Better safe than sorry

Thank you, Lee (see Cash in Germany), for reminding everyone of that common sense maxim. I confess it drives me a little crazy to read people's advice based on their experience of never having had a problem with atm's, delayed flights, emergency medical needs, etc, etc. The flawed logic is that even if hundreds of thousands of travelers don't encounter the problem, some do. Then the question becomes one of how burdensome prevention is vs how severe the consequences may be, not what the odds are. Stranded with no cash in a foreign country? $50,000 for medical evacuation? Several thousand dollars for a no-advance purchase replacement ticket when a lo-cost carrier delays or cancels your flight to your departure-for-home airport? Many issues are much easier to deal with on your home turf than in a foreign country; and, in fact can hardly be anticipated by inexperienced travelers. It's a disservice to them to blithely dismiss concerns with, "that's never happened to me."

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
14087 posts

This site and others would benefit greatly if people stuck to posting what their experiences are/were and let the reader draw the conclusions. But taking your experience and extrapolating to all travelers and all situations is a disservice especially to new travelers who don't know how to judge between good advice and marginal advice. On this site (and others) there are experts who have made one or two trip, read three guidebooks, and, maybe, are quick on the internet finding information who then pretend with their advice to have been there, done that, with great finality. Post what you know, not what you think you know. Let the reader form their own conclusions.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
14122 posts

Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean that everyone isn't really out to get you. I guess there are extremes in both directions. Wearing your money belt under three sets of clothes and double pinned might be a little extreme, and might be a little inconvenient, but having all of your money and cards in a wallet in your back pocket, where everyone can see where you put it every time you need to get some money, is just plain foolish and can have disastrous results. Once I spent the night in Boppard before an early afternoon flight from FRA. It was an hour and a quarter, direct train trip. I have confidence in the Bahn and felt I would make it. I also once had an hour's direct ICE train trip from Karlsruhe to FRA. However, driving several hours to the airport on roads that can be closed because of an accident, in a car that could break down, or where you might make a wrong turn, seems a little risky. A few weeks ago, I drove to a Bay Area airport to fly back to Denver. We were going to leave earlier, but my girlfriend wanted to ship some heavy books home UPS, and the clerk kept inputting all of the information, then hitting start over, so we left much later than intended. Then, because we weren't familiar with the freeway entrance near there, we got on the freeway south of where we wanted to turn off and went on the wrong road for about 20 minutes before we realized the mistake. Well, we made it, but there were a few anxious moments.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
1483 posts

Every problem has its own solution(s), and I think improvements in technology (internet, telecommunications, standard financial protocols, etc) have made solving even overseas problems much easier than in the past. I don't think you can actually be "stranded" in Europe, even without cash. It could be expensive or very inconvenient to have to wiggle out of an unfortunate situation, but I still tend to make decisions based on odds not worst case scenario and then accept the consequences. To each his own based on risk tolerance. The maxim "better safe than sorry" has a price tag and everyone values that price tag differently. It depends on how much of a premium one is willing to pay to insure against random, perhaps infrequent but expensive events. Most folks are more sensitive to losses than gains so they're willing to pay quite a bit (that's relative too, but let's say it's above simply doing nothing and accepting whatever risks may come). I'm not willing to pay a premium for exchanging money in the US prior to a trip or buying travel insurance - that's just me. I don't carry a money belt or stuff anything under my clothes either - my purse/backpack I use in the US works just as well anywhere else. Everyone can choose the right tradeoff for themselves.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4619 posts

Yes, better safe than sorry does have a price tag. So, hmmm, less than $100 and you know that no matter what happens you can get home. (And I think I've spent more like less than $50 for that peace of mind.) And is a 5% fee of $5.00 to have $100 worth of pounds or Euros in my pocket too much vs facing emptied ATMs or a airport power outage or some other event is well worth it to me. When I was 19 back in the days before ATMs I arrived in Greece to learn that I had arrived on a holiday and no banks were open. I had traveler's checks in Deutschmarks and some actual Deutschmarks so it was a good thing I arrived by train and could walk! ; ) I think that people should monetize things more explicitly. Then let readers decide their comfort level. Some of us are just more cautious then others. I find that when you have visited a place many times, you can get cocky forgetting just how far from home we are. Pam

Posted by Rosalyn
1776 posts

@George - I read the Helpline quite regularly and and never saw the posting about a moneybelt under 3 layers of clothing, etc., nor "those" (plural!) which advocated being in your departure city 36 hours in advance. On the other hand, if you've never seen postings advising not buying travel insurance, then you're just not paying attention. And just a note on the latter, travel insurance is a multifaceted issue, including emergency medical treatment, evacuation/repatriation, lost luggage, and trip cancellation among other things. Some parts are more important than others; but I've seen many posters here dismiss the value of any of it on the grounds that the they have never needed it. In fact, just about every time the question comes up, at least one, and usually several will contribute that opinion.
While I'm at it, I'll say that I don't think there's anything "PARANOID" or even paranoid about thinking it's a good idea to have a little local currency with you upon arrival or to allow more than the absolute minimum amount of time needed for getting to the airport.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

It goes both ways. There are plenty of things you can do to avoid putting yourself at risk. For example, we are always sleeping in our departure city before flying home vs. traveling a long distance to the airport. On the other hand, we've never purchased travel insurance of any kind. The travel pros here tend to seem cavalier about travel to Europe because they have the experience and know that it is essentially little different that traveling across the USA. Perhaps it used to be dramatically different - but not anymore. Travel novices often hear a scary story or two from friends or newspapers and think there is a long list of unique dangers they can avoid if they are extra careful. But those same people would probably not give much thought to flying across the USA to a city they have never been to. Only you know the level of risk you are comfortable with. Just comfort yourself with the knowledge that the people there are not that different than the people here. Make a smart, sane, practical itinerary. Pack light. Keep track of your stuff. Be polite. It will all work out fine in the end.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
11065 posts

Rosalyn, did some rare event afflict you during a recent trip? I'm wondering what provoked this thread. If so, please elaborate.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24148 posts

@George, I use a PacSafe Wallet when travelling and feel that's a reasonable precaution, given the number of thefts and the proficiency of pickpockets in some cities. Someone may be able to remove the wallet from my pocket, but they won't get far with it. Some may consider that to be a "YIKES" practice, but I feel it's reasonable and prudent. I also wear a Money Belt, although not under three layers of clothing. Cheers!

Posted by Brad
Greeley, CO, USA
352 posts

My only advice (and I love your post Rosalyn). One listen to Lee and the other prolific posters and I am not kidding. Two, keep money and cards in a money belt or as I do in a zippered front pocket. Three give yourself plenty of time to and from airports and to transverse them (Dulles customs etc. is way worse than Frankfurt for example) And lastly, and I hate to say it keep the Roma adults and children away from you. Unfortunately they are a product of their upbringing. They don't approach me very often at 5'11' and 220 and not fat (ok a little fat), but once they understand my position and that they are to stay away from our children as I made it clear in Paris in May, problem solved. We have had the experience of my mother in law almost being killed in a motorcycle accident three days before leaving on our first trip to Europe for three weeks in 2004; one credit card not suddenly working; a debit card not working; a credit card stolen the day before we were coming back to the states: landing in Dublin on non stop flight on the way to Frankfurt to let off a sick passenger; our quad band phones not working in Europe, me not understanding how a rental car works in Europe 2013, barely making a flight, and missing plenty of turns to the airport. I tell friends of mine who are about to embark on their first trip. There is always a solution and yes, besides the language problems at times, its just as easy to solve a problem in Europe as in the US.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4619 posts

I don't think anyone would disagree that there are posts that are over the top. I would add that there is a difference between scare-mongering and following basic preparedness. I have to say that when I'm traveling in the US, I don't travel with an empty wallet. I have about $100 in cash even when I plan to use a credit card for most purchases. Usually, I don't need it, but I've had to to use it. And, of course there are pickpockets in the US. Just go to the Staten Island Ferry landing in Manhattan, or Times Square, or in Chicago's Loop. I speak, sadly, from experience in two out of those three places. ; ( What's different is when my pocket is picked here, I can easily, well not easily, but relatively easily, replace the id, and credit cards. I'm trying to imagine getting my NY Driver's License replaced on a trip to Europe. I guess I'd be turning in the rental car. :( Again, as I said all of us have different levels of a caution in us and we would be wise to lay out the options for new comers. Pam

Posted by Lo
1678 posts

My husband and I are in the category of people who have never had a travel problem that trip insurance could help us with. We are also in the group of people who think it is well worth the money and budget it into every overseas trip. We both have health issues that could prevent us going at the last minute, cause us to go home early or late, or require repatriation. We always carry on, so it is unlikely that our bags would get totally lost, but his has been misplaced or taken by someone else twice going through customs. We are both clumsy and amazed enough by what we are seeing that we could easily step off or trip up a curb and break or sprain something. Trip insurance for us is not about being scared, it's about being practical. After all, isn't all insurance purchased hoping you will never need it and being thankful when you do?

Posted by Bets
3351 posts

Rosalyn, I find your posts very logical and helpful and you make a good point about people differentiating between their own experiences and posting unfounded generalizations. Don't see anything "paranoid" on the pickpocket thread, but I do see a lot of people citing first-hand experiences.

Posted by Bets
3351 posts

First hand experience George. My husband, born and raised Parisian, knows what he's looking at. This year it was particularly frisky, especially on the lines going through the stations where there are a lot of tourists. And no, I don't wear a money belt, never have, and I don't carry a slash proof purse.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3581 posts

Backup plans are almost always a good thing. The thing that bothers me sometimes with certain topics and certain posters here is that they approach a relevant issue with only one solution and present it as "you MUST do it this way" or "DO this" rather than "CONSIDER this." An example is a recent thread about having backup ATM cards. We can all agree to having some backup plan available in case your primary ATM card doesn't work. But some posters present the solution as "you must have a second ATM card with a separate account." Fine advice but there are many other options and not everyone needs to open new bank accounts. Same goes for avoiding foreign transaction fees on credit cards and ATM cards. It's great advice to open an account/get a new card that has no such fees, but sometimes a thread reads like you'd be an idiot not to do it. But for rare travelers it isn't all that necessary and opening new accounts can impact one's credit scores. I also chuckle at your extreme example of burying your moneybelt under 3 layers of clothes. I'm one that feels it doesn't matter if you access your moneybelt/secure wallet in public (if feasible), with the typical response being "but know a thief knows where your wallet/moneybelt is." But since such systems are designed to be inaccessible to thieves without you noticing, the fact that they know where it is doesn't matter since they can't get to it. But this idea is abhorrent to many posters here. I personally find it a bit extreme to sneak off to a restroom somewhere just to fish out your credit card or stash away your cash from the ATM. Ultimately it all comes down to what level of risk people are willing to take, and it will vary greatly. We'd all be well served by keeping that in mind.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
2313 posts

In all my years of reading this web site almost daily, I have yet to read of a person having their money belt, when properly worn, or its contents, pick-pocketed. Have I missed someone who had this happen?

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
1290 posts

I agree that it is possible to be too nervous and paranoid about "what could happen". However, does this mean that we should never post any warnings of any kind to new travelers? The postings above with reference to other threads seems to suggest so. Should we tell every one who comes here that there is no crime anywhere in Europe? No pickpockets, no problems ever of any kind? No travel glitches either; no missed train or plane connections, no luggage accidentally left anywhere? Isn't that just putting on rose colored glasses where traveling to Europe is concerned; i.e., just as unrealistic as going off the deep end being paranoid?

Posted by Leslie
Atlanta, Georgia
483 posts

Have to agree with Rosalyn even though I'm less adverse to risk. I'd put risk management right up there with personal taste on the objectivity scale. I don't wear money belts or capri pants. I don't buy trip insurance or train tickets prior to an hour before departure, but that's just me and I sure don't recommend my mode of travel as the gospel. I've been physically assaulted on a train in the Cinque Terre and walked around Atlantic Station at 2am this morning with a wad of cash in my back pocket with no issues. I can't imagine how there could be a wrong answer to any safety concerns and experiences. Anybody who can manage to find themselves on another continent can surely be logical enough to figure out the info presented to them for themselves and make up their own mind!

Posted by Tara
148 posts

I'm with Leslie. If it gives someone a little peace of mind to take what another might see as an over the top precaution, then hey, why not? It just means they'll enjoy their trip more. Live and let live.