This week, like too many weeks recently, we think about safety, especially in our travels abroad. In my career, I’ve logged millions of miles travelling the globe for business and personal trips and, like most seasoned travelers, have been caught in the chaos of physical and political disruption. My wife, Linda, travelled so much in the 1980s and 1990s that she was considered the women business traveler maven and frequently sought after for advice on everything from how to pack to dealing with toilets of the world. She, too, has had direct experience with the unexpected and unpleasant events of travel. Here are some pointers from our experience.
- All hotel room doors open to the inside. My wife was opening the door to her room in a 5-star hotel when suddenly a man pushed her into the room. He was then standing between her and the door—the only escape route. Even a small person can push you into a room. Be aware of your surroundings.
- Carry energy bars or other packaged food in your backpack or case, keep the gas tank full on your rental car and have some cash. In Narita when the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami hit, in Toronto during the 2003 blackout, in blizzards, tornados and a cyclone, I found these things can be difficult, if not impossible to get. Carrying a filled water bottle doesn’t hurt either (get a refill on the airside of security).
- Carry a small flashlight or LED headlamp. I pack a couple. You have no idea how dark it gets in a total power blackout.
- Enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), the US Dept of State program that can update you with important safety and security announcements and make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact you in the event of an emergency.
- Review the US Dept of State traveler’s checklist.
- Review what the US Dept of State can and can’t do during a crisis webpage.
- Sign up for the appropriate Twitter Alerts. Click on the participating organizations link for suggestions.
- Learn a few key phrases in local language of the country you’re travelling to.
- For your business, review the Ready.gov Crisis Communication Plan and be sure you have the appropriate information handy if you need it.
- If you’re in a disaster/crisis area (and are not in danger), send a text. In the 9-11 events and in the 2011 earthquake, I couldn’t get a call to go through. I was able get a text through.
These are just a few suggestions to add to your emergency plan routine. Years ago I grumbled when I had to evacuate a hotel in the middle of the night for a fire alarm, when my back pocket was slashed in a robbery attempt, I had to wear a cheap watch to not attract a thief and I had to be sure the kidnap and ransom and international health insurance was current. Today, I wish that was all anyone had to worry about on a business trip.
Be careful out there.