security-beyond-borders-87.jpgTravel Security Best Practice

By Francisco Mateo, CPP, CFE

There are two things that I consider facts regarding travel security.  First, travel whether for business or pleasure really makes today’s world go round. Second, people are the world’s critical infrastructure.  If we fuse these two facts, the inevitable result is needs to be good Travel Security practices.  Despite the fact that we’re traveling with increasing frequency and that travel risk has increased substantially over the last decade, travelers still lack a cohesive body of knowledge on how to keep safe while away from home. In this document you will find a collection of common sense, travel security practices to ensure a successful trip.

I will be providing you Open Source information; that means that the information you’ll find throughout this site is readily available to everyone either on or off line. The best security protocols are based on common sense and real world experience.  Many brave souls have bequeathed their know-how on keeping safe while abroad.  I’ll to summarize here only the top-notch advice per category.


Before Traveling

Before you attempt to find the best airline ticket and hotel deal you should consult the travel security guidance for your destination from your country’s Foreign Service.  Besides confirming visa and other entry requirements, you should heed the security advice given, especially if you’re traveling to a high risk rated country. Additionally you can check out sites like Wikitravel for up-to-date destination travel guide.  If you have the option take direct flights, advance booking will ensure the best rates.

Additionally, you should scan and make two sets of photocopies of all your identity documents and be mindful of their expiration dates:

  • Passport
  • ID card
  • Drivers license (
  • Vaccination certificates (if required)
  • Customs papers for imported material (portable PC, camera, satellite phone, etc.)

Normally I’d leave one copy at home and the other I take it with me, albeit separate from the original documents.


Your Luggage

If you’re frugal traveler like me you’d to avoid hefty fees by inquiring about the airlines check and carry-on LUGGAGE weight requirements before arrival at the check-in counter.  At the same time you should find out about the airport security requirements for items not permitted in carry-on baggage as they’re updated regularly according to risk levels.  In general:

  • Use luggage that is solid and has a reliable combination lock; airport security approved locks are a good investment.
  • You’re destination country has a reputation for luggage theft shrink wrapping it is a good deterrence.
  • If the risk of loosing your bag is high consider buying Travel Insurance; using a secure identity tag on your bags and don’t pack your bag too tightly.
  • Record the content of your luggage with picture or video to serve as documentation in case it’s lost or stolen.
  • If need to take confidential/valuable documents or objects (diskettes, money, etc.) on your trip, store them in your carry-on luggage.
  • Some countries reserve the right to scan the contents of your laptop and other portable devices; so if you want your information to remain confidential either encrypt it or take a Clean Laptop with you.
  • Keep your id papers, credit cards, money and tickets on you at all times.
  • It’s good practice to keep a set of extra clothing and footwear in your carry-on luggage.

Consider that 32.8 million bags were delayed, damaged or pilfered worldwide in 2008.  Of those 736,000 are still listed as missing according to SITA.


While Traveling

So you bravely made passed the airline counter and airport security and you want to relax before boarding the plane.  There are a few considerations to ensure a great airport waiting lounge experience:

  • Do not leave your luggage unattended at the airport
  • Never trust an unknown person with your luggage.  A stranger can either steal or manipulate your bag.
  • Never agree to watch over or carry luggage that does not belong to you.

You’ve arrived at your final destination.  You are eager to clear the host country’s customs and immigration procedures.  You’ve taking the necessary precautions as stated above and the process went smoothly.  Now is time to focus on road transport from the airport to the hotel.

  • If you have not made transport arrangement in advance, make sure you take an official airport taxi. If it can be avoided do not take public transportation
  • Do not discuss your travel itinerary, confidential personal or professional issues with colleagues in the plane, train or mobile phone.  Subjects that may seem unimportant to you may be of great interest to a thief.


At the Hotel

Once again you’ve successfully crossed another guidepost.  You’re now in your pre-selected hotel and can’t wait to put your head down in those fluffy pillows.  Just a few considerations to keep you safe through your stay:

  • Ask for a room between the second and fifth floor, not overlooking the street (for ease of emergency exit and for protection against bombs)
  • Lock the door fully; use the door-chain or other door safety device.
  • Except when you want the room to be serviced, display the “Do not disturb” at all times.
  • Establish the identity of visitors before opening the door;
  • Deposit valuables and documents in the room safe
  • Never throw notes and rough copies into the wastepaper basket.  As the information may be compromised
  • Avoid using the hotel phone for confidential conversations
  • Read the safety instructions and check out the evacuation route.
  • If you sleep with your window open, put your bag and anything else that could attract attention our of sight
  • Hotels are likely places to meet, greet and make contacts. However, do not immediately trust anyone who approaches you in a friendly way; be extra vigilant if they appear to have things in common with you and seem unusually interested in what you have to say about yourself.  It may not just be a casual encounter. Do not hesitate to break off a conversation that turns into an interrogation of your private or business affairs.
  • Do not speak loudly about personal or professional subjects while in a bar or restaurant.
  • Be CAUTIOUS and observant as to who handles and serves you beverages. Be aware that drinks can be laced with substances such as GHB, a drug that is odorless, colorless and tasteless.   It renders the victim euphoric and susceptible to suggestion.


Personal Behavior

There is a maxim that I as a practitioner always use “Security is your responsibility” to create awareness.  All security decision are personal in nature, granted the root causes of insecurity are external, but the compounded effect is not.  People who have been victims of a crime understand that there is much they could have done to prevent it, but did not give much thought to acting out prevention.  To avoid becoming easy targets during your travel take these tips in consideration:

  • Maintain a low profile. Try to avoid looking like a tourist (e.g. consulting a map in public);
  • Strictly comply with local security advice provided by your local embassy or reliable information sources like  Wikitravel;
  • Where practicable, avoid underground public transportation
  • Minimize time spent at the following places: hotel lobbies; bars, restaurants and night clubs where Westerners are known to gather; places of religious worship, especially on Fridays, Christmas period and Ramadan;
  • Always keep your relatives or emergency contacts aware of your travel itinerary and any changes;
  • Keep your contact list up-to-date;
  • Always keep your mobile phone charged and switched on (make sure you bring a charger and possibly an extra battery)
  • Additionally, a recent New York Times editorial offered very poignant SECURITY ADVICE for students traveling to the world’s hotspots.


Professional Meetings:

A common sense approach during professional meetings or seminars is to be vigilant and take precautions against the loss or copying of your documents. In addition:

  • Never leave your documents unattended
  • Make your own photocopies and always check that you have not left anything behind;
  • Send your own fax, if confidential, or  stay close to the person who sends it;
  • Check that you have not forgotten any information, flip chart, slides, OHP transparencies, etc. before leaving the conference/meeting room.
  • Never throw away any papers with notes, even if they may seem insignificant to you.  Always use shredders where available; or otherwise keep your waste papers and bring them home.

Out and About

Getting around in certain parts of the world is no picnic, but you can minimize you exposure while getting from point-A-to-point-B by following these tips:

  • If you take a taxi, use an official service outside a hotel, station or airport (consult the concierge for approved cars);
  • Find out the average fare ahead of time and always ask the price to your destination upon arrival at the destination.  In some countries if there is a dispute, you being a foreigner will work against you, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case.  Therefore, do not get involved in any heated discussions with a local taxi driver over relatively small money;
  • Try to give the impression that you are not new to the country, are sure of yourself and that you know the route;
  • Do not overtly display affluence (expensive jeweler and watches);
  • Hide your money on your person; carry the minimum amount necessary;
  • Avoid being seen taking large bills out of your wallet to pay for services or purchases;
  • Carry some small denomination currency.  Keep this separately from your wallet to give to a mugger if threatened; never try to fight off a mugger!

You have now back at the airport ready for departure. Don’t forget to put in practice the airport security tips outlined at the start of your trip. Congratulations! By remaining vigilant, you’ve successfully completed your trouble-free trip. 

Remember that:

  • Evaluating risk is a matter of common sense.
  • Treat risks seriously without becoming paranoid
  • Behave discreetly and adopt a low profile
  • Do not develop routine behavior.
  • Let people you trust know where you are going.

Keep this list handy for all your future trips and share it with family and friends.

Want to share your own tips or have a question about the tips offered here? Email at: or become a member of this blog to share your thoughts.

11 Responses to “TRAVEL SECURITY”

  1. charter bus nyc Says:

    I normally don’t take the time out to thank people when i read their information but this was really informative.
    I look forward to reading more on your blog.
    Thank You.

  2. The Truth About Hotel Safes | executive recruiter online Says:

    […] they simply action as a unsettled road house guest sealed out of his/her room as good as safe. Hotel security services regularly ready to support a patron as good as unknowingly of these worldly plots, would […]

  3. Philip Farina, CPP - Hotel & Travel Security Expert Says:

    A good thorough article. It’s important to realize that hospitality organizations are exposed to various levels of risk. This may include: fire, food poisoning, fraud, theft and of course, the terrorism element. An event against just one hotel property could send catastrophic ripple effects throughout our entire critical infrastructure.

    The challenge for hotels is the balancing of security with customer service and convenience. Security in itself is black & white, hospitality on the other hand is an “open” environment and full of color. Only by blending the two methodologies together, can the hotel organization be successful in providing this heightened level of service to its customers.

    Of course the trick is, this must all be set up in a fashion that makes the customers feel safe and secure at the same time not being so over the top that it looks like a military installation.

    Philip Farina, CPP

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