Canadian Security Magazine

Be smart overseas

By Matthew Porcelli   


Rasulovs/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The public perception of the travel industry is portrayed as glamorous and carefree. Unfortunately, there is a darker side to leaving the comfort of our safe zones, but there are methods and best practices that can aid travelers and ensure a safe return home.

Threats facing the traveler
Terrorism, kidnappings, human/drug trafficking and theft are just some of the nightmares that travelers face every year. But realistically, petty thefts are more common compared to their more headline-grabbing counterparts. The largest threats facing travelers involve criminal activity such as theft of money and travel documents (e.g. a passport).

Trends of the aggressor
Criminal acts are rarely committed on a whim. The more lucrative the payoff, the more time the criminal entity will study the target. Even if a criminal has been taken off the streets and sent to a correctional facility, the threat does not end there. Many prisoners train each other in pickpocketing and diversion techniques. Once the inmate is released, it is only a matter of temptation and opportunity and the travel setting is a prime hunting ground.

Unintentionally advertising vulnerability
Individuals in unfamiliar territory are easy to spot — both for security/law enforcement practitioners and aggressors. For example, a bewildered tourist searching for his or her tour group — fully dressed with cameras, backpack, and looking distracted — is the equivalent of a homing beacon for the aggressor. Carelessly flaunting money, credit cards and a passport in easily accessible areas only makes it that much easier for the aggressor to reach his/her objective.
Body language is also studied by aggressors. The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican displays one of the most impressive examples of Renaissance artwork, Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.” While all eyes are towards the ceiling studying the fresco, there is another art form occurring. But unfortunately the victim does not realize until it is too late and notices funds are missing from their rear pocket.


Poor choices = poor results
Although travelers are most vulnerable to victimization while in transit, accommodation choices play a huge factor in the probability of theft and the safety of the traveler. Hostels are inexpensive and normally situated near tourist hot spots. Saving money during an excursion seems like a win. But, how much are people willing to sacrifice when it comes to safety and security? Some of the most horrific events have occurred in hostels to naïve travelers.
However, it is important to realize that not all hostels have negative backstories — on the contrary many are considered as lower end hotels. Furthermore, some hotels can be just as dangerous. The traveler must choose wisely and really ponder what the return on investment will be for staying in safer accommodations.

Best practices
How does one travel with peace of mind? Prepare, prepare, prepare! Before embarking, make sure to research the area that will become your temporary home away from home and follow these steps:
• Study the cultural, customs, and political climate of the country and city you will be traveling to. The Canadian and United States governments have programs such as, “Travel Advice and Advisories,” and the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program,” that send free email alerts to travelers.
• Prior to arrival, make sure to register and know where the local embassies are located.
• Familiarize yourself with the local law enforcement and security services and know how to identify them in the event of an emergency.
• Never carry original documents or an abundance of funds. Copies of passports should be kept on a person while out in the “field.” The original should be locked away at the hotel/hostel or entrusted to an onsite security coordinator or designated party. Do not carry all your money with you at one time. Only bring the money that will sustain you for the day, and above all, keep it hidden.

Matthew Porcelli is co-chair of the ASIS International Young Professionals Council and assistant secretary of the ASIS Global Terrorism, Political Instability and International Crime Council.

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