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Top Tips for International Trips and Female Travelers...from a Former Special Ops Guy


"...blend in, decrease exposure, and ultimately elude any potential threats."

Customers wait to check luggage at O'Hare International Airport. Emerson offers tips for labeling your baggage as well. Read his full post to find out more. (Photo: AP//Nam Y. Huh)

Who better to get personal safety advice from than a well-decorated special operations member who now runs a company that helps the government and other agencies whose employees are required to travel internationally? Clinton Emerson, CEO of Escape the Wolf, gives the readers of the SOFREP (the Special Operations Forces Report) tips for both international travel in general, as well as more specific advice for females.

Emerson himself served for nearly 20 years in combat and other Department of Defense operations. His tips on SOFREP are broken into two posts.

First, he writes that as more women have become involved in elite operations over the years, "lessons [have been] learned [...] that have allowed them to get in and out of hostile environments undetected." Culling through these lessons, Emerson provides those that are important for personal safety and offers them as what you "should and shouldn’t do to blend in, decrease exposure, and ultimately elude any potential threats."

Here are just a few compiled from his categories of personal security and preventing sexual assault:

  • Observe local customs as much as possible and try to learn unintended implications of your personal behavior, mannerisms and dress.  For example, smiling, making eye contact or touching males can be misunderstood in some cultures.
  • Carry your handbag on the side away from the street to avoid grab-and-run attacks.
  • Stay at reputable hotels and avoid rooms by elevators, hallways or terraces.
  • Choose a room above the ground floor but not higher than the seventh floor for fire safety purposes.
  • You are at your most vulnerable arriving and departing from your hotel.  Don’t linger in the public space around the hotel, the parking lot or indoor garage.
  • Use a door alarm, carry a whistle and keep a self-defense weapon near your bed (a fishing weight wrapped in a handkerchief makes a great weapon).
  • Wear clothing that is hard to remove. Avoid tight-fitting clothing and make-up.
  • Consider wearing a wedding or similar ring, even if you aren’t married.
  • Remember, assaults can also be at the hands of acquaintances, so choose fixers, interpreters and drivers carefully.
  • Avoid wearing anything that could be grabbed – jewelry, ponytail, etc.

Check out Emerson's full post on personal safety while traveling specifically directed toward women here.

With regard to international travel in general -- although Emerson writes even L.A. can be dangerous -- as hostile protests become more prevalent, he first suggests waiting to travel until "economic crutches are removed and solutions implemented." If travel can't be avoided, here are some of Emerson's tips, including those for situations of civil unrest or meeting a checkpoint:

  • Invest in good local interpreters recommended by the embassy, local being the most important word.
  • Established, personal relationships go a long way. Where possible, have someone on the ground maintain ongoing working relationships in underdeveloped parts of the world.
  • Have an exit strategy at all times. Plan this in advance, before heading into any situation, especially one where there is civil unrest.

  • Run… BEFORE all else fails. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, identify potential risks and set invisible thresholds. Take action if threats cross the thresholds you have set in advance.
  • If possible, avoid the checkpoint. It might be an ambush. If legitimate, third-world countries have weak economies and poor training – a potentially deadly combination when you’re stopped and at the mercy of someone (sometimes a kid) with an AK-47.
  • A line of traffic and soldiers/police vehicles often signals a checkpoint ahead.
  • When approaching a checkpoint, overwhelm the security personnel with kindness, yet always be cautious!
  • Show the palm of your hand, have your ID ready, but don’t immediately give up who you are or your occupation.
  • Start with broad explanations when asked where you are from – Example: America.
  • Don’t roll windows all the way down. Keep all doors locked. If asked to roll windows down more, roll them down, but never all the way.  Or, say the window is broken, or that you are not able to roll them down.

Read all of Emerson's tips in his full post about foreign travel here.

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