Stay safe when traveling in trying political times, but please travel!
No matter which side of the political spectrum you are on, for the near and distant future, U.S. citizens will likely need to take a few added precautions abroad to stay safe when traveling.
But this advice doesn’t mean you should rethink traveling. Just the opposite in fact. Now, perhaps more than ever before, travel is essential to demonstrate to the world that American citizens as a whole are far more tolerant, willing to embrace new cultures and ideas, and certainly more educated than is currently being represented to the world in our government. Too, travel is critical to help shape our own understanding of the world and our place in it.
Still, as the political climate in the United States has shifted – as it has and is still in many other Western and Eastern countries — so too has the attitude in some places about U.S. citizens.
Blend in when traveling to stay safe
In early 2016, we posted a story called “How to blend in while traveling,” and the advice could not be more true and applicable. Everything from dressing neutrally, to speaking quietly, to not laughing loudly and raucously all remain great travel tips. Read the story again now that it is even more pertinent as the political climate changes.
In addition, there are a few other tips that have emerged in recent times, most of which we do as if on remote control, but are worth passing on.
Avoid holding your passport for all to see your nationality. Paranoid? Not really. Just no need to advertise. Keep it tucked in its case or in your pocket or bag until you get to the security clearance. Then tuck it away before you walk away to help you stay safe when traveling.
Lock up your passport. There is really no need in most countries to carry it around with you. Keep it secure in your hotel room safe or hidden well in the room. If there is, however, any sense that such an identification may be handy for safety, then carry it in a very secure, next-to-body spot. And do NOT use it as your ID everywhere you go, and do NOT pull it out and flash it around at cafes or on the street. (A few years ago, I was heading to an airline office in central Munich only to find there was a major political demonstration going on with police everywhere. I held my I.D. close and skedaddled in another direction.)
Avoid any location of a political disruption or big crowds. Like my example, above, if you see any demonstrations or protests happening or hear an announcement of such, go in the opposite direction and far far away. If you find yourself in an overly crowded situation, with people bumping into you randomly, cross the street or leave the area to be sure to stay safe when traveling. Disruptions could be purposeful distractions of ill-intended people.
Dress even MORE neutrally. We addressed this in our “blend-in” article, but to take it a step further: Stick with darker and neutral or plain colors. Black, blue, beige, etc. You won’t realize how we Americans lean toward bright colors (ones we don’t even consider bright) and bold patterns until you go elsewhere and find out that many others just don’t do that.
Hold purses and packs close. Keep them small, make sure all openings close securely, and hold them close or in front of you. In crowded China situations recently, I learned to carry my small daypack in front of me and wrap my arms around it.
Businesses that cater to tourists or expats may not be the wisest choice. If you think about where incidents have occurred, it is often at locales frequented by non-citizens of that country. Enjoy the sites, take the tours, snap your photos, but don’t just hang out where all the other tourists and expats are to increase the odds you will stay safe when traveling.
Walk and appear confident and at home. Don’t wander slowly around cities with guidebooks open in front of your nose, talking loudly to each other, weaving around a sidewalk, or pointing at people or sites. We don’t mean you should not enjoy your saunter, but do it with a firm step. If you want to stop and enjoy a scene or look at a map, pull over and do it subtly. Oh, and do not point. In many cultures that’s a bad thing anyway.
Lastly, just be dang aware. Like when you are driving at home, be aware of your surroundings. Know if somebody is behind you or beside you or just too close. Or has stayed there longer than may be deemed normal. If you feel threatened, walk faster, or dip into a business or other busy place. Many years ago, a girlfriend and I were being followed in Athens by two young men. We walked faster. They walked faster. Finally, we took refuge in a small tourist trinket shop and pretended to shop. The owner realized what was going on and asked if we wanted to call the police. We did, and the two were hauled off.
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