Stay safe while traveling (Part 1)

With many people well into planning their summer vacations, it is a good time to think about ways to make your travels as safe and secure as possible.

While acts like the shootings in Christchurch and Utrecht captured the world’s attention and caused consternation among many travelers, most people will never face something quite so horrific. However, it doesn't take acts of terrorism; far less dramatic events can quickly spoil a vacation.

Jason Hanson is a former CIA officer and the founder of Spy Escape & Evasion, a company that teaches techniques that help Americans and their families stay safe. Pitching his company earned him a $150,000 investment from financial backers on “Shark Tank.”

To the goal of staying safe, Hanson compiled a list of Summer Travel Safety Tips. Although many of these tips have been included in other articles published on TheTravelPro, I thought it would be beneficial to revisit them. I have included my own comments and added links to other resources and articles as appropriate.
  1. If planning a trip overseas, visit the U.S. State Department Travel Alert and Warning website and research the country you will visit. The site alerts you (by country) to any security threats and provides phone numbers of the U.S. embassies and consulates.

  2. Prior to traveling, scan all travel documents onto a secure flash drive such as the Kingston IronKey Thumb Drives

    • Driver License
    • Passport (also memorize your passport number)
    • Travel Insurance Information
    • Hotel Reservations
    • Airline Reservations
    • Family Emergency Phone Numbers
    • U.S. Embassy Address and Phone Number
    • Carry the flash drive on you at all times in case the paper documents are ever lost or stolen.

      Editor's note: I recommend adding to the flash drive a list of the credit and debit cards you carry, the names of the issuing banks and the banks' customer service numbers but DO NOT INCLUDE THE CARD NUMBERS. If the cards are lost or stolen, the banks will be able to retrieve the card numbers based on the personal information they will obtain from you when you call.

      The list entries should only include the following information: 
    • HSBC Bank, MasterCard credit card and MasterCard debit card. 1-800-975-4722 (or 716-841-7212 for international; call collect)
    • Bank of America; VISA credit card and VISA debit card. 1-800-732-9141 (or 757-677-4701 for international; call collect)

  3. In a secure wallet such as a Shacke Pocket Vault, carry your money and credit cards. Do not carry a travel wallet around your neck or purse as criminals can easily cut or yank them off. Instead, carry a wallet inside your pants or secured to your leg. Another great option is the Escape & Evasion Belt, where you can hide money and gear in case of an emergency.

    Editor’s note: The Escape & Evasion Belt is manufactured by CovertBelt, which is Jason’s company and therefore his product. As will be obvious if you watch his video presentation about the belt, many of this things he recommends carrying will have to be placed in checked baggage when traveling by air, and other items will not be able to be transported by air at all.

    TheTravelPro also included some additional suggestions for more safely carrying money and credit cards while traveling in “Lessons learned from a lost wallet.”

  4. Don’t discuss your travel plans on an airplane, cruise ship or anywhere where people can overhear anything you say.

  5. When checking into a hotel, ask for two keys, even if you are alone. Potential criminals watching you check in will assume there is more than one person staying in the room making you a less attractive target. Additionally, request a room above the third floor of the hotel. Criminals will usually break into rooms on the lower floors of a hotel.

    Editor’s note: Another tip, which was shared by a female colleague who traveled regularly, is to order two drinks from the bar if you are taking them back to your room. Same reason: it implies someone else is traveling with you, as I noted in "10 tips for women traveling alone."

  6. Purchase a doorstopper alarm and place it inside your hotel room door. They are inexpensive, very loud and will scare off any intruder immediately. You should never travel without one.

  7. When overseas always respect the customs of the country you are visiting. For example, don't wear a brightly colored t-shirt or cowboy boots that indicate where you are from. You don’t want to stand out as an American.

  8. Research current scams and crimes indigenous to the country you are visiting. For example, some airports are known for criminals asking you to watch their luggage and then come back, claim you stole it from them and attempt to extort money from you. Or, someone might stop you on a street with the pretense of taking a survey. While you are distracted, their partner pickpockets you.

    Editor’s note: Also read TheTravelPro’s post about avoiding scams here.

  9. Sign on cab in Warsaw showing fares

  10. Only accept a taxi your hotel has arranged for you. Criminals can pose as taxi drivers and then drive you to an isolated location to rob you. Many also try to take a longer route than necessary so they can make more money. Study your route ahead of time and make sure the cab driver follows your instructions.

    Editor’s note: Unlicensed cab drivers, also known as 'gypsy' cab drivers, in countries where English is not the citizenry’s primary language have also been known to use that fact to their advantage. One story related to me while traveling is that the gypsy cab driver initially said (or was understood to have said) the fare was $15 but when the cab arrived at the destination, insisted he had said $50. Unless the figure is written down and agreed upon – and who does this when getting into a cab? – it’s your word against the driver. And honest misunderstandings do happen. That is another reason to avoid unlicensed cabs: because they are unlicensed, there is no agency to turn to for redress should something go amiss.

  11. Never discuss your trip on social media until you arrive back home. If someone follows you on social media and you are talking about how excited you are to see the Mona Lisa, then a criminal will know you are out of the country and may burglarize your home.

    Editor’s note: I am constantly amazed by how many people violate this regularly. Even if you have someone house-sitting or have a roommate who isn’t traveling with you, telling people you are not home could put the other person in peril if a criminal tries to break in under the incorrect assumption that the house is empty.
Safe travels!

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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