Travel safety ‘experts’

by Terry Riley on November 15, 2004

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on – and an eye out for – the competition. So the other day I ran a search on Google for travel safety expert.”

The search returned 69 listings, nine of which pointed to columns I’ve written or articles where I’ve been cited. Not a bad percentage I suppose, except that the search also returned 24 listings for Kevin Coffey, my one serious competitor in the corporate travel safety biz. What’s more Coffey captured the top listing as well. (Rats!)

This exercise was both instructive and motivational, but the most interesting part was in the listings that were returned from other “travel safety experts.”

A few of the listings were bogus – Web sites that threw the phrase “travel safety expert” into the key word pot, hoping for the best – but other listings took me to places on the Internet where advice was dished out by “travel safety experts.”

To save you a trip to those experts’ sites – and to keep you away from seeing my competitor’s listings – I’ve highlighted here a half dozen, questionable pearls being cast by online “travel safety experts.”

Find out whether your hotel has an in-room safe. Ask if it will be large enough for your valuables and equipment (laptop, expensive camera). If not, your hard-sided luggage, if it has good locks, can double as a safe. It is less likely that an entire suitcase would be stolen from a hotel room than a small, valuable item. Plus, many hotels also have safe deposit boxes at the front desk.

This advice is backwards. The last sentence here should have been first, followed with “use the hotel’s safe deposit boxes for your valuables, and get a receipt. Making use of in-room safes is better than leaving your goodies out on a dresser but they are nowhere near as secure as safe deposit boxes.”

Be sure to put your name all over your laptop and carrying case. You think a crook isn’t going to boost your laptop because it has your name splashed all over it? In fact displaying your name can give a crook another angle on his heist. Attach two labels [to your luggage] listing your name, country and e-mail address.

Three problems here: (1) when others address you by your name, you’re apt to let your guard down, (2) westerners, particularly Americans, are not universally loved and are sometimes even targeted, and (3) your email address may include your company’s name, marking you as a “preferred” target for kidnapping.

Carry “bait money” for potential thieves. Trying to “cheat” a robber out of a few bucks while staring at the business end of a Saturday night special is an unwise and dangerous tactic. In a stick-up, hand over everything.

If you live in a safe part of your home country, spend a couple of days in a less safe area before traveling abroad. Most of the survival skills and instincts that’ll serve you well in less safe parts of your home country will apply abroad as well.

While you’re at it, why not plan to spend a few days in Kabul or Jakarta or Baghdad on your way to your destination – just to get a feel for the danger. Maybe you could get Robert Young Pelton to show you around.

I’ve got a better idea, instead of honing your urban “survival skills,” spend the time in the safety of your own home researching and planning your trip so that you can avoid dangerous spots altogether.

Don’t bring outfits based on both black and brown, because then you’ll need both black and brown shoes and belts. This is safety advice? Maybe if you fear arrest from the fashion gendarmes.

Well, that’s my take on “travel safety experts.”

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