Travel Safety Checklist

Safety is a constant concern for almost everyone, especially with the current state of the world. There are places though where most people feel more comfortable. Being at home or at a loved ones house for example. It seems safe to say that a good percentage of people feel most vulnerable while they are traveling or in a foreign environment (which usually goes hand in hand with traveling). I am no different myself and have as a result of this insecurity, developed some practices that have served me well to ensure my safety as I travel. These practices have come from instinct, experience, my military training, and others from personal research that I have conducted. They have been compiled neatly into a checklist so that hopefully they can be of help to you all as well.

 Prior To Traveling:

  • Clean out your wallet. Remove any items not needed for travel and those that could be used for identity fraud.
  • Ensure that you have the correct directions and check local road conditions if driving.
  • Double check reservation information if flying, going by train, or other travel means.
  • Check the weather at all locations where you will be traveling for the duration of your travel to ensure that you have all of the appropriate clothing that you will need.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary at home. Include your travel arrangements and hotels where you will be staying.
  • Check your person and carry-on bag for anything that might be construed as a weapon. For an updated list of prohibited items see www.tsa.dot.gov.
  • Have a current emergency contact form left with your supervisor if the travel is work related.
  • Arrange to make regularly scheduled check-in calls at home and at work as appropriate.
  • Make sure your passport is current and not too close to the expiration date.
  • If you are going overseas: Photocopy the contents of your wallet, passport and visa. Include passport-sized photos of yourself in case you need to have it replaced. Make a list of the overseas contact numbers for your credit card company. Make a list of all embassies. Keep copies in your carry-on bag and in your checked luggage.
  • Make sure your medical coverage is effective in all areas that you will travel to including overseas. Bring all prescription medication in original containers. Bring copies of any prescriptions you need, this includes glasses or contacts.
General Recommendations:
  • Keep a low profile. Dress and behave conservatively.
  • Do not wear clothing with American logos.
  •  Keep $30-50 and one credit card in your wallet or purse when traveling. Store the balance of your credit cards, traveler checks, and cash in a money belt or similar item worn under your clothes.
  • Clothing that exhibits expensive labels or brand markings has the potential to make you the target of an assault or robbery.
  • If you have military or distinctive identification that could make you a target do not carry it in your wallet.
  • Lock all luggage. Do not place anything on your luggage identifying your nationality.
  • Vary regular travel routes by changing travel times or using different roads.
  • Avoid areas where you are likely to be victimized. These include crowded mass transit stations, tourist attractions, market places, festivals and marginal areas of cities or towns.
  • Don’t use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets. Try not to travel alone at night.
  • Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
  • Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers. If it can be avoided, don’t discuss such matters in public either.
  • Beware of strangers who approach you, offering bargains or to be your guide.
  • Move with purposeful strides. If you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. When possible, ask directions only from individuals in authority. Generally, families or women with children are the safest persons to ask for directions.
  • Know how to use local pay telephones and have change to do so. Consider cell phone service that works in the country you are traveling in. Obtain local /international calling cards.
  • Learn enough of the local language so you can communicate your need for help, the police, or a doctor. Carry a list of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • If you are confronted, don’t fight back. Give up your valuables. Fight only as a last resort.
  • In nightclubs and restaurants locate the functional emergency exits before any emergency.

Airline Travel Safety:

  • Select an airline with a good safety record. Your travel agent will have this information.
  • Try to schedule direct flights.
  • Wide-bodied aircraft typically are the preferred airframe to travel on.
  • Arrive at the airport early enough to clear security, at least 3 hours prior to flight time for international flights and 2 hours prior to departure for domestic flights.
  • Verify that ticket or gate agents have taken the correct coupons of any paper tickets and returned all coupons that you will need for later flights.
  • Verify you have received a baggage tag for each piece of checked luggage and that the tag matches your destination.
  • Keep your passport and any paper airline ticket in a zippered pouch of your carry on bag. Always return them to the same place.
  • Clear the check-in area as quickly as possible and move into the secure part of the terminal.
  • Report any suspicious activity to airport security or flight attendants immediately.
  • Watch your belongings as they go through the X-ray screening machine. Make sure you watch the bags as they enter the machine and then pass through the metal detector in time to pick up your bag as it clears the machine. If the person in front of you stops or fails the screening test, do not allow your belongings to go through until the path to retrieve them on the other side is clear. Most laptops and purses are stolen at security by teams of thieves.
  • Place carry-on bags in overhead storage across the aisle from your seat so you can see if anyone is trying to open them during the flight.
  • To speed response time in the event of emergency and to avoid the possibility of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) use of sleep aids and alcohol should be avoided.
  • Traveling in natural fiber clothing is more comfortable for some and tends to be more fire resistant.
  • Upon arrival use hotel provided transportation where possible. If you take a cab, select your own taxicabs at random. Don’t take a vehicle that is not clearly identified as a taxi. Compare the face of the driver with the one posted on his or her license. Once seated in the cab insure doors are locked, position yourself so you can see the drivers eyes in the rearview mirror should they fall asleep while driving.
  • If you are being met at an airport make sure the placard used displays a number of your selection and not your name. When asked, the person holding the number sign must be able to tell you your name. Kidnappers copy names on signs and stand closer to the entrance than legitimate drivers.
Hotel Safety:
  • Stay at reputable hotels and motels. The large, western Hotel chains usually have adequate security. Select a hotel that allows you to take different routes to your destination if possible.
  • Ask for a second story room at a motel. Ground floor rooms are more susceptible to break in. Staying on the second floor also makes it easier to escape if there is a fire. Try to avoid staying above the third floor in any country without a modern and well-equipped fire department. Never stay above the seventh floor.
  • Check the windows and doors to make sure they are secure including the lock on the door of an adjoining room.
  • Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room. Know how to report a fire. Be sure you know where the nearest fire exits and alternate exits are located. Count the doors between your room and the nearest exit. Do the same for an alternate exit. This will allow you to reach the exit if the corridor is dark or filled with smoke. Consider traveling with an emergency escape hood.
  • Don’t open the door to anybody unless you are familiar with him or her. Talk through the door without opening it. Hotel door chains are practically useless.
  • Keep your hotel door locked at all times. Meet visitors in the lobby.
  • Do not leave money and other valuables in your hotel room while you are out. Use the hotel safe. Do not leave business documents, especially proprietary material, in the room unsecured.
  • Let someone know when you expect to return if you are out late at night.
  • If you are alone, do not get on an elevator if there is a suspicious-looking person inside.

Traveling At Your Destination:

-By Car:

  • When renting a car, choose a type commonly available locally. Choose a model with a good safety rating. If possible, ask that markings that identify it as a rental car be removed.
  • Get the latest model available, make certain it is in good repair and that it has emergency roadside equipment. Always wear seatbelts.
  • Pick a car with power locks and windows.
  • Select a car with an air conditioner. This will allow you to drive with windows closed. This prevents items from being snatched from inside your car.
  • Check the car every time that you do not have direct eye contact with the car.
  • Try not to park your car on the street overnight. If the hotel or municipality does not have a parking garage or other secure area, select a well-lit area.
  • Keep all doors locked while driving.
  • Don’t leave valuables on your seats while driving or when you park.
  • Travel using different roads.
-Choosing The Best Road:
  • Drive on a main road.
  • Travel roads with more than one lane.
  • Prefer roads that are close to a police station.
  • When driving use the rearview mirror to detect any cars that may be following you.
  • Be aware of the location of safe-havens such as police stations, hotels, and hospitals.
  • Pay attention to any unusual objects on the road (road blocks, cars stopped on side roads).
  • As much as possible, avoid driving at night.
  • Never pick up hitchhikers.
  • Don’t exit your car if there are suspicious looking individuals in the area.
-Public Transportation:
  • Check the Consular Information Sheets to find out if a country has a pattern of tourists being targeted by criminals on public transportation.
  • Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs. Chose them yourself and at random.
  • Avoid mass transportation at night. Spend the extra money and take a taxi.
  • Robbery of passengers on trains along popular tourists routes is a serious problem. It is more common on overnight trains.
  • Do not accept food or drink from strangers. It may be drugged.
  • On overnight trains, lock the sleeping compartment.
  • Do not be afraid to inform the conductor or other official if you feel threatened. Police are frequently assigned to ride trains that have been targeted before.
  • The same type of criminal activity found on trains can be found on public buses used by tourists.
How to Handle Money Safely:
  • Separate your cash into two portions. Keep some of the money in your wallet and the rest in a belt or separate place on your person. If you have a purse carry it in front of you, over your shoulder across your chest, hold on to it with your hands and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.
  • Beware of pickpockets. Anyone can be a pickpocket. Generally, a pickpocket will use an accomplice to distract you while your pocket is being picked. A common ploy is to have an accomplice bump into you but anything that will distract you will also be effective.
  • To avoid carrying large amounts of cash, change your travelers’ checks or withdraw money from  an ATM, as you need currency.
  • Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill. Make sure your credit card is returned to you after each transaction. Check periodically for unauthorized charges.
  • Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money. Do not change money on the black market.
  • If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims. After reporting missing items to the police, report the loss or theft of credit cards, traveler’s checks, airline tickets and your passport. This will be much easier to accomplish if you have remembered to photocopy the contents of your wallet and if you have written down the overseas contact numbers of your credit card companies. Contact the local embassy or consulate to replace your passport.
Travel to High-Risk Areas: 
 
If you must travel in an area where there has been a history of terrorist attacks or kidnapping or that is the subject of a State Department traveler alert, be sure you:
  1. Register with the U.S. embassy or consulate upon arrival.
  2. Do not discuss personal matters and your itinerary with casual acquaintances or strangers.
  3. Leave no personal or business papers in your hotel room.
  4. Watch for people or vehicles following you.
  5. Remember the golden rule of counter-surveillance; if you see the same person or vehicle two times, separated by time and distance, you are probably being followed. If it happens three times, you are being followed. Contact the local police and the nearest embassy or consulate for guidance.
  6. Refuse unexpected packages.
  7. Check for loose wires, packages or other suspicious objects around your car.
  8. Check under the car when you park. Note the presence of any object under your car when you return.
  9. Be sure your vehicle is mechanically sound in case you need to resort to high-speed or evasive driving.
  10. Drive with car windows closed in crowded streets. Bombs can be thrown through open windows and it is easier for an assailant to enter your car if the window is open.
  11. If you are ever in a situation where somebody starts shooting, drop to the floor or get down as low as possible. Do the same if you are in a building and you hear an explosion outside. Often, people will rush to windows after a blast in order to see what happened and are killed as the pressure wave, moving slower than the speed of sound, blows out the windows. Don’t move until you are sure the danger has passed. Take cover behind or under a solid object. If you must move stay as low as possible.
Hijacking/Hostage Situations:
 
Generally speaking, the most dangerous parts of a hijacking or hostage situation are the beginning and, if there is a rescue attempt, the end. Terrorists are typically are most volatile during the initial moments of a hijacking. Make every attempt to remain calm and alert. The following recommendations are from the US Department of State. These recommendations are under review in light of the events of 9/11. For the most part it is recommended that these guidelines be adhered to unless and until it becomes apparent that the hijackers intend to use the aircraft as a weapon. In that event, it is necessary to resist at all costs. I would also add that if the hijackers are only using boxcutters and are outnumbered 40 to 1 by the passengers, that overpowering the hijackers by force is likely to be in order but must be decided by the hostages that are in the situation themselves.
  • Do not resist. Follow their demands and make no sudden or threatening movements. Do not fight or try to escape unless you are certain of being successful.
  • Force yourself to remain calm and prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally for the possibility of a long ordeal.
  • Do nothing to bring attention upon yourself. Avoid direct eye contact with the hijackers and do not obviously observe their actions.
  • Initially, do not attempt to use a cell phone to call for help. Later, a cell phone may prove invaluable.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages. Consume little food and drink.
  • Cooperate with the hijackers. Do not complain or be confrontational.
  • Expect to be interrogated. Answer questions directly but don’t volunteer information or make unnecessary overtures.
  • As the situation becomes less volatile, you can make reasonable requests for personal comforts such as going to the bathroom or getting something to drink.
  • If you are taken hostage for a longer period of time, try to establish a rapport with your captors, avoiding confrontational subjects such as politics in favor of universally understood topics like family.
  • Try to keep your mind active and try to exercise regularly if possible.
  • Eat what they give you, whenever it is given. You have no way of knowing if your food or water will be withheld later on.
  • If you are a religious person, pray earnestly and often. Don’t become despondent. People are looking for you and are trying to get you safely returned.
Remember the key point is to make a potential aggressor’s job more difficult. A serious criminal or terrorist will watch his or her target before attempting his crime / terrorist act. If they see that you are not an easy target, they will most likely move on to someone who is.

While I was putting this post together I recalled a piece from earlier this year that Bryan Black and the gang over at ITS Tactical put together about luggage security that definitely applies here and would be worth your time to check out.

Sources: Global Security Group, Rotary International, ITS Tactical