Backpack & Budget : The Wise Are Wary Abroad

Thousands of backpackers enjoy foreign adventures each year without encountering serious difficulties. But it is important to use caution and know how to prepare for a successful trip.

* Before checking into a budget hotel, look it over. Are there proper, unblocked fire exits? Could you get out fast, in the dark, if you had to?

* Avoid rooms near stairways or on first floors; they provide easy exits for thieves.

* Make sure the windows and door of your room can be secured but easily opened if you had to get out and your vision was impaired.

* Count the number of doorways to the stairs so you could feel your way in the dark, if necessary.

* If you're concerned about someone being able to enter during the night, consider packing a door wedge.

* If you are going to use an immersion heater for making coffee or soup in your room, be sure that it is the kind that automatically shuts off if it overheats.

* When sharing a room, don't leave your money belt out. Keep it with you at all times. Sleep with it in your bedding, and if you go to the shower, carry it in a resealable plastic bag or place it on top of the shower head.

When using trains and buses:

* Don't accept food or drinks from strangers. You can be drugged and then robbed while you are asleep. This problem has surfaced from Southern Europe to Southeast Asia. If you feel uncomfortable about turning down a new friend's hospitality, claim a food allergy.

* Carry your own padlock. Many budget hotels in Asia have latches you can use your own lock on, and many hostels provide lockers. Your own padlock or bike chain can also be handy for securing luggage to racks on trains or on bus roofs.

* Don't head off into a remote area with a local tour company or guide that is not licensed and well-respected by the community. You're putting yourself in a very

vulnerable position. When in doubt, check them out through the local tourist information office.

* If you decide to store your valuables in a hotel safe, put your credit cards in an envelope and seal and sign it so you can tell immediately if it has been tampered with. Some travelers have reported that after they got home, they found that their cards were used during the period when they thought they were safely locked up.

* Be wary of diversion tactics used to target weary tourists. Popular tactics include: someone spilling something on your shirt in an airport, and while helping to clean you, an accomplice cleans out your pockets; in Paris and Rome, kids hold paper in front of your face and while you struggle to get your bearings, pilfer your pockets; in Latin America, on busy buses, one thief will grope a female and while she is fending him off another picks her purse.

Finally, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of popular scams such as a jeweler in Asia who will tell you that you can resell gems at home for a much higher price (some will even offer you the names of stores to deal with). If this were such a great deal, wouldn't they be going after these huge profits themselves?

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