Drawing on an academic background in international security and personal experience, here is a list of general security information that you will find helpful when planning your trip as well as while you are at your destination.
Staying Safe in Airports
Airports continue to function as a host to crime. Most can be petty. However, some are more sinister. The following tips can help you become less of a target.
1. Do not travel with any bags that cannot be zipped or securely closed. Even if you reason with yourself that it’s pretty or that it will be kept on you at all times, it takes one second for a sophisticated, professional pick-pocketer to steal your passport and wallet in the ‘I only peered away for one second’ excuse. On that note, all bags should be closed at all times. No excuses.
2. Do not detach your bags from you at any time at an airport. They should always be touching you. If you are travelling with more than one bag, use a carabiner to connect your bags together. Not only does this make it easier for you to lug your possessions around, it also exhibits that you are not an easy target. Nobody (or a very small number of people) will try and steal earrings that you’re wearing. Why? Because they’re hooked on tight. The tighter the grasp on your belongings, the more secure your belongings will be.
3. Do not walk off a plane and open a physical map.
Why? Because it shows people that you do not know the area. This information can invite questionable people to take advantage of you through anything from misleading directions to fake niceties as a means for some form of gain. If you need to open a map, do so in a bathroom cubicle where you’re out of ordinary view.
4. Do not arrive at the airport unnecessarily earlier than your flight.
Why? Because doing so will force you to stay on the non-security side of the airport for longer than needed. By ‘non-security side’, I mean the area of the airport before one goes through customs. The longer you are exposed to this area, the more you are exposed to risk. Why? Because absolutely anyone can enter the non-security side of an airport. Some people do so just to prey on vulnerable travelers and their valuables (it’s essentially their job and they’re good at it).
The sooner you can go through your final customs stage, the more secure you and your valuables are. (Please note that some airports around the world will only allow travelers with proof of ticket into the airport. This means that family and friends cannot enter. In these circumstances, the ‘non-security side’ will not be as applicable). Within a globalized world, airports are undoubtedly critical assets to any country. Consequently, they can often pose as a viable target for acts of terrorism. This can be centered on the notion that if a government cannot protect its nation’s airport(s), it is weak and powerless when it comes to protecting its own people. Do not lounge around in airports waiting to check-in.
Get in and get out.
Do not feel obliged to stay in an up-market hotel for the sake of ‘security’. In fact, those fancier hotels are often actually bigger targets as they signal to perpetrators that you are a wealthy, foreign tourist.
5. “Three” should be your magic number.
Why? Because when you’re staying somewhere with multiple floors, the third floor should be where you request to stay. This is because if you’re on any floor below, you are too close to the ground floor. Perpetrators or some form of crisis may be able to reach you prior to you realizing something is wrong. However, if you’re too high above the third floor, you will probably be stuck during an event of fire. External evacuation measures can usually only be reached if you’re on the third floor and below.
6. Stay away from accommodation that commonly hosts prominent people, especially those with political significance.
Why? Because you’re creating an additional target on yourself by potentially situating yourself in harm’s way. Political figures can attract dangerous attention as part of their profession.
7. Guard your passport. You should always know where your passport is.
I can’t reiterate this enough. Beyond the mere fact that it can be annoying and stressful (and expensive amongst many other adjectives) to replace, such identification exists to grant you the hell out of a country should a crisis (for example, natural disaster or bombing) unfold. If you’ve misplaced your passport or had it stolen, you are stuck in that country (until you get a new one).
8. Ladies, this one is for you and it sucks. You need to be aware of how your gender plays into the dynamics of gender norms at your destination.
Reality is, and this is definitely the case for those who reside in countries that are part of the Western world or first-world nations, you simply cannot always rely on enjoying the liberties you do at home, outside of home. I know this might sound obvious. But what this effectively means is that in some places and contexts around the world, you will lack agency, authority, and/or legitimacy as you are female. This can often be a sad reality to accept. However, no matter how assured, independent, or liberated you feel, it is often not worth challenging gender norms when it comes to your safety.
Do your research and stay safe.
About the Author
Nikki has studied international security and has traveled solo throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.1