Vacation safety and security tips


By Ted Parker

San Diego Police Department Neighborhood Policing Resource Team

This article provides tips to help you protect yourself and your property when you’re away on vacation.


When Away on Vacation

  • Travel with a friend or in a group when possible. There is safety in numbers.
  • Plan your touring. Don’t discuss your plans with strangers. Beware of strangers who seem overly anxious to help you. Select guides carefully.
  • Ask your hotel concierge or desk clerk about dangerous areas and avoid them.
  • When you go out tell the hotel manager when you expect to return and who to call if you’re not back by then.
  • Get good directions to avoid getting lost.
  • Carry a card with your hotel’s name, address, and phone number.
  • Find an open business to get directions if you get lost. Don’t appear to be lost by stopping and looking at addresses or street signs.
  • Stick to well-lighted main streets and public areas.
  • Leave your itinerary with a friend or relative and check in with them periodically.
  • Keep track of time and don’t be late for appointments or meetings.
  • Shop with a friend when possible.
  • Don’t buy things from people on the street who offer you a great deal, especially if you have to follow them somewhere to get it.
  • Don’t fight for your purse if someone tries to take it by force.
  • Before getting into a cab note the cab number and driver’s name.

In a Hotel/Motel Room

  • If the desk clerk says your room number aloud when you check in, ask for a different room and have the number written on your keycard sleeve and discreetly handed to you.
  • If you feel uncomfortable walking to your room alone, ask the desk clerk to provide an escort.
  • Determine the most direct route to and from your room, to fire escapes, stairs, elevators, and phones.
  • Keep your door locked when you are in your room. Use both the deadbolt lock and the security bar/chain.
  • Keep your windows locked, and blinds and drapes closed for privacy.
  • Be sure that sliding glass doors and doors to connecting rooms are locked.
  • Safeguard your room key or card at all times.
  • Use the peephole in the door to identify anyone requesting entry. Open the door only if you are certain it is safe to do so.
  • If you are worried about being spied on through the peephole in the door cover it with a piece of opaque tape.
  • If you haven’t requested room service or housekeeping and someone knocks on your door claiming to be a staff member, call the front desk to verify the claim before opening the door.
  • If you receive a call about an emergency that requires you to leave your room, hang up and call the front desk to verify it.
  • Report any suspicious persons or activities to the front desk.
  • Don’t stay in a ground-floor room, especially if you are a woman and traveling alone.

When Using an ATM

  • Select an ATM that is under video surveillance and has clear lines of sight in all directions, i.e., at locations with no building corners, shrubs, signs, etc. that could provide possible hiding places for an attacker.
  • Be aware of your surroundings before and during your transaction, especially between dusk and dawn. Return later or use an ATM in a store or bank if you notice anything suspicious, e.g., a person loitering nearby.
  • Avoid using poorly lighted or isolated ATMs. Complete your transaction as fast as possible and leave the facility.
  • Don’t go alone.
  • Park in a well-lighted area as close to the ATM as possible.
  • Keep your doors locked and passenger and rear windows rolled up when using a drive-through ATM.
  • Put your cash, receipt, and ATM card away promptly. Count your cash later in private. Do not leave your receipt at the ATM site.
  • Avoid being too regular. Don’t use the same ATM at the same time of day and day of the week.
  • Make sure you are not being followed when you leave an ATM location. Drive immediately to a police or fire station, or any well-lighted and crowed location or open business and get help if you are being followed. Flash your lights and sound your horn to attract attention.
  • Give up your money or valuables if you are confronted by an armed robber. Any delay can make a robber more nervous and increases the likelihood of violence.

While Driving

  • Keep your doors locked and your windows closed.
  • Know where you are going. Stop and get directions before you get lost.
  • Do not stop to assist a stranded motorist. Call or drive to the nearest phone and report the situation.
  • Drive to the nearest open business and call the police if anyone is following you.
  • Honk your horn or flash your lights to attract attention if you are threatened.
  • Keep enough gas in the tank so you won’t run out.
  • If your vehicle breaks down or runs out of gas, pull over to the right as far as possible, raise the hood, and call or wait for help. Remain in your vehicle with the doors and windows locked until you can identify any person who comes to help.

On a Cruise

  • Be skeptical. Don’t assume you can trust other passengers. Criminals take vacations too.
  • Stay sober. Don’t let alcohol impair your judgment. Only drink beverages you have seen prepared. Ask that bottled drinks be served unopened.
  • Set rules for your children and keep an eye on them. Make sure they don’t drink. Report any crew members who serve alcohol to minors.
  • Meet fellow passengers in public areas, not cabins.
  • Use all locks on your cabin door. Never open it to a stranger.
  • When you enter your cabin check the bathroom and closet before closing the door.
  • Don’t socialize with the crew. Make sure your children know that crew areas are off limits.
  • Dress down. Leave expensive jewelry and watches at home. They only make you a target for thieves.
  • Lock all valuables in a safe and guard your key card as you would a credit card.
  • Don’t stand or sit on the ship’s railing.
  • Never go to any isolated areas of the ship alone, especially in the evening and early morning.
  • Know where the members of your party are at all times. Report a missing person immediately.
  • Attend the ship safety drills and learn its emergency procedures.
  • Bring phone numbers of U.S. embassies or consulates in the cities on your itinerary so you can contact them if a problem arises. You can get them online at


  • If you are a victim of a crime at sea call the FBI at (202) 324-3000 from the ship to report the crime. Call the U.S. embassy or consulate if you are a victim of a crime on shore. Take photos of the crime scene and any injuries you suffered. Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of possible witnesses. Take statements. Don’t expect the cruise line to take physical evidence. Also notify your family, doctors, lawyers, insurance companies, etc. as appropriate.

Avoiding Terrorists

  • Before you leave go the U.S. Department of State website

to check Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings.

  • Avoid large chain hotels or ones near U.S. embassies or consulates. Choose small hotels in quiet neighborhoods.
  • Visit major attractions at less-busy hours.
  • Avoid restaurants and clubs frequented by Americans.
  • Don’t wear clothes that advertise your nationality.
  • Register with the nearest American embassy or consulate or do it online at

so you can be contacted in the event of a crisis or emergency.


Protecting Your Home When You’re Away

  • Use timers on lights, radios, TVs, etc. to make them go on and off during the day and night to make your home appear occupied.
  • Stop mail and newspaper delivery, or have neighbor pick up anything left at the home.
  • Keep grass watered and cut. Water and trim other landscaping.
  • Ask the neighbors to watch your home and report any suspicious activities.
  • Leave your itinerary with a neighbor so you can be contacted in an emergency.
  • Disconnect your electric garage door opener and padlock the door, preferably on the inside.
  • Call your local law enforcement agency to request vacation home checks. Residents of Del Mar Heights should call the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol Administrator for the SDPD Northwestern Division at (858) 523-7021. Residents of Del Mar should call the Encinitas Sheriff Station at (760) 966-3500.
  • Set your burglar alarm and notify your alarm company that you will be away. Then if an alarm occurs when you are away the company will not call your home first to verify the alarm; it will notify the police directly. Also provide the alarm company with an up-to-date list of persons to contact about the alarm and the need to secure your home after a burglary.

At a Hotel or Motel

  • Use all available locks on the doors and windows.
  • Make sure the door is securely locked when you leave your room.
  • Unpack and place your belongings in the closet and dresser. Arrange things so you can easily tell if something is missing. Keep a list of all things you brought from home.
  • Lock your suitcases so they cannot be used to carry things out. Consider hiding electric appliances and other valuable items in your suitcase.
  • Don’t leave cash, checks, credit cards, jewelry, vehicle keys, etc. in the room. Take them with you or lock them in the hotel or motel safe.
  • Report any lost or stolen items to the hotel or motel management as well as to the police.

When Out Carrying a Purse or Wallet

  • Before you go out make a list of the entire contents of your purse or wallet. Include all card account numbers and phone numbers to call to report a lost or stolen card. Keep a copy at home and put one in the hotel safe along with photocopies of your passport, tickets, and other important papers, a list of traveler’s check numbers, and an extra credit card.
  • Carry only a driver’s license, a minimum amount of cash, traveler’s checks, and one credit card. Don’t carry anything with a PIN or password written on it. Don’t carry blank personal checks or a checkbook.
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card or anything with your Social Security number on it. Persons with Medicare cards should carry photocopies of the cards with the last four digits of their Social Security number removed. Keep the card is a safe place at home.
  • Don’t carry personal information of your family members.
  • Avoid carrying a purse when possible. Wear a money pouch instead.
  • Carry a purse with a shoulder strap if you must. Keep the strap over your shoulder, the flap next to your body, and your hand on the strap. When wearing a coat, keep the strap and purse under the coat.
  • Keep a tight grip on your purse. Don’t let it hang loose or leave it on a counter in a store.
  • Carry your wallet, keys, and other valuables in an inside or front pants pocket, a fanny pack, or other safe place. Don’t carry a wallet in a back pocket.
  • Never put your purse or wallet on a counter while shopping.

What to Do If Your Purse or Wallet Is Lost

  • File a police report in the city where your wallet was lost or stolen, and keep a copy of the report.
  • Report the loss to the three nationwide consumer reporting companies: Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) 397-3742, and TransUnion at (800) 680-7289. Ask to have a fraud alert placed on your credit reports. It will tell creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to you existing accounts. In placing a fraud alert you will be entitled to free copies of your credit reports. Order them a few weeks after your loss and review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain. Fraud alerts are good for 90 days and can be renewed. They are free.
  • Alert your banks to close your accounts and open new accounts with new checks, ATM cards, PINs, and passwords. Also stop payment on missing checks.
  • Contact all your creditors by phone and in writing to inform them of the loss.
  • Call the security or fraud departments of each company to close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Follow up the request in writing and ask for written verification that the accounts have been closed and any fraudulent debts discharged. Keep copies of all documents and records of all conversations about these transactions.
  • If your Social Security card or any other card with your Social Security number on it was lost, contact the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline at (800) 269-0271 or by e-mail to the Office of the Inspector General at

  1. If your driver’s license was lost, contact the California DMV Fraud Hotline at (866) 658-5758 to report the theft and see if another driver’s license has been issued in your name.
  2. If your library card was lost, contact the library immediately. You could be held financially responsible for any material borrowed after the loss.

In Your Vehicle

  • Park in open, well-lighted, and populated areas near your destination.
  • Lock your vehicle and take your keys with you.
  • Never leave any valuables in plain sight.
  • Conceal maps or travel brochures that might indicate you are a tourist.