It was a pleasant September evening when the vacationing Pittsburgh sweethearts crossed a bustling Piccadilly Square leaving a performance of “Chicago” in the heart of London.
Suddenly two girls rushed the couple,claiming they had just witnessed them being pickpocketed. Unconvinced,Victoria Sammartino reached back to find that her purse had,indeed,been unzipped and pilfered.
“I never even felt it,” said Sammartino,president the Allegheny chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents. “I was absolutely angry. I was so upset because I did not follow my own advice.”
Sammartino,who has 25 years experience in the travel industry,always tells her customers to leave all but one credit card and a debit card at home or in the hotel safe and to make copies of credit card numbers and the phone numbers to call in case of an emergency.
After spending the rest of the evening on the phone and in the police station,the Sammartinos got off easy. The robbers were only able to make a few long-distance phone calls with her debit card.
“It was hard,that's why I advise everyone to clean out their wallet,” she said. “A lot of travel safety is just common sense.”
Whether planning a cruise through the Mediterranean,a backpack across the Swiss Alps or a road trip from Los Angeles to New York,travelers should consider safety a priority.
ASTA suggests that safety begins with packing.
Leave the expensive jewelry and flashy watches at home; thieves look for affluent people. Sammartino suggested “dressing down.”
If traveling by air,don't lock luggage except with a Transportation Security Administration approved lock – Travel Sentry offers locks that security officials can open and relock.
After Sept. 11,2001,TSA implemented a variety of safety precautions at airports,including explosive detection equipment and air marshals.
“One hundred percent of all luggage is screened for explosives,100 percent of the time at all airports,” said Darrin Kayser,TSA spokesman.
Checked luggage at larger airports is screened electronically,while luggage at smaller airports is screened through a combination of detection systems,which Kayser admitted can be more intrusive because it is more likely to involve opening luggage.
Travelers should also be aware of what airlines allow to be carried on and what should be packed in checked bags. For the most part,items considered contraband a year ago still are,but it's worth checking the TSA Web site for specifics.
“We have a well-trained,highly skilled workforce committed to keeping dangerous items off of flights,” Kayser said.
Not all vacationers will be traveling by air.
Those preparing for a cruise should follow the same guidelines as those preparing for a flight. Passengers and luggage will be screened,according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We recommend familiarizing yourself with the safety procedures of the ship and in the location of safety equipment,” said Jolie Shifflet,spokeswoman for the Coast Guard.
For some,the familiarity of a car is the only way to travel.
In 2002,118 million cars carried 333.5 million people over an international border.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol guards U.S. borders and makes sure travelers are who they say they are.
“Let's face it,the easiest way to convince us is with identification,” said Janice Mosher,Border Patrol manager of customer service.
Although there are no legal guidelines to what type of I.D. is preferred,and a passport is not necessary for travel to Canada or Mexico,Mosher recommends that everyone have two forms. “We have to be able to identify the traveler,” she said.
Long waits in the car can also be a hassle in the summer,and Mosher suggested checking the Border Patrol Web site where updated wait times are listed.
According to the AAA,people traveling domestically by car should plan their trip before they hit the road,and if children are going,include them in the planning.
“Make sure you have your car checked,get a kind of spring check-up,” said Sue Akey,AAA Mid Atlantic spokeswoman.
She said making sure all fluids,belts and tires are up to par could ensure a safe trip for everyone. Akey also recommended carrying flares or orange cones in case disaster does strike.
Regardless of how one travels,making copies of passports,driver's licenses and other identification is necessary in case luggage is lost or stolen.
The TSA Web site is : http://www.tsatraveltips.us
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol site is: http://www.customs.gov