World Travel

Travel Security

I have been asked for travel security tips. Here is some heavy-duty professional advice - it also deals with the worst of situations...

1. Travel Preparation

  • Keep a low profile
  • Learn at least a few phrases in the local language
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with your family
  • Go through your carry-on luggage to remove items not needed or which pose a security risk, such as: 
    Excess credit cards, Membership- or ID- cards for any group that may be targeted
    Business cards with provocative information or revealing national, ethnic or religious affiliation
    Political, religious or sexually explicit literature
    Anything that looks like a weapon
    expensive or religious jewelry

Depending on your situation, consider bringing:

  • All necessary official documents (e.g. passport, visa)
  • Photocopy of passport and tickets or a list of essential information (carried separately)
  • A list of credit card numbers and loss-notification numbers
  • Enough money in the local currency inclusive coins or tokens to use a pay phone
  • Enough of any required medication to survive delays, carried in original container with prescription
  • Laptops and notebooks if you must (carry them in your hand luggage)
  • Any medical or personal hygiene products which you use periodically, in case of recurring chronic problems  

Dress to blend in with the foreign environment - Keep a low profile

  • Leave behind expensive jewelry and clothes that mark you as a wealthy foreigner
  • Be conscious of local norms in dress, speech, etc.

Travel with secure luggage:

  • Locked, non-descript luggage, secured with a strap (hard luggage is safer)
  • Use closed-faced luggage tags
  • Carry-on bag with necessities in case of lost luggage
  • Travel light

2. Traveling

  • Keep Alert
  • Be aware of what is around at all times
  • Travel during daylight hours, if possible
  • lf available, use valet service
  • Confirm flight time, arrive at airport early
  • Say good-byes at the curb
  • Move immediately through security check area to the departure lounge
  • Say no if asked to carry any bags or packages for strangers or, for that matter, friends, unless you are certain of what is inside
  • Say no if asked to watch luggage
  • Move away from any disturbance or anyone receiving exceptional attention
  • Don't leave your baggage unattended, even for a minute
  • Check under your seat for left luggage
  • Don't give any personal information to fellow passengers
  • Take note of the emergency exits
  • Select your taxi carefully, don't ride in unlicensed cabs (during your stay: when ordering a Radio Taxi by phone mention  o-n-l-y  the area you want to be taken to - not the exact address!)
  • Learn how to operate the telephone and carry enough coins or tokens to use a pay phone
  • Know who will be meeting you, their names and appearance. lf there has been a change, call to check it out. Don't go with anyone you do not trust
  • Avoid dangerous areas of cities
  • Meet visitors in the hotel lobby - don't give out your room number
  • Make sure to chain lock your door while you are there
  • Make sure your room number is not overheard while obtaining your key at the front desk
  • Check your exit options, count the number of doors to the nearest exit, and learn how to work the escape systems
  • Do not leave valuables or important information (such as your itinerary) in your room unless stored in the room safe
  • Do not conduct sensitive conversations over the hotel telephone or fax sensitive information
  • In case of fire: Do not open your door if it is hot. If smoke or fire is in the corridor, shut your door and seal it with wet bedding and towels. Open a window, unless smoke comes in from outside. If possible, evacuate immediately, placing a wet towel around your mouth, taking your room key and crouching low near the floor. Do not use elevators
  • Stay alert and aware of your surroundings; keep an eye on belongings and your hand on your valuables
  • Do not pay with large bills or count currency in public
  • Stay away from crowds and don't investigate a disturbance; just leave. Even peaceful gatherings can turn ugly
  • Carry the phone numbers of emergency contacts - e.g. your host, organisation, and diplomatic representation
  • Always carry an ID card or a copy of it - a legal requirement in many countries
  • Guard against pickpockets
  • Keep your distance from the curb
  • If you are followed, change direction and enter a well-lighted business establishment
  • If a car follows you, turn and walk the opposite way
  • Carjacking is on the increase!
  • Do not drive yourself in a city or country with which you are unfamiliar
  • Select a rental car with a lockable trunk which is as inconspicuous as possible
  • Ask the rental agent about driving laws and customs, road signs and maps
  • Carefully check your travel route on a street map in advance
  • Be aware of areas you should avoid
  • Keep your car doors locked at all times and the windows closed
  • Be careful where you park your car
  • Always lock your car when unattended and avoid leaving valuables in the car

3. Emergency

  • In a criminal attack, give up your belongings willingly, without argument
  • Report the crime immediately to local police authorities. In certain countries check your embassy before contacting the police
  • If someone with a weapon approaches and corners you, remember your life is at stake and one wrong move could be your last. Plan ahead how you will react and remember to think rationally
  • Report passport theft to your embassy immediately, and initiate the procedure to obtain a new passport
  • Report loss of tickets, travellers cheques, credit cards and other documents to the organisation that issued them
Kidnap / Hostage Situations
  • Do not behave in any way to make yourself stand out; avoid threatening movements and do not stare
  • Do exactly as you are told, and do nothing without asking permission first
  • Remain alert and prepared in the event of rescue attempt or escalation of violence
  • If you are singled out for questioning, your answers must be consistent with documentation you are carrying. Volunteer no additional information
  • Remain courteous, but dignified
  • If there is a rescue attempt, stay as close to the ground as possible
  • Do not try to be a hero
State Emergency (coup d'état, revolution, social unrest, etc.)
  • If trouble starts, contact your local embassy
  • Call or have someone contact the embassy with your location to facilitate your evacuation if needed
  • Stay off the streets, remain in your hotel, and if necessary move only in daylight in groups
  • Avoid main squares and boulevards, government buildings, radio/TV stations, military installations, the airport, harbour, banks and shopping centers. All are key targets during take-overs or coups
  • Do not discuss opinions about the political situation
  • Have the hotel management or embassy update you on any developments
Natural Disaster
  • Have a pre-established plan (with family and colleagues) for where to go in the event of a disaster; that plan should include going immediately to your local diplomatic representation or the Red Cross to report yourself alive. (Note: the symbol for the Red Cross in some Islamic countries is a red crescent in place of the Red Cross.)
  • Contact your home to save your family worry
Medical Emergency
  • Never be afraid to avail yourself of local medical care
  • Some medicines are dangerous for people of different countries; find a doctor who has treated foreigners, such as a hotel doctor, recommended by your embassy, the Red Cross, or another expatriate

4. Contacts

Emergencies / Personal assistance
  • Don't admit fault or make any statement (other than for the police)
  • Contact your diplomatic representation and your air carrier if necessary