Be smart, be safe abroad

The Smart Traveler

December 07, 2008|By MICHELLE DEAL-ZIMMERMAN | MICHELLE DEAL-ZIMMERMAN,michelle.deal@baltsun.com

From deadly attacks on hotels in India to airport protests in Thailand to drug-cartel clashes in Mexico, globe-trotters have had a rough year. Where in the world can you travel and also be safe? The answer: everywhere - and nowhere.

As a practical matter, there are definite risks involved with visiting abroad, depending upon the destination. But the biggest risk may be a lack of planning.

Frederic Ngoga-Gateretse is a regional analyst at iJet Intelligent Risk Systems, a travel-security company in Annapolis that works with more than 500 businesses. Although a few of the firm's clients were at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai, India, when it was attacked by terrorists Nov. 26, Ngoga-Gateretse says people should not allow fear to prevent them from traveling. Instead, he says tourists should be alert, prepared and resilient.

"Think about a worst-case scenario and how you would react," says Ngoga-Gateretse. "What are the items that you should have with you? How would you escape a fire? If you're taken hostage, how should you behave?"

This is especially important for seasoned travelers, who he says are "often blase about these things. People who don't travel that much are much more concerned."

Here are some travel tips from iJet, but the most important advice is to "anticipate events; don't let events dictate your behavior," says Ngoga-Gateretse.

* Get information about the political environment you are going into. "Most of the time what travelers might encounter are local groups who have their own grievances but are inspired by groups like al-Qaida," he says. (Go to travel.state.gov for travel advisories.)

* At your hotel, note the layout and location of fire exits. Mentally plan your escape route.

* Don't stay in a front room, but rather at the back of a hotel, away from the roads. Bombers are more likely to go for the front. Also, don't stay on a floor that's too high or too low.

* Keep your documentation and some cash in a safe place.

* In the event you are taken hostage, the most critical moments are the first five minutes. Do not resist. Do not engage your attacker in any way.

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