International travel can be an intimidating experience, especially for those traveling for work in less permissive countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve included a list of tips and life hacks that I acquired along the way during my many years of traveling overseas as a civilian security professional.
Preparing for your trip
- Place all of your credit cards, IDs, passports, etc. on a scanner and copy both sides of your documents. In the event your wallet is stolen, you’ll have a piece of paper with all of your credit card information and the phone numbers to report them as stolen.
- Visit the US Department of States travel site at http://www.state.gov/travel/. From there you can sign-up to receive travel warnings, learn about the current threat situation, and obtain important phone numbers for the US Embassy or Consulate located in your destination country.
- Travel with at least $100-$200 in small denomination bills. You’ll want to stash it in 3-4 separate locations on your body and in your bags. This is especially relevant if traveling to a developing country such as Afghanistan, where bribes are common. While no one likes to be extorted for cash, sometimes it’s easier to slip the haggling customs guy a 5 spot instead of escalating things into a situation where you could potentially get detained.
- For security contractors traveling into active war zones, I would recommend carrying $400-$500 in cash. In the event the security situation on the ground deteriorates, you may need to bribe your way out of the country.
- Pay attention to your old passport stamps. If you’re traveling to Israel and have existing stamps from the Middle East and vice versa, you could get flagged in customs. If faced with this scenario, apply for a second passport and avoid a potentially tense situation.
Tips while traveling
- While staying in a hotel, keep the “Do Not Disturb” placard on your door while you’re away. Potential thieves may be deterred by thinking the room is currently occupied.
- There’s a good chance that hotels in developing countries aren’t built to code. Try to reserve a room on the second floor. In the event of a fire, you’ll be able to survive your jump if you need to escape via the window.
- If your phone doesn’t have international service, try connecting to local Wi-Fi networks. You’ll still be able to communicate with others using apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Skype.
- Be sure to turn off your phones data option, that way you won’t unintentionally rack-up your bill with international roaming charges. It will get expensive quick.
- If you’re flying on a Boeing 777 and need some extra leg room, the emergency exit row (poor man’s business class) directly behind the restrooms will give you about 8 extra feet of space to stretch out.
- Noise canceling headphones will save your life on those long international flights. Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones work great, and only take 1 AAA battery.
- When placing bags in an overhead bin, face the zipper side inward towards the wall. If a thief wants to steal your iPad, he now has to pull your entire bag out of the compartment instead of simply unzipping a pouch and grabbing. A lock on your zippered compartment is even better.
- Most major international airport hubs have lounges with showers that can be used for a small fee. You can purchase many of these lounge passes in advance from sites like www.gosimply.com
- When traveling throughout the Middle East, be discreet about your American citizenship. Avoid clothing and patches that draw attention to you. For whatever reason, I found it easier to deal with foreign officials when I looked and dressed more European.
This is only a short list of things I’ve learned along the way. Feel free to help others with your own suggestions by leaving a comment on this blog.