In a recent survey asked readers to send in their best safety tips for traveling. Two experienced travelers in particular replied articulately and at great length, and portions of those comments are quoted here. “D” and “A” have 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 wary traveler, and has thought through scenarios from mundane pick-pockets to terrorist:
- Any luggage tags should have only an e-mail address, not a name,home address, and phone number.
- Airplane 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 if used aggressively against a knife or box cutter. Put it on your off-hand arm, ram that into your attacker’s face, cutting off his vision and savagely knee or kick him in the groin, and follow through.
- Carry a Mag-lite type flashlight with batteries aboard. The batteries add to the flashlight’s mass. Make sure it actually works as the TSA will usually check for functionality. Held in a tight fist hand, it can be swung with devastating effect against an attacker, especially any place on the skull. Mine is not camouflage color or black, but rather a pretty metallic red. Also, a flashlight, in general, is nice to have when traveling.
- I carry two wallets. The one in the back pocket has some cash and non-important, non-ID items. A front pocket has a second wallet with ID including medical insurance card, emergency contact, and cash. Both ATM machines and service stations are only accessed during daylight hours.
- I tend to sit near the back in restaurants. Most have two exits, and I acquaint myself with the establishment’s layout by excusing myself and visiting the restroom right after ordering the meal.
- Before I leave the hotel, I have charged my cell-phone and have it turned on and include any objects that may be legally carried that I can use as a weapon.I’ve also scripted responses to any direct questions asked such as: What hotel are you staying at? If I feel any qualms 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, don’t travel alone. I know that one hears, “Oh, I travel alone all the time, and have never been attacked.” I, also was in close combat when in the Marine Corps, but was never hit. But, if under attack, it’s sure 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 clerk at a 7-11, cab driver, hiker, or city walker, isn’t attacked.
- Though one need not seek out a self-created state of paranoia when traveling, a few things done correctly, along with mental alertness can go a long way to keeping one off the front page of their hometown newspaper.
“A” counsels sexual assault victims. She enjoys the peace that travel brings. She assesses that her potential threats would be individual rather than terrorist attacks. She enjoys solo travel, recognizes risks particular to solo travel, and plans on how to mitigate them.
- First, I always book a reservation/room for the 1st night – so that when I get off the plane (maybe jet lagged) I can get to a room without fumbling, asking for directions, pulling out maps etc. I never travel with more than a backpack (smaller kind) this helps me blend in (a roller bag would draw attention – traveler, alone, has money on her, target, etc). I always wear clothes with colors that do not attract attention (black, white) nothing “showy”, also, I do not wear unsafe shoes while travel (or ever!!). Laced, comfortable, and no heel.
- Also, I always “learn” the basics of the language, (yes, no, police, help, thank you, excuse me) this allows me to know I can draw attention and summon help (or police) if need be. In my travels to Turkey and Thailand alone,
- I found that I would want to walk at night (the sites, moon, people would draw me out), and I would do so only after getting to know the neighborhood of where I was staying – 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, while traveling alone. Too risky.
- Also, while in Turkey and Thailand, I never told anyone (locals) that I was traveling alone. I always learned the money – it is easy to mess up on counting Turkish lire (dollars) because of all the zeros and it is very easy to get ripped off.
- My main way of trying to be safe while traveling, especially alone is this: blend in. That means language, dress, 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 blending in: I was in Istanbul, at the Blue Mosque, my shoes off, my knees covered, my hair covered in a long black scarf (all customary) and I was sitting in prayer pose on the carpets (listening to the imam, call to prayer for Muslims), and I was sitting where the women sit. I was alone. Peaceful. And, 3 Muslim Turks came over to me and started speaking Turkish to me – I looked like them. That made me feel “successful” in their culture – they took me as one of them. When I opened my mouth and told them I don’t speak Turkish, the one woman said to me, “Canadian, you are?” Again, that is a compliment to be called Canadian (in the times 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 a bit differently, and came up with their own unique mitigations.
Many self-defense instructors would be happy handing you a “dos and don’ts” list, but that’s not learning safety skills. You should learn what goes into calculating the risk. And then how to create your own safety planning, and you end up with your own set of boundaries. So that 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.