BEACH SAFETY…

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So having just spent six days in Miami on South Beach I think this is the perfect topic to start off my Travel Tips section.  There are a lot of elements that beach safety, most of which pertain to safety in and around the water such as always swim between the flags and be sure that you can see the lifeguard because if you can’t see him/her then he/she can’t see you.  Those are all incredibly important safety tips and are well out of my area of expertise.    Please always be cautious around bodies of water, even if you are an experienced swimmer, because dangers lurk and can provide a hazard to even seasoned water-babies.

My tips focus more around being safe with your possessions and your own self.  The beach provides a lot of enjoyement, excitement, relaxation, and danger.  The combination of warm weather, the surf, lots of people with basically no clothes on and the excitement of being away from home (if on Holiday) or just having a day away (if you are lucky enough, like myself, to live near the beach) can combine to create a real headache if you are not cautious and aware.

As I saw everyday on the beaches in Miami, people tend to be very lax with their possessions when going to the beach, especially in the USA.  We get down to the sand and feel like we are all one.  We relish in the comraderie we share with other beach-goers and tend to feel that we are safe.  After all, is there a less intimidating or confrontational environement then the beach?  I think not.  However, dangers lurk and some not-so-nice people tend to circle the beach looking for opportunities to nab your expensvie bag, phone, wallet and cash, and other goodies that they can quickly grab off the sand.  I’ve seen it happen.  I’ve seen people walk up to beach set-ups that are not their own and pretend like it’s their stuff to then only look around, see if anyone is watching and finally make off with things that don’t belong to them.

It also happened to me while I was vacationing on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.  I was there with my girlfriend t the time visiting my cousins who had moved to the area from Buenos Aires to build a hotel.  When we arrived, we certainly were not prepared.  While we expected it to be hot, in no way, shape or form, had we anticipated the absolutely stifling humidity.  It was absolutely unbelieveable.  I could barely breathe and my girlfriend and I had decided that we would sleep in separate beds because it was just too hot and sweaty (not in the good way ;)) to share one.

We woke up the next morning and decided to head to the beach.  It was unbearably hot.  As I remember about 95 degrees (35°C for those of you outside NA) with humidity in the 90% range.   We grabbed a few bottles of water from the local store and then stopped by the small bar situated just at the edge of the beach for a couple of cocktails.  I had a rum punch-type drink while my girlfriend had a Pina Colada.  We found the perfect spot, tossed our stuff on the sand, and hit the water.  It was like jumping into a steaming hot bath but it did provide a modicum of relief to the searing heat.  It was better than nothing.

After our dip, we organized all our gear and spread out on the rather large beach pad given to us by my cousins.  It was super soft, comfy, and allowed us to be relatively sand-free as we lounged under the baking Costa Rican sun.  My girlfriend quickly fell asleep and I decided a nap seemed like a good idea.  I flipped over onto my stomach, covered my face with my hat, and proceeded to doze off.  I was aware that in Costa Rica beach left was common and we had been warned by my cousins and others to be careful with valuables.   Keep this in mind, I wrapped one strap of my backpack around my arm and closed the top of the bag tightly and placed it just at the top of my head.  It was basically touching me so I figured if anyone tried to snatch it, I would for sure feeling something.  I was wrong and they did.

I woke from my nap in a fury and panic.  My backpack with all our money, both passports, all credit cards, and a few expensive watches were gone as well as our camera, some clothing, our cellphone (old and crappy at the time but still), and the key to our hotel room.  Since we were staying with my cousins in the soon-to-be built hotel there was no real secure place to put of valuables so I figured it was safest with me.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As my panic reached a crescendo and as my girlfriend was trying to calm me, the manager heard me yelling for help and called my cousins to come down to the beach.  I was furiously searching the nearby woods and asking anyone I could find on the beach if they saw someone make off with a black and silver backpack.  Each time I asked I was met with the same answer. No.

With no idea what to do and frantically searching the beach, my cousins put out the call to all the local residents.  Apparently, the local thief was a well-know kid, around 12-13 years old and was known for robbing tourists at the beach. After several hours, my cousins were told that he said he threw the bag in the forest near the beach.   We went to check it out and, as we were told, the bad was there.  Empty.  Well, mostly empty.

For years I have been obssessed with bags always looking for the right backpack or tote or travel bag to meet all of my needs.  I never really found the perfect one so I have many which I alternate depending on my journey.  On this particular journey, I was carrying a Salomon backpack I had picked up in Germany the year before.  It was a top-loading backpack good for carrying lots of stuff and perfect for the beach.  It also had a secret compartment.  At the bottom of the bag, towards the rear closest to my waist it had a small zip pocket big enough for cash, credit cards, passports and other small items and that is exactly what I put there.  When we found the backpack in the woods, our camera and various other items were gone.  However, the little thief did not find the secret pocket.  Thank goodness.

So, after that long story, I have a few tips for being safe at the beach.

1.) Find a bag just like I had, one with a hidden pocket.  These days, they are quite common in most backpacks especially if they are used for sport or travelling.   I see them all the time as I continue to hunt for the perfect carry-all.

2.) Go to your local camping shop or sporting good store and get one (or more) tent spikes.  They make both plastic and metal but I suggest metal.  They are often thinner and easier to sink in the sand.  Put one spike around your bag’s strap and then sink it into the sand.  More than one doesn’t hurt.  I use two generally speaking.  They are very easy to conceal and not easy to pull from the sand.  It is also highly likely someone will notice if your bag is being pulled from the sand violently in an attempt to rip it off.

3.)  I am quite convinced our cocktails from the bar were spiked.  Both myself and my girlfriend had horrible headaches and were extremely disoriented when we woke up.  It’s entirely possible someone at the bar was working with the little punk that jacked us.  Now, I never ever drink a cocktail that I don’t see being made in front of me.  It doesn’t matter where I am, if I don’t see it poured, I don’t drink it.  Beyond the beach this is a good idea in general for everyone, especially for women on Holiday or at the club.  Of course, I don’t extend this rule to bars I know, restaurants, and places I frequent but if it’s a strange place in a strange town then I follow this one simple rule.  Don’t see it poured or mixed? Don’t drink!

4)  Make sure to photograph (best with your phone) all your documents and credit cards.  Even if you lose your entire wallet and all documents, it is likely you can continue to purchase the things you need and request new ID if you have at least proof that the originals you lost did in fact exist.   I keep these photos secured in an app called “Photo Vault” which requires a PIN to access keeping them secure and also backing them up to the cloud or your laptop.  It’s a seriously good idea to do this.

 

Michael