Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
Every time you journey overseas, there are several critical steps you need to take to ensure you have a safe trip. So if you’ve got an international expedition coming up, be sure to add these seven items to your vacation checklist.
Make sure you have a valid passport. According to the State Department, only 36% of Americans do. My wife and I always ensure our passports (and our children’s) are up-to-date, just in case.
Now, I certainly don’t plan to flee the country (and I hope my wife doesn’t either), but the truth is a passport is a good form of “insurance” that everyone should have, even if you aren’t planning on going overseas anytime soon.
Also, don’t forget to memorize your passport number. This eliminates the need to pull out your passport when you are required to fill out paperwork and reduces the chance of a criminal seeing your American passport and targeting you.
Scan important documents. Once the details of your trip start coming together, scan all of your important documents onto an encrypted flash drive. (I use the IronKey flash drive — click here for details.)
This includes copies of your driver’s license, passport, travel insurance information, hotel and airline reservations and emergency phone numbers for family as well as the U.S. Embassy wherever you are going.
Having these documents on file ensures you will be able to contact your loved ones and get home safely in the event that you are robbed or a more serious emergency takes place. Make sure to continually add documents to this flash drive as you solidify your travel plans.
Choose your hotel wisely. Do plenty of research before you book, and don’t be cheap. Here in the U.S., you can stay at a Motel 6 and it’s no big deal (if you don’t mind bedbugs).
But if you stay in a dumpy hotel overseas, you could be putting yourself in serious danger. I always spend the extra money when I travel to stay in a decent hotel to ensure that I’m in a safe environment.
I also recommend using a well-known travel website (like hotels.com) to read reviews and see pictures of any hotel you’re considering.
While alternatives like Airbnb are becoming increasingly popular, I personally advise against them. Remember, Airbnb is not a hotel, and unlike checking into a Marriott, you’re never 100% sure what you’re going to get. Your safety is worth paying for, so avoid apartment-sharing companies and spend a little extra money to book at a real hotel.
Check for travel warnings. Check the State Department website for any current travel warnings that may impact your trip. There is a box on the right side of the page where you can enter the name of the country to which you’re traveling.
You’ll also find contact information for the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in the country you’re visiting. Be sure to write this information down and add it to your encrypted flash drive.
Know which areas to avoid. Most people do plenty of research on the places they want to visit when travelling to a new city or country. But it’s just as important to spend some time researching the places you should avoid.
One good place to find such information is the “Stay Safe” section of Wikitravel.org. Simply type in the place(s) you plan on visiting and scroll down toward the bottom of the page.
Be particularly aware of pickpockets, which are a thousand times worse overseas than here in the U.S. This brings me to my next point.
Don’t carry a purse. In many popular tourist destinations, criminals will cut your purse strap and be off and running before you know it. These criminals often work in two-person teams. One person will distract you — by offering to sell you something or to help you read a map — and the second person will sneak up and cut your purse strap or pick your pocket.
Instead of carrying a handbag, get a travel wallet that wraps around your ankle or your thigh or one you can secure to your belt that hangs down inside your pants. I don’t recommend using a wallet that hangs around your neck — they are much too obvious, and experienced thieves know how to deal with them.
Also, don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. I always carry two travel wallets in different places as an added security measure.
Never, ever take a “ghost” taxi. What I mean is don’t ever get into an unmarked car that’s not at the taxi stand. Often in foreign countries, drivers will offer to help “save you money” and skip the taxi lines, but they can’t necessarily be trusted. Stick to officially marked cabs, even if they’re more expensive.
I also caution you against using Uber in foreign countries. (Personally, I advise against Uber even in the U.S. — just Google “Uber attacks” and you’ll see why.) Instead, have the hotel where you’re staying call you a taxi or ask them to recommend a taxi company.
When the taxi arrives, you should already have your route planned out so you can tell the taxi where to go. That way you can avoid being ripped off by taking the long way in an unfamiliar city.
I know this checklist might sound intimidating, but it’s the best way to ensure your overseas trip goes off without a hitch and that you and your family remain safe. If you follow my advice and maintain good situational awareness, you’re sure to have a bon voyage.