As anyone who watches and reads the news is well aware of, we live in uncertain and dangerous times. Since 9/11, terrorist attacks at home have changed Americans’ sense of safety, and to some degree, how we go about our day-to-day lives—especially when traveling.
While a terrorist attack can happen anywhere, anytime, both abroad and here at home, there are things you can do minimize some risk, control some fear, and be better prepared if something does happen.
First, keep things in perspective
In Wendy Perrin’s online article, “7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks,” she reminds us to “grasp how minuscule the statistical probability is” of getting caught in a terrorist attack abroad.
She goes on to state that the risk of being killed in a car crash (one in 19,000), drowning in your bathtub (one in 800,000), or being struck by lightning (one in 5.5 million) far exceeds your risk of dying from a terrorist act (one in 20 million).
So the key is to keep things in perspective and understand that, psychologically, people are more afraid of terrorist attacks than risks we’ve lived with for a long time, such as heart disease, which kills about 610,000 people annually, according to the CDC.
Whether you’re traveling to a major U.S. city or overseas, understand the difference between the probability of an incident occurring in a country and the probability of an incident occurring to you while you are visiting that city or country.
While the following precautions may seem “above and beyond” standard safety procedures, we live in a world where being aware and prepared could save your life.
Before you take off …
If possible, schedule non-stop flights and pack carry-on only. The less time you spend in an airport, the better.
Wherever you go, have a plan in mind in case of gunfire, bomb or other possible terrorist act. Know where exit doors and stairs are at all times, and know people you can call if you need help.
At the airport, after checking in for your flight, go immediately to the secured areas of the airport, through security and to the gate area.
Scan your surroundings and watch for suspicious activity. Look for unaccompanied suitcases, packages and other suspicious items, and report them to the nearest airport authorities, police or military service members immediately. If you see something, say something. If you feel something is off and don’t feel safe, leave immediately.
Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Many people are in a good mood before a trip, and it’s easy to let your guard down with a stranger. Don’t tell anyone too many details about yourself or travel plans. Also be aware of who is around you and possibly listening when talking to those you know and trust.
Once you land …
When you arrive at your destination, get your baggage and leave the airport as quickly as possible.
Select your own taxi; don’t let someone hail it for you. Never get into a vehicle that is not clearly marked as a taxi. When you get in, take a moment to study the driver’s face and compare it with the photo on the license displayed in the car.
At the hotel …
Again, notice stairways and exits.
Carry a cell phone programmed with emergency numbers, including the police, your hotel, and medical emergencies.
Also carry a mini flashlight in case you’re caught in the dark.
If someone knocks at your hotel room door, don’t open it if you don’t know who it is. If a package is delivered that you were not expecting, refuse it.
Rental car and driving …
When picking up a rental car, make sure it is in good working order. When driving and traffic slows, lock your doors and close the windows of the car.
If not renting a car, avoid public transportation and use a taxi and driver instead.
If traveling overseas …
Enroll in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), so the embassy can send you security updates and help you in an emergency.
Stay at a hotel that has CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera, so you can monitor the news. Also make sure the hotel has reliable Internet access, so you can check local English-language news websites.
Carry your hotel’s business card—the one written in the local language—so you can show it to non-English speaking locals (such as a taxi driver) and get back to your hotel in an emergency.
Don’t photograph government buildings, military installations, airports, train stations, policemen, guards, or anyone who doesn’t want his/her photo taken.
Stay away from border areas and avoid bad neighborhoods and public gatherings and demonstrations.
If an attack does occur
Lie flat on the floor and behind any solid object that might protect you from gunfire. Stay put until the danger passes. If you have to move, move on your stomach. When it’s safe to get up, leave the area right away.