Tips for Safe Travel – Keeping Yourself and Your Belongings Protected Abroad


The enclosed suggestions are the fruit of my twenty years’ worth of business trips around the globe. These tips are meant to complement other online resources that discuss the importance of maintaining one’s safety while on the road. Please accept my apologies if some of these thoughts don’t apply to you. I want to stress that there’s no obligation attached to spreading these ideas around; they’re given freely and openly. I take full responsibility if any of the following has already been stated elsewhere. In addition, I am not a security specialist and offer no guarantees.

What I’m using here is helping me… The results may differ based on the reader. It’s possible that some of my suggestions could lead to legal trouble or even bodily harm. Take this in with a grain of salt and an analytical mind. When I was working in international markets, many people at the US Embassy and the Federal Police and Army of the host country offered me input, horror stories, and advice about how to keep myself safe. Destinations in Latin America, Western Europe, and the Pacific Rim.

I also have information from people working and residing in the area who are not native English speakers. Many readers have traveled extensively and may find the ideas and concerns expressed here ridiculous and overly alarmist. How you choose to respond is entirely up to you. The submission is made out of grave worry for the security of all international passengers.

I have worked and lived outside the United States for most of my existence, so I needed to acquire this knowledge. My first trip abroad was in the ’60s, and I eventually settled in Argentina after retiring there in 2005. I trust you recognize how much the world has altered since September 11th. The collapse of the World Trade Center was met with jubilation from right-wing radicals, left-wing radicals, religious extremists, and even some narco-terrorists. You should also be conscious that even before 9/11, traveling internationally was noticeably riskier than in the 1960s. Now that lousy guys everywhere think they can get away with bad things; they’re more likely to do bad stuff. as a result, they have grown more combative.

* EFFORT should be made to acquaint oneself with one’s intended destination. You can instruct many news aggregators to search “bots” to seek specific terms related to your area of interest. My go-to sources for news are Yahoo News, DogPile News Search, and a few others. I also check online for regional publications that cover the region in issue. When researching your chosen location, here are some queries to ask.

* Are there known terrorist or organized crime organizations in the area?
Do they assault tourists with violence? Maybe it’s more “in-the-neighborhood” violence.
* How busy are they? How aggressive have they been recently, say, the past four to twelve months?
How high-tech are they, exactly? Do they employ military-grade weaponry and strategies?
Can you foresee what they’ll do? Is it possible to avoid danger by avoiding hotspots?
Will they (the locals) try to alert the tourists? Do you know anyone in the area who could give you advice?

There are people and organizations out there who will resort to terrorist or illegal methods to achieve their goals. Some dangers are local, while others have gone global and impacted numerous regions. Visitors from other countries and military and diplomatic personnel are prime targets in almost every part of the globe.

The “what if” game should always be played.
Think about the ways in which you could fall prey to criminals or narco-terrorists. Consider the following considerations:


Avoid taking taxis when you’re by yourself. Never get into a cab on the side of the road. Always keep a taxi company’s card on you and either contact one or have someone else do it. If not, the next best option is a taxi stop. These measures are necessary even for the physically fit soldiers stationed at the US embassy… adequate combative strength, not too weak. They are also great places to learn about the neighborhood. One of the most successful businesses in criminal/NarcoTerror Land is picking up a wealthy man (you) in a taxi, than having two more thugs with guns wait around the corner to escort you to a quiet place where they strip you, take your belongings, etc.

If they discover a Visa or debit card, they’ll be taken to an ATM and forced to extract the maximum daily amount before being left naked on the side of the road. Unless… The thugs may attempt to sell you to the NarcoTerrorists if they are impressed by what they find in your belongings. (drug traffickers). Since NarcoTerrorists usually demand at least US$250,000 in extortion, they may ask for a sum between US$5,000 and US$15,000. Then you might spend the next several years hanging from a branch in the jungle, eating undercooked beans and swatting mosquitoes. If you or your taxi driver sees suspicious vehicles, you may consider having your ride drop you off at the closest police station. Or a bustling place.

If you need to take the wheel but can’t afford an armored car with “run-flat” tires, a “chase” car, and a “blocker” van full of armed security, look into renting or choosing a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle instead. For breaking through barriers, a robust fender is essential. Consider evading or going around a roadblock manned by fewer than three officers and one or no marked police vehicle. You might find it more convenient to quickly back out of the area to where you can make a U-turn and depart. You should be safe if it turns out to be a fake-cop scheme (or if off-duty or retired police officers are involved). A sturdy car is probably required for this move. If you are stopped at a valid control point or official police roadblock, apologize profusely and promise not to do it again, but say that a friend warned you about the dangers of passing through false roadblocks set up by criminals or narco-terrorists. Official roadblocks are typically staffed by numerous police officers in uniform and equipped with heavy weapons and a large number of plainly marked police vehicles. Remember that the NarcoTerrorists also have access to police uniforms and tools. But normally there aren’t that many government cars around.

Please do not hesitate to slam on the accelerator as if you were intentionally attempting to hit anyone who dares to run out in front of your vehicle while you’re driving down the street. They will make room for you.

If you are in a high-crime neighborhood and someone rear-ends your car on purpose, you should probably drive away as soon as possible. What if this happened is a genuine concern.

After dark, it is considered too dangerous for many nations’ police to fault drivers who slow down but do not stop at traffic lights and stop signs.

PLEASE BE AWARE that attempting to flee on a motorcycle or scooter while being shot at is an evil plan. Sheet metal from automobiles isn’t much, but any amount is appreciated.

The best time to use an ATM, wherever you may be, is during the day. And even in America. Watch for suspicious characters before, during, and after you withdraw cash. Keeping tabs on the situation can be challenging while fiddling with that annoying equipment. You shouldn’t use an ATM by yourself.

I felt perfectly secure riding the bus whenever I needed to before 1995. If I were in Juarez or Sinaloa state, I might reconsider taking the bus, but I would still take the one between Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey. Why? When Colombian and Mexican narco-terror groups stop buses full of civilians, they use them as bait to lure government troops into kill zones where improvised explosive devices (IEDs) kill them. Seeing forty or more adolescent army guys brutally cut to pieces by homemade bombs is enough to ruin anyone’s life, and I saw it firsthand.

If you’re one of the 20 or 30 males standing around in the cold while the NarcoTraficantes molest the female passengers, you can rest assured that you’ll live off of beans and rice in the jungle for the next several years. Except for the young and attractive girls and teenage males, the NarcoTraficantes want to draft for paramilitary service, the poor get to go home.

IEDs (improvised explosive devices) made by Colombian and Mexican NarcoTraficantes are becoming increasingly common, and their members attend the same Islamic extremist terror camps as members of Al-Qaida. Many soldiers and Federal Police have been killed in recent incidents where bait and blast tactics were used in southern Mexico.

When dining at an outdoor eatery table, never leave your phone, camera, purse, or other valuables within sight or reach of passers-by. Seat yourself as far away from moving cars and pedestrians as feasible. Think “What if…?” and always keep your eyes open. In broad daytime in Buenos Aires, a thief surrounded by agents stole Jenna Bush’s purse.

You may have just made yourself an easy target by leaving a high-end establishment like an electronics shop, Armani, an expensive restaurant, or a nice hotel. If you are transporting packages by vehicle, make every effort to lock the trunk or some other secure location before leaving, and be conscious that criminals may follow you. You should know that a Range Rover or Cadillac Esplanade is a moving high-value target with no or very little safe storage. Don’t be too shocked if the locks are broken, or the car is stolen if you stop and leave it in an unsecured location after being spotted leaving a high-end establishment.

I don’t risk carrying around a pocketbook. Credit cards, driver’s licenses, and copies (NOT originals) of passport, birth certificate, travel, and residency papers are carried in a slim, zippered pouch between my T-shirt and outer shirt or sweater. A photographer’s vest with loads of interior and external zippered or Velcro pockets is one of my go-to pieces of photography gear. You could fit a compact suitcase into this vest. Approximately 4 kilograms at the moment. Since fanny bags aren’t as safe, I only use them to carry essentials like reading material, cheap sunglasses, gum, etc. Velcro pockets inside a parka or vest keep expensive equipment safe. On a related topic, I have scanned and emailed miniature versions of all my essential documents to multiple web-based email accounts, making it possible to print out new copies whenever needed.

I try to limit the quantity of cash I carry. A handkerchief is crumpled on top of a money clip containing large bills that I store in the bottom of one front pocket. To avoid drawing attention to myself when making purchases, I keep the tiny tabs I need for the day in a money clip in one of my front pockets. It’s also buried underneath another towel at the bottom of your front pocket. When I check my bag at a hotel, the safe at the front desk is where I leave my small Wal-Mart combination safe containing my passport, original papers, valuables, etc. Please be aware that I disagree with the advice that you should always have a “decoy wallet” full of commentary on you to throw at potential assailants. For a more extended diversion and a greater chance of getting away, I like to throw around my fake stash of small denomination bills.

Most reports of lost, stolen, or damaged items are found in checked baggage. In case of loss, savvy travelers will create a written inventory of their belongings and picture their luggage. Use hand luggage; a travel vest photographers use to take their small tools, etc., to transport essentials like medication, eyeglasses, and expensive jewelry. The maximum weight my jacket can carry is 8 kilograms. Make duplicates of everything in your pocketbook and passport, just in case. Keep one in your carry-on and a backup duplicate at home. Don’t let anyone touch your bags until you’ve checked in. Pack your belongings in durable, simple bags if you can. Thieves may target suitcases believed to contain valuables. Your home location and phone number shouldn’t be displayed on your luggage tag’s exterior. You’ll find my email address, regular phone number, and mobile phone number on my tags. Neither my name nor my connections appear on my luggage tags. If you’re worried about losing your expensive baggage, you might want to consider defacing it with large bands of tape bearing your contact information across the outside.

Think about sturdy, lockable baggage that can sit at the bottom of a stack of hundreds of other bags without springing open. Including more binding is a smart move… Walmart charges $5 for a 2″ broad nylon strap with side snap locks. Wrap your luggage locks in airport plastic wrap or duct tape to avoid unwarranted access. I don’t bother locking my bags when I travel. Only plastic, self-locking, and tie-wraps are used by me. They do an excellent job of keeping my bags safe. If a TSA agent has to sever your ties to examine your bags, rest assured that they will be replaced. These can be purchased for a buck or so at any hardware shop. This is because it is not uncommon for people trying to sneak in narcotics, weapons, etc., to put them in luggage to retrieve them later, possibly by force. Some passengers were arrested after officials discovered illegal substances or firearms in their luggage. What would you say to a foreign authority to justify your possession of illicit substances or weapons? Before you unpack your bags, check if the seals have been broken. If you suspect your luggage has been opened without permission, please notify security promptly.

If my bag has a combination lock, the code is taped to the inside of the bag’s underside. The default is 0-0-0. This is because customs officials severely damaged my unlocked bag while attempting to access it.

If you’re concerned about safety on an airplane, it’s best to book a window seat as near the plane’s center as possible. The villains monitor the captives from the back and front of each cabin. To maintain your anonymity in the workplace, the military, your country, or your faith, think about what you can do to conceal your true identity.

Passengers on cruise ships are urged to leave their worries behind and enjoy themselves once they go port. Travelers tend to relax their guard while on vacation, mainly on a boat at sea. Take precautions to avoid becoming a victim of a crime while on a cruise and ruining your holiday. You might want to take these precautions before you set sail:

Check the restroom and storage closet when you enter your cabin while the entrance is still ajar. You shouldn’t treat your cottage like a hotel without taking precautions. Your cabin door may be left ajar while the housekeeping staff or steward attends to other guests’ needs. It’s not uncommon for airplane cabins to have locks that are decades old and rarely get rekeyed. Avoid leaving expensive things lying around. Before leaving home, it’s a good idea to take an inventory of your belongings, picture any valuables, and upload the photos to your web email account to access them from any computer. Keep your valuables, documents, credit cards, and spare currency in the ship’s safe deposit box, as most cruise ship passengers use a charge account system. Turn the night latch and all other locks on the cabin entrance. If you’re concerned about your safety in the cabin, you might want to pack a doorstop from a hardware shop and use it once you get there. Online vendors sell some with built-in alerts. Don’t let just anyone into your house. The individual on the other side of the locked door can say anything. Don’t forget to drill this process into the heads of the young ones.

Keep your cabin key and number hidden, just like you would in a motel. Dishonest members of the staff or passengers may attempt to steal an unguarded or dropped key. Don’t forget to drop off your key at the pier’s registration counter on your way off the ship.

If there is no safe and you need to lock up some small things, use a can of fake hairspray or deodorant. Don’t think you’re entirely secure from a criminal activity just because you’re on a boat and at sea. Although you are unlikely to be robbed or attacked by someone on the outside, you are still at risk from the ship’s staff and other passengers. Cruise companies often hire temporary and seasonal workers for low pay. As a result, cruise lines often have trouble keeping ships completely staffed due to high employee turnover rates. It would be best not to presume that the vessel has thoroughly vetted the friendly cabin attendant, waiter, or below-deck staff member you encounter. If you intend to travel with minor children, it is essential to formulate a plan for their safety before you set sail. Put in place limits and curfews…just like you would at home. Teenagers should be warned against inviting staff members into private spaces like their cabins. A skewed perception of safety is common when at sea. Predators may still be present despite the low crime rate per thousand passengers. Those on the prowl often frequent the ship’s bars, casinos, swimming pools, and jacuzzis.

Be especially cautious around people who appear to be under the influence of alcohol. Some people’s worst traits come out on ships because of the excessive amounts of food and alcohol consumed. Passengers’ fancy attire does not guarantee they won’t be rude or disruptive. Just like on land, it is possible for a fellow traveler to smuggle drugs onto the ship and take advantage of you. Criminals such as purse snatchers and cabin intruders are waiting for passengers to relax their defense. There are also con artists who look for wealthy tourists to capitalize on.

Bad checks, curfews, restrictions, and safe gathering spots could all be part of your family’s strategy for keeping the kids safe. Like at home, you should monitor the friends that your kid makes outside of school. Just like at home, your kids may interact with kids who are into narcotics or mischief. Limit your child’s participation in ship-sponsored public events as much as possible. Even if your children are in a safe environment, you should still check in with them regularly. It’s not a good plan to give them free rein of the ship while you’re preoccupied. If your kid doesn’t show up or you get separated at a port, you should always have a backup plan and ensure you have the contact information for a member of the ship’s crew. Ensure the kids know that if they are caught with illegal items in a foreign nation, you will be powerless to get them back from the authorities.

You have long since left Kansas. You are not automatically immune to prosecution in American courts just because you entered a ship in a U.S. port. Most ships are not American and sail in territorial seas where US law may not apply because of their foreign registry. The cruise line business does not maintain a database of ships with the most crime problems or consistently report crime statistics to the FBI. There is a gray area regarding law enforcement and offenses committed on boats. A crime can be achieved between citizens of separate countries on board a vessel flagged to a third country within the territorial waters of a fourth country. International Maritime Law applies but is not nearly as evolved as American law. Even if a crime is reported on a cruise ship, it is not guaranteed to be taken seriously or even probed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the only US law enforcement agency authorized to investigate a significant crime if it takes place in international waters; otherwise, the nearest foreign country and the embassies of the parties involved are notified. Many criminal cases will be handed over to the local port authority, where the result is entirely out of anyone’s control.

Know that the laws of the nation you visit may not apply to you if you or a family member get into trouble while in port. When at water, it’s important always to maintain vigilance, caution, and safety. Contact the cruise company and request written disclosure of their policies and regulations if you have any questions about the ship’s safety record or how the boat will handle problems like lost luggage or criminal acts. In addition, the twenty-five most prominent cruise lines are represented by the Cruise Lines International Association, which can be reached through their New York office.


Terrorists in the area may strike at hotels, apartments, public transportation hubs, and nightclubs frequented by foreigners or foreign military troops. Steer clear of any places where you could be attacked. Taxi drivers, airport workers (especially at banks and money exchanges), and employees of businesses catering to tourists and adult entertainment venues are common targets for these criminals.

Soft targets are easy prey for terrorists and thieves. Consequently, you should train yourself to prevent giving that impression. The importance of being vigilant, taking sensible precautions, and reporting suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities cannot be overstated. If you must venture out at night, the safest route is the center of the street. (not always possible). You should exercise extra caution when approaching or passing a big van or vehicle carrying people, as well as courtyards and deep doorways. Stride confidently and with intent… Keep your shoulders back, your head up, and your eyes darting all around you. You can check out your environment through nearby windows and mirrors. Do not, under any conditions, initiate a conversation with anyone. Criminals will attempt to impede your progress while their accomplices position themselves for an attack. Continue walking while pretending to have a chat on your cell phone… Ideally, you’d do this in a language your would-be assailants wouldn’t understand. Terrorists need a reason to attack, such as you, someone you know, or a specific place. Think carefully about what you can do to prevent coming across as a weak link.

Watch for the routine procedures criminals/NarcoTerrorists use to plan and execute their assaults. If you keep an eye out, you might be able to spot an assault in the making before it happens. Keep an eye out for anything that might be espionage, spying, the gathering of attack materials, or even a practice run. For instance:

* Taking pictures or footage of possible victims.
* Making notes or sketches of a potential victim.
* Paying an abnormal amount of attention to safety and regular procedures
* Misrepresenting one’s identity
* Using currency instead of a credit card to buy something
* Buying a lot of stuff that could be used in an assault (e.g., chemicals or cell phones)
* Immediately notify any suspicious activity to security staff so they can investigate the situation. Take notes on the person’s appearance, the time of day, and the tools they use.


Crime and terrorism against tourists in popular destinations like the Spanish, English, and Japanese rail networks, the Mexican border towns, Bali, Indonesia, Luxor, Egypt, and London, England, have grown in recent years. It is only natural to check out the sights in a new area while on vacation there. Good anti-crime and anti-terrorism measures should be kept in mind while sightseeing.

Think Ahead

* Find out what dangers might be lurking in the region. Take additional safety measures or delay plans if the danger level rises.
Include potential secure zones in your itinerary and plans. Hold on to the “What if…”
To increase your safety, you should: * Invite a friend or colleague to come along.
If you’re going exploring with a group, agree on a safe meeting spot in advance in case you get separated. Ensure someone (friends, family, work associates, hotel staff?) knows your plans and approximate return time.


* Attempt to conceal your nationality, profession, or religion to better fit in with other vacationers. Often, people draw too much attention to themselves when they wear things like USA t-shirts, soccer/baseball gear with logos, or sacred jewelry.
* Learn about and adopt the customs of the area. Inappropriate behaviors include showing too much love in public, drinking in public, and dressing too provocatively.
* Don’t make a spectacle of yourself. Don’t act rowdily or loudly. Drunken nighttime street travel is risky in many parts of the world.

Visit my favorite survival and preparedness (Surviving Argentina… lessons learned in complete meltdown) blog for more information on TRAVELER SECURITY, or contact me at

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