Resources & Insights

Tips on How to Travel Safely in Unsafe Places

October 13, 2016

The likelihood of falling victim to terrorism or kidnapping while traveling abroad is practically zero. But that doesn’t mean Americans who are overseas for business or pleasure shouldn’t take precautions.

The biggest risk when you travel is street crime, Wes Odom, a veteran executive safety consultant at the Ackerman Group, said in a presentation Wednesday to a group of CCIG clients. Odom, who earlier in his career spent 15 years as a CIA covert agent, said it’s important for Americans to know how to respond if accosted.

travel safely
The Ackerman Group’s Wes Odom spent 15 years as a CIA agent.

Areas of Southeast Asia, South America and Eastern Europe all pose degrees of risk. At the same time, outside of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan, it’s still possible to travel without incident across most of the globe – assuming you take a few measures.

“You are in charge of your own security,” unless you’ve hired a bodyguard, Odom said. “That means it’s up to you to harden the target, to force the bad guys to look elsewhere for an easier target.”

That can be done in part by minimizing your exposure to airports, subways and landmarks that attract large numbers of tourists.

“Americans are some of the worst travelers in the world,” Odom said. “We are much too trusting.”

In planning a trip, he said, it’s important to talk to friends, colleagues or others who have recently traveled to your destination. They can tell you how safe – or not – they felt. Check internet news sites for reports of violence or civil unrest. And be careful, he said, of taking advice from travel agents. They might know best about flights and hotels, but aren’t a reliable source for information about any given locale’s security or stability.

Related: Travel Insurance Amid Terrorism Woes

At airports, he said, it’s a good idea to spend as little time as possible waiting in check-in lines. That’s where most airport terrorist attacks take place, because that’s where the crowds are thickest.

Try to stay anonymous, he said. Don’t use baggage ID tags that display your business card for all to see. Instead, use the tags with a flap that covers your personal information.

Along those lines, ask the company sending a driver to pick you up at the airport to use your initials, not your full name, on the placard they use to help you find them in the crowds. And be sure to ask for a photograph of the driver so that you don’t end up climbing into a kidnapper’s car.

If there’s no car to pick you up, be sure to use either a hotel van or airport taxi service, not a pirate or gypsy cab.

Picking a hotel can also be tricky. One in the heart of a city might also be where crime is highest. After all, that’s where all of the tourists and their money can be found. A bigger, widely recognized hotel also is more likely to be the target of terrorists, so staying in a boutique property away from the center of things could be a safer route.

Once in your hotel room, check the locks, the chain on the door, the phone and consider bringing along a rubber doorstop to help prevent, or at least slow, burglars trying to break in. A doorstop is especially useful if there’s a door to an adjoining room, Odom said.

His tips for travelers included:

    • Dress down. Don’t wear expensive clothing, jewelry or watches, and conceal your cellphone and camera.
    • Leave your passport in the hotel safe but make a photocopy of the pages with your identity to carry around. You’ll need it to show a police or embassy official, if the need arises.
    • Use concealment belts or other undercover neck or leg wallets to protect your money and credit cards.
    • Bring along a flashlight that can help you find your way out of a burning hotel.
    • Don’t walk on the streets with a map in your hands; step into a shop to read your map if you get lost.
    • Don’t use ATMs on the street.
    • Take only what you need for the day when you leave your hotel, rather than all of your credit cards and money. And have “mugger money” – a smaller amount you feel comfortable losing – readily available to hand over should you get held up.
    • If you are mugged, never resist, and take flight, don’t fight, if you feel your life is in danger.

Mike Rosser leads the Private Client practice at CCIG. Reach him at or 720-212-2068.

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