International travel to unfamiliar, unstable, or even hostile regions of the world is a reality for many business executives and other influential people and enterprises. Here are 10 Travel Safety Tips for that next overseas trip.
1. Awareness -- Trust Your Intuition.
We recommend travelers maintain a comfortable awareness of their surroundings. Awareness facilitates your intuition or “gut feeling” when danger is near. If you feel butterflies in your stomach, hairs on the back of your neck, or just a hunch, we recommend listening and acting upon these biological signals to stay safe.
2. Keep a Low Profile.
Criminals often select their targets based on the victim’s real (or perceived) level of affluence. For this reason, we recommend against wearing expensive jewelry or watches, flashing large amounts of cash, distinctive or memorable clothing, or traveling with expensive luggage.
3. Theft Prevention.
We recommend travelers maintain positive control of their bags, backpacks, purses, and luggage at all times as petty thieves will often target these types of items when left unattended — even for brief periods of time. Additionally, we advise travelers to use ATMs with caution and do so in well-lit and secure areas (e.g. your hotel lobby). Finally, travelers should encrypt their electronic mobile devices and save important data from those devices (e.g. laptop) before traveling overseas.
4. Private Transportation.
We recommend avoiding public taxis and using pre-arranged private transportation, especially from the airport where you might encounter scam artists who present themselves as “expediters.”
5. In and Around the Vehicle.
Our firm extensively studied over 1,400 attacks and incidents involving public figures and we learned that 64% of unwanted encounters with business leaders and prominent people occurred in or around the car. Accordingly, we recommend you (or your client) applying higher vigilance and security precautions to arrivals and departures.
We recommend minimizing the amount of transported data (in both digital and hard copy form) and bring with you only what is necessary. We also recommend traveling with electronic devices that you only plan to use and power down devices when not in use or otherwise needed. As an additional layer of security, only connect to known and secure WiFi networks, avoid Hotel Wi-Fi (using a mobile hotspot instead), and disable WiFi and Bluetooth on your devices when not needed. Finally, we recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) application whenever possible and a burner laptop and phone when traveling to countries known for cyber-attack.
7. U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories.
We encourage you to visit travel.state.gov and review updated safety and security information about your destination country. The U.S. Department of State provides specific information for every country of the world, including the embassy and consular locations, crime reports, medical considerations, and localized hot spots to avoid.
8. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
We recommend U.S. citizens traveling abroad enroll in STEP via the U.S. Department of State website. STEP enrollment provides the latest U.S. Government security updates specific to the international location you are visiting, and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact and account for you in an emergency.
9. Hotel Safety Considerations.
We recommend developing a plan if you need to evacuate your hotel in case of an emergency. Consider reserving a room between the third and seventh floors where fire engine ladders reach; walk around your hotel floor to identify the fire exit; and keep a flashlight on-hand to expedite an evacuation. Further, identify locations of the nearest embassy/consulate and police station, and wherever you are, know the route back to your hotel.
10. Contingency Plan.
If you are traveling as a group and splitting up for the day (i.e. you have a work engagement and your spouse and children will be elsewhere), we recommend establishing a set “rally point” and a simple contingency plan governed by the GOTWA acronym. Ensure you communicate this before separating:
- Where I am Going
- Others I’m taking
- Time of my return
- What to do if I don’t return
- Actions I will take
Following these Travel Safety Tips as a simple prevention strategy will better ensure you mitigate inherent risks when traveling overseas, especially to more unstable regions of the world.
Charlie Gilbert is an Executive Vice President for Strategic Intelligence at Gavin de Becker & Associates. He was recruited by GDBA from the Central Intelligence Agency, where he served in the Top-10 leadership position of Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service. During his 26 years at CIA, Charlie lived and operated in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Europe, India, and East Asia.
Chris Pimentel is Senior Director of Global Protective Services at Gavin de Becker & Associates where he leads GDBA’s travel risk mitigation, logistics, and protection practice. Chris also served 6 years as Managing Director at Control Risks and served 8 years in the United States Marine Corps.