With bombing attacks in Paris, Istanbul and Brussels, travel has become a more dangerous adventure. While in a booming age of cheaper airfares and more connecting flights, we all want to go out and explore, but now we have to contend with travel risks and be aware of advisories. In the past petty crime like street scams and pickpockets or travel inconveniences such as missed flights and grumpy passengers were largely considered travel bumps along the way.
But now, the war on terror has got its grip on tourism as well.
While terror attacks appear random and we cannot tell where it’s going to target soon, here are a few precautionary measures we can abide by.
Planning for holidays
- Check the US State Department’s Alerts and Warnings which displays countries under possible security alerts and advisories. It features a list Alerts which lists down places where short-term issues such as election periods which may usher street demonstrations and strikes, or reported outbreak of diseases. Travel Warnings are issued on places where there is political instability, intense crime or violence.
- Avoid places identified as terrorist targets or believed to be at risk for attacks. For example, when Belgium arrested a Paris bombing suspect, there was a possible risk of retribution, which, unfortunately, took place. And Turkey’s war against Kurdish groups may have played a role in the bombing of Istanbul.
- Get comprehensive travel insurance policy. Although most won’t cover acts of terrorism or similar attacks, having a policy in place especially when traveling to OECD countries is good enough.
Safety during transit
- After checking in at the airport, it is best to directly proceed to restricted areas such as the immigration counter or customs inspections. Not only it expedites your entry to the boarding gate and avoid getting left behind during busy hours, you decrease likelihood of encountering people who have diabolical intentions in the airport.
- It is important not to be identified as tourist, so making yourself as inconspicuous as possible. It comes with how you dress (ideally similar with locals), behave (not opening a huge map in the middle of the street or wearing that DSLR camera) and say (ask a random person directions that you could have easily researched online).
- Scan your surroundings and be alert for unattended bags, briefcases or any suspicious items. Report them to nearby authorities and leave the area.
- Keep a record of emergency access numbers to call in case of emergency or suspicious activity.
- Assuming that terrorist attacks are aimed at Western tourists to get the attention of their governments, avoid places easily associated with them — Western themed pubs, cafes or any place they might congregate with interest.
- Be extra careful dealing with strangers, and they include taxi drivers, street vendors or your seatmate at the subway. This means limit the amount of information you share. Do not take rides on cars not clearly marked as taxis. Even when you talk to someone you trust, be aware others nearby could be eavesdropping.
- If you are driving, lock your doors and close the windows of the car especially when it slows down in traffic.
Safety while inside the hotel
- Study the fire exit pathways as described in the room and confirm by looking at the actual locations.
- Never open the hotel room door to someone you do not know unless this person can verify identity.
- If you receive a package even though you are not expecting it, do not accept it.
In case of emergency
You may be prepared for such incidents and watched such incidents simulated on film, but nothing compares to the real experience. In case of a suspected terrorist attack, do the following:
- Lie flat on the floor under any solid object that might protect you from gunfire, explosion or falling debris. Should you need to move, do so using your stomach. If presented with chance, run away from the scene. Authorities rarely recommend playing dead.
- Stay calm. Do not scream.
- Do not waste a single second. If an opportunity presents, run away from the scene. In an urban environment, guns and explosives have effective hit range in a hundred feet. You can escape this range in less than a minute.
- If you cannot run, hide. The key is to obstruct the line of sight between you and the attacker. Hide behind walls, bushes or lock the door behind you and barricade it.
- Stay safe and do not attempt to leave the safe area just to check what’s going on. Don’t go back to help unless you are sure that security personnel have secured the site and you are not perceived as threat.