By Alex Haddox
From the continuing theme of travel protection over the past few articles, we are aware that tourists are selected as targets for criminal attacks. We now turn our attention to how to avoid being identified as tourists. This month we review some techniques on how not to invite trouble or tempt the predators. By adopting a few simple habits and always maintaining your awareness you can increase your chances of having a fantastic and safe trip.
What not to wear
First and foremost you do not want to draw attention to yourself while traveling. You want to meld into the crowd; you should disappear among the masses. The sights are just as beautiful and food just as tasty whether you are wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt or a plain golf shirt. Loud or obviously foreign attire screams outsider, draws attention to you and should therefore be avoided.
Next, leave all jewelry at home. Even if the gemstones are fakes, they will draw the attention of every snatch-purse and pickpocket in the area. You may know it is worth only a few pennies, but the thug who dislocated your shoulder ripping the expensive looking watch from your arm will not figure that out until after you are on the way to the hospital. The same rule applies to big necklaces, bracelets, and rings. My wife even leaves her engagement ring at home when we travel.
Do not use expensive luggage and carry-on bags with big labels. I cannot tell you how many Louis Vuitton handbags and suitcases I have seen in airports across the country. It is nearly impossible to identify the knock-offs at first glance, which is why you bought them, right? Again, the criminal will not know they are fakes either until after he has it and you have lost it. You need to ask yourself a few hard questions about your luggage: Whom are you trying to impress? The airport baggage handler? The cabbie? The hotel porter? The other travelers at the airport you have never met before and will never see again? Fancy baggage does nothing but advertise you have money and that will mark you as a target for predators. You are much better off with nondescript, plain luggage.
Similarly, do not carry your laptop in an obvious laptop carrying bag with a big Sony, HP or Dell logo stamped all over it. Carry your laptop in an after-market, no-named laptop case or laptop backpack. The less your laptop case looks like a laptop case, the better.
I can already hear the business travelers saying, "But I need to look good for my customer visit!" If you are traveling on business and need a nice briefcase or handbag for a meeting, pack those in your nondescript checked luggage and pull it out for use in your meeting. Do not use them during general transportation.
What to Wear
Taking the other side, let us review what you should consider wearing and carrying while traveling. It is important to have a few items with you at all times, starting from when you leave your front door. The first is a good pair of shoes. I have seen people wearing all sorts of fancy footwear while traveling and some that barely qualify as foot coverings. If something happens to the plane, bus or taxi and you need to move quickly, a good pair of shoes is essential. Flip-flops, open-toed sandals and high heels will get you nowhere but into trouble fast. You want a solid pair of athletic shoes or hiking boots that will give you a sure-footed step when you need it the most.
Next, you want a good travel pen. The first use for a good pen is that when you travel, especially internationally, you are going to complete about a billion forms and Customs never provides a writing instrument. Personally, I carry a Fisher Space Pen. It is sturdy, lightweight, can write at odd angles (even upside down), does not leak and writes over grease. Trust me, writing at odd angles is enough of a selling point when you are standing in line trying to complete a customs form with one hand. I carry it in my shirt pocket, or if I do not have a pocket, it is clipped to collar of my shirt. I toss it in with my cheap watch, keys and belt for scanning at security checkpoints. It has yet to be a problem.
The secret of a good solid pen is that it can also be used as a last-ditch defensive weapon. For this again I like the Fisher Space Pens as they come in steel and titanium bodies. A good solid pen can be used as a makeshift kubaton. For those unfamiliar with a kubaton, it is a 6" cylinder about 1/2" in diameter. It is usually made of hardwood, hardened plastic or aircraft aluminum. It is held in a clenched fist and used to reinforce punches, strike pressure points and to restrain or take down an opponent. DISCLAIMER: If you ever intend to use pens as kubaton-like weapons, seek professional instruction in kubaton usage. As a general rule, always seek professional training in any weapon you intend to carry or use.
Another must-have item is a passport organizer, sometimes called a convention wallet. This is a flat, folding wallet with an integrated lanyard. It hangs from your neck underneath your shirt (hidden) and stores your passport, extra money, customs forms and other important documents. It is really hard to lose something that is hanging from your neck and tucked into your shirt. I use one of these whenever I travel internationally.
Now that we are dressed appropriately in non-descript attire, using plain luggage and carry-on bags, wearing sturdy shoes and have our trusty pen at hand, we can head out into the world with a bit more security and confidence.
First published by Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine.