This past weekend my wife and I took off and went to NYC for a few days. It was wonderful, and NYC will continue to hold the magic that it always has for us as a couple. But just as this picture was being taken, someone in Times Square, not a block from where this picture was taken, noticed a truck parked where it should not have been. Welcome to the world of terrorist bombings, and the aftermath. This will not be a technical posting…not even close. But with all the things going on out there…terrorist attacks, flu, civil unrest, I felt the need to reach into my bag and share things learned from a previous life (let’s leave it at that) that could save your life, and that of someone you love.
Physical Fitness Is Vital
When you think about it, our ability to do, well, anything, depends on our physical ability to accomplish the task at hand. Sadly, most people are not physically fit, and even though they may not be overweight, they have spent little time on cardiovascular or weight exercises. This is not a good thing. Heck, you can be overweight and still have stamina to do what you need to do to get out of a situation. But you should be able to move with a purpose without having to stop for a rest after walking for five or ten minutes. Can you run a quarter-mile without dropping dead? If not, get to the gym or your favorite park. Flexibility is also key, and sadly most of us need help here. You need to be able to bend in ways to get through various obstacles that MAY be present when escaping trouble.
Dress for Travel
I used to dress for my business meeting. Not any more. Now I dress for the airport, the plane and the airport / city on the other end of the plane ride. I dress functionally. Close-toed LEATHER shoes, access to a jacket, hat and gloves (if weather isn’t warm enough). Long pants and a cotton shirt. Why, let’s go through this.
First, if there is an incident on the plane and you have to get off in a hurry, you want to protect your feet. Broken glass and twisted metal do a number on feet in sandals. Fire…anything but leader will render your feet useless. Plastic will melt to your feet and sandals / flip-flops are a death sentence in a fire.
Next, clothing. Same reason…protect your skin. Wool and cotton are not going to melt to your skin, and then provide protection from the elements if you find yourself outside in a hurry. Speaking of outside…if you are heading to an area that is cold, or your plane is likely flying over an area that is cold, keep a hat and gloves with you, and have access to a jacket. Flights are diverted all time, and while thankfully emergency landings and accidents are rare, they do happen. If it happens to you, having a few small things will make life much more comfortable for you, and they could save your life. When others are shivering, you’ll be buying yourself time until you can get help.
Stuff in Your “GO” Bag
I’m a firm believer that if you need to plan to survive at least 24 hours on your own if things go bad and you need to get out of a situation quickly and avoid contact with people. For that reason I pack a “Go” bag to allow me to get away, and stay away for days if need be. What does my bag look like? It’s my regular work backpack, and everything I need for a few days fits in it very nicely. Extra food (Clif Bars), water filtration straw, tactical pen, small compass, medium jacket, hat and gloves and if traveling to a tropical area, mosquito repellent wipes. This all takes up very little room and allows me to travel worry-free. Oh…carry some cash. You don’t need a lot, but something is better than nothing.
There are a lot of people who will tell me my bag is seriously lacking. I get it…I have a bag for everyone in my family that would more than meet your approval. I am talking about being a business traveler and carry this stuff with you everywhere you go. Full bags are not always practical.
Avoid Public Areas and Gun Free Zones
This one is a bit harder, but work with me. In the US we have “Gun Free” zones. They don’t deter crime in any way, shape or form, and in fact, most “mass” shootings take place in these places, and terrorist attacks ALWAYS happen in crowded “soft” areas where they know nobody will be able to fight back. Avoid these places as much as possible. If you can’t avoid them, keep moving…don’t just stay put. Moving around increases the odds that you’ll not be a victim of an incident because of the randomness of where you will be. This past weekend while walking through Times Square we didn’t just sit around and watch. Yes, we enjoyed ourselves and took it all in, but we kept moving. When we learned of the threat of the “suspicious package” (they didn’t tell anyone that the “package” was actually a suspected truck bomb) we ducked out of the area and into a side street where we waited it out at an Irish Pub. It was off the beaten path and away from the tourist area. It was safe. When the threat had been cleared we resumed our evening. Notice…we LEFT THE AREA. We didn’t stick around like the others that were busy taking videos or pictures of the police at work. We let them do their thing, and we move on our way. They didn’t need us getting in their way, and we didn’t need to end up a number on the news had it been a truck bomb.
Limiting your exposure at the airport is easy, and it is from more than just the potential terrorist. You can limit your exposure to the flu as well using the same steps for each.
First, if you check your bags (and I wish more of you would) use curb-side check-in when possible. Avoid the main area of the airport where people check in. That is what was hit in Brussels. Check your bags and move rapidly through the public areas to the security line.
Security is the second thing you can use to limit your exposure. In the US we have TSA PreCheck. Get it and use it. Get through security quickly and away from the masses. Again, this is where terrorists target…large groups of people who are unarmed and unable to fight back.
The third thing you can do is use the airline lounge rather than waiting in the main boarding lounge. This isn’t really a security matter, but more of a health matter. The other things were designed to protect you from terrorism. This one is designed to keep you away from the people who are traveling sick (cold, flu, etc.) by going into a place that usually allows you to spread out in an area that might resemble your living room. Does it completely eliminate your risk? No. But any reduction in risk is good.
OH…one more thing. Two actually. Carry hand sanitizer, and when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth please. Be part of the solution…not part of the problem.
Limit or Completely Eliminate Alcohol
You need to be aware when you are traveling, and you need to reduce the risk of opening yourself up to vulnerability. Have you ever been drugged? I have. I was out with my family once upon a time and someone slipped something into my drink. Thankfully I am a big dude or it would have probably knocked me completely out. Thankfully I was able to fight it off, and thankfully I was with my family who could take care of me. But what about when you are traveling on your own? Limit who can touch your beverage…period.
The second reason you may want to consider limiting or eliminating alcohol, ESPECIALLY when in another country, is that IF something happens and you need to act, will you be in condition to respond rationally. Let’s say you need to defend yourself and you end up talking to the Police. I’d rather have a conversation with the local authorities completely sober with NO trace of alcohol in my system (in case they decide to check). If someone has been drinking and there is an incident, I don’t want to have someone suspect that I was under the influence. I want ZERO doubt that in the mind of the authorities that I was of sound mind. It’s usually the guy who has been drinking that ends up in trouble. Think about it…how many times do you hear about two sober people getting into a fight. Alcohol is usually involved. Bottom line…when you are in another country, you need to give yourself every advantage. Stick to bottled water.
There is another reason though…a health reason. I know wine is good for you. I am ALL for that! What I am talking about here is the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Right now we are in the midst of flu season. Drink a lot of water and limit dehydrating food and drink that could increase your risk of catching the flu, or hamper your ability to fight / recover from it.
Speaking of flu, let’s talk about immunizations. I know there are a lot of people who are against immunizations. I’m not one of them. Mine are kept up to date, including the flu shot (though I have missed that more than once). But the stuff like Yellow Fever, etc…I am protected. You need to be as well.
Finally, let me encourage you to choose your hotel room carefully. I prefer being as high as possible because of noise, bit also if there is an emergency in the hotel and someone has the opportunity to get an alert out, I’d like additional time to react…and time for the authorities to react. I like high floors for a number of reasons, but with any floor over number 7, you are more or less on your own to get out if there is a fire. Why is that? Many cities have trucks that can get you out from seven stories…but if you are on the eighth floor, they can’t get to you. For that reason I prefer to have a room directly next to the stairs on the outside of hotel wing I am in. I can make it down a tall building pretty quickly if I have to.
When the fire alarm sounds, the first thing that I do is wet a large towel, because if there is a fire, and there is smoke, a wet towel can make a TEMPORARY barrier to almost filter the smoke. It can also keep you from breathing air that could be too hot, so take a wet towel with you (don’t forget your go bag and put on your shoes) and get out of the building. If you need to open a door, check it with the BACK of your hand for heat. Why the back? What do you use the back of your hand for? Exactly…nothing. If you burn it, big deal. If you burn your palm, you have a real problem.
This list is not all-inclusive, but I hope that you’ll begin to think about survival when you travel, and you’re travel with the mindset of reducing your exposure to any number of possible incidents. It’s about changing our behaviors…just slightly. It’s about living to fight another day. You are useless to your family when you are dead. You are useless to your family when you are sick. Don’t live in fear. Enjoy life and enjoy travel. It’s a pretty neat world. Just change the way you think and you’ll be fine. We have gotten lazy with all of the modern conveniences we have. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be a victim. Live to fight another day.
Oh, one more thing. Get your nose out of your phone. If people would walk with their eyes looking around, their heads constantly moving and their ears listening to what is going on around them, we’d be a lot better off.