Travel, airport, man with bags and laptop
Photo by Aneta Lusina
When you travel, remember that there are people out there determined to take advantage of you. Plan acccordingly

Most people today do some sort of traveling. Many folks travel a lot, and just about everyone, sooner or later, will have to travel. Be it across state lines or across the globe, there are always those who would seek to exploit the traveler’s ignorance.

Like it or not, when you go somewhere new, there are things you can’t and won’t know. And even for the seasoned traveler, with lots of experience in a certain place that fact that you don’t reside there means something could occur or change while you’re away, or, some one could take notice of your repeat returns and actually exploit that as a way to take advantage of regular patterns.

This basic tenet is a principle of military tactics. When you are static you have the advantage of fortifying your security and knowing your environment. When you’re mobile it’s impossible to make every step of the journey safe from vulnerability. Vigilance is your best defense and preparation is your best offense.

The sad fact is that when you travel, you’re open to being taken advantage of. You simple must be aware and do what you can to make yourself a hard target as most criminals are looking for the easy pickings, not those that present a problem.

Intelligence Gathering

The first thing you should do before traveling is a recon or intelligence gathering. Thanks to the internet, most of this can be done online before you leave. A great place to start if you’re going overseas, is to look at the US State Department’s (DOS) Travel Advisory for the country you plan to visit. Often they will have warnings about certain crimes, crime areas, criminal groups and even some types of crime that is prevalent such as ATM robberies or car theft.

The next place to check for dangers, such as shady places and dirty tricks, is to go and read some travel sites about the place you want to visit. I am amazed at how a certain method of crime gets to become common practice by the crooks. This is because a technique works, they share it. It’s the technique of choice until folks figure it out and it no longer works, then they try something new.  So, just because you know the tricks to be on the look out for, don’t assume that you know them all, stay on guard.

Once you look at the most dangerous things that can happen you have to look at the most likely things that can happen. Look at weather, how it might delay or detour your travels and to what dangers that change might expose you.

Consider vehicle/vessel malfunction and what alternatives exists and their risks. And even consider lodging issues and what the back ups are, and how to get them and get hold of them. In developed countries, these issues are easily sorted, but in developing nations, or under developed nations, these small details could be life changing.

Get Your Shots

Last bit for recon, check the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to see not only what shots you need to get before you go, but also look for what unusual diseases that are currently prevalent there. Read up on the causes and how to avoid them and the signs and symptoms, to know when to seek medical help and make sure you know what the treatment should be, in case some one tries to sell you bad medicine or give you a false diagnosis. And of course, have a plan for where the hospitals are and how to call for help, how to get to medical care and have a medical evacuation plan set up, perhaps insurance and even consider repatriation of remains, should the worst happen.

After your recon, now you have to make ready. Start by breaking down every step of your trip and looking at what could go wrong, have a plan for how to avoid it, and then make a plan for a counter measure if it happens anyway.

It starts at the airport, seaport, train station, bus station or drive to destination once you exit the safety of the transport and begin to interact with the local people.

Travelling Save Zones

Immigrations, Customs, Border Authorities, are usually a safe zone in most countries, but the less developed ones may harbor your first danger of the bribe vs the fine issue. Usually, there will be information on-line to prepare you for those things. For our purposes here, we will focus on the commonalities of travel dangers most likely to be experienced.


One of the first encounters during travel are usually folks waiting for fresh meat. They offer help with bags, taxis, hotels, you name it, there is someone offering to help. Best to have a plan, know the names and use only the official entities available, even if it is slow, it’s better slow and safe, than suckered and sorry.


Shortly after the wave of helpers is the luggage issue. Try not to travel with more than you can carry on your back and/or pull with one hand so that one hand is always free to fight or what have you. If you’re traveling heavy, have a plan to put your family or team members to work as a lifter or security.


This is always tricky business during travel. Make sure you know what the money is and what the current exchange rate is before you go. Try to get a little at an exchange before you enter the country, but if not, usually it’s safer and easier to get money from an ATM inside customs, the rate can be a bit higher but it’s safe and easy.

Taxis and Uber/Lyft

This is one of the best spots for bad guys to try to do bad things as your senses are being overwhelmed and so much is happening so quickly. Be sure to tell your destination and get a price before you step in and make sure to keep your bags in sight at all times and if they put them in the back, MAKE SURE THEY LOCK IT. It’s a common trick to almost close it and while you’re in the cab and haggling with the cabbie, his

accomplice is gently unloading your bags to steal them. Also, be aware of the ROOFIE BLOW- as sometimes a cabbie will turn around and blow powder into your face like ROHIPNOL so you pass out, get robbed, stripped naked and left on the streets with nothing and no memory. I always sit BEHIND the driver to reduce the ability to do that or any other maneuver.  I pull out my weapons/knives from my bags as soon as I clear customs so I can be armed before I leave the safe zone in the airport, should they try some act of violence against you in that vulnerable transition.


This is another time when you can get hustled or robbed depending on the type of hotel.  The usual tricks here are to steal money out of your stash but not all of it, or to take a credit card imprint, but leave the card, or to try and tell you places to go, where their friends are ready to hustle or rob you.


Hide your valuables in good places. Do not always trust the Hotel Safe or Front Desk Safe. Do not keep all your valuables in one place. Sometimes, I hide mine inside vents, inside box springs, behind the fridge, anywhere I think a crook or a crooked maid, is not likely to look. Make little trip wires that let you know someone has moved something- example: a small plastic water bottle cap by the corner of the fridge, if they move the fridge, they’re not likely to notice it, or won’t think it was pre-positioned. You come back from dinner, see it moved, you’re alerted


Be sure to check your vehicle thoroughly before you leave, be it a rental or a company. Sometimes they rig these to break down and force you to pay for recovery services or they have them set up to fail so their criminal friends can trail you and then be there to offer to help and then rob you. If on your own, make sure you have a spare tire and always keep an eye on your vehicle when away and keep your most valuable items on you at all times.

Parking Lots

Sometimes, they are just kids, but often, they are used as decoys, early warning, or even scouts. They may ask to guard your car while you’re in a shop, then as soon as you go in, they let their buddies know and you come back to an empty car and the kid is no where to be see. This is especially important if your car is loaded, the kids see that, and they are marking you for a robbery.


Often restaurants are fairly safe again, as a static location, their business depends on your safe experience.  But be ever aware of snatch and grab thieves, so secure your bags to your body or table or chair. Be wary of pick pockets, people seeking to steal your identity through WIFI or CHIP READERS, designed to pick up the LOW LEVEL RFID info off your cards. Best to use good firewalls on laptops and phones and good bags with WIRE MESH RFID blockers.


If you got out on a pre-arranged trip, these are usually safe as their business depends on your safety. However, there may be parts of the trip where you’re dropped to have some time to explore or shop or you may go on your own trips and here are a few things that you can be on the look out for while you’re out and about.

Distress Requests

This is a common ploy these days, ask for help and then assault you, or they pretend not to know what is happening, like you, meanwhile, they actually targeted you and set you up for a robbery.

Pan Handlers

This is a slippery slope. If you give to one, they may ask for more, and others may see and began to ask and before you know it, you are mobbed. Best to just keep the money to yourself.


Be careful with animals. Some places have no care for them, other places take it seriously if you harm one, even if it’s stray. And beware the scammer who claims you just hurt their animal and you need to compensate them or they will call the police.


Always size up the bar by the patrons and the cleanliness. Unless it’s filled with tourists, indicating it’s safe, best to leave local bars to locals.


Pay attention to street names and the looks of streets. Don’t take short cuts through dark alleys. But always pay attention to main roads and if you get lost, take the way back that you know and is safe, even if you’re tired. Nothing worse than being tired, and lost and lost, in a dangerous place.


Sometimes the police can be trusted, sometimes they can not. And sometimes criminals will impersonate a cop, or a detective, so make sure you look at the whole picture when you deal with a policeman. A nice uniform but a pair of dirty sneakers may be a sign they’re a fake.

Final Travel Tip

Have a photo copy of your passport hidden in all your luggage. Keep a few spares around. Having a copy of the info page can help prove who you are and get you into the US Embassy a lot quicker. It can get you a temporary replacement in a just a few hours versus waiting a few days to get issued a new passport.

The Bottom Line

Tricks and scams during travel will always be around and constantly change. Stay vigilant by remaining alert in each moment during high risk exposure periods. Most of the time you’ll catch the trick and be able to prevent or respond as needed. Safe Travels.

Up Next

The Three Tiers of EDC and Workplace Preparedness

Emergency preparedness often centers around the home. The importance of workplace preparedness and your...