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How to stay safe when traveling at home or abroad

Long or short journeys, domestic or abroad require preparedness.

Despite the current situation, it is worthwhile to understand how to stay safe when we do travel away from home. It is another aspect of preparedness.

I would like to begin with a story about a former co-worker. Jane back packed her way across Europe with a friend in the 1960’s.

The journey was going well until they arrived in Spain. At the time Spain was under the control of the notorious dictator, Franco.

The train on which they traveled was stopped by the Spanish military. The heavily armed soldiers boarded the train and demanded to see passports. Jane got out her information and although she was afraid, calmly sat and waited.

When the soldiers arrived at their seat, her friend decided to tell the soldiers in very colorful and easily translated expletives what they could do to themselves. They weren’t going to order her around and actually started to rise in her seat as she ranted at them.

Jane had the presence of mind to grab her friend and pull her back down into her seat. She told her “shut up, you’re going to get us killed, give them your passport and not another word.” Then Jane apologized to the soldiers in Spanish for her friend who had misunderstood and to please forgive her.

This regime was ruthless. They could have been dragged off the train and shot. After the train incident, Jane split from traveling with her friend and completed the rest of her journey alone.

Know the person you are traveling with and discuss reactions to situations such as this in advance. You are a guest in someone’s Country and an understanding of the cultural and social mores there will make you a welcome guest who is less likely to get into trouble. You don’t want to get into trouble or land in jail because of someone else.

These are the basics for safe international travel:

Do your research and understand the cultural differences. For example, in Egypt an unmarried female who travels alone is considered a prostitute. 

Learn about any hand gestures that may be considered offensive. I believe it is in Thailand or Indonesia where crossing one’s legs and exposing the soles of the shoe or foot is considered very offensive. In Singapore littering can land you a punishment by caning.

Never consume drugs in a foreign Country and watch the rules regarding alcohol. Never get intoxicated. You want to be lucid at all times.

Find out if there is civil unrest in the Country or if tourists are being targeted as was the case in Egypt.

Never leave your luggage unattended. Never agree to carry someone else’s luggage.

Ensure your family or friends back home have a full itinerary of where you will be staying and a copy of your passport, and other identification, including recent photos and bank information. 

If something happens to you, they will be able to work with authorities using recent information. If you need help financially, they can deposit money to your bank account. Ensure that they are authorized to handle any banking needs, such as bill payment while you are away. International cell rates can be very high.

Set up agreed upon contact points and times and keep them. This way your family will know if something has gone wrong sooner and what your whereabouts where when you disappeared.

Practice situational awareness especially when traveling. 

Women are frequently targeted at airports and kidnaped. Human trafficking is a very real danger. Ensure that the people you interact with, including taxi drivers are who they purport to be. It is safer to use your hotel shuttle service as transport from the airport to your hotel.

In your hotel, ensure that the door is locked and bolted with security lock while in your room. Check the room thoroughly upon possession of it to ensure no on is lurking and also to ensure that nothing illegal was left behind. Never open the door to anyone who is not expected. It takes seconds to call the main desk and confirm who is at your door and why.

If you intend to visit tourist areas, be aware that is also the place where criminals will congregate. Predators go where the prey is located.

If you choose to go to Amsterdam’s red light district, be aware that tourists can have very bad experiences there. There are people who are criminals who have immigrated to The Netherlands. The problem is that as a tourist, you might think they are tourists. They are not. You may be dealing with one at an ATM and suddenly find yourself surrounded by fifteen more men.

These gangs of thieves rig the ATM so that your cash won’t dispense properly. Then they come behind after you give up and fish your money out. Pick pockets are especially bad in tourist areas. They can work alone or in a tandem. One bumps into you and the other steals your wallet while you are distracted.

Deal with the banks in the daytime in the branch. Ensure you wear a hidden money and passport carrier. A zippered money and passport carrier that sits flat under the waistband of your pants is not easily accessible and stay out of sight. Forget purses. Try to blend in with the locals as much as possible. 

Look like you mean business, don’t look like a victim. Tourists very often have a distracted and vague look on their faces because they are preoccupied with the new environment. That is a giveaway and makes you a target.

Jane, the woman in the story who carried on traveling alone finally landed in a small village in Greece only to discover that her American Express traveler’s checks were lost.

She spoke no Greek, but was able to use the telephone of a kindly Greek couple. Jane called her Dad who arranged the Am Ex check replacement which would be there in about two weeks. Meanwhile, she had no money. The check replacement wasn’t as rapid as she believed. 

The kindly Greek couple took pity on Jane and gave her a free room and food in their small room to let hotel while she waited for the money.

Jane was alone and unable to communicate with anyone. She was sitting on her bed, feeling very dejected and then she heard it. It was English! Someone, a male voice was singing “Some Enchanted Evening” quite loudly.

Jane flew through the door overjoyed to have someone to talk with and met the man. She said to him “Oh. You speak English?”

He shook his head and began to sing the song again. It was the only English he knew.

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