After spending some time traveling and seeing the ever so common soldier in uniform traveling through the airport, telling everyone about how they single-handedly took over Iraq I decided to put out a few ideas to take into consideration. Most of these are common sense but as you read through them you will see they are things that a lot of military personnel violate. Traveling gives someone the most exposure possible to criminals and foreign government personnel and is usually where many victims are initially targeted.
Leave The Uniform Behind
Unless you are reporting to training or are required by your commander to travel in uniform there is no reason why you should be wearing one. Uniforms give the enemy everything they need to determine who you are (name tape), where you are from (unit patch and where you are headed to/coming from), what branch of service you are in, specialty schools you have attended, and rank. Based on these pieces of information anyone could start to develop a very comprehensive packet on you to use later down the road. In addition in the event that your airline/bus/train etc is taken over, you will be the first one targeted (check out flight TWA 847 where a sailor was tortured and murdered during an aircraft hijacking.) The bottom line is that you gain nothing from wearing your uniform other than maybe a little recognition or a free drink at the airport bar. However, what you do lose is your identity or ability to rise to the occasion if a terrorist situation were to present itself. The best rule of practice is to be the sleeper and keep your military/contracting affiliation to yourself.
Lose The Telltale Pieces of Military Gear
Leaving the uniform at home is the first step of many in helping to lower your overall profile. Chances are your hair, posture and general way of interacting in public will tell others that you are in the military. However, things like molle-laden backpacks, your basic training t-shirt, visible tattoos, Oakley glasses, Suunto watches, and dangling dog tags are a for-sure giveaway. By simply bringing a civilian bag, wearing a buttondown shirt, and not saying hooah after every sentence you will greatly reduce your signature and just come across as a very confident, young professional. Again by bringing your backpack with every unit you have ever been in and every school you have ever attended sewn on the side you gain absolutely nothing other than showing everyone around you that you have no idea how to be humble about what you do for a living.
Always Travel in Cabs That Look Like Other Cabs
I know this sounds like common sense but you would be surprised how many people get rolled up or at least just ripped off because they thought the cab with three wheels and an off-colored door looked “honest.” Before getting into the cab tell them your destination and be sure to negotiate your price and come to a solid agreement. Even cabs that have meters in them will rig it so you get charged 5 times as much as the locals. (In Argentina I got into a cab and the cab driver hit the meter so that we were charged $5 a block. It took us two blocks to realize it and it turned into an argument that could have spun out of control quickly.)
Bring Cash, Lots of it
In the US we have the luxury of using credit cards that few countries share. When traveling abroad you should avoid using your credit card at all costs. It is way too easy to have your numbers or identity stolen or to be charged the wrong amount and not know it. Always have at least $200 in reserve cash ($100 local currency, $100 US) and only use that in extreme circumstances. When traveling with cash be sure to segregate it in a number of different places such as under the sole inserts of your shoes, a money belt, zipped pockets, your backpack, or underwear (hey it will never get stolen.) This way if you are ever mugged or ripped off then you will only be down a couple of twenties rather than your entire reserve. It’s usually good practice to carry both local and US currency and always be sure to exchange your money at a bank or legitimate vendor (a buddy of mine lost a couple of hundred dollars when we were in the Czech republic because he exchanged money with a local who offered him a great rate. Turns out he got Hungarian notes in exchange.)
Never Leave Your Identity Unprotected
When you leave your hotel room always turn your tv on, and take all forms of ID with you. The tv will keep housekeepers and third-party individuals from coming in when you aren’t there and going through your stuff since it’s harder to tell if you are in the room or not. Even the common room safe isn’t all that safe and can be accessed by just about anyone because the passcodes are controlled by the hotel managers. You should always suspect everyone is out to get you and plan for the worst. When traveling never leave your identity in your bag, especially if you plan to sleep. (In Germany I saw a girl who had put her wallet and passport in her bag and then fell asleep with it at her feet on the train. When she woke up her bag was gone along with everything in it.)
Do as the Locals do
The best way to not make yourself a target is to do your best to look like those around you. Buying local clothes, learning local norms and customs before arrival, and using a few local phrases will at least make you not look so much of an American asshole. In general, the rest of the world isn’t too fond of the US so you won’t gain much by refusing to blend in. Remember just because it’s ok in the US doesn’t mean it’s ok somewhere else.
Avoid Confrontation at All Costs
Your vacation to Mexico is no time to prove to the world how awesome of a fighter you are. The local police will almost always take the side of the locals and if you wind up in jail you will have a whole new set of problems to worry about. The best option if you get burned, ripped off, or in an altercation is to take a breath, eat the cost as a loss and move on. Never ever should you result in violence as 100% of the time it will end poorly for you.
If the Local Girl Seems too Good to be True Then She is
Just because you came to a new country doesn’t mean you are all of a sudden good-looking. Guys are suckers for hot women and will lose everything because they think they just landed their future ex-wife. In Hungary, a common practice is for girls to take guys to a bar of the lady’s choice and have the guy order a drink for them. The drink ends up costing the guy $200 and after he has ordered 3-4 and wants to take the girl home he is all of the sudden presented with the bill and the option to pay or get a one-night stand with a 280lb Serbian gorilla name Dimitri. The bottom line is girls can be alluring and will most often lead to trouble in the end.