Travel Like a Spy
Written by: Wayne North
This article originally appeared in Skillset Magazine and is reprinted with permission.
So, you’re travelling overseas on that vacation of your dreams. Well let’s slow down a second. There’s still a need to be safe. You may have noticed a recent uptick in insecurity and bad stuff happening in the world so it’s important that you be proactive when it comes to your and your family’s safety and security.
There’s no better way than to take some tips from folks who spent careers working undercover and in various clandestine roles in some of the crappiest and dangerous places around. We’re talking about travelling like a spy. I know you’re a bad ass and the ultimate in Alpha otherwise you wouldn’t be reading Skillset. Well, so are most undercover operatives. That doesn’t mean you go out of your way to show everyone you can defend yourself with a pencil like John Wick. It’s much better to avoid a situation than having to get out of it. Let’s break it down in two easy phases: 1. Before You Go and 2. While You’re There. There is a third, Oh Crap, Something Bad Just Happened, but we’ll save that for later maybe.
Before You Go. Plan, prepare, sanitize.
Like any operator, gather your intel first. Do some research on where you’re going, entry and exit requirements, required visas, local laws and customs, and available medical care. Get the contact details for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and carry it on a small card, just in case. In fact, take advantage of those taxes you pay and let the U.S. State Department help you at HERE
Pay special attention to the “Safety and Security” tab. Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts on the respective embassy or consulate websites can be found at HERE.
Think before you pack. You’re a proud American. But leave your favorite American flag shirt and your bling at home. Get familiar with the Gray Man theory of travel. Blend in as much as possible and don’t draw unwanted attention. Tourists, especially American tourists, are ripe targets for all sort of nefarious people from pickpockets to terrorists.
Take care of your money. Notify your bank and credit card companies where you’re going. It helps in their efforts to protect your credit cards and bank accounts. They provide useful information about using credit cards and ATMs. Try not to use ATMs unless you need to but, if you do, use ATMs inside banks or currency exchanges, not on the street. Use a money belt under your clothes to keep everything secure.
Make two copies of all your travel documents, including passports and visas, in case of emergency. Leave a copy with a friend or relative at home and carry the other separately from your originals and separate from your money.
Sanitize your stuff. Clandestine operators go through a process where everything they wear and carry is stripped of anything that could possibly give away their real identity. You don’t have to go that far but you should cleanse your wallet, clothes and luggage of non-essential stuff. Leave behind credit cards or identification you aren’t going to use. Think twice about taking anything that has your address, phone number and personal information on it. And secure your electronics. Phones, laptops, tablets, etc. all contain your entire life and even the lives of your family. If you don’t need it, don’t take it.
And lastly, stay off social media. You don’t have to tell the world your house is going to be empty for an entire week. Bad guys use Facebook, too you know.
While You’re there – Trust No One
Don’t talk to strangers. And especially don’t talk about your travel itinerary or private life. Don’t ask strangers for directions. A good rule of thumb is to plan your day and get all your directions before you leave the hotel.
Arrange airport transportation ahead of time. Ask your hotel about a shuttle or a reputable taxi company to get you from the airport. Stay away from the guy in the track suit and a cardboard sign advertising his “taxi” service.
Keep your luggage with you. Don’t rely on hotel staff or anyone else to keep it safe.
Try to get a room between the 3rd and 5th floors. The bottom two floors are too easily accessible. Above the 5th floor makes it harder for first responders to get to you. Try to get a room centrally located between the elevators and stairwells. It gives you better options to escape in an emergency.
Respect the local culture and the laws. Nothing says, “screw with me” more than acting in a way counter to the local cultural norm. It draws unwanted attention and can get you locked up.
Stay vigilant. Have fun but be aware of what’s going on around you. Watch out for people standing too close or who appear to be listening in on your conversations. Be aware of what looks out of the norm. And don’t always use your real name. So, in the coffee shop when they ask for a name to go with your order, do you really want your name shouted out across the entire store?
Above all, always trust your gut instincts. Your Spidey sense is usually right.
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