by Spencer Coursen, Coursen Security Group
International travel is all about using good common sense. Baghdad may not be the safest place in the world right now, but there are still a few good places to get a great ice-cream cone or some fresh hummus without putting yourself in any kind of extreme danger.
I was in Israel recently, traveling between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. To read the US News those days was to think I was working in a war zone, when in reality, it was just another day in the land of milk and honey. Which is to say, don't believe everything you read, sometimes media rhetoric coincides with the narrative they have employed (Read: Hagel confirmation hearings)
Still, there is something to be said for traveling smart.
1. Leave the ballcap at home. Nothing says 'I'm an American' lounder than your baseball cap. We'll all know you're american as soon as you start talking...no need to make it any easier to pick you out of a crowd.
2. Trust your gut. If something feels "wrong" walk away. You're unwillingness to offend should never be greater than your willingness to defend. You'll never see any of these people ever again. Simply walk away.
3. If you're traveling anywhere 3rd world...leave your passport locked away in your hotel and carry a laminated color-copy of your passport.
4. Don't do anything to draw unwanted attention to yourself. Don't show off your expensive jewelry or your wad of cash. Have money set aside for tips ($1 and $5 only) in another pocket. If you pull out a roll of $50's and hand the guy $2, be prepared to do some haggling. Fair warning.
5. Most importantly, have the phone numbers of the US Embassy 24hr hotline pre-programmed into your phone and be sure to test the numbers - sometimes the international dialing codes can be tricky and you don't want to be figuring out if you need the +1 before the number when you're in the middle of a crisis.
6. Finally, use your resources. Talk to friends who have been there in the past. Use the hotel concierge as a reference. Read the Embassy home page. Google safety tips for the area you're going to visit, and read up on the local news.
I've been blessed with the good fortune of having traveled to 164 of the world's countries. I've experienced something beautiful and memorable in all of them.
Travel safe, travel smart, and don't forget to take that photo...you'll wish you had later