As a travel writer, I have many opportunities to see exotic locales around the world. And while I am invited on some really fun trips, I have to remind myself to be very careful, especially when I am traveling alone. Fortunately, my paranoid Midwestern parents always warning me about the "rest of the world" has left me a little mistrustful. While some may categorize my tendency to be overly-cautious as a personality disorder, I think in today's world it's just good common sense to exercise some caution. And I am more convinced than ever after reading her account of how a very talented young journalist almost became the victim of an alleged trafficking scam. Suddenly, my paranoia didn't seem so, well, so paranoid.
The young woman, Brittney Cason, an experienced sports broadcaster and host, was contacted for what seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime -- she was offered a job to help cover the Sochi Olympics. While this may seem like a red-flag, it was completely plausible for someone like Brittey, or any other successful bloggers out there, who are offered opportunities like this regularly. Brittney was an experienced journalist, so it seemed like she was finally being called up to the big leagues.
A man, allegedly posing as a talent agent, offered Brittney the Sochi job after she spent many weeks jumping through the typical hoops: sharing reels of past work, filling out forms and passing through what seemed to be reasonable and legitimate channels to land a job like this. Then, just a couple of weeks before she was supposed to leave for Sochi, the talent agent reached out to her and asked if she had any other friends who might be interested in joining her. He explained that he needed to expand the team -- and he was ready to sign her friend -- but without seeing any of the friend's work.
Luckily, something seemed a little off to Brittney, and she decided to follow up with the production company for which the talent agent claimed to work. The talent agent's credentials did not seem to check out -- the company had never even heard of him. So instead of heading off to Russia, Brittney found herself embroiled in the center of a potential trafficking scandal. And let's be honest, we don't all have a Liam Neeson in our lives to come and rescue us. Most stories like Taken don't end with a sequel. Brittney is now cooperating with the FBI's investigation and is in the center of an alleged sex-trafficking scandal that might have been.
Brittney was very lucky that her wits prevailed and she never got on that plane.
Brittney's story should remind us of the dangers that are out there and help us to remember to be thoughtful and cautious while traveling. As travel writers it's not uncommon to be invited to attend press trips, and while, of course, this type of thing doesn't (we must hope) happen regularly, it should serve as a reminder of the dangers out there and remind us to remain vigilant.
Traveling the world can be magical -- as long as the proper precautions are taken. Traveling alone, though, sometimes particularly for women (like it or not), can present the opportunity for unique problems to arise. Here are some tips for solo travelers to ensure that you have a memorable and safe trip.
Prepare for the Worst.
Bring copies of your passport or ID card, credit cards and any other important documents. Also send yourself electronic copies of these documents because even if your bags are lost, your life line is only an internet cafe away. Be sure to also have a list of phone numbers, such as those of your emergency contact (and a back-up) at home, your bank and your credit card company, should an emergency arise or in case your credit card needs to be canceled or replaced.
Know Your Limits.
While solo travel can be a wonderful and enriching experience, realize when you shouldn't be alone. There is safety in numbers, and if you're thinking of trekking to a remote place or a neighborhood known to be unsafe, it should be done with a companion or a group -- that said, choose your posse wisely.
Keep Your Wits About You.
Don't get distracted by everything going on around you. Don't let your guard down when strangers approach you or you meet other travelers. Also be sure that you don't entirely space out when you're photographing the sites or reading your map. Keep alcohol consumption to a reasonable level and don't let everyone in the bar know that you're alone.
Speak to the Locals.
When you check into a hotel you may ask the staff the best places to go, but you should be asking an even more important question -- where should you avoid? Finding out the places to avoid is actually just as useful and may help you evade unnecessary trouble. Also doing research before your visit can alert you anything you may need to watch out for at your destination.
Even though you may want to unplug and unwind, keep your cell phone with you for emergencies and keep someone apprised of your itinerary. Also be sure to save the local emergency telephone number in your phone.
Learn a Few Local Phrases.
In case of an emergency it's good to know a few things to say in case you can't find someone who speaks your language.
Thieves often target tourists who look the most "tourist-y." Try not to wear anything outrageously out of the norm for the culture or climate you are visiting, and keep your large maps and cameras in your bags when on the street whenever possible.
Trust your intuition.
If someone or something seems not quite right, get out of the situation as quickly as possible. Common sense is always the most important thing to bring with you on any trip.