Earlier this month we brought you the story of a client of ours who found himself ill-prepared for the civil unrest that occurred while he was in Chile on a business trip. We pointed out that it’s important that travelers remain diligent in safeguarding themselves and their families before, during, and following international travel or they run the risk of finding themselves and their fellow travelers in a potentially dangerous or otherwise stressful situation. We also provided a list of pre-travel planning considerations and promised to follow it up with more safety tips to consider both during and following your international travel.
It is with that in mind that we bring you Part 2 of our Travel Intelligence blog. While this certainly cannot replace a high-level, location-specific Travel Intelligence Report, we hope that it teaches you a few things you didn’t know and gets you thinking about how you can better secure yourself and your loved ones during your next trip.
Upon arrival at your destination, keep in mind that you are likely to be both excited and tired, depending on the length of your flight. You could also be jet-lagged and arriving in a country that is unfamiliar to you. All of these factors, including potential language barriers, can certainly compound your fatigue and potential for making costly security lapses early in your trip. If you are traveling outside the US/Canada or Europe, keep the following things in mind immediately as you disembark the plane. Do not be blinded by the excitement and/or fatigue you may be experiencing, as decisions you make the minute you land can adversely affect your trip.
At your destination airport and during your transfer to/from ground transportation:
- Avoid consuming food or drink purchased from street vendors.
- Avoid ice in your drinks. Often, ice is made from local tap and while locals may be used to it, this can cause digestive distress to those not routinely exposed to it.
- Always order bottled water and check the seal to make sure it has not been tampered with.
- If you are going to drink soda or beer, try to find them in a can as in some regions of the world glass bottles are reused and more often than not do not get sterilized properly.
CHECK YOUR LUGGAGE
Check one last time to be sure your home address is not found anywhere on your luggage tags. Replace your home address with your corporate office address(es). This includes any luggage for family members as well. Use a corporate phone number and never include your email address or any other personal information on the exterior of your luggage. Also, make sure the locks on everybody’s luggage are securely engaged and have not be tampered with.
CHECK & MONITOR U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT APP
Once you land and are in-country, take a quick look at the Smart Traveler app you downloaded before you trip to make sure that you are enrolled and that there is no emergency information you need to be aware of.
SECURE EMERGENCY CONTACT INFORMATION
Take all of the emergency contact information we suggested you collect during your pre-travel preparation and place it somewhere on you that is unlikely to be lost or stolen (do not keep in your wallet). Continue to add any numbers you feel may be important to this paper during your trip. We suggest keeping this paper in one of your front pockets or even in your shoe. While this may sound odd, if you are ever in a situation where you had to drop everything and run, you will still have those important numbers on you. Each member of your travel party should do the same.
LIGHTEN YOUR WALLET
You should do your best to keep your wallet as empty as possible. Only carry one or (at most) two credit cards and make sure you’ve already contacted your bank/credit card company to let them know you are abroad. You should carry as little cash as possible. You should also try not to keep your wallet (or anything of value) in your back pocket. Use your front pockets or a money belt if possible. Tourist destinations attract highly skilled pickpockets.
DON’T FLASH MONEY OR JEWELRY
Never show your money while in public and be sure to only exchange your money at reputable exchangers. When possible, try to exchange some money before you leave the airport once you arrive. Do not give American currency to panhandlers or beggars.
The same goes for jewelry. Leave your expensive watch at home. These items make you more of a target in many parts of the world
KEEP YOUR PASSPORT TO YOURSELF
Like money and jewelry, refrain from flashing your passport in public. Only show your passport where you absolutely have to, like at the airport, customs, or at the request of a law enforcement officer. For things like checking into your hotel or renting a car, use your driver’s license.
HIDE BUSINESS AFFILIATIONS
When abroad for business, avoid displaying that fact. You do not want to draw attention to yourself by displaying your company badge, lanyard, or name tag. In certain areas of the world this will make you a more tempting target for kidnapping, as criminals assume that your company has deep pockets and would be willing to pay a ransom to assure your safety.
STAY “TETHERED” TO YOUR BAG
Most quick snatch-and-run type muggings occur because the thief can do it easily and has time to get away. Therefore, anything that slows them down will help prevent it in the first place. It doesn’t need to be secured with a chain and padlock, just attach it to something (leg of a chair or table) that will make a snatch-and-run attempt more difficult.
If you can keep your bag tethered to something immovable at all times, and do so in a really obvious way, thieves will consider it way too risky a job – and leave you alone.
BE WARY OF CAB DRIVERS
In some countries, notably Central and South America, cab drivers are often affiliated with cartels or other organized crime groups. They often tip off their contacts when they transport a foreigner that they believe may be carrying valuables locally. Do not flash money or jewelry in the taxi and try to avoid talking too much, especially on the phone. The more you talk the more the driver will learn (or simply infer) about you.
LOCK UP YOUR VALUABLES
You should know that most travel bags, even those with locks, aren’t very secure. Locked bags are very good for determining if your luggage has been tampered with or not but when it comes to safeguarding your most important items, we recommend asking your hotel about their secure storage options. These are available at most hotels, especially those of the higher-end variety.
DON’T SHARE WITH STRANGERS
Don’t share the details of your trip with strangers, whether it’s someone you’re chatting with at the hotel pool or viewers of your Facebook account. It is never a good idea to share details of your itinerary with anyone outside your small circle of trust.
If someone does ask, rather than be rude, you can be vague about an area of town rather than the name of your hotel. Or lie and name a hotel you’re not actually staying at. Sometimes locals will ask if it’s your first time visiting their country or city. If you don’t trust them yet, you can pretend it isn’t your first trip, as sharing that you’re new might also signal you’re a good target.
WATCH YOUR DRINKING
While everyone likes to have fun traveling, you should be careful not to overdo it, as foreigners under the influence of alcohol or drugs are far more likely to be targeted by threat actors.
MAINTAIN SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
Out of all these tips, this is probably the single most important. You should maintain situational awareness at all times. Situational awareness is the act of being acutely aware of your surroundings. This should begin the moment you step off your plane and continue for the duration of your trip.
Criminals target those who are distracted. Whose purse would you snatch? The woman walking with her head on a swivel, taking in her environment or the woman who has her face buried in her phone?
Keep your head up, stay alert, and be aware of your surroundings. When you’re walking with your head up and projecting confidence, potential threat actors notice it. Try to stay aware of anybody around you, walk with a purpose, and don’t look worried, lost, or scared (even if you feel that way.
PROSINT Travel Intelligence Reports
(Examples coming soon)
If you would like to learn more about our Travel Intelligence Reports, click here. Our travel reports provide a high-level security assessment of the destination country and cities that will be visited.
Other items provided in this report include:
- Pre-travel checklist
- Neighborhoods within the city to avoid
- Common scams and street crime in the host city
- Major crime statistics/information (kidnapping, targeting of tourists/foreigners)
- Security concerns for hotel and the neighborhood where it is located
- Safety of public transportation
- Recommendation for private transportation
- Backup hotel recommendations located within protection zone of US Embassy or Consulate (when possible)
- Contact information for: in-country emergency services, US Embassy/Consulate,
- Hospital recommendations (emphasis on quality care and availability of English-speaking doctors)
- State Department recommended lawyers
- Cultural considerations
- Banned medications and other materials that could cause an issue at the airport or elsewhere
- Securing important documents and credit cards/money
- Digital security – phones, laptops, tablets
- Travel Security Checklists: Physical and Digital
- Travel Security Alerts (this is an add-on service)
Our Travel Intelligence Reports are intended to be used as an all-inclusive manual for reference during or after an emergency while overseas. We have conducted these assessments for travel to just about every corner of the world, including destinations within the US. Each report is different and highly customizable, depending on the destination, nature of the trip, international travel experience of traveler, and any specific concerns the client may have.
For more information on receiving your own personalized travel intelligence report, contact the author of this article or one of our managing partners directly:
Chief Intelligence Analyst
Secure Network Technologies
Secure Network Technologies