The events of September 11, 2001certainly placed a greater emphasis on travel safety. Although uncertainty will always exist and travel concerns are warranted, some minimal planning and research can help you become an informed and resourceful traveler.
Pre-Planning for International Travel
Travel outside the U.S. presents some risks that, like anything else, should be managed. Start your planning by logging on to www.state.gov to access the U.S. State Department's "Travel Warnings & Consular Information Sheets" for your destination country. These sheets list restrictions and cautions for Americans for every country in the world. You'll also find a listing of each country's American Embassy and Consulate locations and phone numbers.
Once you've completed this first step, continue your planning with the following considerations in mind.
1. Ground Transportation. Before you arrive at your destination, plan your ground transportation carefully. Refer to the country's Consular Information Sheet before your arrival to determine the safest way to travel within your destination area. There may be guidelines for optimal times of day and preferred highways on which to travel.
Keep track of your carry-on luggage during a flight and watch all of your luggage when taking ground transportation. All luggage should be locked and kept where you can see it. Avoid putting it into the trunk of a cab or in a place on a shuttle where it can't be seen. In addition, do not share a cab with other passengers not known to you. Finally, when selecting a cab, be sure that the official license is prominently displayed and that the cab is clearly identified as such on the outside.
2. Travel Documents. While required travel documents may vary from country to country, at a minimum you will need a U.S. passport or other proof of citizenship and a visa or tourist card, if required by the country or countries that you will visit. Be aware that there is a lucrative black market for American passports, so guard yours accordingly. It should always be on your person in a secure pocket - never in your baggage or briefcase.
3. Travel Itinerary. A detailed itinerary (with names, addresses, and phone numbers of persons and places to be visited) should be left with family, friends, or with the Security department of your place of business (in the case of business travel), so you can be reached in an emergency. Also, include a photocopy of your passport information page. If your travel plans change, you miss your return flight, or extend your trip, notify the appropriate individuals. Should you find yourself in an area of civil unrest or natural disaster, contact them as soon as possible to inform them that you are safe. Furthermore, upon arrival in a foreign country, you should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate so that you can register your presence.
4. Local Knowledge. You should make every effort to learn as much as possible about the language and culture of the country you plan to visit. In most cases, having a basic command of the language is well received and appreciated by the locals. At a minimum, though, you should know key emergency words and phrases for your destination country such as "danger," "police," "doctor," and "fire."
Become familiar with the customs of the country. Basic background on your country of choice can be obtained on the Internet and in guidebooks. You should also carefully review the Consular Information Sheets. This knowledge will help you to dress appropriately, make you aware of local customs and accepted behaviors, and allow you to remain as low key as possible.
Before you leave home, exchange U.S. bills and coins for the currency of your destination country. Review ATM service availability on the Consular Information Sheet. If necessary, Traveler's checks can also be used.
It's also advisable to carry some basic first aid supplies, particularly items that may be hard to find in the middle of the night. Be sure you take along all prescriptions or other essential medications that you might not be able to obtain abroad.
5. Hotels. In your pre-planning, select a hotel that is reputable and well known. Generally speaking, these will have a higher level of security. Request a room between the third and seventh floors of the hotel. These floors are high enough to prevent a break-in but low enough to get out quickly in an evacuation due to fire or other causes.
Once you arrive at your destination, your first priority should be to familiarize yourself with the use of the phone and learn the emergency numbers to call for fire, the police, or an ambulance. Although it may seem rather obvious, be sure not to open your door before verifying the identity of the person requesting access. Also, you should not accept any unexpected packages or letters, particularly from an unfamiliar source.
6. Low Profile Business Traveling. Although you may not perceive yourself as an "executive," it is possible that others outside of the U.S. may perceive you as such. While traveling, it is recommended that you keep a "low profile" about your position, your place of employment, and your nationality. Choose your audience carefully and be aware that others may be listening. Be prudent in the distribution of business cards and do not use them as identification tags on your luggage. This is particularly true in high-risk countries like Mexico and Colombia where executive abductions are common. While the targets of these abductions are usually American executives working in the country, it's wise not to make yourself a target of opportunity or a target of a terrorist. Also, avoid wearing obviously expensive jewelry, designer clothing, or clothing that may identify you as an American.
After you've become knowledgeable about your destination, make the following preparations a week or two before you embark on your trip.
1. Before You Leave the Office. Vacation planning starts at the office before you leave. All confidential work documents and sensitive materials should be properly secured. If you have keys to corporate facilities, leave them with your supervisor or secure them at home before you leave.
2. Before You Leave Home. An uncut lawn, newspapers piled up on the front step, a porch light on in the middle of the day - these are just a few telltale signs that you are on vacation and your house may be vulnerable. To prevent a burglary at your home, it is smart to keep it looking lived in. For instance, if there is usually a car in your driveway, ask a neighbor to park his second car there from time to time during your absence. Put some of the lights in your house on timers and set them up to go on and off at random intervals. If your trashcans are out when you leave, make sure someone will bring them in for you.
3. Before You Take to the Open Road. If you're traveling to your destination by car, you should check your car thoroughly to ensure that it can handle the trip. Especially important are the tires; you don't want to have to remove all of your carefully packed luggage out of the trunk to get to the spare tire. Another consideration is the car's cooling system. This is particularly important if you are traveling during the hot summer months. Check thermostats, fans, belts and hoses. If you need assistance, schedule an appointment with a mechanic you trust and tell him/her where you plan to drive the car. Find out if any work needs to be done before your departure date to avoid a breakdown alongside the road.
One final word of precaution - if you should become the victim of an attack, you should offer no resistance and hand over whatever is demanded. Having your vacation ruined is a minor inconvenience compared to placing your life in jeopardy. After the incident, report the crime to local police authorities and go to the nearest U.S. Consular Office.
Although many of the guidelines above may seem like common sense, they're often easily forgotten by busy and excited travelers. Becoming aware and educated can help you make wiser choices and find you better prepared to handle unforeseen circumstances.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the sale of any financial product or service or as a determination that any investment strategy is suitable for a specific investor. Investors should seek financial advice regarding the suitability of any investment strategy based on their objectives, financial situations, and particular needs. This article is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. If professional advice is needed, the services of a professional advisor should be sought.