Let’s first define what this list is and what it’s not. It’s not exhaustive and it’s not meant to save your life. It is a list of 10 basic rules to think through if you plan a short term trip to a high risk area or a high risk country. A short term trip is anything from a few hours to a few weeks.
High Risk Areas? Tulsa or Teheran?
A high risk area is anywhere where you face a higher chance of being the target of crime, whether robbery, assault, or kidnapping. First, understand that all travel is high risk travel. No matter if your in Tulsa or Tehran. Well, Tehran may be a bit more of a high risk area, but you get the picture.
I couldn’t think of anything more high risk than me riding a camel, on a mountain, in the middle of the night.
1. Don’t check a bag if you can help it.
Not only is it prone to being stolen or compromised, but it will slow you down as you wait for it, it’ll make you an easy target as thieves case those waiting for bags, and it will mess up your travel plans if there’s a hiccup and you need to be rerouted somewhere. Many hotels abroad have cheap same day laundry service (although this poses its own problems). Usually, I take one carry on, especially if I’m traveling to a high risk country. I’ve had the same backpack for about 10 years and it’s my go to pack for 3-5 night trips. It’s an older version of this Columbia backpack (affiliate link).
2. Make copies of every important document.
This includes passport photos, itineraries, and phone numbers. Keep them safe on you or better yet, save them as a draft in a web based email provider instead of printing them. Always have important numbers memorized. If you have a copy of your passport and have an American with you, you can replace your passport at any American Consulate/Embassy worldwide in just a couple hours. Unfortunately, I’ve had to do this.
3. Secure your money
You can use this to hide your money, or this. Or you can make your own, it’s quite simple. This money is for a rainy day. May you never have one. Also, make sure your credit card company knows you’re going outside the country, don’t use a card with fees, and try not to use a card abroad anywhere but your hotel or car rental company (if even that). Chances are your card number will get stolen. Also, keep an extra credit card hidden somewhere.
4. Get a throwaway wallet.
If someone tries to rob you, throw your (throwaway) wallet on the floor, scream, and run. They’ll go for the wallet and you’ll get away. Or you can just keep some small bills in your front pocket and large bills in your back pocket, throw the small bills and run. Note, only do this if you’re by yourself or if you don’t care about the other people you’re with.
5. Learn to ignore people.
Ignoring people has a bad rap in the US, I’m not sure why. Ignoring people in other countries is not that big of a deal, especially if the person vying for your attention works with tourists, they’re used to it. Don’t make eye contact, don’t say a word, just move on. I was walking in Cairo one day and a guy came up to me and told me that he loves the Miami Heat. We bonded instantly. Then I realized that I was wearing a Miami Heat shirt and he didn’t know a thing about basketball. Don’t wear clothing that will give away personal information.
6. Get an international plan on your cell phone, or buy a local phone/sim card when you get there.
Or you can download a map on your phone when you have access to WiFi, and then use it when you’re out and about. Need to communicate sensitive information with someone else? Easy problem to fix. Setup an email account where only the two of you have access. No, you’re not going to send any emails, actually, you’re going to compile drafts. The other person will read the draft and delete when done. If they need to communicate to you then they’ll write a draft. This is the most secure way of communicating without incurring a cost. Don’t connect this to your phone. Also, put a passcode on your phone. Also, remember to log out of whatever computer you’re using.
7. You can never really secure your hotel room, but you can try.
The only way to keep your hotel room perfectly secure during high risk travel is to never leave. But there are other things you can do. Use your room’s safe, it won’t stop a professional but most people looking to take your money in your hotel room aren’t professionals. Leave your Do Not Disturb sign on all the time, you’ll have to ration your towels but we’re talking short term travel, remember? Leave the TV on. Keep the curtains closed. If you’re in a Middle Eastern country outside of a tourist area then your room is probably bugged, just accept that and move on. You can try to mitigate this by not accepting the first room given to you and demanding to see a second or third room, good luck.
8. Stay on the second or third floor. NEVER on the first.
The first floor is just too easy to access. Anything above the third floor and fire rescue (if there is one) probably won’t be able to reach you. I saw a fire truck in Dominican Republic struggle to reach the third floor of a ten floor building, with that said, I’ve never been in a hotel where there’s been a fire.
9. Don’t take anything that you can’t stand to lose.
No explanation needed.
10. Don’t take your laptop or iPad.
If you have to take either one, do your best to not give them up to security services at airports or border crossings. It’s a reasonable request to have security make sure it’s not a bomb, but it’s unreasonable to have them force you to check it in with your luggage or by itself. You can ALWAYS fly with your computer. If anyone tells you otherwise, call their bluff. If worse comes to worst, see rule 9. On the other hand, you can always take a “disposable” laptop. It doesn’t meant that you’ll just throw it away, but if you lose it, it’s not that big of a deal. Chromebooks are perfect for this. They’re fast, lightweight, cheap, and having everything stored on your Google Drive means that you really won’t lose much if it disappears.
What rules do you follow for short term travel to high risk areas?