The first 24 hours

news: The first 24 hours

I ONCE thought it would be a good idea to have pretty girls standing at the arrivals area at the airport, handing out little brochures (a bit like they used to do ‘yonks’ ago, wearing khakis, a pith helmet and dishing out carnations to the ladies and petrol vouchers to the men) with handy tips on how not to become a victim of crime in your first 24 hours in the Algarve.

The subject of personal and property security for visiting tourists is a very sensitive one in the Iberian Peninsular and has to be approached with caution unless you want to annoy the tourist board, tour operators, real estate agencies and all those businesses reliant on visitors to these shores.

During the years I used to visit this beautiful country before I came to stay permanently, I still remember the punishing routine to get here on holiday with the main objective being to stretch out on the beach, in the sun, within two hours of landing. No mean feat when you’re packing a baby (or three!).

The first day of the holiday involved waking up in a guesthouse just outside Gatwick Airport at 3am, ready for the taxi at 3.30 to get wife, baby, three suitcases, pushchair, car seat and travel cot to the North Terminal for check-in at 4am… Joining the queue of sleepy, freshly scrubbed – and some not so fresh – travelling companions at the end of a line.

The usual paraphernalia completed, then onto the plane for the a 2h20m trip. On arrival, I remember taking that first, lovely gulp of warm Algarvean air at the plane door, before greeting the ‘outlaws’ and being whisked away to their home; with just 30 minutes turnaround to put away clothes and personal belongings, before driving off to Faro beach in shorts and T-shirt, ready to expose unexposed white knees and other bits to that glorious ball in a cobalt blue sky!

Cold beer in hand, baby down to catch up on lost sleep or happily eating sand, wife catching up on the news and the ‘splosh’ of the sea in my ears – bliss! Mission accomplished and the scene was set for a relaxing and total ‘chill out’ holiday.

Start as you mean to go on – and in those days not once did I think of personal or property security – why should I? This is the Iberian Peninsular where the Portuguese people are warm and welcoming and I was returning to be among friends! Unfortunately, there are a growing number of visitors to our shores who have had their planned, saved up for and long-awaited holidays shattered.

The first 24 hours to our visitors are crucial and require a lot of discipline on their part.On arrival at Faro International, they should keep their valuables close and not perched on a mountain of cases; however, in fairness, the security at the airport is such that bag snatchers and pickpockets cannot work easily, so criminal attention is focused on the journey to and arrival at the holidaymaker’s destination. Having left work and routine behind and now with saved up ‘dosh’ in their pockets, tax-free ‘goodies’ in their bags, and caution and responsibility somewhere in the wind, our happy band have one purpose – to see how quickly they can shed their clothes, quaff a pint or three and immerse themselves in an inviting pool up to the nostrils!

Meanwhile, miscreants have followed them from the airport, watched their happy progress from arrivals, to hire car, to villa, to bedrooms and into pool and, within an hour, climbed in through an open window and removed easily collectable items such as wallets, bags, credit cards, passports, watches and jewellery dropped by the owners rapidly en route to the sun and water. The ‘booty’, along with the holiday, just went out of the window – literally!

What should holidaymakers do? Well, for starters, the cost of crime prevention (like all crime prevention action) shouldn’t be more than the cost of your holiday. First of all, check your accommodation (this is probably difficult as the family stampedes through the villa choosing their rooms and lugging suitcases).

Just like at home, you should have a solid door and efficient lock(s), and have a look for signs of previous break-in, such as marks on the doors and windows. If there is a safe installed, use it! Dump all your valuables, credit cards and passports (and any surplus cash) into it. Remember, if cash is stolen it’s gone forever and you are unlikely to get it back through an insurance claim. The use of traveller’s cheques is far more secure. If these do get stolen (and you’ve remembered to record the serial numbers) you can at least reclaim the lost money.

Talking of insurance, travel insurance is worth it. It may seem like a pointless expense when you’re lying on the beach, but it’s false economy to leave home without it.

When our visitors manage to drag themselves away from the pool and the villa fridge and do a bit of sightseeing, it would be as well not to look too much like a tourist, especially one that’s badly organised and stressed out, as walking the streets with heads buried in a map and carrying too much makes them an easy target. Some of our tourists – unfortunately – can only look like tourists, probably in the same way as expats probably still look like refugees from the fated soap opera El Dorado most of the time.

Finally, they should not wear expensive jewellery or carry an excess of cash around with them – particularly if they begin to fan themselves with 100 euro notes to keep cool! So, just to bring it into focus, when our band of trooping holidaymakers, happy and bronzed, return to their homeland, do they open up all the windows of their house and leave the front door open, leave suitcases in the hall, drop wallets and jewels on the front room table and crash out in a deckchair in the back garden?I don’t think so!