A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

Travel Safely

When I am traveling, I don’t get concerned about the typical issues you might think of. I figure that driving to the airport is actually the most dangerous portion of any trip. But I do worry about personal safety, especially in foreign countries, and about the safety of my home when I am away.

So, some simple tips and tricks, just as applicable to men as to women.

First of all – there are some good blogs and advice out there on the web, one top tip: Turn off 4-square in your hotel so the world doesn’t know where (or when) you are sleeping! (update: Oct 2016, think about what just happened in Paris to Kim Kardashian)

But here are my best travel safety tips;

Airport Checkin. Use your passport for Checkin and at the TSA screening. Your passport does not have your home address in it, but your drivers license does. So to avoid anyone seeing your home address, and knowing you are not home… Use your passport for ID.

Luggage tags. I will never put my home address on a luggage tag. It’s like advertising to anyone who sees it that “I’m not home so go ahead and rob my house”. You can protect yourself by just providing your name, phone #, and an Email address on the tag. I also use 2 tags, but place them back to back so not even my phone number is easily visible. Just the fronts of the two tags are outward facing. Laminated business cards (2 of them, back to back) also make excellent luggage ID tags if w/o your home address, and it is really inexpensive at places like Staples to get some laminated.

A few weeks ago I was on a commuter flight from Dallas to Houston. The young woman seated next to me had a luggage tag on her knapsack (on the floor by her feet), and just sitting there as a passenger I read her name, her address, and phone number. During the flight I advised her that having personal information displayed like that was not a very safe thing to be doing. It is so simple, and should be obvious, but I guess it isn’t.

Another good safety trick is to have the Post Office (and your paper boy) stop deliveries while you are away. Nothing says “I’m not home” like a pile of newspapers in your driveway, or an overflowing mailbox. Obviously if you are married, or have a room-mate, then skip this trick if only one of you are away. Other things you might think about are getting your lawn cut, leaves raked, or snow shoveled while you are away. Simple things to do, but often overlooked.

In flight, your carry on bag probably has your wallet, some cash, your credit cards, and your passport in it. So how safe is your carry on? Make sure it has zippered or closable compartments, and don’t put it in the compartment over your head. Put it in the compartment across the aisle from you. You can’t see over your head, but you can see if someone is handling your bag if it is across from you. If you have a briefcase, that’s an even better in flight safe place, since opening a briefcase is a lot harder for a thief than getting into your carry on bag would be.

You probably will not need your Boarding Pass after you get in your seat, but do not leave it behind. The bar code printed on it has a lot of information in it, along with YOUR NAME and where you are going, and where you came from. Keep it with you, and tear it up before you throw it away. Too many times I have found one of these stuck in a seat pocket… Also NEVER post a photograph on a social media site that includes the bar code on your boarding pass, or your confirmation number, or your airline frequent flier number! There are plenty of internet scumbags out there who  will use SW tricks to read that bar code, and extract things like your frequent flier number and reservation information. Stop and think about what they might do with that…

What hotel are you staying in? When sitting next to someone on a long flight to Asia or Europe, this question may come up. You can be polite, no need to be rude, but still not answer the question specifically. Some of my more usual dodges around this one are usually phrased something like: “I’m staying out of town”. If the seat mate persists, then I may ratchet it up a notch and (politely) tell him/her that I don’t like to share that information. They usually get the hint. One woman I sometimes traveled with for work would answer that question by saying she was staying at the American embassy. I doubt anyone ever rang that doorbell looking for her.

On this same topic, you should also never even think of asking a Flight Attendant where they are staying. It varies by airline, but is generally against policy (and common sense!) for them to share that information with you. It’s not just their own personal security, it’s the shared security of all the other co-workers at that airline that use the same hotel. Sure, some frequent flyers do know what the airline hotels are on some routes, but that is information we would never share, so don’t even bother to ask.

And turn off your 4-square or other software app’s that put your hotel out on social media like FaceBook or Twitter. Do you really want 10,000 strangers to know where you are sleeping tonight? I will bet Kim Kardashian now has those apps turned off. Permanently.

Sharing a ride to the hotel. At a lot of airports you get into a taxi queue, and as you get to the front of the line they ask you which hotel you are going to. Often, and this depends on location, they will then ask if anyone else in line is going to the same hotel. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, it does save some money, and I’ve had some good chats with people I have met that way. But if it makes you insecure, just tell the queue manager you want to ride alone. It is well within your rights to insist on that, and it has never been a problem when I have asked for a solo ride.

Watch out at many airports for the fly-by-night illegal taxi operators. Sure you can save a lot of money, but you are really taking a risk. A risk that just isn’t worth it.

If your hotel offers a pickup/transfer or shuttle ride, that is always going to be the safest way to go, and I highly recommend it, but you usually have to make those arrangements before you fly. It often is not the cheapest way to go, but it is invariably the safest.

When checking in to your hotel, there is no reason, no excuse, no case under the sun, that a desk clerk should ever verbally state your room number. It should be written on your key envelope, and handed to you without the number being mentioned. If it happens, do what I do. Hand the key back, and tell the clerk you want another room. This does not happen often, and it is typically a new hire behind the desk, but they need to learn. Only once (in China) did this cause a problem, and the staff really resented my actions. I cancelled the rest of my reservation right there at the desk, only spent the one night there, and moved to another hotel the next day.

Is your room on the first floor? Request a different room before you leave the desk. OK, maybe not if it’s a 1-storey Motel, but otherwise move it up. This is a really simple thing, and should be no problem. Apparently it is also standard in most flight crew contracts, they never stay on the first floor either.

During the check-in process, make sure you take at least one of the hotel business cards, ideally one that has a map on the reverse side. When you are in a foreign country and city, your taxi driver may not (probably will not!) speak very much English, so having a card from the hotel you are staying at is a great way to show the taxi where you want to be taken, and to end up at the right place. If the hotel does not have business cards in the local language, ask a clerk or a concierge to write the hotel name and address on the back of one of your own business cards.

Thinking about safety tricks is also a great opportunity to remind travelers to learn how to say “Thank You”, “Hello”, and “Good bye” in the local language. You will be surprised how much better service and help you will get if you even know those 3 key phrases. And that plays on safety too, as even a little local language makes you much less of a target in many situations.

Hotel safes in your room are GREAT! Learn to use them and love them. I always keep most of my currency in the safe in my room, as well as a printout (Xerox) that I have of all my credit cards and my passport. I just carry enough with me (in local currency) for small day to day things. If I ever have the bad fortune of getting robbed, all they will get will be a bit of currency, and credit cards that I can cancel and replace using the information locked up in the safe.

Your passport stays with you! At all times! Always! Even during the day when going to work in an office. In some countries you are required to have it with you (often a surprise to many travelers). It is your best form of ID, and if the worst should happen, the best way for your Embassy to be alerted.

And the last piece of advice is to use your common sense.

If at home you would not stay out drinking with strangers until 2 AM, and then ask a random driver in a taxi to take you to a hotel, why would you do that in another city, or in a foreign country? The staff in your hotel can also be a very good resource for information about what areas & neighborhoods are the best for visiting, and what to watch out for, or stay away from. Ask them.

So be smart, be safe, use your head, and enjoy your travels even more.

2 comments on “Travel Safely

  1. Smithg739
    December 18, 2014

    I’m really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, its rare to see a great blog like this one these days.. dddaeeeecgeffcke


    • jlroehr
      December 20, 2014

      The website format is free, off the shelf from WordPress.

      Appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.



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This entry was posted on October 20, 2013 by in Passenger thoughts and tagged , , , , , .
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