason why a safety sign of this type works so well is that if you do get into mechanical failure or are pulled off the road for any reason, criminals are much less likely to pick a car that says “CALL POLICE” on it, because if they were considering robbing or harming you, it is likely that authorities are on the way. Yes, we have cell phones but they do not work in many locations and can give us a false sense of security.
Also, if two adults are traveling with children riding in the back seat and one adult must go for road side assistance or to make a call, have the remaining adult who stays in the car with the children move to the passenger seat even if they are the driver because it looks to criminals that it is more likely that the driver is a male and may be coming back at any moment. This is particularly important if you are a single parent, especially female, traveling with children. Move to the passenger seat so it appears someone is coming back to assist you. Always pull completely and safely off the road, use flares if possible to slow traffic, and stay seat belted in for additional safety.
Before even leaving on your road trip, make sure your AAA or roadside assistance is current and the card is with you, handy. And on the subject of cards, carry travelers’ checks or only one major credit card whenever possible.
If you become lost while traveling in a city, it is best to stop by a police station or visitor center rather than drive around in possibly bad areas of unfamiliar territory.
It is always a good idea to carry mace or pepper spray and there are some very good professional quality ones available. They are inexpensive, light and small and can fit in a purse or on a key chain. Often times just pepper spray is deterrent enough. Also, if camping or in the wilderness, pepper spray can be quite helpful against animals if needed.
If you are a family who chooses to exercise your right to bear arms, know that in most locations it is legal for you to have a gun while camping for protecting your domicile. Always check with local and state laws. In areas with bears or mountain lions, this may be prudent, although news stories of human criminal activity in campgrounds are far more common than wild animal attacks.
If you are interested in taking proactive family safety further because you travel a lot, you may even opt to obtain a concealed weapon permit (CCW) by simply taking a day long course and background check along with filing an application. One excellent place to look into this is The Range in Grass Valley, CA. Their class is fun, interesting and of course thoroughly safety oriented.
I travel a great deal with my family; in fact in the last two years we have toured 39 states and three countries along with four cruises. I have had to use my pepper spray twice in the last two years as a deterrent to a criminal while I was traveling with my children. Both times when I simply showed my pepper spray, the would-be criminal fled. I cannot imagine how I would have fared as a victim and was thankful I was empowered rather than victimized along with my innocent children. I have never had a problem carrying pepper spray anywhere and I highly recommend it for everyone.
Another common sense measure is to never count your cash or show your cash in public. While visiting any unfamiliar city, refrain from wearing expensive jewelry, costly cameras, large diamonds, or purses which may further target you as a prospective victim. Keep maps out of site when not in use, which may label you as unfamiliar with the area or an out-of-towner. Also, always keep valuables out of site in a parked car: this includes palm pilots, cell phones, cameras, Game Boys and other similar devices.
When staying in hotels, motels, and lodges, do not leave valuables unattended in your room and always lock doors. Teach your children to always confirm who is at the door before opening.
As simple and mundane as it sounds, practice locking your car doors the moment everyone puts on their seatbelts. Always glance around, under, and inside your vehicle, particularly in parking lots before putting the children in. While you put toddlers in car seats and situate older children, you are very vulnerable to criminals because you are preoccupied and often have your back to the outside.
When traveling, make sure a spare key is hidden somewhere or held by another person in your family so it is less likely you will be locked out of your car in a remote or unsafe area.
Always keep small children in eye view. Wearing bright clothing can be helpful. Have a plan or meeting place if your group gets separated, and always make sure everyone in your group has the exact address of the hotel or lodge you are staying, on a card on their person.
Remember particularly in touristy destinations, criminals look for easy targets, so you reduce your chances of falling prey when you strengthen your defenses whether it be locking doors and being mindful of attention, grabbing valuables, or taking it a step further by arming yourself.
There are numerous additional things your family can do to prevent being victims to crime and I recommend you research these on the Internet or by taking a class. But here we have briefly examined a few options of varying degrees of assertiveness. Although traveling as a family or with children should be fun and safe, the reality is that crime is real and it affects everyday people just like our family and yours.
How proactive you want to be is up to you and a personal decision. Knowledge is power and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Carmel L. Mooney is a travel writer, mom and member of the NRA.