Whether you are a first time traveler or a frequent traveler, travel safety starts with you. To some people, traveling overseas form part and parcel of their office work. They are exposed to risks whenever they go for an overseas trip.
People going on overseas business trips for various reasons, such as:
– attending business meetings / seminars / workshops,
– presenting academic papers / giving lectures,
– participating in trade missions / exhibitions / cultural presentations,
– signing agreements / memorandum of understandings (MOUs),
– collecting materials for articles or books,
– participating in students’ exchange programs,
– perform Hajj or Umrah, etc.
The writer, being a frequent traveler, tries to list down as many types of risks as possible that are likely to be faced by an overseas’ traveler. It can be categorised into five parts, namely early preparation; at the airport; while in the host country & personal safety; hotel safety; and return journey.
Travelers should bear in mind that security precautions are tight at the airports and hotels and thus they must learn to take wise and prudent precautions when traveling. Readers should also take note that ideas given here are not exhaustive, they are intended to be used only as a guide and safety traveling tips derived from other sources should also be considered.
Based on writer’s own experience, there are not many risks involved here except for a careful preparation. This will usually include: a passport; two-way flight reservation; hotel reservation; host country’s visa requirement; currency; any required vaccination; and travel insurance.
The passport is considered as your own life. It is also the most frequently used document whenever you travel. It is used during visa application, check-in counter at the airports, immigration & customs counters, check-in counter at the hotel, cashing of travelers cheques (if applicable), etc.
In terms of packing, it is up to an individual’s taste. However, the golden rule to follow is – always travel light. Petty thieves and pickpockets love to exploit or prey on tired travelers burdened with heavy luggage. Other safety reminders when packing: pack your luggage yourself; lock your check-in luggage, so that nothing can be put in or taken out; use plain-looking luggage, (designer, fancy or expensive-looking luggage attracts attention of potential snatchers); use luggage tag and place another one inside the luggage; remove old airline destination tags; and carry the appropriate clothes.
For those carrying a notebook, always check first the type of plug the host country is using – it can be British three-pin, European two-pin round, American two-pin flat or others. If in doubt, bring along an international adapter. To avoid attracting attention, travelers are encouraged to place their notebooks in non-notebook bags.
Perhaps you may also want to bring along reasonable supply of medicine for common illnesses, such as fever, diarrhoea, cough, cold, etc. One last reminder, do not carry any sharp object, inflammable items and check-in at the airport at least 3 hours before departure.
It is to your advantage if your organization has a local contact to take care of you while you are in the host country.
At the airport
Business travelers should be aware of following security & safety precautions: refrain from carrying luggage or packages for others; never leave your luggage unattended at the airport, even in perceived safe place, e.g. Golden lounge; always carry your cabin luggage with you when getting off from the plane during a stopover or transit flight; avoid talking about your office work, purpose of travel, accommodation, itinerary, etc. with strangers. If you need to put down your luggage, place them in between your legs.
While in the host country & personal safety
After completing all disembarkation formalities, the first thing to do is to wait for the check-in luggage, if any. The luggage claim area is normally situated just immediately after the immigration counter. Upon collecting the luggage, check properly if there is any sign of it being tampered with. Somebody who is working in the airport complex may have tried to tamper with passengers’ belongings, perhaps at random. If this happens to your luggage, report to security desk immediately.
Before leaving the airport, call your local contact if you have one. It is advisable to change some money into local currency. You may need to pay for the taxi fare from airport to the hotel in local currency. At some places, however, you may use the service of one of the reputable taxi company counters and the fare is charged to your hotel bill.
Travelers may want to take note that in some countries, U.S. Dollars is considered as a commodity. Tampering of notes will affect the value of exchange rate. The exchange rate may vary according to notes bill – higher notes bill commands a higher exchange rate.
If your business meeting will be held outside your hotel, book the hotel’s taxi for your transportation needs. It may be a bit more expensive, but it is safer. Always go out in pairs, whenever possible. In many cities, taxis are reliable, however, get ready with some small change as many taxi drivers do not have it. Small change can also be conveniently used as a tip, if you feel like giving it for the good service rendered.
As a reminder, it is normal for a building’s security personnel to request for your ID in exchange for a visitor’s pass. You may give any form of ID, but never your passport.
To minimise personal risks while traveling overseas, it is suggested that you follow simple tips as follows: inform or register with your country’s High Commission; inform or register with Country/Area Manager’s Office (applicable to certain multinational corporations having offices overseas); keep a low profile and do not show-off; do not display money or jewellery in public; carry cellular phone at all times; learn not to trust just anybody; as much as possible, try to look like locals, e.g. dressing; learn to break from routine; do not get caught in local’s civil strife – stay indoors; do not drive, therefore road accident can be avoided; if arrested, contact your High Commission immediately for assistance; use shoulder wallet to keep your passport, airplane ticket, cash, etc; never get involved with drugs; avoid going out alone and reduce time spent on the streets; women should not walk alone on the streets to avoid unnecessary harassment; and beware of criminals who pose as plainclothes police personnel in order to rob foreign tourists.
Other useful travelling tips include: keep both hands free; keep passport, plane ticket and cash on you at all times; make photocopies of passport and plane ticket, but keep them separately from the originals; be careful about using your maps as they portray that you are a foreigner or a tourist; keep blood type identity in your purse / wallet, if available; place cellular phone properly, for theft is common in certain countries; suggest to bring along passport-size photographs; avoid buying too many expensive items using credit cards. Always check the amount on the credit card sales purchase slip before signing; eat only cooked food and drink bottled drinking water or bottled mineral water; bring a signalling device, e.g. a whistle with neck cord; practise using local public telephone, if possible; learn to divide placing valuable items you are carrying; do not accept food or drink from strangers – they may be drugged; and when ordering bottled or canned liquid, ensure that it is opened only in front of your eyes.
In beefing up security, hotels in certain countries install metal detector arch or are using hand-held type metal detector to screen guests as well as visitors.
As a safety precaution during your hotel check-in, request for a room that is located not higher than the sixth floor, if available. It is easier to escape during an emergency, e.g. fire. Travelers should be security aware that rooms on lower floors provide easy access for burglars or intruders. During check-in, place your luggage in front of you.
After check-in, carry your own luggage to your room. Women travelers who arrive late at night may want to request a bell boy or porter to carry the luggage direct to the room, with you accompanying him. When you first enter your hotel room, check the room thoroughly (in the bathroom, connecting door, behind the curtain, in the closet, etc.) to ensure that the room is really empty and safe before closing the door.
To reduce or minimize risks while staying at the hotel, the following do’s and don’ts are useful: choose a newly built hotel. Surely the management had installed the latest safety gadgets available in the market; check the location of fire exit and staircase, etc. It is useful when you need to move out or evacuate quickly during an emergency, e.g. fire, bomb threat, terrorist attack, earthquake, etc. Remember that the lift is out of service during an emergency; for an extra protection of you and your valuables, consider using a rubber wedge or door stopper that you usually use at home; always have a torch light with extra batteries – to be used when electricity supply is cut off. Some hotels provide a torch light, usually placed in the closet; verify callers before opening the door; display “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door; check with the hotel if tap water can be used for drinking. In certain countries, you cannot drink the tap water, even after boiling it for it may upset your stomach. Boil the supplied mineral water to make drinks; place your belongings at one or two places only. It is easier to pack them again should you need to move out quickly, e.g. in case of emergency; to avoid hotel theft, keep all belongings under locked when going out from the room; and if you have scheduled your meeting in the same hotel where you are staying, it is to your advantage to check the location of the room first at your earliest convenience.
For security reason, it is safer to travel direct from your hotel to the airport. Travelers should plan ahead as to when to leave the hotel for traffic conditions in certain cities are unpredictable.
Departing passengers are required to fill in the Embarkation Card. They are also required to pay for airport tax, if this is not included as part of plane ticket fare.
Again, do not carry any sharp object, inflammable items and check-in at least 3 hours before departure.
Always remember that travel safety begins with you.