As a former Green Beret, Sergeant Major (retired) Karl Erickson is accustomed to spending "vacations" in areas that wouldn't necessarily be considered tourist destinations. "Some of the nastiest-ass places on the planet," as he puts it. Some of the travel was done in civilian clothes (read: in secret), which forced him to quickly develop some personal safety rules and habits when checking into hotels without an armored tank at his disposal.
Here are some of the things he's learned over the years that you can use to make your stay safer, whether you're on a business trip, vacationing or traveling to a truly scary part of the world (i.e. home for the holidays.)
At the hotel
1. "Keep control of your baggage if you can. If you hand it off to someone, you may never see it again. 'No thanks, sir, I'll carry my own bags.'"
2. "Try not to stay on the first or second floors. That’s where most break-ins occur, as it is easiest for criminals to make a quick getaway. And if you're in an underdeveloped area of the world, don’t stay on the top floor either. In many third-world countries, the fire departments' ladders can’t reach to the roof. It's not where you want to be. I always go for the third or fourth floor."
3. "Know where the stairs are and try to vary elevator banks or stairwells you take to your room."
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4. "Lock everything you leave in your room in your suitcase."
5. "Don’t flash a hotel key in public. It lets people know where you are staying, and also lets them know that your room is empty at the moment."
6. "I always bring a rubber door stop with me. When I am in my room, I jam it in the door. It makes it a hell of a lot harder to get in."
7. "Pack a flashlight. You might have a light on your phone, but if the power cuts out in your hotel, you may need something stronger to safely get yourself out."
8. "Look around your car before you get. Look in the back seats, look at the wheel wells. Are you going to find a bomb if someone put it there? No. If someone wanted to blow up your car, even with mirrors you’re not going to find it. But by you just doing a cursory check, it lets anyone doing surveillance on you that, hey, this person is switched on."
Packing for your trip
1. "Divide all the important stuff you carry in your wallet or purse into two groups. That way, if you do get pickpocketed, you haven’t lost everything in one shot. I will divide them into two stacks: one in my wallet and one in a money belt. Make sure you have contact information recorded somewhere. A lot of people don’t even know the name of the hotel they’re staying. They just go off a confirmation number on an email. What if your phone got snagged? Write it down your travel info and important phone numbers on a piece of paper that you hold separate from your wallet and phone."
2. "Bring drugs in original prescription containers. Some countries are extremely strict and even ibuprofen is a controlled substance."
3. "If you wear glasses, pack extra! It is a pain in the tail to get a new pair of prescription glasses made overseas."
4. "Back up all of the files that you need for your trip on a thumb drive, and keep that in your money belt. If your laptop gets stolen, you don’t lose your ability to be effective in your meetings."
5. "Lay out your ID, your passport and your credit cards and photocopy both sides of everything. Write down the serial numbers of your laptop and phone -- anything that might get stolen. This makes it a lot easier to cancel any cards and it makes easier for you to go to the embassy and prove you are a U.S. citizen. Keep a printout and also email the scans to yourself."