Top 10 Personal Protection Measures For Foreign Travel

Top 10 Personal Protection Measures For Foreign Travel

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to four of the seven continents and sometimes I’ve ended up in areas that were a little dangerous, a little anti-American or both.  If you have a job that takes you to some of the world’s more interesting places (like countries where kidnapping is an industry) here are some tips and tricks that might help keep you safe from both terrorists and criminals.

  1. Vary Your Route & Time:  Take different routes to and from your regular destinations as well as make the trips at different times of day.  Avoid routines for work, shopping, dining, and other daily activities.
  2. Don’t Leave By The Same Door:  Use different doors when entering and leaving a building if possible.
  3. Protect Your Privacy:  Don’t share personal or family information with strangers and be wary of new acquaintances.  Avoid use of titles, and job descriptions on travel documents and routine forms.  Abandon the use of rank and certain courtesies within your group for the duration of the trip so that the senior leader is harder to identify.  I still remember how hard it was to call my commander by his first name during one week TDY (trip) we took in civilian clothes before a deployment.
  4. Carry the Right Documents the Right Way:  Carry the documents on your body (not in a purse, backpack, briefcase, etc.).  Also make sure to carry the right ID which will likely be your U.S. passport but may be a military ID if you are deploying.  Depending on your destination you may be better off with a tourist passport or a government passport (official or diplomatic…assuming you qualify).  Also, depending on your past travel you may need to have a passport reissued, for instance if you’ve traveled to Israel and now plan to travel to an Arab country.
  5. KidnappedCarry Your Valuables Carefully:  Don’t take any valuables you don’t have, the exception being potential barter for safety items (jewelry being the easiest to move across borders).  Keep important work papers, money and other valuables as close to your body as possible.  Identify hiding places for ID that you don’t want to be caught with (like a military ID) in case of hijacking.
  6. Looks Can Kill:  Back in the 80’s you could pick out a soldier walking down the street off base a block away because of the haircut and the fact that the Post Exchange (PX) only sold about ten different kinds of very poorly made clothes.  I’m glad to say that the PX now sells ‘regular’ clothes and short haircuts are in vogue even for civilians now… but many people still wear distinctive clothes or carry distinctive luggage.  Avoid shirts with corporate or military logos, baseball caps (but the local equivalent if you need a hat).  If you’re a service member avoid carrying a duffel bag, backpack with molle attachements or a B-4 bag for your hanging clothes.  Chose conservative clothing that doesn’t stand out or offend native cultural sensitivities.  Just wearing jeans in some parts of the world will mark you for an American.  If possible wear what the locals wear…and don’t forget the shoes…you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes.  Finally, even if you spent a fortune on your tattoos…cover them up if they mark you for an American or include religious symbology.
  7. Don’t Flash Your Cash:  Kidnapping is a growth industry in some parts of the world and even when you’re safe from terrorists and kidnappers there’s always the local criminal element.  Don’t display your wealth and remember that the definition of wealth varies greatly even from neighborhood to neighborhood.
  8. Behave:  Respect local customs and avoid controversial topics (politics, soccer rivalries, etc).  Learn a bit of the local language and use it as appropriate.
  9. Itinerary:  Make sure your family and/or workplace know your itinerary and you have and maintain a contact schedule.
  10. Contacts:  Keep key contact information on you at all times including as appropriate, the U.S. Embassy, your sponsor, your hotel information, your co-workers.  Just as importantly there may be contacts that you don’t want to carry and these should be stripped from your wallet, cellphone etc.  When I was in Iraq I made sure not to carry anything on me that could allow any potential captors to contact or terrorize my family.

These measures are just a start and should be adjusted based on the particular threats you are most likely to face at your destination.  To get an idea of what threats you’ll face on your travels talk the people who will be your sponsors, supervisors or coworkers at your destination; check the State Department’s Foreign Travel Advisories Webpage; and read the local papers for your destination but be aware that in many countries local ‘troubles’ don’t make the news.

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