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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE CAREFUL TRAVELER

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

November 02, 1995 -- If you're a skittish business traveler, these are especially difficult times. The mysterious Unabomber threatens California airports, terrorists target travelers everywhere, and scam artists scheme to get access to your credit cards and your cellular-phone number.

Unfortunately, there's no black box or magic bullet to make you safe. All you can do is take some practical precautions to make your travel safer, less dangerous, and more secure. Here's some sound advice:

Carry a photo ID. When the government unilaterally tightens security at airports--something that happened in the Unabomber crisis earlier this year--airline gate agents are instructed to proof travelers for tickets and a photographic identification. In these perilous times, make sure you carry a photo ID at all times.

Pack your own bags. Never let anyone--including your spouse or assistant--pack your luggage. In times of heightened security, you'll be asked if you packed your own bags. If you didn't--and you admit it--your bags will be searched.

Don't abandon your luggage. If you walk away from your bags at an airport, there's a good chance they could be stolen. But have you ever considered stray luggage will attract the attention of both security officials and potential terrorists? Do yourself a favor: never let your bags out of your sight.

Watch for bumper stickers. A spate of crimes against travelers in Florida last year was traced to rented cars. Thugs identified the rented cars--and thus tourists--by specially coded license plates and by bumper stickers promoting the car-rental company. States no longer issue special tags to cars in a rental fleet, but some of those offending bumper stickers remain. Don't accept a rented car with a rental firm's sticker on the bumper.

Get a coded cell phone. Most cell-phone companies now offer a valuable service: security codes. These codes operate like a personal-identification number (PIN) for a bank card. After you dial a telephone number, you then dial the security code to complete the call. Adding a security code reduces the chance of a criminal pirating your cell-phone number.

Guard your cards. Most travelers are smart enough not to flaunt their credit cards, but that's not enough. Criminals have been known to rifle through garbage to steal credit-card numbers off the carbons of a sales receipt. So make sure you take the carbons whenever you sign a credit card receipt.

Muzzle the front desk. Hotel clerks have an annoying habit of bellowing your room number as they hand you the key to your room. You know the routine: "Here you go, Miss Smith, you're in Room 1150." For obvious security reasons, never accept that room. Tell the clerk you want a new room, then bluntly inform him that you don't want him broadcasting your location to everyone in the lobby.

THIS MONTH'S ANSWERS…
Not more than five minutes after returning my rental car I realized that I left my purse in the trunk. When the service people checked the trunk, they found nothing. Do I have any recourse against the rental company?
In a word, no. Although rental firms have managed to raise their rates lately, car-rental prices have been unrealistically low in the last decade. To make up for the low rates, the rental firms have been cutting back on the insurance they offered as part of the daily rate. One of the coverages no longer offered as part of the bundled daily rate is personal effects coverage (PEI). This insurance, which covers loss of or damage to personal items, is now available only as an optional purchase at the time of rental. Moreover, the situation you describe is similar to leaving your purse in an overhead storage bin of an airliner. Leave it on board after you've disembarked your flight and you have no recourse if it disappears.

I travel frequently with my laptop computer and modem and am constantly confronted by annoyances like uncooperative phones and balky electrical receptacles. Is there any solution?
A company called AR Industries (800-274-4277) sells the "TravelKit" line of accessories. The portable kits include telephone cords, printer cables, electrical and telephone adapters, and basic tools. The top-of-the-line Tele-TravelKit International includes a wide variety of adapters for international telephone and electrical systems. Although it is possible to purchase the products separately from a variety of retail outlets, the TravelKits offer the convenience of getting everything you need all at once in one portable package.

How do you get details and recommendations about good restaurants if you're unfamiliar with the city you're visiting?
Start with the Zagat Survey series (800-333-3421), which now covers more than two dozen cities in the United States. The Mobil Travel Guides and AAA Tour Books also offer useful, if not cutting edge, dining information. You might also check with the concierge in your hotel. In fact, you can use the services of a concierge even if you're not a guest of the hotel. Just make sure you tip the concierge for the advice when you're not registered at his or her hotel.

This column originally appeared in Selling magazine.

Copyright © 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.