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Travelling: When things go wrong
Resmi Jaimon
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July 10, 2007

Getting robbed, stranded, or taking seriously ill are all more or less unfortunate situations that can crop up at any time, but their magnitude takes on gigantic proportions if you're away from home. Any such incident can be particularly daunting if you're travelling and are a stranger in an unfamiliar environment. And while some incidents are not quite that serious, others are serious enough to remember for years to come. Take, for instance, the following examples:

Vibhor Mehra*, his wife and other family members were on a tour exploring several locales far away from their hometown. In one particular town, the six of them booked two hotel rooms for the night, and split up to occupy both. At 2:15 am, Vibhor's wife felt something brush against her legs as she slept and woke up screaming, only to see someone wearing the hotel uniform disappear into the bushes outside the window. Vibhor and his family lodged an FIR with the local police and left the hotel immediately. Hotel authorities denied the allegations they made, but hounded the family till they left the state, pleading with them to withdraw their complaint.

Sandhya Khan* and her daughter were travelling outstation by train once, with a bag holding a few thousand rupees and a mobile phone tucked under their seats. Midway through the journey, a group of men travelling in the same compartment suddenly began to create a ruckus, distracting them. Upon reaching their destination, the ladies realised that someone had robbed their bag of the money and mobile, probably while the nearby group was creating a scene -- a ruse to divert their attention. What continues to baffle Sandhya is the stealth and quick manner with which the thief managed to rob their belongings from right under their noses.

Travelling incidents such as the above are not uncommon, and it is best to take the following precautions so that you don't have to face a similar situation:

~ Travel light, carrying only the bare essentials and make sure to lock shut your bags and luggage. Wear minimal jewellery and avoid carrying valuables like gold or money as far as possible.

~ Do not carry all your money in your wallet, or in your bag -- if either of the two is misplaced by travel authorities or robbed, you will be left completely broke. Instead, carry some loose notes in your pocket, some in your wallet, and some distributed among the pieces of luggage you're taking with you. Also, make sure to keep mum about how much you're carrying -- don't flash too many notes while paying for anything, or brag to travelling companions about the cash.

~ Leave a note of your mobile number, ATM card number and bank account details with someone trusted back home. That way, in an emergency you can call the responsible party and obtain all the information you require. If your credit/ debit card is stolen, for instance, you can call a bank's 24 hour hotline and get the card cancelled immediately if you have the card number.

~ Maintain a list of contacts residing in the area you are travelling to, or in the closest neighbouring areas. Also keep a separate list of whom to contact in case of an emergency, be it in the same place or a neighbouring one.

~ Avoid accepting eatables or drinks from an unknown travelling companion -- just refuse politely. Also avoid talking too much about your personal life with strangers on a journey.

~ Never offer to look after someone else's luggage -- if something is discovered missing from it, or it is found to contain some contraband item, you will be blamed.

~ If you've arrived at a town or hillstation you've never visited before, don't go out alone after dark, especially if it is an isolated area.

~ Whether travelling by air, train or car, make sure you have all the required documents (tickets, car registration etc) on you along with a few copies for safety.

~ When using public transport, beware of potentially hazardous situations. When a train is passing through a tunnel, for instance, make sure the compartment lights are switched on and hold your valuables close to you, to prevent a robber from taking cover in the dark and making off with your things.

If despite your precautions something unforeseen takes place (and it often does), here's a few tips on what you should do:

~ Stolen travel documents, especially when you are travelling abroad, are a real headache. For instance, if lose your passport, contact the nearest embassy or consulate immediately. Also submit photocopies of the missing originals as legitimate proof of your claim.

~ Local taxi or autorickshaw drivers demanding exorbitant fares from tourists is a common problem -- some of them do not even have meters installed. Although you may be on your first visit to a particular city or hillstation, tell them that you often visit and know the exact charges. Try to book a pre-paid auto or taxi so as to avoid any unnecessary arguments.

~ If your mobile phone is robbed, report it to the nearest police station. Also call your network service provider -- they will be able to block your SIM card and prevent misuse of the phone, or may even be able to trace it down.

~ If you are robbed while using public transport, get in touch with the concerned travel authorities and file a complaint.

~ If you are stranded in a particular place while travelling (it could be due to a public transport strike, bad weather or any other reason), keep in constant touch with friends (if you have any in the same or neighbouring area), with loved ones back home and with the authorities of the hotel you're staying at. Keep abreast of any given situation, and if it is safe to do so, visit nearby places till you can take your leave.

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