Hey there, and welcome back. I hope you've had a great week. Oh, the title? A bit late to be talking about vacations you say? Not really. When I was living and working down in Charleston, August was second only to Spring Break for the number of tourists we got; and why not? In June you're still trying to get the spring plantings and spring cleaning done, not to mention all the little things your boss wants done before everyone leaves for vacation; and July is family time what with the 4th of July and all. But in August we suddenly realize that the kids are about to go back to school and if we're going to get that family vacation in we'd better do it now before Labor Day rolls around and we miss our chance. But still, it's Friday so some of you are probably wondering just what Vacation has to do with self defense. Well it's like this. When we're at home, we instinctively know when something's not right and we might be in danger, but when we're on vacation we can suddenly find ourselves with unexpected danger on two different fronts.
The first danger is the danger of unknown surroundings. After all, unless you have a cabin you visit every year, or vacation is taking the kids to see gramma and grandpa, you're going to find yourself in a place that you just don't know. At home you know without even thinking about it which streets are safe and which ones to avoid. You know when someone is out of place, like a kid dressed gang banger style where no one else would dress that way or a man dressed too well when everyone else would be dress rather casual. But when you're on vacation odds are you don't know the normal patterns, so you really won't know what to look for. So what do you do? Well first, you need to do a little homework.
For starters, if you're a regular reader of my rambles then you probably have a concealed weapons permit or license, that or you're considering getting one. But can you take your favorite gun with you? Maybe, maybe not. Let's not forget Ms. Shaneen Allen after all. If you remember, this lady was a health care professional, a phlebotomist, who was arrested in New Jersey for possession of a hand gun inspite of the fact that she had a concealed weapon permit from her home state of Pennsylvania. If Governor Christie had not bowed to public pressure and pardoned her, this mother of two could have found herself in prison for 3 years. So for God's sake, check the gun laws of the state you plan to visit! My personal favorite for doing this is an app I have on my phone called Concealed Carry App, or CCA for short. This app keeps up to date with all the laws covering reciprocity of your cwp so you'll know a head of time whether the state you're planning on visiting will honor your permit or not.
Another great resource is the NRA. Naturally the organization best known for defending people's right to own guns of any type tries their best to keep track of every law dealing with guns no matter where you might be going.
Another thing I’d recommend is to do a web search for the place you’re going to. Look up crime rates, and reviews by other people. Check the local police department’s web site, often they’ll have tips that you might find useful. And once you get there, check with the people where you’ll be staying. Especially check with the concierge if they’ve got one, and it’s not too uncommon for even smaller hotels and cabin sites to have them now-a-days. The staff where you’re staying want you to have the best time possible so that you’ll come back, or at least recommend them to your friends; so they’ll be more than happy to give you any tips you might need to know to keep you and your family safe.
If you’re going to an area known for tourism, consider buying yourself a money belt instead of keeping all your money in your wallet or purse. Most people when they hear the word money belt automatically think of bad fiction or the old west, so you’ve got a reasonable chance that a thief will never even think of the possibility of you having one; and I’ve seen some really nice ones out there so it’s not going to clash with your outfit. You might also consider carrying your wallet in your front pocket instead of your back pocket. I know it’s not very comfortable, and it won’t stop a really, really good pick pocket; but it will slow them down and possibly make them pass you up for an easier mark. After all, most thieves aren’t going to work any harder than they have to, and if your wallet is in a place that’s harder to them to get to then there’s more of a chance they’ll give themselves away which is the last thing a pick pocket will want to do.
Set meeting places anywhere you go where the family can meet up at in case you get separated. I know you don’t intend to let that happen, but believe me, it can happen to even the best of us. So set up that meeting place, and set a time that everyone should meet there just in case. Also make sure everyone has recent pictures of everybody as well, that way if little Johnny get separated from you he can not only tell that nice lady at the reception desk that he’s lost his mommy and daddy by also show her what you look like. And let’s be honest, it helps the police to no end should worst come to worst and you have to involve them in trying to find him.
And finally, keep aware of your surroundings at all times! I know you’ve never been there before, and, as I admitted earlier in this ramble, wouldn’t know what’s normal and what’s not; but your instincts will pick up on more than you might think, as long as you pay attention! The number of people I saw every year in Charleston who got so wrapped up in the sights that they’d step off the sidewalk in front of moving cars is down right frightening, but thieves know this happens all the time and they look for people who aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them. After all, it’s so much easier to rob someone who doesn’t even notice the mugger until they’re starring down the muzzle of a gun.
Still, these things are not all you need to worry about. You need to take steps to protect your home while you’re away as well. I know, I know; you’ve heard these things a thousand times before. They’re still worth repeating though; and who knows, maybe I’ll give you some ideas you never thought of before.
Nothing screams no one is home more than no lights on in a house for several days at a time, but the same set of lights burning 24 hours a day is just as bad so buy your self a timer. I know almost everyone has some experience with these, I mean even in ancient times when I was just a wee lad my father had timers on 3 or 4 lights for when we went away on vacation; but todays timers make those old same time every time timers look pathetic. After all, no one turns their lights on and off at the same time every single day unless they have OCD or are wedded to a schedule like glue as some people on the autistic spectrum can be. Spend a little more than you would on just a basic on and off timer and you can get digital timers that can be set to vary their timing by up to an hour either way.
And why stop there? Admittedly, I’m one of those paranoid people who leave their outside lights on 24/7; but very few people do. So why not add a timer to your outside lights as well? Or maybe a photosensor that will turn them on when it gets dark and turns them back off when it gets light. Get a good one, and it will serve you well even when you are at home making turning your outside lights on and off something you never have to think about.
Or maybe you have a neighbor or relative you trust implicitly that can stop by and manage your lights for you. This has the advantage that then people will be seen to be entering your house and leaving on a regular basis. If a thief has no other reason to suspect anything, it will look like someone’s home even more than just the lights turning on and off will. Hell, offer them a small bribe in the form of a cake or cookies and the use of your DVD collection while you’re away and I’ll bet they’ll jump at the chance.
One thing I’ve heard recommended several times is to make sure your blinds are closed before you go so that bad guys can’t see in. Sorry folks, but in my opinion that’s one of the stupidest suggestions out there. I mean think about it. When you’re home, is every blind in the place closed all the time? Maybe if you work third shift or are extremely sensitive to light, but otherwise I really doubt it. And if I’m not likely to believe it, what in God’s name makes you think the bad guys are going to buy it? No, leave the blinds just the way you normally would or get that friendly neighbor to randomly open and close the blinds for you while you’re away. Aye, you will want to move that laptop or expensive TV and jewelry somewhere where it’s not obvious to someone trying to peek in your windows, but that’s about as far as you should go.
Of course nothing shouts no one’s home quite like having your newspapers and mail piling up while you’re away, so call the newspaper and have them hold your paper while you’re away and use the postal services web site to put a hold on your mail as well; but what about those people who leave cards hanging from your door knob or mailbox advertising pressure washing or tree removal? You can’t exactly call them and tell them not to leave their ads at your house while you’re away, if for no other reason that you don’t have a clue who they are or when they’re going to leave them. So once again here’s a job for that neighbor you bribed, or the pet sitter coming in to take care of the four legged members of your family for you.
One thing my father never thought to do when I was growing up that I heartily recommend is calling your local police to let them know when you’re leaving and when you’re coming back. Okay, it might not do any good if you live in a huge city or have an asshole for a police chief, but then again it might. Most police departments now-a-days have programs just for this sort of thing, and it might result in them checking on your house every other day or so. If you have a really responsive police department, they might even check on it every day, or at least drive by it to make sure everything looks okay.
Next thing to be aware of is be careful who you tell that you’re going to be out of town for a while. What ever you do, don’t announce it on Facebook or your blog. Don’t even announce it in chat rooms. Yeah, you may have your privacy settings set for friends only; but that still doesn’t guarantee that the wrong people won’t see it. And even if they don’t see your original post, who’s to say that somebody who’s not thinking won’t say something along the lines of “That lucky so and so John Doe, he’s heading for Disney next month! Wish I had the money to go.” Yet at the same time you will want to let at least some people know that you plan to be out of town, especially a few of your neighbors. I remember we had a string of thefts one year down in Charleston that were real doozies. The thieves pulled up in front of their victims homes in moving vans in broad daylight and emptied the house they hit just as if the people who lived their where moving away, and the neighbors by and large just thought to themselves “Gee, I didn’t know they were moving. I wonder why they didn’t tell us?” In not a single instance did anyone call the police or even get suspicious until the victims came home and found their house completely empty! In two cases I think the thieves even put up a fake For Sale sign. If these people had just let one or two of their neighbors know they were going away on vacation, there’s a good chance the thieves could have been caught. Instead they hit 7 or 8 houses in the course of a month and a half then skipped town.
One more thing you might want to consider, especially here in the South, is whether your car is normally in the drive way or in the garage. Many, many people here in the South don’t bother parking their cars in the garage and instead use their garages for all sorts of other things. But that can be a dead give away that no one’s home if your second car is left sitting in the driveway and never moves the entire time you’re gone. So in addition to the pet sitter, if you don’t know anyone you’d trust to occasionally drive your car just so it doesn’t look completely unused, ask around and see if you can find someone. I doubt you’ll want someone driving your car every day and putting who knows how many miles on it, but maybe you can get that friendly neighbor you’ve already bribed to take it to the grocery store and back once or twice while you’re gone. It can’t hurt, and it might help more than you’d think.
So there you have it. My quick and dirty lowdown how how to keep safe during vacation both where you’re vacationing and on the home front. Could I have gone into more details on some of it, or even come up with more ideas? You betcha, but as this thing I call a ramble is a blog post and not a magazine article I think I’ll call it good for now. In the meantime, have a great weekend and I hope the weather cooperates with you. Until we meet again in this little corner of cyberspace; may the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back. And remember, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with attitude.