The Clever Travel Companion Updates

6-fold increase in pickpocketing in just 8 years November 02 2017, 0 Comments

Pickpocketing in Malta has last year reached an all-time high of almost 2,500 cases, an average of seven reported a day. These statistics have forced the Maltese parliament to address the issue in public. While Malta may not be the best example of the situation worldwide, this is a statistical reflection of the rise in pickpocketing cases reported worldwide and a demonstration of how brazen, professional, organised and adaptive thieves are becoming. 

This worrying trend, which has been developing over a number of years, is even more pronounced when considering that the overall total for 2016 shows a sixfold increase when compared to 2009.

Details on various thefts offence committed last year were tabled in Maltese Parliament recently by Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela in reply to a question by Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami.

The places to avoid were the main tourist hotspots of Valletta and Paceville.

It transpired that, in 2016, pickpocketing was the most common type of theft reported, with 2,447 cases. This was 20 per cent up over the previous year. According to the data, this offence rose steadily since 2013. Four years ago 1,469 pickpocketing cases were reported, followed by 1,538 in 2014 and 2,030 in 2015.

This trend has been linked to a number of Eastern European gangs, some of whom have been brought to justice already and further demonstrates that this is a pattern seen all over Europe and not just in Malta. In Paris for example, the rise in pickpockets around the metro and Eiffel tower have seen a number of Eastern European gangs prosecuted as has London's Transport Police in relation to a rise in thefts on the London Underground. 

Cases the police refer to as “snatch-and-grab”, whereby the offender forcibly obtains personal belongings like bags, purses and mobile phones, increased to 179 in 2016, an increase of 41 per cent over 2013.

Though no detailed overall breakdown of the localities where pickpockets are most likely to strike was divulged, this newspaper last month reported that, in 2016, one in every eight offences was reported in Malta's tourism hub, Valletta. This data confirms earlier research carried out by criminologist Saviour Formosa who had concluded that, in 2015, the places to avoid were Valletta and Paceville.

Safe not sorry

• The Maltese police rolled out a crime prevention campaign last summer targeting the spike in pickpocketing together with a number of tips to avoid being targeted.

Keep purses secure and carry wallets in an inside pocket.

• Bags should be carried in front with flaps against your body.

• Keep straps short and bags tucked under the arms.

• Do not display any jewellery.

• Do not show any money – keep it safely in your pockets.

• Stay alert and aware of what is going on around you.

• If possible, install a tracker application on your smartphone.

• Keep a record of the unique reference number (IMEI) of your phone – this can be retrieved by dialling *#06#.

• Use your phone’s security lock or PIN number.

• Do not write PIN numbers for credit/debit cards on your mobile phone.


How to stay safe as a solo female traveller October 14 2017, 0 Comments

PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

You might be a spontaneous traveller, but when going solo, you should book at least your first night of accommodation before arrival. One tip when choosing a hotel is opting for a centrally located one.

This way, you will not stand out as much, and you will also have a chance to mingle with other travellers. Also, try to time your trip in such a way that you arrive in the morning.

Some female travellers also recommend packing a doorstop that will keep doors from being opened.


TRUST YOUR INTUITION

Women have often been lauded for their ability to read body language and pick up social cues. Use this intuition to your advantage, and learn to trust your gut.

If you are caught in an uncomfortable situation, pack your bags and hit the road. Just ensure that you have alternate accommodation in mind.


DON'T LET PICKPOCKETS PICK ON YOU

Besides staying vigilant, it is also a good idea to spread your valuables into different compartments of your bag.

That way, if you do fall victim to a pickpocket, your important documents are all spread out, so you won't lose everything in one go.

You can also consider making copies of your credit cards and passport and saving it to Google Docs or Dropbox.

When you are sitting down, loop the strap of your bag around your leg to prevent someone from running away with it. When walking in crowded areas, wear your backpack in front to avoid pickpockets from cutting into your belongings. Alternatively, pick up a slash-free and anti-theft bag from brands such as Pacsafe.


WHEN IN ROME...

While you might want to get all dolled up for your vacation, you do not want to draw unwanted attention to yourself. When travelling alone, try to conform to cultural norms and dress modestly in countries where it is expected. In some countries, you might want to wear a wedding ring even if you are single.


HAVE A TIPPLE, BUT DON'T GET TOO TIPSY

Even though you are on holiday, you should be very wary before getting too "wasted" when you are travelling by yourself. Know your limits before you party.

If a stranger asks you to go out for drinks, politely decline the offer and say that you have other plans. Remember, you should not feel guilty or bad when saying no if it means feeling safe.


MAKE YOUR MARK

Inform a loved one of your flights and itineraries. A photo upload and check-in at a new location is also a good way to keep your family and friends posted about your whereabouts.

That said, be careful not to overshare. Refrain from telling strangers where you are staying and only post about hotels on social media after you have left.

Even if you are travelling on a budget, international phone plans are worth spending money on. Carry a few international phone cards if you do not want to commit to a whole phone plan.


WHEN HAILING A CAB

Before you head out, grab the business card or jot down the name, address and phone number of your accommodation. It will come in handy if you get lost or are unable to communicate with the driver.

Another thing you should take note of is the taxi number or the licence plate, just in case.

To avoid getting overcharged, ask the hotel front desk for an estimate of how much it will cost to get to your destination.

Alternatively, Google Maps has a feature that will provide you with a rough estimate.

When possible, agree on the fare beforehand and have the exact change with you to prevent getting ripped off.

If you have baggage with you, keep your stuff in the back seat and not in the trunk. That way, you can jump out of the cab if anything goes wrong.


What do you do if your luggage is lost, delayed or damaged? October 02 2017, 0 Comments

If your luggage is delayed, goes missing or gets damaged on a flight, what sort of compensation are you entitled to? The Montreal Convention makes airlines responsible for the bags they allow you to check in, although their liability is limited to only around $1,500 per passenger.

Act immediately 

Airlines are more likely to accept responsibility for missing or damaged luggage if you report the problem straightaway. Before leaving the luggage reclaim hall, go to the airline desk.

Fill out a form

you’ll be given a copy of the Property Irregularity Report (PIR) that’s used by airline staff to record the details. While this isn’t a legal requirement, and there maybe a reason why it’s not possible to get one (an unmanned desk at a small airport, for example) you’re still entitled to claim. But without a PIR, the process is likely to be more of an uphill battle.

If the bag is damaged

If you want to claim compensation, write to the airline within seven days of receiving your luggage, enclosing a copy of the PIR.

If the bag is missing

As well as personal and flight details, you’ll need to give an accurate description of a missing bag, recording any distinguishing features. A good tip (for the highly organised) is to keep a photo of your luggage on your phone in case you ever need to make this sort of report. Photographic evidence can also help if you are reporting damaged luggage. 

Observe the deadlines

Write to the airline, enclosing the a copy of the PIR, within seven days of the flight. If your luggage turns up a day or two late, it’s up to the airline to make arrangements for getting it to you as efficiently as possible.

Monitor progress

where luggage doesn’t show up, you should be able to monitor it through the tracing procedure, either by contacting baggage services at the airport, the airline’s central department or by logging into an online baggage-tracing page with a reference number. This reference will relate to the luggage receipt usually attached to your passport or boarding card at check-in or bag-drop, so you’ll need to keep it to hand. If there’s no sign of it after three weeks, the bag will be declared lost.

Check the rules

If your bag has gone missing on the outward flight and you find you’re on holiday with no possessions, airlines are obliged to cover costs of “essential items”. However, this definition can be a sticking point when it comes to compensation. Depending on the attitude of the airline, it may argue that “essential items” are classified as toiletries, underwear or laundry costs rather than a brand new outfit. In most cases the airline will track down your bag quickly and return it to you within a couple of days.

Make a claim

Ask the airline what its policy is and keep receipts for anything you buy. A potential complication is when your bag has been transferred to another one or two airlines within a single journey. In this case it makes sense to claim from the last one flown, as it’s this airline which usually handles the claim.

Compensation usually comes in the form of an upfront cash payment, a fixed daily budget or remittance once your claim and receipts have been submitted. A claim for a delayed bag must be sent to the airline’s customer relations department within 21 days of handing your luggage to the airline. Depending on various factors such as how complicated your claim is, and the time of year, it may take as long as a couple of months to process.

To claim compensation for missing bag, you must write to the airline within seven days of the luggage being declared lost.

Check your insurance policy

However, you’re likely to find the airline tries to pass the buck by suggesting you take the issue of compensation up with your travel insurer. Depending on your policy, you may get a higher level of cover this way. Be sure to check your insurer’s excess charge and small print first - some policies provide minimal or no cover for luggage while in the care of an airline.

This article originally appeared in the telegraph.co.uk