If you're travelling the last thing you want is to return to a home that has been either vandalised or in a worse case scenario broken into. Rather than sharing images from your holiday on social media you'll be trying to come to terms with how this happened and trying to get back what you can from your insurance provider. All of these tips are quite simple and most people forget that these small things can allow you to have a stress free holiday knowing that your home is secure.
Asking Someone to Watch Your Home
One of the simplest and easiest options would be asking a neighbour, friend or family member to keep an eye on your home while you're away (whether it be for a two day holiday or one that lasts for two weeks). In most cases you will be able to return the favour when your neighbour, friend or family member goes on holiday and it gives you the peace of mind knowing your property is being monitored. The neighbours surrounding me are quite old and don't go on holidays that much anymore so to say thank you I usually return the favour by buying them a box of chocolates.
A safety measure that I never thought of until I recently started travelling was to unplug all appliances that I wouldn't use while abroad. For example, most people turn of their TV by the remote and leave it on a standby mode, this is still draining power as the appliance is still plugged in to the socket. Even a WiFi router is something most people overlook when travelling since most people use WiFi up to the moment they leave for the airport or train station. A WiFi router can be hacked easily, whether it be an easy to guess password or whether the router is weak, this puts you at risk when you return as criminals can monitor your internet use and gain passwords and credit card details when using online services. If you unplug your WiFi box this means there is no chance hackers can get access to your WiFi box since it won't appear online. The same principle applies to garage doors openers, they can easily be hacked into and allow your garage door to be opened, which not only allows criminals access to your car but some garages are connected to the insides of houses. It's surprising and scary that these hackers can gain access to your garage in minutes and in some cases seconds.
Don't Announce You're Going Away
As much as we all love seeing people's posts on Facebook stating that they're enjoying a cheeky margarita in Gatwick's North Terminal with the overuse of emojis in their post, this is announcing that you have an empty house. Some people don't realise that social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram are available for anyone and everyone to see if your account isn't private. There is more than enough time for you to post images and tell the world highlights of your holiday when you return. This is the most common mistake people make as most people are delighted to announce that they're going to enjoy two weeks in the sun while they know most people have to work, oh how I envy them. But unfortunately some people return to see that they have been burgled or even have had their property vandalised, that I don't envy.
Make Sure Everything is Locked Properly
No I don't mean the front door, I'm not that stupid. Well I mean do lock the front door but there are other measures you can take to make sure your property is locked and secure. Windows can be locked by simply shutting them but some windows come with a key which make sure that these windows can't be opened at all. Another safety precaution would be to make sure that you haven't left a key under the doormat or under a pot next to your front door. Even a lock box could prove to be the demise for your home, even though some lock boxes have a specific combination to get into them, I wouldn't put it past determined burglars trying different combinations each day to get in. Some lock boxes aren't secure at all as they can be easily broken into by simply smashing it. If you do want a lock box then make sure it's of high quality and durable to protect your keys.
Make it Look Like You're at Home
Before anyone says anything, I don't mean copy the part from Home Alone where Kevin makes the Jordan cutout dance around the room to deter Marv and Harry. The first thing to do would be to focus on the exterior, if you have the same washing hanging to dry outside for five days then it does look like the house is empty. If you need to let washing dry then bring the clothes horse inside. If you have a front garden then make sure it's mowed and there isn't weeds growing left right and centre as this gives the appearance that there hasn't been anyone inside for a while. If you have flowers planted then ask your neighbour or a friend to come round and water your plants so that they don't end up dying, this is especially useful during the summer when there is barely any rainfall. Most people tend to shut their curtains while they're away since people won't be able to look in and see their precious 42" TV in their living room. As much as this is a good idea in concept and plays well during the night, it does look a little unusual during the day and if this remained the same for a couple of days. If you really want to make sure that your home is protected then it might be worth investing in motion sensor lights which as the name says light up when someone steps in the proximity of the lights. Many people use these either on their back door or the front door as burglars may be startled if they're suddenly highlighted for the surrounding neighbours to see what they're trying to do. Investing in CCTV cameras is another good idea, both a deterrent for burglars as well as being useful as evidence if your home is burgled as it would provide a clear views of who broke into your home as well as what they made off with. A clever investment would be buying lights which can be controlled from your phone or tablet, this meaning you could adjust the lights in your house depending on the time of day. For example, you might turn on the kitchen light in the morning and the light in the living room in the evening but at night all lights would be turned off. This gives the impression that people are in the house constantly hence the lights being on.
Place a Hold on Newspapers & Mail Deliveries
Not only does an overflowing mailbox signify that no one is home, it also allows people to reach in and take your mail. This mail may include personal information and allow people to view your bank statements, if someone stole mine then they're more than welcome to see how much I spent on food last month. Even when I have been home some delivery services have left items in pots outside of my house meaning anyone would be welcome to take it. If you have deliveries coming then make sure to use the option of delivering to a neighbour or stating that you'd pick it up from the depot when you return. Royal Mail currently offer a Keepsafe service which means Royal Mail will keep your mail and then return it when you're back. Prices range depending on the amount of days you're away, the shortest being 10 days and the longest being 100. This option would be more efficient when used for a longer holiday, if you're travelling for 5 days then it would leave you without mail for another 5 days after you have come back.
Don't Leave Valuables in Sight
A simple and easy way to prevent burglars from feeling tempted to burgle your particular home would be to hide your valuables. Even if someone did break in would they really spend the effort to search and search for a laptop or a tablet? It depends. I've heard stories of people being robbed of everything, even their kettle, which shows the pure desperation of some people. Regardless, a safe would be the safest option as you can store a lot of valuables such as jewellery and cash into something that is heavy and takes a lot to be broken into to. When I go abroad I try to put everything out of view and I put these valuables in places no one would think to look.
Look at What Your Home Insurance Covers
If you haven't got home insurance then I would strongly advice investing and purchasing it. Even though some people have purchased home insurance I can tell many people wouldn't know what their policy covers as well as being unsure of the procedure they would take if their home was broken into. Most policies cover the standard rate of protection which allows customers can claim for damaged or stolen goods such as furniture and electrical items. However, some insurance companies may not except claims for more expensive items such as jewellery and pieces of art. If you're unsure then either call up your insurance provider or read the small print and policy details that should've been provided to you when you took out the insurance. If you do come home and your home has been burgled then the first thing to do would be to call the police and report it and then within 24 hours you should put a claim in for your insurance provider. Even though you might be in shock over what has happened, it would be advisable to make sure you try and find receipts for what you've lost and take photographic evidence as some companies may require this.
Even though these safety tips are mainly used when staying in hotels, they can also be used when staying in different types of accommodation such as hostels and rental homes. Most of these points seem obvious but some people forget to do even the simplest of things whilst on holiday, something in which could even put your life at risk.
Showing ID When Checking In
One of the most standard procedures when checking into a hotel is showing photographic identification (Photo ID) to prove that you're the person as to whom the booking is under. When handing over your ID make sure you pass it to the receptionist rather than leaving it on top of the desk where everyone around can take a look at it. When the receptionist hands whatever forms of ID you've given back to you make sure every form of ID was handed back to you.
Some people may forget that some hotels may need to see the bank card that the room was booked with, which may be left at the desk after being checked. Then make sure that you put these forms of ID away in your bag, I've seen countless numbers of people leave their passport at reception and had gone to walk away before a receptionist had reminded them of what they had left.
Using a Safe
Before going away make sure you research whether your hotel or accommodation includes a safe, it's more likely that these will be found in hotels and full lockers will be found in hostels to hold your belongings. This can easily be done by searching the name of the place you're staying at and then going directly to their website or on websites such as Booking.com or Trip Advisor. Through these websites you can see what facilities your specific accommodation offers and from this you can then plan where to leave your valuables while there. If your hotel doesn't include a safe then get a lock for your suitcase if in worry, even if you do have a safe I still keep a lock on my suitcase, since everyone that works for the hotel isn't always as honest as they seem. Most hotels don't accept liability if a guests valuables are stolen through no fault of the establishment, hotels may only take responsibility if valuables are damaged due to an act of nature (natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods).
Don't Open The Door To Anyone!
If staying at a hotel, especially if you're alone, don't open the door before first checking through the peephole. If someone claims that they're the hotel staff then open the door with the security chain still on, so even if you found out they were lying they still wouldn't be able to gain access to your room. If someone knocks on your door and claims to be staff from the hotel and you're ever in doubt, call down to reception and ask if there's any reason for their staff to be knocking at your door. Anyone could claim that they're staff working at the hotel or even try to claim that they're housekeeping, once they get into your room you have no idea what could happen and what their intentions are.
Knowing The Fire Escape Route and Plan
Upon arriving at your hotel room you will clearly notice that there's a detailed plan of the floor you're staying on, with your room being highlighted and the map telling you your nearest fire exit. Even though many people may look at this and have a clear indication as to where the fire exit is because there are big green signs saying "FIRE EXIT" pointing to what direction you should be going towards to escape. What about if there was smoke in the corridor? How would you be able to see where you are if you have to end up crawling towards the fire exit? Make sure you locate where the stairs of the hotel are since lifts are to be avoided when in a fire as well as knowing how long it would roughly take to get there from your room. If you're staying in a hotel that has a lot of floors, try and get a floor that's situated near the bottom of the hotel. Even though you might miss out on the spectacular view it does mean you're a lot more likely to be safer in the event of a fire. If you were on the 4th floor of a hotel and couldn't use the corridor of the floor you're staying on to escape, what other route could you take? If the fire and rescue services came then they'd be able to rescue you through using a fire ladder. If you were situated on the 31st floor then this would make it near impossible to help you get evacuated from the building.
Never Say Your Full Name or Room Number
When checking in to a hotel many people may say their full name to allow the reception staff to find their booking. I would never do this since you never know who is listening, I would usually say "Hi, I have a room booked for Miss McLaughlin" and then the reception staff would then look for my reservation accordingly. I have never been in the situation where someone has had the exact same surname as me and they're checking in on the exact same day as me. If they did ask me for further clarification I'd announce the number of nights I'd be staying for rather than my first name. Another thing that hotels commonly do is openly announce your room number, if someone has your room number as well as your name they could easily impersonate you and say that "I'm Miss McLaughlin in Room 98 and I've lost my key for the room". If the hotel did announce openly what your room number is ask for another room. Hotels have never announced my room number openly, they usually write it on a small bit of paper used to hold my key card.
What To Do Whilst Inside Your Room
Aside from the obvious which is to enjoy your stay as well as making sure you have a comfortable place to sleep and shower for your stay, it's important to make sure your room is secure and safe. While in your room make sure the door is able to lock properly as well as making sure that when you're ready to call it a day the extra security feature such as a deadbolt or a security chain is in use. They aren't just there to look pretty, they are an added form of security to make sure the room you're in is secure. Electronic cards are most commonly used in hotels these days as they're deemed to be the safest option compared to keys. This is because each time a guest leaves their room and returns this specific key card back then this key card is completely wiped and replaced with a different code which allows the next guests to use it. If you're staying on one of the floors towards the bottom of the hotel then make sure your windows can be locked and they're locked at night, if they're near the street then thieves may see the perfect opportunity to get inside of your hotel room. The only time I would leave my windows open is when I'm in the room and usually I'd leave them open up to the moment before I go to bed to allow fresh air to get into the room.
Be Prepared For Anything
When staying in a hotel room the most important thing to do is make sure you have all your valuables in one place so if you needed to leave the room then you would have everything. I usually keep my handbag next to my bed with everything inside that I'd need for the next day, which can also be used if I needed to make a quick escape. In my handbag I keep my wallet, keys, passport and any other small items of importance. Keeping a pair of shoes next to your bed is advisable, like you would do with slippers while at home, so if you did need to leave then you wouldn't be running out of your accommodation bare foot. As much as some people would say the chance of something happening to them while abroad is one in a million, it's common to find people waking up in the middle of an earthquake or being awoken by the fire alarm blaring through the hotel.
Leaving A Note On The Nightstand
As mentioned in a previous blog post, Making an Itinerary, I explained that I keep important information regarding my whereabouts for the next few days: what activities I'll be doing as well as the times in which these activities take place within my hotel room. If an itinerary is not your cup of tea then most hotels provide a notepad and pen in which you can write down your whereabouts for the day so if you didn't return for some apparent reason then the hotel would have a rough idea of your location. This gives the police a helping hand and a map as to where I was during different times of the day, making it a lot more likely that I would be found. Even if you don't want to use the notepad and pen for this reason, it's a good idea to note down emergency numbers you may need such as for the police and ambulance since the area codes and numbers are different for each country.
Research The Hotel & Area Beforehand
Before booking a hotel or any sort of accommodation you first have to narrow down what part of the city you want to stay in. There are a number of different factors that deter people from certain places such as noise, crime as well as the prices in which certain areas charge due to their popularity (such as a city centre). If you google a specific area within a city it'd be easy to find whether that area is safe and whether the crime levels are high. It's important to find out if there's good transport links such as a metro station or a bus stop nearby, especially if you're travelling back to your hotel after dark. For example, in Barcelona our hotel was located within a minutes walk of a metro station as well as being in a well lit location as there was a lot of street lamps down these roads. It's important to look at the situation within that country: whether there is a terrorism threat and whether the area is a good place to visit for tourists. On websites such as gov.uk they advise tourists as to whether or not to travel to specific areas within a country. For example, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise people from travelling within the West of Egypt unless travel is essential (a holiday is not recommended here).
Before travelling the most important thing to do is photocopy any important documents you’ll be taking with you on your trip. The most important documents you’ll carry is your passport and in some cases a visa. Countries such as Spain, Turkey and France have strict laws which states that everybody in the country, tourist or citizen, needs to have identification on them at all times (which for a citizen would be a citizen card or driving license whereas for a tourist it would be a passport). Some people carry their passport with them but others take a photocopy with them, either way a photocopy left at your accommodation is the safest way to make sure your have your passport information if you do lose it. Instead of photocopying my bank card, which would indeed be a golden ticket for anyone that may find it if misplaced, I note down some important information such as my full name and the expiry date on the card. If this got into the wrong hands then it would be fine since my full card number isn’t on there as well as my CVV number. However, I’d still be able to give my bank some information regarding the name on the card and when it expires, so I’d be able to cancel it if I misplaced it or it had got stolen. Even though I don’t photocopy documents such as tickets for certain attractions, I make sure I have a printed version as well as a digital version on my phone to prevent losing them. If I lost the physical copy then I could cancel it through my phone and if my phone had died with the ticket on it then I have the physical copy to hand. Another document I photocopy is my driver’s license, since it’s another form of identification to prove who I am. Before travelling make sure you have valid health insurance and be sure to have the documents supporting the fact that you have it. I photocopy important information from the fifty pages I was sent, which was a great way to spend an hour of my life I’ll never get back, nevertheless I was able to photocopy my policy number and the key details of what my insurance covered. A holiday can be ruined with a hefty medical bill placed on you for what can be the smallest of injuries or a small dosage of medication.
A previous blog post I wrote, Making an Itinerary, outlines the reasons as to why I make an itinerary as well as how I make my own form of one. In my itinerary I outline key information I’ll need such as what I’m doing each day as well as my plans for transportation - whether I’m using private transportation or directions as how I’ll get to my accommodation using public transport. The main reason for making an itinerary is so if there was anything to happen such as a natural disaster or I went missing then by leaving a photocopy of my itinerary in my hotel room then I would’ve left a literal map to where I would be.
Directions From The Airport To Your Accommodation
As much as I praise technology for making my life a lot easier, it can be very unreliable during the times when you most need it. Before travelling I decide whether it’ll be more quicker and cheaper to either get private transportation to my accommodation or whether to use public transport. If I get a private transfer I’ll make sure I have documents to hand regarding my pick up time as well as the driver who will be picking me up (which usually includes their registration plate for safety reasons). I’ll also take a picture of this on my phone so that if my hands are full and I can’t be bothered to fumble through my luggage then I can look at this while walking off the plane when I land. If I decide to use public transportation to get to my accommodation I write out directions from where to go as well as what lines to take. For example, if I got off at Heathrow Airport I would write down that I need to take the Piccadilly line to Green Park, where I would then get off and get the Jubilee line to my designated stop. When travelling anywhere I always take the full address of my accommodation with me, to help get directions if lost or to give to a taxi driver rather than trying to remember where I’m staying. By doing this there’s no way you can get overcharged by taxi firms, since you’re giving them the exact name and address which also means there’s no way you can get lost.
Emergency Phone Numbers
Something I carry even when leaving my house even for a few hours, let alone travelling to another country, is emergency phone numbers in which I carry a physical copy in my diary as well as on a digital page on my phone. If I’m travelling with friends or family I’ll make them my emergency contacts for the time while away since it’ll be more likely I’ll need to call them if we get separated or to see where they are. When travelling abroad I research the phone numbers for emergency services, which include police, ambulance and fire brigade since they’re different from the phone numbers where I live. Phone numbers that are also important are for my bank since I may need to notify them immediately if my card gets stolen so they can cancel it as well as notify them that I’m travelling abroad (so they know the transactions are mine, not fraudulent).
Personally I feel more prepared knowing the area I’m staying in before even booking my hotel, by making sure it’s a safe neighbourhood and to make sure that it’s located near a metro station or bus stop. This making me feel at ease since from previous experience abroad I haven’t got back to my accommodation any earlier than 8pm as I’ve been out all day sightseeing. An extra step I take to prepare myself before travelling to a country is to research the etiquette and customs of a country so I can try my best to follow these respectfully. For example, if I planned to travel to India then I would find that their customs differ to British ones since in some places it is considered proper to eat with your hands rather than cutlery as well as making sure to use your right hand rather than your left. Even though this differs from what I do, I must make an effort to respect the customs and etiquette of the country I’m visiting. Another important feature of research which is a must for everyone is to find out whether you need a visa to enter the country as well as making sure you’ve declared everything correctly such as your full name when booking flights to declaring if you have convictions or a criminal record (if applying for a visa). It’s also helpful to make sure you research the climate of the country you’re travelling to so you can pack accordingly. This information is easily available by simply typing into a search engine “What’s the weather like in (city) during (month)?”.
The language barrier is one of the most difficult things to be faced when abroad, from trying to ask for directions to ordering food, it can be confusing and time consuming. I download a range of language apps before travelling, most importantly Google Translate, in which I note down important phrases such as “I’ve lost my passport” and “How much is that” to other phrases such as “Thank you”. Some people may assume that everybody understands your home language but this is simply not the case abroad, especially in smaller towns and markets.
In my hand luggage I carry around a medical card which lists what medication I’m currently on as well stating if I’m allergic to anything. This is because if I need to be taken to hospital and have fainted or am unresponsive then there is a record for doctors and nurses to help me get treatment as quick as they can. Before travelling I make sure I have enough medication to last me for my holiday as well as a little extra in the extreme case that my flight ends up being delayed or cancelled and it takes a day or two extra to get home. When travelling I make a cheap first aid kit for travelling, which can be bought, which includes plasters and bandages as well as alcohol free wound cleansing wipes. This is carried in my hand luggage and in my handbag when I’m out throughout the day. It has been used a numerous amount of times, for example when I went out for an excursion in Greece I lost my footing and ended up grazing my knee when climbing up to see The Temple of Poseidon (it’s rock ground that’s very uneven).
An itinerary is a form of travel document in which records what you plan to do during a journey in detail. It may include the time of scheduled events and possible places and landmarks that you may want to visit. I make my own form of an itinerary for each holiday that I go on, which is made months in advance, which lists all of the places I want to visit as well as information regarding my accommodation, flights, plan for each day, information regarding the transfers to and from the airport while abroad as well as information on how I’ll get to the airport from my house. This is essential in making sure that I see everything I’ve planned and making sure that I’ve gotten the most out of my holiday. A lot of time and research goes into making an itinerary such as researching a place, looking at the cost of it as well as the time it would take for me to get there from my accommodation and the time it would take to explore it. These itineraries are printed out and given to each member of the party travelling with me. Additional copies are made which are left inside of my accommodation as well as a copy given to my parents. An itinerary may also help if I went missing since I would’ve left information regarding my whereabouts and a rough time as to when I should be returning.
Making an Itinerary
On my itinerary the departing time and date of the flights I’ll be taking is noted down and the terminal and airport it’ll be departing from. Extra information I add onto my itinerary is the time that we’ll be landing, so I can plan my transfers to my hotel around it as well as seeing what I can do that day as it all depends on when I’m able to get to my hotel to drop my bags off so I can then go out. This information can all be found on the booking confirmation sent to your email when you book your flights, with the time check in closes and your seat numbers (if you have pre-booked them). I also include the flight number on my itinerary so if needed I could easily state what flight I’m on as well as easily recognizing where my flight is on the departure board. Through my chosen airlines website I’m able to put in my flight number and be sent an email when the gate number is released, leaving me time to relax and wander around the airport.
An important feature of an itinerary, which many people forget to list, is the hotel they’re staying at. I firstly list the full name of the hotel since many hotels go under the same name but in different locations such as Aparthotel in Spain. Then I list the address since I may need to show to a taxi driver if they cannot understand what I’m trying to say as well as making sure that we don’t get lost (thus saving me from being heavily overcharged). The phone number of the hotel is included on my itinerary since it’s useful to have if I need to notify them that I may be checking in late or if there is any problems. When writing down the phone number make sure to include the country code, for Spain it’s +34 whereas for Portugal it’s +351. Additional information I include is the check in and check out time of the hotel I’m staying at, which can be found on sites such as Booking.com as well as the website of the hotel. In some instances some hotels are very particular about the times guests can check out of the hotel, with a late check out being chargeable, something every traveler wants to avoid just before they leave to come back home. This information allows me to plan any activities around these times, for instance my check out time for my hotel in Amsterdam is 11am which allows me a few hours to do any activities beforehand. I researched museums and landmarks close to my hotel and booked up the Van Gogh Museum for 9am. I’ve planned out that I’ll be able to get breakfast, walk to the museum and then at 9am have two hours to walk around and explore it. Then I’ve allowed myself an hour to walk back to my hotel to then get everything together and check out, with time to spare.
The plan for a holiday is essential: what you’ll be doing and what you’ll be seeing. For each day I listed the landmarks, museums I wanted to visit and anything else that I had wanted to do for that day. I would then write down the time I wanted to visit, either an estimate or a definitive time through booking an allocated time slot (such as visiting the Van Gogh Museum at 9am on the dot). I will then go even further to list if this attraction is free, if it’s been booked and fully paid or whether I need to book it in person. This gives me an idea of how much money I would need to take with me since if all my attractions have been booked then I would only need spending money whereas if nothing has been booked then I would need money for entrance fees plus spending money on top of that. My itinerary includes printed out versions of confirmations for both the attractions I’ve booked, most of which include my ticket. As much as I praise technology, knowing my luck my phone would probably end up dying the moment I need to show my ticket at the entrance, so it’s better to be safe than sorry by having a digital and a physical version of your ticket. Another bonus to printing out the tickets is that most of them feature a map which guides you towards the attraction, so if your phone does die and you can’t use a digital form of maps then you always have the good old fashioned way of navigating around.
If I do decide to get a private transfer from my airport to the hotel, then I’ll list the information regarding the time I’ll be picked up as well as the place I’m being picked up from. This being easy to read when I get to my destination rather than searching frantically through my emails to try and find the confirmation. Then I’ll do the same for my return journey by marking down the time that I’m being picked up from my hotel. When booking I already have a rough idea of the time I wanted to fly, by taking into consideration what time my flight would land, the time it would take to get from the airport to my hotel and the hotel check in time. For example if my flight landed at 12:45pm and it took me around 30 minutes to get through customs and immigration as well as then taking me another 30-45 minutes to transfer then I’ll be just in time for 2pm (most times that hotels allow you to check in).
The main form of transport in which I use to get to and from the airport is a train that runs through London Bridge to Brighton, which stops at Gatwick Airport (where most of the flights I’ve booked are departing). The journey takes around 30 minutes, making it a convenient way to get to and from the airport cheaply (a return ticket which is anytime of the day costs me around £15-20 as I get additional discount from my 16-25 Railcard). By listing what form of transport I’m going to use, it reminds me to bring my tickets with me as before my holiday I usually look at my itinerary. By doing this I’m able to check that I have any tickets for any attractions that I’ve booked up with me as well as making sure I have supporting documents for my train tickets and transfers.
My Itinerary from Barcelona.
Tips and tricks for all aspects of travelling, most of which include saving money.