Uncle Frank’s Safety Rules for Traveling Abroad

The following is an email that I sent to my sister-in-law. Her daughters friends are traveling to Barcelona for the weekend and they asked for some advice given the current situation with with Islamist militantism cresting... Please feel free to share as you see fit.

The following are serious, but simple rules to abide by while traveling abroad, especially in Europe right now. These rules also apply to large metropolitan centers in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Miami, etc.):

They are in no particular priority order:

  • Avoid outdoor cafes, restaurants, and other venues where large groups congregate. These are prime targets, always, as they were in Paris.
  • Remain in areas where local law enforcement are visibly present and armed. Ask your hotel staff for threat advisories and notices from local and national law enforcement agencies (this should be one of the first things that they ask for when they check in and insist that the be provided with advisories on local threats). This is the responsibility of local and national Law Enforcement in all European Union states. 
  • Maintain a relatively clear head at all times. Unfortunately, for many European travel spots, where there are basically no drinking ages, maintain your sobriety! No one is in better control of themselves under the influence, let alone in an environment when it is very important to be aware of your surroundings and the activities going on around them. Doesn’t mean you can't enjoy a couple of drinks, but if you can’t do that without letting it progress into getting snot slinging drunk, then you’re better off just not having the first drink of alcohol (or partaking in other substances that impair alertness). This is not only important for maintaining situational awareness, but for being able to respond quickly and sensibly should you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a bad situation. Be smart! 
  • Young people tend to think that nothing bad can ever happen to them and that they are impervious to just about anything. Remember that virtually all victims of the Paris attack were young people and their friends, without a care in the world, having a good time on a Friday night, thinking that as long as they meant no harm to anyone else, then no one else would do them harm. That is not the reality of the present situation. Ask adults who have survived any war, or the survivors of any recent large scale terror attack. This is VERY serious. It’s a different world. BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THEM AT ALL TIMES. Remember that an Islamist could care less that you blame Western colonial powers for all of the ills in the world, or that you believe that "just getting along in a non-judgmental safe-place" has special healing powers. THEY STILL WANT TO KILL YOU, NOT VAPE WITH YOU AND BORROW YOUR SKINNY JEANS!
  • On that note, it doesn’t matter how often you hear it or if our young kids think it sounds lame (they think everything that they didn’t think of sounds lame)… IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING! Believe it or not, most terror attacks are stopped by vigilant people reporting something to authorities BEFORE the authorities knew there was something going on. In today’s, anti-snitch and anti-stereotyping culture, young people are hesitant to do this. If they say something and are wrong, then the worst that will happen is they will be embarrassed. If something appears odd and they don’t say something, the results will be much worse than a few minutes of personal embarrassment. 
  • Things to look for: 
    • People carrying backpacks in areas and places where they are not the norm (cafes, crowded restaurants, theaters, clubs). If you’re in a youth hostel where EVERYONE has a backpack, that is the norm. Be aware of backpacks, bags, packages, etc., where they just don’t seem to belong. Trust me, people WILL understand if you report something.
    • People wearing bulky clothing where everyone else seems seems to NOT be wearing bulky clothing. If you are in a club or cafe where everyone is wearing light clothing and someone who does not seem to be particularly enjoying his (or HER) self, is walking around, seems restless, and is wearing a large, loose, or bulky jacket, then quietly say something to the staff. There is no doubt that the shooters in the Paris theater and cafes did not get their AK-47s inside wearing skinny jeans and tight t-shirts. The committed jihadist believes that as soon as they die, their souls are transported to the highest level of heaven and the greater number of infidel souls they send to hell, the greater their reward once they get their shahid (martyrdom) on. This is the reason for their eagerness to wear bombs on their person and blow themselves up, along with their victims. Again, a suicide bomber is not going to wear an explosive vest under a summer dress or a tank top. 
    • Abandoned or unattended packages, bags, or backpacks. In today’s environment, no one with a shred of awareness should be leaving something like that just sitting there while they go chat with friends or go to the restroom, without at least being concerned that their stuff will be stolen. It could be much worse. Say something, even if you notice someone JUST GOT UP and walked away from their backpack seconds ago. 

These are most of the things that our travelers can do that will keep them as safe as possible. Again, tell them to just be VERY aware of what is going on around them. Sadly, we are living in a time when we cannot wish the present circumstances away just because they seem far from where and how we live on a daily basis. 

Hope this helps…

Frank


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