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Jan 9 17

Safe Travels

by Ryan Pestano

I’ve learned a thing or two about travel the past couple of years. Last year (2016) I flew on 57 flights to 21 airports just shy of 180,000 miles. On average I was on the road about one week out of the month. I’m lucky enough to have Singapore’s highly rated Changi Airport as my home base which makes departures and arrivals a good experience. Unfortunately, most destinations are not as seamless or as safe for that matter. I often get wished or wish people Safe Travels. Here is what Safe Travels mean to me.

It starts when you make travel plans. Make sure to check what’s going on at your destination. At a minimum check the travel alerts on the U.S. Department of State. I also take a look at the news and weather reports. Most of the time it’s fine but, you don’t want to go when it’s not.

Book travel with a reputable airline and hotel chain. Besides the points and perks that come with loyalty, having status could help you with changes that you need to make and they tend to have more reliable standards for safety and reliability. Once you have an itinerary make sure to share the details with your emergency contacts. Tripit can make this easy to do. However, avoid posting your travel plans on social media.

I find arriving at the airport is when you are most vulnerable. Arriving in an unfamiliar chaotic airport, waiting in long lines, lugging your bags, while trying to keep alert in a new timezone coming off an overnight flight can bring the worst out of most of us.

First, make sure to pack light. Carry on bags only if at all possible. Preferably ones with wheels that are stackable and easy to maneuver. This saves you from having to wait to claim your luggage and potential damaged or lost luggage. Make sure to keep an eye on your bags at all times.

Plan ahead on exactly what you will do after customs. Arrival halls are usually chaotic and full of touts looking to take advantage of the unprepared traveler. With signs in other languages this can be overwhelming.

When it’s practical I like to book transportation that will meet me with at arrivals area. Either booked from the hotel or a service like Blacklane. However, don’t give your real name for the signage as a precaution. I like to use pseudonym just in case. Make sure you confirm that it’s actually your ride. They should at the very least know your real full name and where you are going.

Uber is my next preferred option. I usually opt for this option if I’m familiar with the airport and know the area where Uber cars pick-up passengers. Check the Uber website to make sure they go to your destination. You will of course need Internet connectivity for this option. Plan ahead for data roaming of purchasing a local SIM with data at the airport.

Use caution when taking Taxis. Make sure you check your destination airport’s website on where to get a proper taxi. Avoid touts and go straight to the proper taxi line. Most airports will have people that can help you at the taxi line. Make sure to tell them your destination and ask how much it would cost. This is critical when you don’t speak the same language as the driver. Have a print out of the address and map of your destination in the local language. Make sure the driver knows where you are going before taking off. You will also need to have enough local currency to cover the fare. I like to have at least double the amount on me.

In some cases public transportation can be your best option. Make sure to do your research and plan out your route exactly including fares, timetables, and names of stops in the local language.

The first thing I do when I arrive is check-in with home. Just a quick text message to let them know you’re there is a good idea. Next I like to prepare things I will carry with me and what I will keep safe at the hotel. I lock-up my passport, spare credit cards, and spare cash. I would also lock-up valuables like watches or jewelry that may seem flashy.

I clean out my wallet and make sure I have one form of picture identification, enough local currency (usually about $100 equivalent), two credit cards ( Visa and Amex), ATM card, and a $100 US dollar bill. I find that in a pinch, that recognizable bill with Benjamin Franklin can usually get you out of a bind. Make sure to also bring your hotel room key and a card with the hotel’s name, address, and phone number in the local language. However, don’t have your room number in your wallet. You can always ask the front desk if you forget. You don’t want to also come back to an empty hotel room if your wallet gets stolen.

In addition to a smart phone I also like to carry a few items in my pockets or bag:

  • Tactical Pen: mostly used for writing but, can come in handy in emergencies and self defense.
  • Emergency Poncho: you never know when there will be a sudden down pour.
  • Bandanna: wipe sweat, blow your nose, or use as a tourniquet in an emergency.
  • Keychain Flashlight: light dark walkways or to get attention.
  • Emergency Whistle: get attention if you need help.
  • Swiss+Tech Utility Key Multitool: screwdriver and other things.

As with your arrival, plan ahead whenever possible and be aware of your environment. Though our smart phones can be extremely helpful it can also make you a valuable and vulnerable target. Only check your phone in safe areas and avoid staring into your screen while wandering around. I find hotel lobbies are usually a good place to reset if you get lost and also a safe place to catch a taxi or Uber in foreign city.

The day before your departure check with the hotel’s front desk on the best transportation option to get to the airport and what time you should leave given your flight time. Make sure to check if there are any departure taxes you need to pay at the airport. You will usually need local currency for this. As before, plan ahead for transportation and where you will need to go at the departures area. When you’re ready to check out make sure to clean your room of anything that may have your identity on it. This includes spare hotel room keys.  Have your passport and flight details handy and leave for the airport a little earlier than you need to. Better to have an extra cup of coffee checking your email at the lounge than rushing through the airport trying to catch your flight. I wish you Safe Travels.