International travel safety in 2017 is very different than it was in 1990. The world has changed in ways that make us all more vulnerable to random acts of violence, primarily terrorism, active shooters and crime. Ironically, while this article was being written, the Manchester suicide bombing occurred killing 22 innocent, mostly young people and injuring scores of others. Whether you are traveling with a tour group, student group, mission group or individually, there are things you can learn and behaviors that you can practice to minimize the risk of something bad happening to you or those around you. By the way, while this article focuses on international travel, the same tips should be applied to large cities and tourist destinations within the United States as well, because the threat is here too.
Your trip and travel safety begins the moment you arrive at the airport.
Learning everything you can about the countries you will be traveling to begins the preparation process for your trip. Researching information about the culture, customs and history is wise as well as researching crime statistics and areas to avoid for the cities you will be visiting. Most importantly, become informed on the most up to date information on terrorist incidents or threats. Checking the U.S. State Department site for travel warnings at State Department and be sure to write down the number on a piece of paper for the State Department consulates in the countries you are traveling to. Consult organizations that conduct training or provide advice on specific countries of travel and threats. Counter Threat Group, L.L.C. is one company that provides this.
5 Travel Safety Tips
1. Be alert and vigilant to everything going on around you. Adherence to this tip is the most important thing you can do while traveling internationally. Always remain alert to individuals who are exhibiting unusual behavior or look out of place. When you see this, report it. Too many terrorist incidents happen because someone who noticed something odd about someone or something did not report it. Keep ample space between yourself and other people. Petty crime and pick pocketers are common problems in many countries. Be very aware of vehicular traffic and vehicle access to where you are walking. Occurrences where vehicles are used by terrorists to run over innocent pedestrians are on the increase (Nice, Berlin, London).
2. When possible, avoid popular social places such as restaurants, bars, shopping areas and entertainment areas during peak activity times. The 2015 Paris mass-causality terrorist attack that left 130 dead and hundreds injured occurred at popular nightspots, on a Friday evening, targeting diners and a packed auditorium at the Bataclan concert hall. The terrorists will always target peak traffic times to maximize carnage, so altering your plan to enjoy popular sites during the less crowded times of day, or days of the week can significantly reduce your risk of becoming a statistic. Also, avoid mass transportation during peak times. The terrorists continue to target mass transportation, subways, train stations and buses.
3. Blend in with your environment. avoid wearing typical American apparel items like baseball caps, cowboy boots, sports jerseys and “I am an American” type of clothing. This tip is most important to prevent becoming a target for crime. Pick pocketing and petty crime is prevalent in many European cities, and Americans are heavily targeted. If you are an American traveler/tourist, in the eyes of the pick pocketer, you are wealthy. Americans are easily picked out of a crowd because they are usually in groups, talking loudly, taking pictures, making eye contact, being animated and wearing conspicuous clothing. The most obvious thing that is immediately noticeable is clothing and shoes. Americans are probably the only ones who wear white tennis shoes. This screams American. You don’t see many shorts or bright clothing in many countries. Do a little research and get a feel for how people dress different times of year in the countries that you will be visiting. You can even by some inexpensive clothing once you arrive overseas. Remember, blending in reduces attention.
4. Always give yourself an out. Think ahead to an escape path or exit wherever you are, outside or indoors. Imagine the kinds of scenarios that could take place and consider what you would do if you find yourself in an unfortunate situation. It’s too bad to have to think this way, but it trains your mind to be prepared for unfortunate contingencies . A vehicle slammed into pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge in London. There is nowhere to escape on a bridge. Re-think these kinds of experiences if the bridge is open to motor vehicles as well.
5. Protect your valuables. Carry limited cash and one credit card. Write your credit card and phone number down on a piece of paper and store it way from your valuables so you can immediately call the card issuer if it is lost or stolen. Keep one copy of the number with you and leave one at home with someone. Also, make a copy of your passport and keep a copy in your luggage and one with someone back home. Notify your credit card company before you go and let them know the countries and time frames when you will be traveling.
Carry a dummy wallet and keep a small amount of money in this wallet. Your “real” wallet will have your cash and credit card preferably in a pouch around your neck. If you are forced to hand over your valuables, give them the “fake” wallet that contains minimal cash, and they will leave you alone. The rest of your money is hidden away.
They make pouches that you can wear around your neck and under your clothing that are large enough to hold your passport, cash and cards. This is the safest place to keep your valuables. Never keep your valuables in a rear pants pocket or exterior back pack pocket.
Planning and preparation is always your best defense in reducing risk and ensuring your travel safety.
Photo credit: dw/counterthreatgrp.com