Two of the best words ever internalized in a high school world history class are Djibouti, obviously, and jingoism. The first one sticks because it has the word booty phonetically built into it, and the second one — similarly — just sounds kind of funny, unlike most of the other lingo floating around a history classroom. Its meaning doesn’t really match the way it sounds, though. Jingoism has nothing to do with jingles or Jenga; it is defined as extreme nationalism, especially belligerent foreign policy, and chauvinistic patriotism. Unfortunately, that is how many citizens of the world view Americans. The world can be a dangerous place for Americans because of this, but that’s no reason to stay locked up at home and miss out on the history, culture, and experiences this world has to offer. It is a reason, though, to prioritize staying safe overseas before you go chasing your next passport stamp.
Exercise Your SA
Your SA is your situational awareness. It’s that thing you tell your kid to use when he finally looks up from the iPad and realizes — with genuine shock — that it’s night. When it comes to staying safe overseas, SA means pre-travel and during travel. Make sure you’re up on world events and travel warnings before you even book the trip to avoid deplaning into a hostile area. You can always find the most updated travel advisories and recurring scams happening where you’re headed on State.gov, and you can also enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP will send you security messages if situations develop while you’re in country, and it makes it easier to locate you should something happen. You should also do your homework when booking hotels, choosing tours and private drivers, and (finally) deciding on restaurants. Make sure the reviews are solid and the area is safe.
While you’re traveling, SA is also simply being alert. Recognize if someone is following you, being overly friendly, or if you’ve wandered into a sketchy area. Keep an eye on your surroundings, and make sure you always have an out. Know how to reach police, the people you are traveling with, or the nearest American Embassy. If you don’t know how to contact the nearest embassy, you can call 1-202-501-4444 from overseas in the case of an emergency.
Stick Together, But Split Up
It goes against all that is Eat, Pray, Love, but traveling with a group or a buddy, or your spouse is always preferable. Even if you’re just with your kids — heck, they may be the best deterrent for shady business. One look at that sticky, screaming circus would could scare off hardened criminals. In all seriousness, though, the old buddy system works — it’s the fastest way to realize that something is wrong, and there’s safety in numbers.
When you do have to travel alone — it happens — make sure you let people know where you are. Share your flight information, travel dates, the name and address of the hotel where you’re staying, and — as best you can — your itinerary with your spouse, BFF, your mama, or all of the above. Do not share all of this on Facebook. Not everyone needs to know, just one or two folks you trust.
As for your belongings and cash, split them up! If you have all your cash and credit cards in one wallet and that gets stolen, you have a problem. But, you can keep some (enough to get you out of a jam) in another piece of luggage or stash it in the hotel room safe after you arrive. For identification items, like your military ID card and passport that you don’t have a backup of, make copies or simply scan them. Make sure someone back home has access to them. Keep the originals on your person (don’t fear the fanny pack) or locked up.
Keep It on the Down Low
Speaking of that military ID and U.S. passport, those two items fall under personally identifiable information (PII). Anonymity is your friend abroad. This means keeping a lid on that Yankee Doodle pride and keeping a tight grip on nationality, your connection with the U.S. military, and the other common-sense stuff, like your social security number.
Leave your Statue of Liberty LulaRoe’s and your kids’ “Devil Dog Pup” shirts at home. Aim to blend in with the crowd.
Who in Their Right Mind
We know, we know — pool drinks. A little vacation cocktail waiting for you at the end of a never-ending work week (or month…or year) can be extremely motivating, but exercise caution before you chug-a-lug. Avoid over-indulging, especially when you aren’t familiar with your surroundings. And, for the sake of covering all the bases, make sure you know the alcohol-related laws — that’s a major component of staying safe overseas, or at least staying out of trouble.
For that matter, make sure you’re familiar with laws or customs that you might not think anything of in the states. Don’t try bringing your purse-stash of gum into Singapore. Don’t go eating stinky foods on Japanese trains (although raw fish is perfectly acceptable). Make sure you’re dressed appropriately in observance of varying cultures and religions, even if they aren’t your own — blend in, remember? That’s still a hard no on the patriotic leggings. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t feed the pigeons anywhere — law or not, that’s just common sense.
The bottom line is this, staying safe overseas is not about being scared; it’s about being prepared. When you do your homework beforehand, you can soak up your vacation, take in the world, and embrace all the culture there is to be had.
Photo Credits: Corry Frazier Photography | Unsplash