The Biggest Travel Week of the Year: Top 7 Ways to Stay Safe While Traveling in Midst of Terror Threats
Holiday travel is already under way as Americans prepare to gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. At a time where people are preparing to rest, feel contentment, and be safe, there is a looming cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the holiday season, leaving people to ask the question whether it is safe to travel, how to travel, and what to do if a violent attack occurs.
The Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, exploded over Egypt killing 224 Russians two weeks ago. Russian and U.S. Intelligence now support ISIS as the perpetrator. Friday, a hotel in Mali was under siege killing 21 people and 170 people were taken hostage. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility. Last week two Air France planes, in the United States, received terror threats causing them both to make emergency landings. A Spirit Airlines flight, out of Florida, also received a threat forcing the plane to return to the airport minutes after departure. A Turkish Airlines flight was also diverted to Canada because of a bomb threat.
As an International Safety & Security Advisor, I have completed a lot of research on international travel, including polls and focus groups, to learn what is most important to people, when traveling. I am often asked for advice as someone is preparing for an international trip. Here are some practical key learnings anyone traveling this holiday season can adopt to help stay safe when in familiar, or unfamiliar, locations. The goal is always prevention; here are tips for traveling during the holidays domestically or internationally:
- Be prepared for delays at the airport: As you may know, this is the busiest time off the year to travel in the U.S. Expect longer wait times, random baggage checks, hand swipes when going through security and expanded screening on airplanes traveling to the U.S.
- Arrive early to airports: If you are reading this article, I know your priority is to be safe. Arrive 2 hours early, or earlier, when flying internationally. Be prepared for unexpected delays. With lower oil prices, 25M people are expected to fly on U.S airlines, 3% more than last year.
- Be aware of your surroundings: Pay attention to your environment. Do you see an unattended bag? Are your bags with you at all times? Don’t get so caught up in a conversation, reading, etc, that if someone took your wallet off the table, or brushed against you, you wouldn’t notice. Alert law enforcement when appropriate.
- Travel in groups when outside the U.S.: This may seem very basic, but when traveling alone it can be very noticeable to others. When in line at a store have “small talk” with the person next to you. It’s a great way to learn the local area, meet new people, and to learn about the culture.
- Are you traveling alone?: If someone you don’t know asks you if you are traveling alone always say “no.” State you are “meeting someone” or “waiting for a friend”. This is especially important for women. I did this while vacationing by myself in the U.S. Virgin Islands and it was very helpful. I was amazed how often I was asked if I was alone.
- Understand being an American can make you a target: Not always, of course, but this is a fact that can’t be escaped. It is part of the politics of today’s world. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s nothing to fear; taking precautions are important. Review the U.S. State Department warnings for the country in which you are traveling. Use sound judgment, avoids large crowds of unknown origins, minimize your profile when in public, and always have a cell phone. Yes, if traveling out of the country this is tricky because perhaps you don’t plan on taking your phone to avoid accruing international charges. You can always change your phone plan for the duration of your trip, or purchase a temporary phone prior your trip or when you arrive to the country.
- Be aware of daily changing threat alerts: Know what’s happening each day. Despite threats to NYC and Washington DC, the threat alert has not been elevated. The government of France just voted to keep the country as a state of emergency, and in Belgium, the government raised the terror alerts in the Brussels area. The elevation, or de-escalation, of threat levels could change at any moment. Make a point to know what is going on each day while you are traveling.
Despite the fluid, and constantly evolving, environment we are living in today, I encourage you to travel, have fun, and continue to experience cultures this holiday season!
Jessica Robinson, is a writer and Founder & CEO of PurePoint International. She has worked with a top 40 company and with the 2015 US Open. As a security & risk management expert and outsourced CSO (Chief Security Officer), she advises and consults with small and medium sized businesses on threat prevention and response. Learn more at www.the-purepoint.com.