Traveling these days is hard work. In addition to the challenges of overbooking, canceled flights, long lines and high prices, we also must contend with post-9/11 security measures. Please don’t get me wrong: I am all for thorough, diligent security processes, and I appreciate the service and commitment of organizations like the TSA. However, the fact that they detained an 85-year-old woman to take away her cuticle scissors while the airline hands out steel silverware in first class doesn’t make any sense to me—and doesn’t make me feel any safer.
While institutionalized security measures do keep us more secure, most rational people realized long ago that, if something bad happens, they are most likely going to be on their own. And while the authorities may keep you perfectly safe between the TSA checkpoints, by disarming you they actually make it harder for you to protect yourself at your final destination.
I travel a lot and refuse to compromise my personal safety because of it. Like many other frequent travelers, I have developed a series of personal habits and gear choices to guarantee I maximize my safety at all times. The following are my top 10 personal protection tips for traveling safely and protecting yourself.
Commit To 24/7 Defense
As obvious as this may seem, it needs to be said, especially if you are traveling on vacation. Many people who maintain good awareness and personal security habits at home simply do not take those habits with them when they travel. Mentally, they shift gears and often let their guards down because they are making a conscious decision to relax. Don’t let that happen to you. Recognize that you need to not only keep your head in the game but also work even harder at it because you’ll be on unfamiliar turf and possibly without your normal complement of everyday carry tools.
Understanding Applicable Laws
If you have a CCW and carry regularly, you are prepared to protect yourself in your jurisdiction. However, once you travel outside that jurisdiction, things can change dramatically. Before you travel, do the research to find out if your destination state has reciprocity with your own. If so, you may have the option of bringing your firearm along and carrying as you normally do. Websites like USACarry.com offer handy tools that allow you to click on your home state and immediately get a list of states that recognize your carry permit.
As part of your research, make sure you take your route and any flight connections you might have into consideration as well. Although your ultimate destination might be a gun-friendly state that recognizes your CCW, a connecting flight may land in cities like Chicago or New York, where concealed carry is strictly forbidden. In such cases, you may be tempting fate: Something as simple as a canceled flight could turn you into a criminal as soon as you take possession of your bags. Similarly, if you are going on a road trip, do the research for your entire route, especially on the laws for transporting a firearm in your vehicle.
If you travel enough, sooner or later you will end up someplace where you cannot legally carry or even possess a gun. This is particularly true if you travel overseas. In such circumstances, having a potent second-best option is very important. Alternative weapons that can be conveniently and discreetly carried include knives, Kubotans, pepper spray and stun guns. Again, you must research the legality of these items at your destination and along your route. But in many cases, they will be legally permissible where firearms are not.
Checking Your Luggage
Many modern travelers try to avoid baggage charges by stuffing everything they own into a “rollaboard” bag. They then fight like feral dogs to lay claim to spaces in the overhead storage bins. Although checking a bag takes slightly more time at each end of the flight and may involve some extra expense, it does allow you to travel with self-defense tools. If you review the TSA regulations on tsa.gov, you’ll find that most defensive tools are actually allowed in checked baggage. Some items are restricted (for example, pepper spray is limited to a single canister of 4 ounces or less), but in general, checking a bag can ensure that you have potent personal-defense tools immediately available when you get to your destination. Obviously, if you plan to travel with a firearm, checked baggage is a must.
Everyday Tactical Objects
Although non-permissive environments like airports prohibit the carry of overt, purpose-designed tools, that doesn’t mean you have to go unarmed. Discreet objects like flashlights and high-quality pens can be legally carried through restricted areas provided they are not overtly weaponized.
For example, a high-output flashlight can be a useful tool in any emergency situation and can also serve as a very powerful striking device. And it doesn’t need to have a weaponized “impact bezel” to be effective. Similarly, a well-designed tactical pen can be completely innocuous yet still very potent in an emergency. Invest in discreet, low-profile tools that don’t raise eyebrows and carry them regularly. You should also invest in the training to actually use them properly.
Crime Trends At Your Destination
One of the best ways to prepare for potential threats when traveling is to understand the crime patterns of your destination. Thanks to the internet, this is now easier than ever. Websites like MyLocalCrime.com allow you to plug in an address and immediately see a map of the surrounding area that details the exact location and type of recent criminal activity. This type of information is tremendously useful when choosing a hotel, understanding the dynamics of the neighborhoods around key locations (like an office building you must visit for work), and planning routes and travel methods between the two.
Choosing a Safe Hotel
If you’re going to be staying in a hotel when you get to your destination, make sure that you choose it carefully. If you’re traveling on business, talk to the people you’re visiting and ask if there are any dangerous areas to avoid. Get recommendations from your hosts and compare them to the information you obtained from your internet research.
Try to stick with an established national chain with a reliable record for quality service. In addition to being more reputable, good chain hotels also tend to have consistent security protocols and predictable architecture. With that in mind, you should always look for hotels that have rooms that can only be accessed through interior hallways. This type of structure forces anyone entering the hotel to either walk through the lobby or pass through other access points that typically require the use of a room key.
Also try to choose a hotel that has a full-service restaurant and any other amenities you might desire. That way you can eliminate the need to leave the hotel after dark and thus minimize your exposure to danger.
Check-In to Check-Out
Checking into a hotel can be a hectic and confusing experience. Slow down and maintain control of the situation to avoid potential lapses in your security. Do not leave your bags unattended and, if possible, forego the bellman service to maintain personal control over your bags. Visual control is good, but physical contact, like placing your bag between your feet while you wait in line, is even better. Criminals have been known to target inattentive travelers while they are checking in and steal their bags while they are preoccupied.
A good hotel receptionist should not announce your room number when you check in. If he or she does, politely ask for another room and ask that they not say the number aloud. Similarly, managing your bags yourself allows you to avoid announcing your room number to a bellman. Although this may seem trivial, protecting your room number is an important part of maintaining your security, especially if you are traveling alone.
Some criminals loiter around hotel lobbies looking for potential victims and listening for critical information like room numbers. Be alert for any bystanders listening too intently when you’re checking in or for anyone who tries to follow you to your room. Maintain a high level of awareness every time you go to your room, and watch for anyone following you or watching you too intently. If necessary, ask a hotel employee to escort you to your room, without announcing your room number for all to hear.
Assess Your Surroundings
When you check in, ask to be assigned a room between the second and sixth floors. Ground-level rooms are not desirable since the windows may be easily accessible from the outside. Most fire departments do not have equipment that allows them to readily access floors above the sixth floor, so your best choices are levels two through six.
When you get to your hotel room, take a few minutes to ensure that everything is functioning properly, especially the door lock and the secondary lock. If your room has a door that connects to an adjacent room, make sure that it is securely locked. Check the windows to make sure they are securely locked, and take a good look out the window to see what’s there. If you have a rental car or personal vehicle and can see the parking lot from your room, look for well-lit parking places that allow you to check on your car from your room. Also, check the room phone to make sure that it functions properly and allows you to call the front desk if necessary.
You should also take a moment to examine the floor map on the back of the door to determine the location of the stairwells. The first time you leave your room, actually take the time to go down the stairwell instead of the elevator so you know where it goes. In a fire, a stairwell that only leads to the outside is good. If you’re fleeing another emergency and don’t want to end up outside, a stairwell that leads to the lobby—and help—is better.
Keep Your Guard Up
When you’re in your hotel room, make use of all available physical security, and don’t open the door to strangers. If someone claiming to be a hotel employee comes to the door, ask for the person’s full name and call the front desk to verify that the individual is a legitimate employee. If the worker is bringing you something, have him or her leave it outside the door. Use the peephole to make sure the individual is gone before you retrieve it. If the worker needs to do maintenance, have him or her come back after you’ve left the room.
Traveling is hard work. Traveling safely is even harder, but if you develop good habits and do your homework, staying safe is easier than you think.