BY RACHEL CHEESEMAN, FOUNDER OF STREET SMART SELF DEFENSE
Graduation season is upon us and parents everywhere are scrambling to find their kids some constructive activities to fill their time over the next few months. Welcome to summer vacation! Many families will also make plans for traveling as well. Keep in mind that while your family is enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation, criminals are actively scouting for unsuspecting tourists.
Before setting out on the family journey, it’s a good idea to sit down and go over the general safety checklist. If your kids are younger, make sure they know basic contact information (such as cell numbers) just in case you get separated in a crowded area. Also, make sure they know the “right people” to request help from in an urgent situation. For example, if you get separated in an airport terminal, make sure your kids know what appropriate, uniformed personnel look like. I would highly recommend going online and taking a virtual tour of the travel area so that your kids have a good visual ahead of time – especially if this is their first time flying. Getting lost in an airport (or anywhere unfamiliar) is even more stressful than getting lost in the local grocery store. Having a good mental picture ahead of time can help reduce some of the panic and assist them in finding you much faster.
Since my son is autistic, traveling issues are much more complex, and my anxiety level is generally through the roof. Anyone who has a special needs child with limited communication skills will most certainly understand where I’m coming from on this one. A good solution for this problem is to attach an identity tag onto your child. They are very much like the tags that dogs wear if they get lost. There are a lot of good online resources for this type of safety merchandise. Some of these tags can be attached to your child’s shoes or even worn as a necklace. At least you’ll have the peace of mind that if your child with non-verbal or limited verbal ability gets separated from you, there is valid I.D. on them that can help someone else find you on their behalf. We took a trip to Hershey Park one year and I actually used one of those child-friendly backpacks with the extended handle to navigate through crowded areas. It was just another layer of protection to help me feel more comfortable and keep better track of my son’s whereabouts.
If you have teenagers, make sure you set clear boundaries ahead of time, as all teens enjoy the freedom of their personal space in new, exciting places. Explain the importance of personal safety and awareness, as well as how it negatively affects you if they are unreachable in an unfamiliar area. Traveling around coastal areas or overseas puts young, isolated girls at risk for potential abduction into sex trafficking. I would highly recommend an educational discussion on this subject if you are traveling with teen daughters!
Besides losing track of your kids, perhaps the biggest threat adults face during their travels is the ever-growing crime of identity theft. We tend to rely more on credit cards as opposed to cash transactions when we’re on vacation. Most credit cards as well as bank cards now have the added “chip” protection feature to help combat the criminal tactic of skimming off the magnetic strips from swiping cards through machines. This feature is also supposed to add an extra layer of encryption to help protect from electronic hacking of credentials.
I recently attended a safety seminar offered by a retired police officer who introduced a new tactic being used. Thieves are now using their cell phones to steal your card numbers. They don’t have to actually rob you of your purse or wallet anymore! They just observe people who are either standing in line or at the checkout counter. They look for people who have their cards already out and are either distracted or having a pleasant conversation with the checkout clerk. While all this is going on, they are sitting on a bench somewhere or wandering in the background using their cell phone to zoom in on your card! Once they get a good angle, SNAP, now they’ve got a picture of all your numbers. So, the moral of the story here is keep your cards concealed and close. I wish you all safe and fun travels. Bon Voyage!
Rachel Cheeseman is a 2nd degree black belt and has studied the martial arts for the past 28 years. She founded Street Smart Self Defense Academy in Erie, PA 17 years ago to empower women, due to the rape of her sister in her off-campus college apartment. She is a certified instructor for the national full-contact self-defense program called “Model Mugging” and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. Rachel is also a member of and former seminar instructor for the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and she has been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors and the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.