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How to Be a S.M.A.R.T. Traveler in a Danger Zone

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For most westerners, terror attacks have been limited to sites with centralized military, economic, or cultural significance. We have forgotten what it was like in the 1970s and 1980s when the Bader Meinhof Group, the Red Brigades, the IRA, and the PLO were routinely attacking civilian targets in Europe. The Friday the 13th attacks on Paris have changed the calculus for this generation.

Our new sense of high alert is particularly urgent as we enter the winter holiday season when more people travel than at any other time of the year. In 1996, I received my baptism by fire into the world of crisis management when I was the chief publicist and hospitality coordinator for the centerpiece pavilion at the Atlanta Olympic Games. The Paris attacks at Le Bataclan and other public gathering spots are eerily similar to the night that U.S. radical Christian Eric Robert Rudolph detonated a bomb in Centennial Olympic Park. I was conducting a photo shoot of the Global Olympic Village with Architectural Digest in the production tower where he placed the bomb.

Since that time, crisis prevention, response, and management have become a major focus of my work. For this reason, I developed a simple mnemonic to help corporate executives feel more secure when they travel in danger zones. It is something that is also useful for everyone who travels for pleasure. I culled these tips from the best practices recommended by the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. State Department, and the national security services of the United Kingdom and Australia.

While these are important guidelines to increase one's personal safety during a crisis, I want to caution us against permanently abridging our freedoms, or the terrorists win. That's why this tool helps one focus on being a "S.M.A.R.T." traveler, not an afraid traveler.

How to be a S.M.A.R.T. Traveler in a Danger Zone

  • Keep $100 of mad money in the local currency on your person at all times. In a crisis, ATMs may not be operable due to an electrical outage or a run on the bank. You will need access to emergency cash.
  • Keep your state-issued ID or driver's license in your shoe or sock. In the event of a hostage situation, you will likely be stripped of your passport, but not of your shoes and socks. Also, if your passport is lost or stolen, your state issued ID will aid your credibility with authorities and speed their ability to assist you.
  • Keep your passport next to your body, underneath your clothes at all times.
  • Provide a photocopy of your identity, travel documents, and itinerary to a trusted counselor, family member or friend before you leave so that in the case of an emergency your steps can be traced.
  • In a danger zone, it's best to travel as light as possible. This will ease your ability to move about or even escape if necessary.
  • Ship excessive luggage and gifts home. This not only makes you more mobile, but it reduces your time clearing security.
  • Do not use luggage locks, according to the U.S. Secret Service, transportation authorities prefer passengers use plastic zip ties. Locks slow down security, and your suitcase will more likely suffer damage if there is a credible threat that requires police to search passenger bags.
  • If your zip tie has been broken, take your bag to airport security - BEFORE - you open it. They will check it out to make sure nothing is amiss, then you can report anything stolen to them in their presence.
  • There is no point in traveling without seeing the sights, but stick to more quaint settings like cafes and boutiques and avoid large shopping centers, music venues, and sporting arenas.
  • Always keep the GPS locator activated on your mobile phone.
  • Since you are avoiding public transportation, always take a photo of your taxi car company logo, especially the car number or medallion. Then email or instant message that image to a trusted friend or family member. This will make tracking you more efficient.
  • When you are checking in at airports or train stations, do everything you can to get through security as swiftly as possible. Know the regional requirements and restrictions (such as the removal of shoes, approved carry-ons, and merchandise approved by customs officials; which you should ship home).
  • If you have a car service meeting you, use a pseudonym so the driver does not hold up a sign with your actual name on it.
  • Alerting your national embassy in the country where you are traveling puts you at the top of their list of citizens who receive security assistance. This is invaluable during a crisis.
  • Keep the embassy contact numbers, email addresses and websites on a flashcard that you keep in your pocket at all times. If cell towers go down, if your mobile phone isn't charged, or if you are out of WiFi range, you will need this information on hand.
  • Keep a translation flashcard in your pocket that helps you communicate quickly with authorities or medical personnel when you're under stress. The card should include medical alert information.
  • Always carry a small LED flashlight in a pocket or purse. This is vital during a power outage or when you are on darkened streets.
  • Your kit should also include a flash charger for your mobile phone that has not been used during your trip and which is fully charged.
  • Pocket-sized First Aid Kits should contain emergency doses of prescriptions for five to seven days and spare contact lenses as well.