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Travel Safety – Tips On Enjoying Your Trips With Confidence
In a recent survey readers were asked to submit their best travel safety tips. Two experienced travelers in particular responded articulately and at great length, and parts of those comments are quoted here. “D” and “A” both travel extensively, and have very different approaches to keeping safe stemming from their own backgrounds and experiences.
“D” has a long history with the US military and special forces. He is a cautious traveler, and has thought through scenarios from mundane pickpockets to terrorists:
- Any package tags should only have an email address, not a name, home address and phone number.
- Aircraft seat cushions are designed as personal flotation devices. As such they are thick and on the back side, they have a wide strap or straps to put an arm through, thus making them a very effective shield when used aggressively against a knife or box cutter. Put it on your off-hand arm, get that in the face of your attacker, cutting off his vision and savagely knee or kick him in the groin, and follow.
- Carry a Mag-lite type flashlight with batteries on board. The batteries add to the mass of the flashlight. Make sure it actually works, as the TSA will usually check for functionality. Held in a tight fisted hand, it can be swung with devastating effect against an attacker, especially any place on the skull. Mine is not a camouflage color or black, but quite a metallic red. Also, a flashlight, in general, is nice to have when traveling.
- I carry two purses. The one in the back pocket has some cash and minor, non-ID items. Front pocket has a second wallet with ID including medical insurance card, emergency contact and cash. Both ATM machines and gas stations are only accessible during daylight hours.
- I tend to sit near the back in restaurants. Most have two exits, and I familiarize myself with the layout of the establishment by excusing myself and visiting the restroom immediately after ordering the meal.
- Before I leave the hotel, I charge my cell phone and turn it on and include any items that can be legally carried that I can use as a weapon. I also wrote answers to some direct questions asked such as: What hotel are you staying in? If I feel any doubt about the question or the questioner, I simply ask just as directly: Why do you want to know?
- In general: I recommend that, if possible, do not travel alone. I know you hear, “Oh, I travel alone all the time, and I’ve never been attacked.” I, too, was in close combat when in the Marine Corps, but was never hit. But, if there is an attack, it sure is nice to have a friend(s) with you. There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that someone, especially alone, whether a late-night 7-11 worker, a taxi driver, a hiker, or a city walker, isn’t attacked.
- While there’s no need to seek a self-inflicted state of paranoia while traveling, a few things done right, along with mental alertness can go a long way in keeping one off the front page of one’s hometown newspaper.
“A” counsels victims of sexual assault. She enjoys the peace that travel brings. She estimates that her potential threats would be individual rather than terrorist attacks. She enjoys solo travel, recognizes risks particular to solo travel, and plans how to mitigate them.
- First, I always book a reservation/room for the 1st night – so that when I get off the plane (perhaps jet lagged) I can get to a room without fumbling around, asking for directions, pulling out maps, etc. I never travel with more. than a backpack (smaller kind) that helps me blend in (roller bag would point out – traveler, alone, has money on her, destination, etc). I always wear clothes with colors that don’t attract attention (black, white) nothing “showy”, also, I don’t wear unsafe shoes when traveling (or ever!!). Laced up, comfortable and without a heel.
- In addition, I always “learn” the basics of the language, (yes, no, police, help, thank you, sorry) this allows me to know that I can alert and call for help (or police) if necessary. In my travels to Turkey and Thailand alone,
- I found that I would like to walk at night (the places, the moon, the people would draw me out), and I will do this only after getting to know the neighborhood where I live – and even in Turkey I met with locals to have tea, cherry juice at night – but only walking distance to my bed and breakfast. No alcohol, ever, when traveling alone. Too risky.
- Also, while in Turkey and Thailand, I never told anyone (locals) that I was traveling alone. I’ve always learned the money – it’s easy to mess up counting Turkish liras (dollars) because of all the zeros and it’s very easy to rip off.
- My main way of trying to stay safe while traveling, especially alone, is this: blend in. That means language, clothing, hair, (hide camera), leave money in my money belt, and don’t have American written all over me! Observe. Observe. Observe. feel feel feel
- A sweet story I like to share about mixing: I was in Istanbul, at the Blue Mosque, my shoes off, my knees covered, my hair covered with a long black scarf (everything usual) and I was sitting in a prayer pose on the carpets (listen the imam, to call to prayer for Muslims), and I sat where the women sit. I was alone. peaceful And, 3 Muslim Turks came up to me and started speaking Turkish to me – I looked like them. That made me feel “successful” in their culture – they took me in as one of them. When I opened my mouth and told them that I don’t speak Turkish, the one woman said to me: “Canada, you are?” Again, that’s a compliment called Canadian (in the days of 9-11)!!
Travel is fun, exciting, a time for personal growth and rejuvenation — a calculated risk. Both “D” and “A” assess their travel risks slightly differently, and have devised their own unique mitigations.
Many self-defense instructors would be happy to give you a list of “dos and don’ts,” but that doesn’t teach safety skills. You should learn what goes into calculating the risk. And then how to create your own security planning, and you end up with your own set of constraints. So you can enjoy your travels, confident that you’ll know something effective to do if your great adventure gets too far out of your control.
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