Travel Safety (Part 1)
Do you want a foreign government or the thief who steals your wallet or purse to have pictures of your family, along with your drivers license that has your address? Not this guy!

Preparing To Travel

Traveling overseas can be dangerous and nerve racking whether for business or pleasure. Has an airline ever lost your luggage? Did you seem to receive extra questioning from an Immigration Officer or Customs Agent? Have you returned to your hotel room and something just did not seem right?

These are but a few things a person may experience while traveling abroad. These posts will cover a variety of topics of concern and provide you some ideas for dealing with multiple precarious situations. We will start from the beginning of your journey.

Bag Check

You pick out the luggage you need for your trip. Do you inspect the luggage for items that remain from your last trip?  Maybe you used this luggage for vacation prior to the business trip you are preparing for. Could there be anything in the deep crevices of your luggage that you would not want an Immigration or Customs official to find because it would be embarrassing or cause you extra scrutiny?  There is a good chance there is. So you need to SANITIZE your luggage. Go through every pocket. Take a flashlight to look in those tight spaces. Don’t let Murphy’s Law cause you a bunch of grief when you least expect it.


Next, you wash your clothes and get ready to pack your check-in and carry-on luggage. Time to SANITIZE again!  Go through the pockets of your clothes. Most of us have washed a receipt or left other items in our pockets that we would not want a foreign government official to find for whatever reason. So, do a quick run-through of all the pockets of your pants, shirts, and coats to ensure there is nothing that may raise suspicion.

Physical Security 

Now, Do you normally lock your check-in or carry-on luggage? Having flown around the world many times, I noticed most people do not. When I ask a person why they don’t lock their check-in luggage, the response is usually, “TSA or the foreign equivalent will just cut my lock off anyways.” That is true. Which is why you should use a TSA approved lock, which allows them to open and close it if they wish to inspect your luggage.


The main reason to lock your luggage is not to deter or keep out airport officials, it is to deter a thief who works in the airport terminal from stealing your items. Imagine this…I’m a baggage handler and a thief. I see hundreds of bags go past me on the belt. As a good thief, I only have 10-15 seconds to steal something out of a piece of luggage. Do I steal from the luggage that has easy access or do I steal from the one that I now have to try and unlock or cut the lock? Again, locks are a deterrent.

Why would you lock your carry-on luggage?  It is either going to be in the overhead bin close to your seat or under the seat in front of you. Over the past few years, the airlines have reported an increase in theft while in flight. Imagine this…you are on a 12-hour flight. You read, watch a movie, and get something to eat for the first three hours. Then the lights are turned down, and you decide to get some sleep. If any of you non-sleepers have ever noticed, 90% of the travelers are asleep at the same time. This is when the thief on the flight can start going through the overhead bins, or if they are sitting in front of you, they can pull your carry-on luggage from under the seat. No one is giving a second thought to a person looking in the overhead bin. They are probably getting an item from their carry-on luggage…or are they? The thief must be quick, just in case the person wakes up or someone wants to walk past them heading to the toilet. Do they worry with the locked bags, or do they quickly go through the unlocked bags? People normally do not inspect the contents of their carry-on luggage prior to departing the aircraft. Most people will not even know something is missing until they get to their hotel.

Oh, one last thing for those who don’t travel with carry-on luggage. A person traveling to or from an overseas location without any carry-on luggage is a huge spike to an Immigration or Customs official. It is a tell-tell sign of a smuggler.

What’s in your Wallet?

Finally, there is your wallet or purse. Yes, SANITIZE! You should first ask yourself, “what do I NEED for this trip?” Most of us need a second form of identification. Your passport should be your first. Your second could be your driver’s license, a school ID, or possibly another government ID. Assess where you are going and which identification is appropriate. You may not want to take a military ID with you because that could cause you some additional scrutiny in some countries. Or, you may not want to take your drivers license since it has your address on it. It is also a good idea to acquire an International Drivers License if you plan on driving while overseas. For many countries, your US driver’s license is not sufficient.

Next, let’s assume you are traveling without your family. Do you need pictures of your spouse or kids for this trip?  Do you want a foreign government or the thief who steals your wallet or purse to have pictures of your family, along with your drivers license that has your address? Not this guy! 

How many credit cards do you need? If you are on business, you may need your organization’s card for business expenses. You probably want to have one personal card to purchase gifts or conduct non-official purchases. But do you really need the six credit cards you normally walk around with? Probably not. Imagine this….your wallet or purse gets stolen. You have all your cards in there. Now you have to contact each card company to cancel them, and then rely on the card companies to send you new cards while you are overseas. On the other hand, if you take one personal card and it gets stolen, it decreases the amount of actions you must take and reduces your stress-level. This even gives you the option to call back home and have your spouse overnight mail you one of your other cards to your hotel.

What else is in our wallet or purse? Concealed Carry Permit? That will surely get you some extra questioning by the authorities. Social Security Card? You shouldn’t carry this around with you at all. Name+SSN+Address = Stolen Identity. Other people’s business cards? Allows a person to create a profile on who you associate with. Receipts for the past two weeks? Allows a person to create a timeline of where you have been recently. You don’t need these items.

With all that being said, you still don’t want to look like you have SANITIZED your wallet or purse. That can also cause you some undue scrutiny. This brings us to step two.

After you have identified the items in your wallet or purse you actually NEED for your trip, then you can put back those items that shouldn’t cause any concern. These may be things such as gift cards, health insurance card (we will discuss this later), hair brush, chap stick, SAM’s or COSTCO cards, etc…


Next Time 

You are now ready to depart home and travel to the airport. Your luggage and personal belongings are SANITIZED, and you have all your luggage locked with TSA approved locks.

In the future, we’ll discuss considerations for Immigration and Customs, personal demeanor, and threats like elicitation, and some tech tips for your personal electronic devices.  

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