How to Check for Hidden Cameras in Your Hotel Room or Vacation Rental

March 19, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it rarely happens at all — not enough to make us stop traveling. Still, you hear the occasional story about hidden cameras being found in a hotel room, vacation rental, office space, or Airbnb rental.

So while you don’t have to panic that you’re being spied upon wherever you go, it doesn’t hurt to be a little vigilant when you stay somewhere new.

Smarter Travel lists three methods for checking for hidden cameras, as suggested by “The Monk,” a technical surveillance countermeasures and intelligence expert from Advanced Operational Concepts who goes by the anonymous moniker. Here’s his advice.

There are essentially three primary methods for checking for a hidden camera.

  1. Scanning of radio frequencies (RF)
  2. Lens detection
  3. Physical search

Most of the equipment costs less than $100 and are available in the commercial market. But The Monk warns that none of them are 100% accurate.

Each have pros and cons, too. For example, RF scanning only helps in identifying a device if that device is actively transmitting. If it stores data on a card and is recovered later, the RF scanner is fairly useless.

Hidden cameras are very rare, but it still helps to know how to look for them.Lens detection is very effective, if used properly. If you are too far from the lens, sweep the room too quickly, or are just standing at the wrong angle from the lens, then you’ll likely miss seeing the lens when it reflects the light from your own light source.

According to The Monk, the most thorough method is physical inspection which requires patience and access — prying open smoke detectors, opening the backs of paintings, and possibly opening a section of a wall to see if anything is inside. (This can be a problem if you’re in someone else’s house.)

A mix of the three is best.

“You may not be able to achieve 100 percent confidence that the space is clear of hidden devices, but you’ll be a lot closer than you were when you first walked into the room,” said The Monk.

Before you start searching, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what you’re looking for.

So, where should you look?

Thinking logically, what would someone be interested in capturing? Since a camera needs a clear view of the subject to get the sharpest image, a visual scan of the area will provide answers. Bathrooms, bedrooms, and offices are common targets. Areas where computer screens are visible for capturing passwords, banking information and other information. Most hidden cameras now are so small and prepackaged in common items that they don’t seem obvious. (Think cameras in stuffed animals used to watch activity in a child’s room).

Other hiding places include smoke detectors, alarm clocks, even electrical outlets and power strips.

However, The Monk cautions travelers to avoid descending into full paranoia.

“In hotel rooms, for example, if items continue to be placed in a particular location after a room is serviced, then that could be a sign that the item needs to be positioned that way so that a camera has a good angle of view. Of course, this could also just be the maid tidying up, so don’t immediately jump to full paranoia.”

What to Do if You Find a Hidden Camera

First of all, hiding hidden cameras in hotel rooms or vacation rentals is illegal. It’s also a violation of most rental companies’ policies, so be sure to check the vacation listing and policy if you find one.

If you do find a hidden camera in your vacation rental, leave immediately and report it to the company. If you’re staying in a hotel and find one, request an immediate room change. If that’s not possible, turn the objects you suspect toward the wall or cover them with a towel.

While protecting your privacy is smart, there is a caveat. Certain countries, like Russia and China frown upon such behavior. In places such as these, it is highly likely that hotels frequented by business travelers are monitored and tampering with such devices can be seen as problematic. If they know you’re looking for hidden devices, that not only makes them more suspicious, they may want to question you further, and could detain you for hours or days.

While we’re on the subject of security, certain models of our Platinum® Elite and Crew™ bags have RFID protected pockets that will store your passport and block it from rogue RFID scanners as a way to protect against loss and identity theft.

How concerned are you with hidden cameras in your hotel room or office? Have you ever found one or know someone who has? Share your stories with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pexels.com (Creative Commons 0)

Eight Packable Items that Could Save Your Life

March 12, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

No one typically thinks to pack emergency preparedness items when planning a business trip or vacation. But making a few basic plans can help you be prepared for the worst that your destination can throw at you. So there’s one simple step that can help you be prepared: know the risks associated with your destination.

For starters, check out the FEMA app which provides tips on how to deal with disasters like earthquakes severe weather, wildfires, volcanoes, and terrorism.

Additionally, emergency experts suggest that when you’re at your destination, keep a pair of shoes and socks by your bed in case you need to leave the room in an emergency, such as a fire, so you can protect your feet from broken glass.

A recent article in Smarter Travel got us to thinking about taking precautions when we travel, and they shared eight items that could save your life while on the road.

A whistle may be loud and obnoxious, but that means it can provide personal safety if you’re walking alone or at night. It can also help rescuers find you. A “pealess” whistle is best—and provides maximum durability. Its high-pitched sound can be easier to detect than a human voice and it will work if anything impairs your ability to yell, like dehydration or crushing.

A keychain flashlight is one of the packable items that can help you out when you're in a tight spot.In the event of a power failure — natural disaster or not — a flashlight can provide a much-need light source. Choose a small, keychain-sized LED light with a long battery life. It’s ideal if you’re stuck in a subway, navigating poorly lit paths, camping, or even reading in bed while sharing a room. Plus it saves your cell phone battery in those non-emergency uses.

Speaking of a loss of electricity, bring along a battery backup charger. If the electricity fails, you can you can use it to keep your phone operable. You may not be able to make calls, but you’ll be able to have a spare flashlight, and access to emergency apps. On a brighter note, if there isn’t a power failure, bringing an extra charger means helping you stay connected (via apps, maps, social media, email, and phone) whenever your phone battery runs low.

Take a first-aid kit that includes the basics (bandages, alcohol pads, antibiotic ointment). No matter where you’re headed, you’ll be prepared for blisters, scrapes, bug bites and other minor injuries.

A space blanket will not only provide warmth if the heating system fails, it can be resourceful if you need a place to rest during an overnight airport layover. On a brighter, shinier note, it can be a great makeshift picnic blanket.

A small, simple dust mask, like a surgical mask, is another “must have.” Not only do these small, stackable masks protect you from airborne particles, they can also prevent you from spreading your germs, too. (Or getting sick if you’re around a lot of sick people or have a weakened immune system.)

Take a bottle of water. Clean water is one of the most important things you can have with you. Having clean, accessible water can prevent dehydration and it can save you money by not buying a bottle for $4 when you’ve got no other options. Better yet, bring a reusable water bottle, and fill it each morning.

Finally, pack a few high protein snacks for energy or a quick snack if your blood sugar is low. Protein bars like Clif bars are heavy and dense, and can give you a quick boost. Tuck a couple into your briefcase, purse, or backpack and pull one out when you need it.

What are some of the must-have emergency items you take on trips? Did we miss anything? Or do you have a favorite make, model, or energy bar you don’t leave home without? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Wtshymanski (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

How Women Travelers Can Protect Themselves on the Road

January 29, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Women who frequently travel are often concerned about their personal safety and security, which can sometimes give them pause about where and when they travel.

In a recent article for Entrepreneur magazine, contributor Kim Albrecht suggests several ways in which women can keep themselves safe while traveling for business. We found a few we thought you should know right away, but highly recommend you read the entire article for the rest of the tips.

Albrecht, the Chief Marketing Officer at SAP Concur, reported that women are making up half the business traveling population and they continue to be on the move. Since women face more travel safety risks than their male counterparts, it should come as no surprise that 83 percent of women polled said they’ve experienced a safety issue or concern in the last year while traveling for work; only 53 percent of women always or sometimes report their experiences. Alarmingly, only 18 percent of corporate travel policies specifically address female safety needs.

Albrecht partnered with Kathy Leodler, CEO of security firm Rampart Group, and former FBI special agent, SWAT commander, and corporate security director, and together, they created a safety checklist sure to come in handy for female travelers.

Like most activities, Albrecht says, preparation is key.

Check your employer’s travel insurance program and learn what is covered. Self-employed? Not a problem. You can also buy private travel insurance. Hard copies and electronic copies of your travel insurance are important: keep both with you while traveling. Share the details of the insurance benefits with a trusted person.

Speaking of copies, make copies of your passport ID page to make it easier to file a report and get a replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy with a trusted contact at home and carry another with you. Do the same with your trip itinerary in case your smartphone is lost or stolen. (It helps to keep a copy in the cloud too, so you can access it from, say, an Internet cafe or hotel business center.)

The Lemon Tree Hotel - Chandigarh. This hotel has a women-only floor for women travelersWell-known hotels are generally safer and some offer female-only floors. Ask before you book, and if necessary, switch up hotels to get a more secure one or one that offers a female-only floor. You might want to check out Maiden Voyage which offers a list of certified female-friendly hotels worldwide.

Book a flight with arrival time during daylight hours. This is especially important for international arrivals. And make sure you only take licensed taxis from the specified taxi loading zones at airports and hotels. If you prefer a ride sharing service, but would like to request a female driver, Uber and Lyft don’t offer that as an option, but there are several ride sharing services in specific cities.

The U.S. Department of State has important information for every country in the world including visa requirements, safety and security conditions, health and medical considerations, local laws and areas to avoid. Learn where the closest US embassy or consulate is located at your destination. There is an option to enroll your trip with the State Department in the event of an emergency, so be sure to do so if you’re traveling to a State Department hotspot.

Do you like to wander? Apps like TripIt can provide valuable local information such as safety scores for categories like women’s safety, physical harm, health and medical, theft, and more.

Modesty is a safe bet when it comes to clothing and wardrobe, said Albrecht. Leave jewelry at home, particularly expensive pieces to avoid standing out. Choose shoes that are comfortable and ones that don’t restrict mobility, should you need to move quickly.

Albrecht also suggests packing a decoy wallet with a small amount of cash and expired credit cards. You can wear a hidden money belt with actual cash and cards.

So whether you travel to the next city or across the globe, listen to your intuition: if you feel a bad vibe from somewhere or someone, listen to your gut instinct and remove yourself from the situation. And be sure to check out Albrecht’s article for other safety tips when you travel.

If you’re a woman and a frequent traveler, what do you do to keep yourself safe on your travels? Share your tips, suggestions, and stories on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Shankar S. (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Travel Safety Tips for World Travel

May 17, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve traveled the world full-time for seven years, we consider you an expert on how to see the sites and do so safely. Matthew Karsten, the Expert Vagabond, is just that. He has spent the last several years living as a nomad, traveling from country to country, doing remote work for clients to pay for his lifestyle, but living out of a suitcase wherever the winds will take him.

Here are Matt’s top five tips for minimizing the bad stuff and maximizing the good stuff while exploring the world.

Before we get into specifics, here’s a freebie: educate yourself on the travel scams of the country you’re visiting. Ask Google for specific information so you’re not a victim of something that could’ve been avoided, had you only known.

So, Matt’s first piece of advice is to seriously consider what you’re going to take with you. Do you really need your digital SLR camera when you could take pictures with your phone? If you decide you need a valuable asset with you, create a plan for how you will secure it while you’re traveling (zippers and locks aren’t necessarily deterrents) and when you leave it behind in your hotel room.

Secondly, purchase travel insurance for your valuables. If you need to travel with your laptop, you’ll feel more secure if you know that it will be replaced if something happens to it. World Nomads, IMG Global, and TCP Photography Insurance all offer this type of insurance, but read the policies carefully. There are limits to what they’ll cover.

After you’ve secured your valuables, think about your personal safety. Taking a simple self-defense class before you go abroad will equip you to keep your wits about you should you accidentally end up in a place you didn’t intend to. Remember that just because you know how to defend yourself doesn’t mean you have to actually get into a fight. Removing yourself from the situation physically may be all you need to do in order to restore your desired level of safety.

Third, tell your bank where you’re going so that your account isn’t frozen because an employee suspects fraud. Also, spread out emergency cash among your luggage so that if your wallet is pickpocketed, you can still eat, pay your hotel bill, and get yourself to the airport. Securing a backup credit card in case of this type of emergency is also a good idea.

One final money tip? Inspect ATMs before you use them for evidence of tampering. Don’t ever allow anyone to assist you with a cash withdrawal. If you’re not sure, go to a bank during regular hours and ask them for help. (Better yet, try to avoid carrying cash and shop at merchants and restaurants where you can use a credit card. Then you don’t have to worry about paying too much in exchange fees.)

Finally, when exploring a new country’s cuisine, Matt suggests you purchase a filtered water bottle so that you don’t have to continue buying bottled water. This helps you avoid getting sick on the local water, because the filter will screen out any pathogens and bacteria.

He also passed along a few tips from his friend Jodi, another world traveler. For example, Jodi advises travelers to look for places to eat where you can see how the food is being prepared, and where the lines are long. This is an indication that it’s a popular place, and that food isn’t sitting around for long periods of time.

Her most helpful tip is for those with food allergies? Pack a translation card you can show when ordering food to avoid accidentally getting exposed to something you’re allergic to. Asking Google for a simple translation of “I have a peanut allergy” and transcribing that on a card could save you lots of unnecessary distress.

Risk is unavoidable when traveling, and you’re going to run into problems, the same as when you’re at home running errands or just going to work, but it can be managed. Prepare the best you can, practice some basic safety and situational awareness, and see what the world has to offer.

What kinds of safety tips do you have for world travelers, whether veterans or first time travelers? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Yonikasz (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

New Warning about Luggage Tags

June 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

As if air travelers don’t have enough things to keep track of when navigating an airport terminal, a recent report now suggests you need to be aware of potential hackers trying to access your flight reservations and other private information from your seemingly innocuous luggage tag.

The six-digit identification number located on your boarding pass, as well as on the accompanying luggage tag of your checked bags, is all a hacker needs to access all kinds of personal information — your email address, your phone number, your address — as well as your flight itinerary and frequent flier account.

This has become such a target-rich code for hackers because the airlines’ global reservation systems are antiquated and vulnerable. Put in place in the 1960s, their software coding does not account for personal privacy laws that have been instituted since that time.
Don't share photos of your airline luggage tags on social media -- the bar code is readable and contains a lot of personal information.
Since the onus is on the traveler to be alert and protected, here are a few suggestions to stop would-be hackers:

  1. Don’t post your boarding pass on social media. Hackers know our tendency to unwittingly overshare, so all they have to do is Google “boarding pass images” to reap a harvest.
  2. Consider only using a virtual boarding pass that comes to your email and uses a scannable image to get you through TSA. If you aren’t carrying a physical record that can be misplaced, lost, or captured by a hacker with a cell phone who takes a picture of what you’re carrying in your hand for anyone to see, your personal data is safer.
  3. Create complex passwords for your data so that if someone gets your information, they don’t have easy access. There are numerous apps available that create random, unique, strong passwords that are difficult to hack. The days of using one password for everything are over.
  4. Take your boarding pass when you exit the plane. Don’t stash it in the seat pocket in front of you. Doing so leaves that valuable code accessible to anyone who happens to find it.

Travel safety involves more than using a money belt or backing up valuable data before you leave. It also means taking steps to avoid getting hacked, even on something as simple as a boarding pass.

What are some extra security steps you take to protect yourself? Do you have any special tricks or even gadgets that you like to use, such as an RFID-blocking wallet? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Tony Webster (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

How to Protect Your Information at a Hotel

August 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s the same words we hear from friends and loved ones whenever we’re headed out on yet another trip.

Lobby of the Novotel Nathan Road Kowloon Hong Kong hotel“Be safe,” they advise. “Have a safe flight.”

What about once we arrive at our destination? There’s a lot we can and should do to keep ourselves safe once we arrive at our hotel.

Anthony Melchiorri, host of the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible,”shared with Business Insider magazine a list of things to do to be safe and keep your personal information secure while on the road. We thought they were worth passing along.
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Protect Your Identity and Your Technology While Traveling

July 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Travel and all that it entails makes for an environment ripe with opportunity for theft and scamming. Why? There’s lots of money involved and lots of personal information offered in the purchasing process.

A crowded airport is especially vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves while you're traveling.

A crowded airport is especially vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves while you’re traveling.

There are some simple ways to protect yourself, and, according to a CIO.com article, you can and should do everything you can to make sure you’re secure before you ever book your first ticket. That security starts with the travel site you choose to use.

Don’t believe those cyber vacation deals that seem too good to be true. Most of the time they are, and, worse yet, instead of a deal you might be getting a nightmare if you find out later what you thought was reputable turns out to be a scam. Stick with the big players with known reputations, read all the fine print, and watch your credit card statement like a hawk.

Don’t fool yourself by believing your mobile device is less susceptible. Charlie Abrahams, senior vice president of MarkMonitor, says the company spends a good deal of time scanning online app stores because, “there are a lot of apps there that are completely fake.”
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To Boost Safety, Cruise Lines Want to Be More Like Airlines

February 24, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

With a number of embarrassing, and very public, hits to cruise ship safety over the last several years, cruise lines are looking at the airline industry as a standard for safety. A recent article in Businessweek looked at how cruise lines are responding to three huge safety failures in 2012 and 2013, including the infamous grounding of a cruise ship in Italy in 2012 and two serious fires in 2013.

The cruise lines have realized that they need to focus on being safe by reducing crew errors and increasing safety protocols.

Since the 1980s, safety has been a high concern for airlines. They’ve pioneered many programs that cruise lines now hope to adapt for themselves. They have seen that crew error is the largest risk factor in any type of accident, so they’re working to reduce those first.

Carnival Liberty, Carnival Triumph and Carniva...

Carnival Liberty, Carnival Triumph and Carnival Glory (near to far) docked in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The plan is to implement programs that make sure staff are following procedures. Such measures taken from the airline industry include a no-blame reporting structure where staff can report violations of protocol with no consequences.

Another way airlines have increased staff efficiency is to randomly send personnel out for an annual performance check of pilot performance in the cockpit. The cruise line is considering that as well.

Another airline safety protocol is to track data from the cockpit related to any deviation from standard procedure and finding out why it occurred. This could be an important protocol to increase cruise ship safety.

What do you think about cruise ship safety? Would you venture out into the high seas after these issues that have arisen over the past few years? Leave us a comment on the blog or our Facebook page to let us know what you think.

3 Tourist Scams to Avoid: Extreme edition

October 23, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

For the last few blog posts, we’ve looked at different travel scams and petty crimes from Lifehack.org infographic on common travel scams. We’ve talked about scams, pickpockets, and even identity theft. But we’ve saved the most outrageous scams for last. Scam artists will go to almost any length to get your money, so be on the look out for these.

1. Thrown Baby

Using pretend children is a low blow, but it happens. A woman will throw a baby, which is usually a doll so that you catch it. The woman and her accomplices will rummage through your pockets taking all they can find while you try to save the “baby.”

2. Expensive Taxi Driver

English: A checker taxi cab. Deutsch: Ein Chec...

A checker taxi cab. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you don’t know where you’re going, taxi drivers may take more twists and turns than necessary to get you to your location in order to make your bill higher. I have had this happen to me. When I questioned their route they said they wanted to “avoid traffic.” Make sure you’re only taking licensed cabs from official taxi stands, and if possible, double-check your route on your smartphone.

3. Windshield Washers Scam

We actually see this more in the United States than in foreign countries. A homeless person, or seemingly homeless, will run up to your car at a stoplight and start washing your windows, hoping for a tip. If you don’t do it, they’ll yell and raise a fuss, hoping to embarrass you into paying them to stop.

We don’t want you to be afraid of traveling. Rather, we want to make sure you travel smart. So please look over these possible scams, and when you travel, move confidently, say no politely, and continue moving. Avoid the situations where you might be scammed and you’ll finish your vacation with everything — hopefully — still on budget and on schedule.

5 Tourist Scams to Avoid: Pickpocketing Edition

October 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever traveled, especially overseas, you may have run into a variety of scams and cons. In our last post, we talked about different, mostly harmless, scams you may encounter on a trip. This time, thanks to a Lifehack.org infographic on common travel scams, we’re going to discuss some of the scams that involved pickpocketing.

1. Train Pickpockets

This is one of the most commonly known pickpocketing methods. Trains are often cramped and crowded. Locals will take advantage of tourists traveling with their duffels or backpacks, and rummage through them without your knowledge, or even the ability to get away from them.

2. The Punctured Tire

sketch "pickpocket" with George Appo...

Sketch “pickpocket” with George Appo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rental cars are usually obviously rentals. Locals will search for them and inconspicuously puncture the tire. They will then come over offering to help. While you are busy with the flat, their accomplice will go through your trunk taking valuables.

3. The Fake Policeman

A policeman (supposedly) approaches you explaining an issue with fake money circulating around. He will demand to inspect your wallet. Once returned, you will notice it quite a bit lighter. You’ve been scammed.

4. The Overly Helpful Local

Cash machines and ATMs can be confusing in a different country. We suggest you just try to figure it out on your own. If a local comes over offering to help while it may seem nice, they are probably memorizing your pin number for when they swipe your wallet later. Better yet, just use a credit card whenever possible, and get the most favorable exchange rate in the first place.

5. The Charity Petition

This scam involves a group of children who often have a disability such as being deaf. They will ask you to sign a petition to help them out. While shoving paper and clipboard in your face, they will touch and grab at you. If this happens to you, you’ve probably been pickpocketed.

Your best line of defense is to keep your money in a special traveler’s belt wallet, something that loops on your belt, but hangs inside your pants. Keep a small amount of money in your front pocket, and then pull more money out of your pouch in the restroom.

Have you ever been pickpocketed, or nearly so? What did you do? How did they do it? Leave a comment, or tell us on our Facebook page.

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