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Jan 13, 2006 | 00:19 GMT

Travel Security: The Importance of Understanding the Risks

Editor's Note: This is the first in a seven-part series on personal security for international travelers. In today's world, international travel presents certain risks for Westerners, especially in areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the former Soviet Union and parts of Eastern Europe where governments have less control, and law and order is not as formally established as in other countries. Certainly, the best chance of remaining out of harm's way while traveling or working abroad is to know and understand — in advance — some of the idiosyncrasies of each country's bureaucracy and the security risks that have been identified. Armed with this knowledge, then, proper precautions can be taken. To that end, the U.S. State Department's Web site (www.travel.state.gov) is an excellent place to begin. The site lists travel warnings issued for countries in which potentially dangerous conditions have been identified. It also provides the current Consular Information Sheets for every foreign country, which contain information on visa requirements, health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, any areas of instability and contact information for the U.S. Embassy and consulates. In addition, the site provides a link to a page where travelers can register their personal information with the State Department at no cost, which can make it easier for the government to help during an emergency situation. The British and Australian governments have similar Web sites that also are excellent sources of information for their citizens traveling abroad. These sites have similar information as found on the U.S. government's site, but may contain additional information that can be useful to U.S. citizens as well. In addition to government Web sites, private security consulting firms can provide more customized information tailored to a specific location or client. Common street crime presents the most prevalent risk to travelers abroad — although that by no means is the extent of the threat in many areas. The cardinal rule for travelers then, is never to take anything along they are not prepared to part with. This includes items of extreme value — as well as those of sentimental value. For the business traveler who carries a personal computer, this means leaving back-up discs of all important documents at home. Large sums of money should not be carried. Cash and credit cards should not all be carried in one wallet or pocket, but dispersed in various pockets. Identification and other important documents should be separate from money. Furthermore, it is important to make copies of passports and other important documents, and leave the originals in a safe location, such as a hotel safe. It also is a good idea to keep a copy of the front page of the passport with the relevant identification information at home with relatives in case of an emergency. Relatives and/or co-workers should be provided a full itinerary before the traveler leaves home, so they can provide at least the basic information to the home office or to the appropriate government agency in case of emergency. Some countries will react negatively or deny entry if the traveler's passport contains a stamp from certain other countries. Many travelers maintain multiple passports — or request that the visa stamp for a particular country be placed on a separate sheet of paper — in order to keep offending stamps separate. Keep in mind that visa and passport information is primarily used by many host governments for the purpose of collecting intelligence, especially in places such as China, India and Russia. There really is little the law-abiding traveler can do to prevent revealing such information to a foreign government, as traveling with a fake passport is the only alternative — which is never a good idea. Preparations such as these can contribute to a traveler's overall safety and ease of movement during a trip abroad. Once the trip has begun, other issues must be addressed.
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