So, you’re planning on traveling overseas on that vacation of your dreams. Great, but let’s slow down a second. There’s still a need to be safe. You may have noticed a recent uptick in insecurity and bad stuff happening around the world, so it’s important that you be proactive when it comes to your and your family’s safety and security. There’s no better way to do this than to take some travel safety tips from folks who have spent careers working undercover and in various clandestine roles in some of the crappiest and most dangerous places around. We’re talking about ways to travel like a spy.
We know you’re a badass and the ultimate in Alpha, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading “Skillset.” So are most undercover operatives. That doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to show everyone you can defend yourself with a pencil like John Wick. It’s much better to avoid a situation than to have to get out of it.
Let’s break our travel safety tips down into two easy phases: “Before you go” and “While you’re there.” There is a third (“Oh, crap! Something bad just happened”), but we’ll save that for later, maybe.
Travel Safety Tips: Be Prepared
Like any operator, gather your intel first. Do some research on where you’re going, entry and exit requirements, required visas, local laws and customs and available medical care. Get the contact details for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and carry it on a small card, just in case. In fact, take advantage of those taxes you pay and let the U.S. State Department help you at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html. Pay special attention to the “Safety and Security” tab. “Travel Warnings” and “Travel Alerts” on the respective embassy or consulate websites can be found at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html.
Think before you pack.
You’re a proud American, but leave your favorite American flag shirt and your bling at home. Get familiar with the “Gray Man Theory” of travel. Blend in as much as possible, and don’t draw unwanted attention. Tourists, especially American tourists, are ripe targets for all sorts of nefarious people, from pickpockets to terrorists.
Make two copies of all your travel documents.
This includes passports and visas in case of emergency. Leave a copy with a friend or relative at home and carry the other separately from your originals and separate from your money. Remember, when you travel like a spy, two is one, and one is none.
Sanitize your stuff.
Clandestine operators go through a process whereby everything they wear and carry is stripped of anything that could possibly give away their real identities. You don’t have to go that far, but you should cleanse your wallet, clothes, and luggage of non-essential stuff. Leave behind credit cards or identification you aren’t going to use. Think twice about taking anything that has your address, phone number, and personal information on it. Be sure to secure your electronics. Phones, laptops, tablets, etc., all contain valuable info about your life and even the lives of your family. If you don’t need it, don’t take it.
Take care of your money.
Notify your bank and credit card companies of where you’re going. It helps in their efforts to protect your credit cards and bank accounts. They can also provide useful information about using credit cards and ATMs. Try not to use ATMs unless you need to, but if you do, use ATMs inside banks or currency exchanges, not on the street. Use a money belt under your clothes to keep everything secure.
Stay off social media.
You don’t have to tell the world your house is going to be empty for an entire week. Bad guys use Facebook, too, you know.
While you’re there: Trust no one and don’t talk to strangers.
Especially don’t talk about your travel itinerary or private life. Don’t ask strangers for directions. A good rule of thumb is to plan your day and get all your directions before you leave the hotel.
Arrange airport transportation ahead of time.
Ask your hotel about a shuttle or a reputable taxi company to get you from the airport. Stay away from the guy in the tracksuit with a cardboard sign advertising his “taxi” service.
Keep your luggage with you.
Don’t rely on hotel staff or anyone else to keep it safe.
Try to get a room between the 3rd and 5th floors.
The bottom two floors are too easily accessible. Above the 5th floor makes it harder for first responders to get to you. Try to get a room located centrally between the elevators and stairwells. It gives you better options for escape in an emergency.
Respect the local culture and the laws.
Nothing says, “Screw with me” more than acting in a way counter to the local cultural norm. It draws unwanted attention and can get you locked up.
When you travel like a spy, always stay vigilant.
Have fun but be aware of what’s going on around you. Watch out for people standing too close or who appear to be listening in on your conversations. Be aware of what looks out of the norm. And don’t always use your real name. (In the coffee shop, when they ask for a name to go with your order, do you really want your name shouted out across the entire store?)
Above all, always trust your gut instincts. Your “Spidey Sense” is usually right.