on security

Scott Stewart

VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor

8 MINS READNov 19, 2019 | 09:00 GMT

Preparation and common sense go a long way to ensuring an idyllic holiday.

(JO CREBBIN/Shutterstock)

Highlights

  • The first step to ensuring a safe vacation is preventing criminals from knowing about travel plans, as well as securing the home.
  • Researching the security environment of one’s destination can help a traveler understand and plan for potential threats.
  • Simple steps like due preparation for some of the biggest threats to travelers — fire and road accidents — will help mitigate the risk of any problems during a holiday.

The holiday season — when more people travel than at any other — is almost upon us. With that in mind, I thought it would be good to provide a security primer for those preparing to travel over the next several weeks. But even if you’re not planning a winter getaway, this guide will be useful for those planning trips later, like during spring break or summer holidays. Ultimately, thorough preparation and a good dose of common sense can go a long way to ensuring a safe vacation.

The Big Picture

An encounter with a criminal, a traffic accident or a hotel fire can quickly turn a dream vacation into a nightmare. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and can help ensure a perfect vacation.

Starting on the Home Front 

When thinking about travel security, the first place to start is right at home. Right off the bat, don’t advertise that you’re going to be away. If you are a person who likes to post to the world about your awesome adventures, that’s great, but only do so after you return. Even if you’ve made arrangements for someone to pick up your mail and put your lights on timers to make it appear that someone is home, announcing to the world via social media that you will be gone for a week or two is an invitation for criminals to pay a visit. Compounding the danger is some people’s tendency to, on other occasions, post photos of all their nice belongings on social media and either list their address or maintain loose privacy settings allowing anyone to trace the location of the photos. Together, that’s simply a declaration to criminals that the house is vacant and full of valuable stuff. Don’t do that. 

In addition, it’s always a good idea to ensure you have good locks on your windows and doors, as well as a good residential alarm system. But just don’t have these things — use them, particularly when you’re going to be away. 

What else can you do before departure? Pack the proper emergency gear for your trip. I recommend that people travel with a smoke hood for each member of their party and a good, high-powered flashlight (yes, you have one on your phone, but you may want to save your battery for communication). I also suggest that travelers pack a small bleeding control kit for each person, as well as a travel medical kit that contains basic first-aid items such as alcohol preps, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, burn and blister cream, gauze, moleskin, a variety of Band-Aids, a triangular bandage, tweezers, safety pins and a thermometer. The kit should also contain a prescription antibiotic for severe dysentery, as well as loperamide, Pepto-Bismol, Benadryl, pain reliever and allergy medicine. (If you have severe allergic reactions to things such as bee stings or seafood, you should also carry an EpiPen at all times.)

If you are a person who likes to post to the world about your awesome adventures, that’s great, but only do so after you return.

At the same time, research the safety and security environment of your destination well in advance. I recommend reading the U.S. Department of State travel advisories and the annual crime and safety report for the destination country. If you like, you could supplement your reading by perusing the travel advice from other countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. In some cases, the French, German or Spanish foreign ministries will also have helpful travel advice to review. 

Check, too, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel health website to see if there are any vaccines required for your destination or other health concerns; after that, you can check with your doctor or travel clinic to get updated shots, and the previously mentioned antibiotics for dysentery. Speaking of health, it’s prudent to check with your medical insurance provider to see if they will cover you if you have a health problem in your destination and if they will cover the cost of an emergency medical evacuation. If not, consider a travel health insurance policy for your trip. 

And then there’s the airline: That largely unknown, foreign carrier might be offering a great fare, but is it safe? I recommend that before booking a flight, you ensure that the airline maintains certification with the International Air Transport Association’s Operational Safety Audit in addition to meeting the eight safety parameters established by the International Civil Aviation Organization. The European Union also maintains a helpful list of airlines that have been banned from operating in the bloc; if such carriers aren’t allowed in European airspace, that’s a good cue for you not to board. 

After You Leave Home 

After doing all your pretrip homework, you’ve arrived at your destination. But once you’re through immigrations and customs, don’t dawdle in the airport, as airport terminals are ideal locations for opportunistic crime. The steady flow of distracted, jetlagged and sometimes intoxicated passengers arriving in a new, unfamiliar place makes the soft side of airports an ideal hunting ground for petty criminals. Because of this, I recommend that travelers arrange their transportation plans ahead of time so that they can proceed quickly away from the dangerous, soft side of the airport with a trusted driver to their accommodation. 

In terms of accommodation, choosing one with appropriate security for the environment is critical. Most Western hotel chains have good security standards and safety protocols with well-trained staff members. However, it is still a good idea to check with a trusted local contact to confirm that the hotel’s security is adequate. More than that, select a room away from the front of the building, especially in places where bombings are a serious threat. 

But while terrorism grabs all the headlines, another killer is just as dangerous: fire. That’s why I recommend staying above the second floor (to protect against criminals coming in through the windows) but no higher than the fifth so that firefighters can reach you with a fire ladder in the event of an emergency. And once you’ve checked in, take careful note of the fire exits. I recommend physically walking the emergency exit route from a room to verify that doors and stairwells are unlocked and free of obstructions (as it is, you don’t have to go very far afield to find locked doors and obstructions, as this even occurs in developed countries). If the doors are alarmed, ask for a member of staff to accompany you as you conduct your check. For more on what to do in case of a fire, read on here

Transportation in country also poses an under-appreciated risk. In fact, as I’ve written before, traffic accidents claim far more lives every year than do wars, terrorism or criminal homicides, though they receive less comparative attention from the media. They also account for more deaths of American citizens abroad than any other cause.

While terrorism grabs all the headlines, another killer is just as dangerous: fire. That’s why I recommend staying no higher than the fifth floor so that firefighters can reach you with a fire ladder in the event of an emergency.

Public transportation can be a great alternative to driving in some places and extremely risky in others. The same thing goes for taxis: While many countries have strict regulations governing taxi operations, drivers can occasionally skirt these rules through bribery; moreover, a mere license to drive a taxi doesn’t necessarily indicate one’s proficiency as a driver. (The problem can be even more pronounced among unofficial cabs and ride-hailing services, which entail less training and oversight.) I recommend using taxis in a location only if a trusted local friend or colleague can attest to their safety. Before you get into a particular cab, give it a careful inspection to check for obvious maintenance and safety issues. Wait for another vehicle if your taxi doesn’t have functional seat belts or if its doors don’t unlock or open from the inside. Furthermore, if you get into a taxi and the driver is driving dangerously, find a safe place to get out, pay your fare and find another ride. 

And while traveling it’s always a good idea to blend into your environment as much as possible, refraining from advertising your nationality and flashing your cash and belongings, in what is called traveling gray. This will reduce the risk that criminals or other threat actors will target you. Of course, so will practicing good situational awareness and frankly, a little common sense. There’s no such thing as absolute safety, but by knowing the risks and taking prudent steps, you can at least avoid most of the things that might turn your holiday in paradise into the vacation from hell.

Safe travels!

Read More 

For more safety tips for adventure travel and security on the street, check out these links: 

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