Festival of Books: Tips for travelers from safety expert Kevin Coffey

Festival of Books: Tips for travelers from safety expert Kevin Coffey
Safety consultant and former police detective Kevin Coffey explains the fine points of how to avoid becoming a victim of pickpockets and other criminals when you travel. (Denise Florez)

Visiting other countries should not be scary and compromise your safety. But if you take some basic precautions, it could save you a lot of headaches -- and your wallet.

In the "Street Smart, Street Safe" presentation Saturday at the Travel Smart Stage at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, former police detective and safety consultant Kevin Coffey gave a lively talk about how to stay safe while traveling overseas and around the U.S.


Coffey has done extensive research and makes presentations for traveling businessmen.

He was quick to point out that though most people are "honest law-abiding people," there have been pickpockets ever since they invented pockets to pick.

Coffey says travelers needs to plan for the "what-ifs" before heading to the airport.

For example: What will you do if you lose your credit cards, passport, keys and/or your medical information? Coffey recommends keeping your valuables with you in your carry-on bag rather than packing them in checked luggage.

"What if someone were to break into your home when you are out traveling? If you have laptops with specific files, do you have backups?" Coffey said.

In terms of purses, he recommends women carry their bags across their body rather than over their shoulder. Men should put their wallet in their front pocket, not the hip pocket, of their pants.

He also advised travelers to be especially alert in public areas like subways, train stations, airports and bus stops. Train or subway pickpockets could trap you by pretending they are trying to get into the train, or they'll block an escalator or stairway to make it harder for you to get away.

Most thieves look like everyone else. "They dress up like fellow travelers," Coffey said. "The best crooks are the best actors and actresses."

He offered these other travel safety tips:

--Take only what you will need in your wallet or purse when traveling.

--Know what emergency phone numbers to call in case anything happens.

--Put a card with your cellphone number and email address in your wallet, and in your luggage as well in case the claim tag is torn off or your luggage is misplaced at the airport.

--Don't leave your address tag on your luggage exposed for all to see. Get a baggage tag that covers the information.

--Don't put valuables in checked luggage.


--Lock your luggage using TSA certified locks.

--Stow your carry-on bag in the overhead bin across the aisle from your seat, where you can keep an eye on it. A thief onboard can pretend they need something from their bag and instead open yours. Don't leave valuables in sight if you leave your seat.

Susan Gannon, who attended Saturday's presentation, was happy to hear all of Coffey's recommendations. "I went to Barcelona and I was surrounded, and they were trying to pickpocket me, so this is great information," she said.