Travel Security

Understand the Risks

Have the Correct Visas and Check Your Passport

  • Find out if a passport or visa is required for any of your destinations (in most cases it will be if you are traveling outside your country)

  • Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond your return date and have at least two blank pages left (more if visiting multiple countries)

  • Getting a new passport takes time (6-8 weeks in the U.S.), though expedited service may be available for an extra fee

  • Most countries require visas for longer stays, even if they are visa-free or offer visa on arrival for shorter stays

  • Visa requirements depend on your passport (e.g. requirements will likely be different for U.S. vs Philippines passport)

  • In some cases a transit visa is required to pass through an airport for a connecting flight, especially for long layovers, or if your baggage is not checked through (you have to claim your baggage and check in for the next flight)

  • The most common types of visas are tourist and business visas, each with a different number of entrance frequency and duration limits. Don’t travel for business on a tourist visa. Getting caught with the wrong visa could cost you a significant fine, deportation, and potentially even getting barred from entering the country for several years (or life).

  • The visa application process can sometimes take a lot of work and time. Consider using a service such as A Briggs to manage the process for you, though this may cost twice as much.

Stay Healthy

  • Some countries require certain vaccines, Even if not required, you should get any recommended vaccines for your destinations. Check with your doctor.

  • Review this CDC guidance if you are traveling with medicine (prescription or over the counter)

  • Consider getting travel health insurance for your trip. Check with your normal insurance provider to see if you will be covered while traveling. Even if you are covered, you may need to pay any medical bills and seek reimbursement after returning home (meaning that without travel insurance you could incur large out of pocket expenses during your trip).

Plan Ahead for Emergencies

  • Know how to contact the local embassy or consulate where you will be traveling.

  • Some countries, like Thailand, have “tourist” police who may be more helpful than regular officers. Have their number handy.

  • Program emergency contacts into your phone, but also have a physical copy in case you lose your phone. Consider also carrying an image of your passport in case you lose your physical passport.

  • Make a detailed itinerary and share it only with your most trusted family or friends. Do not share publicly.

Dress Like a College Student

We often think about profiling that takes place by law enforcement and border crossing agents, but criminals also profile as well. Why would they risk everything to attempt to rob someone who has nothing to offer them?

  • Avoid expensive clothing, jewelry, and luggage. You don’t want to stand out to thieves or scammers.

  • Consider toning back your style in other ways as well – clothing with bold images, crude language, or revealing a lot of skin may attract unwanted attention or come off as rude, offensive, or arrogant.

  • Try to blend in. Go for the (conservative) college student look.

Don’t Lie

When traveling, you may to be questioned (or even searched and detained) by airport security, immigration officers or police.

  • Lying to government officials could get you deported or put into jail

  • Consider responding to direct questions with specific and concise information. Don’t offer extra information unless asked.

  • If at any time you come across as being rude or bothered by their questioning or uncooperative, you should expect a bad situation and severe delays in your trip. Always be polite, kind and thank them when they let you pass.

Bring Only One Computer

There is really no great explanation for this, but traveling with more than one computer, especially 3, is a trigger point for travel security personnel and you should expect a secondary search or delays. If you can avoid it, only bring one computer with you when you travel.

Use a VPN

  • The time to use a VPN is when you are traveling, especially if you will be connecting via hotel or free Wi-Fi services. In general, “free” Internet is NOT safe but if you have no choice, then connecting and firing up a VPN is the best way to mitigate risks that do exist.

  • If you see TLS/SSL certificate errors while connected, this is a sign that something bad is happening and you should not “click through” to continue. Connect somewhere else.

Don’t Trust Hotels

Thieves and hotel staff may enter your room without your knowledge.

  • Many hotel room safes have publicly known bypass methods, and any thief who knows the bypass method will check the safe first. Depending on your location, you may want to consider carrying your valuables on you or strategically hiding them in your room.

  • If you carry valuables, consider buying a secure backpack

  • Some less ethical owners may place hidden cameras or microphones within your room. Don’t treat your hotel room as a completely private area. Assume the room is bugged and act accordingly.

  • Like hotel safes, there are known bypass methods to most hotel room locks. When you’re in the room, add an extra layer of security by using a door lock (e.g., Addalock)

Know and Obey Local Laws

  • It is your responsibility to understand the local laws especially if they are stricter than your own country, particularly when it comes to drugs and alcohol consumption.

  • There have been many cases of travelers being arrested for things that are entirely legal in their home country

Decline Propositions or Advances

Having someone make you feel interesting and/or attractive is hard to pass up.

  • Be very aware that these random advances are a common way to lure victims into a bad situation. These techniques happen to people on trips very often because they work.

  • One common vector is “blackmailing”. The attacker, for example, attempts to obtain photos of you in a very compromising position to then use as leverage for getting something in return, like your passwords or a transfer of funds. The best way to avoid this type of attack is to be wary of these situations.

(This guide is part of a series on Personal Security.)