A Real Life James Bond on Post 9/11 Travel Safety August 17 2015
I recently came in contact with a US Federal Agent who works for the Department of Homeland Security. Based on his experience, I would have to say he is more like a James Bond on steroids. Previous to his job as an under cover US Federal Agent, he spent time as a soldier in the United States Special Operations Forces completing under cover missions in Afghanistan. He is well versed in self defense tactics including hand-to-hand combat and knife fighting, and currently travels around the world weekly doing, well, he just couldn't say.
So, when I asked him if he could provide information on travel safety from the perspective of a federal agent, he obliged on the condition he remain anonymous. Written below are what he deems essential practices everyone should be doing when they travel, part of which starts before you even leave the house.
-Christopher Avallon, Founder & CEO
The threat to the traveling public has greatly increased since the attacks of 9/11. It is more important than ever to have security precautions be a part of your travel plans. I have been traveling around the world in this new terror environment as both a Soldier and an Agent for the Department of Homeland Security. I would like to share some precautions that I take and that I think travelers might find helpful.
Security for a trip starts before you leave the door. When conducting domestic travel, you should always do a Google search of current events about the destination you are traveling to. This past week marks the one-year anniversary of Ferguson. It would not be a good idea to land in St. Louis for a business trip, only to find the city under a State of Emergency. For international travel more than a Google search is required. You should also look at the Department of State website http://www.state.gov. On the site you will find travel advisories and immunization recommendations. Another reference that is very helpful, if you are traveling outside of Europe is the CIA World Fact Book https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/. This reference will provide you with basic infrastructure, political, and economic information. These sites will not only help you to identify any security threats, they will also provide you with information that will help you navigate around your destination that can not be found in travel guides. One last thing you should check is whether or not your cell phone will work where you are traveling. If you are traveling to Europe having a working cell phone is not a necessity from a security standpoint, but traveling anywhere else around the world your cell phone can be a lifeline.
After your research is complete your next security consideration should be the airport. During my years in Federal Law Enforcement I have spent a lot of time in airports. Most domestic and international airports have top-notch security. But the greatest assets these places have are the traveling public. If you see something that looks out of the ordinary say something to an airport employee. Your most dangerous time at the airport is when you are checking in and leaving the airport. The reason is that the arrival and departure gates have the most exposure to a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosives. These areas of most airports also have tremendous amounts of glass. It is my advice to travel through them as quickly as possible. When exiting the airport only use taxis or buses from the designated taxi and bus stands. If you get in a taxi that is not at a stand you put yourself in great danger. These are the drivers that will take advantage of travelers and in the best-case scenario you might be brought to the wrong place, in the worst-case scenario you could find yourself robbed or abducted.
Part of your research should also cover the hotel you are staying at. Check reviews to see if anyone left any comments related to safety or room security. When checking in never take a ground floor. These are the easiest rooms to break into. It is best to try and get a room between the second and fourth floor. That way if there is a fire you will have an easy escape. After checking into your room always ensure that all the locks work and you close the peep whole or put something over it. I travel with a door jam http://www.amazon.com/Wedge--Ultimate-Door-Stop-Green/dp/B00070FXDC/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1439525189&sr=8-8&keywords=door+jam that I stick under the door to pin it shut. When traveling to Asia I will also reposition furniture in front of the door while sleeping. Over the past few years, Asian countries have seen an increase in attacks on tourists. Any hardening you do of your room makes you a harder target. Most hotel rooms have a safe and I recommend using them, but keep in mind that hotel staff have access to your safe at all times. If you are carrying something sensitive in nature, you will want to keep it on you. I would not recommend leaving passports and credit cards in hotel safes unless you are staying at a very reputable hotel that is part of a major chain.
When leaving a hotel you should never walk out of the door looking at your phone, especially if it is an iPhone. If you leave a hotel or a restaurant looking down at a screen you will miss the criminal who is looking at you. This action shows the sign of an easy mark. You don’t know where you are going and you are not paying attention to your surroundings. Apple products have become very popular in the US and around the world. Keep in mind while you are traveling, that when you pull an Apple product out bad people are watching you. Your screen will distract you and carrying an Apple product makes you a target. Also when I am on international travel I do not walk around with a wallet. I keep credit cards, cash, and my passport in my front pockets or a back pocket if it has a button or zipper. This gives a thief less to take and makes it more of a challenge. The other precaution you need to take when traveling is staying away from large groups of people or demonstrations. People have a natural tendency to want to walk towards large groups to see what is going on. It only takes a second for a gathering to turn into a riot and you could be caught in the middle of it. If you see a large gathering move in the opposite direction.
If you are a frequent traveler there are two last things I would like you to consider.They are self-defense and first aid training. Everyone who travels at some point should take some basic self-defense classes and have a plan of what they would do if someone tried to rob or assault them. It is to late to think about these things when a knife is being pointed at you or you find someone in your hotel room. You should also know some basic first aid. I am not talking about CPR; you should know how to stop bleeding. Everywhere I go I carry a tourniquet http://www.amazon.com/Military-Issue-Combat-Application-Tourniquet/dp/B003EGD8YC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439526077&sr=8-1&keywords=tourniquet. These devices save lives. Our world has changed; not only while traveling, but going to the movies or church you could find yourself the victim of a gunshot or bomb blast. Having a tourniquet and knowing how to use it will save your life.
While most people will never have any security issues while traveling it is a good idea to plan for one. I hope you find information I provided helpful. Following the suggestions I have provided will increase your chances of having a safe and enjoyable trip.
-Anonymous US Federal Agent