Last Wednesday was never going to be a normal day, but we could never have expected the way it turned out.
We were booked on a 6 AM flight to Los Angeles: the start of a journey that was to include Los Angeles, London and the Walter Scott conference in Edinburgh. The early flight required us to leave home at 4:30 AM, so we had set the alarm for 3 AM.
This timeframe needed a high degree of organisation, and we felt well prepared. Our beloved family dog had been boarded out in the afternoon, and we spent Tuesday night getting everything ready for the early morning flight: packing the suitcases, stowing my laptop and iPad with some reading material for the flight, and placing our passports in my briefcase—even a few US dollars in case of emergency. We also laid out watches and some jewellery we intended to wear while we were away.
We went to bed at 9 PM, secure in the knowledge that we were on track for a smooth departure.
At 2 AM my wife leaped out of bed exclaiming, “Noel, Have you been looking for something? All our bedside drawers and cupboards are open?” This was quickly followed by the words nobody wants to hear: “Someone has been in our bedroom—we have been robbed.”
It was the middle of the night, so I initially felt dazed, but her final statement brought me instantly alert. I leapt out of bed, turned on the lights, and was horrified to discover that my briefcase (including the travel documents and computer gear) was no longer in the bedroom, and the jewellery was gone.
Rushing outside, I was amazed to see the briefcase and my wife's handbag sitting on the couch in my home office. The laptop and passports were still in it, but the US cash and the jewellery had vanished. Another clue: the back door was wide open.
I looked through the draw where we keep the car keys. Fortunately, the keys lay there untouched and our cars were still in the garage. A pair of travel headphones was sitting outside the front door which, mysteriously, was also open.
Further inspection revealed the intruders had come up an external staircase toward the back of the house and gained entry by removing four louvres adjacent to the door. We must have woken up as they were stacking their loot and preparing to vacate the premises.
Losing the travel documents, credit cards and some material possessions would have put the brakes on our fully paid non-refundable trip, but they easily could have made off with a lot more. Not to mention the terrifying feeling of having unknown intruders in your bedroom while you sleep.
All in all, we felt incredibly lucky that it wasn’t far worse. But it did show us that we had been foolishly complacent. Whenever we travel overseas, we pay attention to things such as travel insurance and letting our family know where all our personal details are held. Even if we are away for a weekend, we take pains to activate the alarm and keep our belongings safe.
But, I must confess, having lived in our home for 20 years and never experiencing a break in, we had not looked at security for years. The lesson is obvious: never assume that what was safe yesterday will be safe today. Keep your valuable items secure, and pay particular attention to your passports, credit cards and other essentials if you are about to go on an overseas trip.
The police told us that another house nearby was burgled on the same night and that similar activity was increasing in the area. We have taken the necessary precautions and will be far more vigilant in the future.
As you might have heard me say previously, sometimes an expensive lesson can be worth every penny.
- Noel Whittaker is the author of Making Money Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance. firstname.lastname@example.org