Tag Archives: security

Singapore Airlines plane in the sky

Strategies for Flying Smarter in 2018

When George Hobica founded Airfarewatchdog.com, he solved one of the most frustrating challenges for fliers: how to tell if you’re getting the best price on a flight. But suddenly, by signing up for the website’s customizable low-fare alerts, fliers were receiving key fare information and assurance right in their inboxes. Over the years, the website has continued to come up with solutions for travelers, including a hotel-deal finder and one-sheets for domestic airlines that detail fees, contact numbers, and user reviews all in one place. So when we started wondering what 2018 is likely to have in store for airline passengers and how to make the best of any changes, we went right to George. These are his top five strategies for flying smarter in 2018.

1. Economy class seating will get tighter, so it’s never been more necessary to research before you book.

Those flying in economy class will see seats spaced closer together. Visit SeatGuru to see which airlines have added extra seats to rows in economy and which have added more rows per plane. JetBlue will remain the only U.S. airline with at least 34 inches of space between rows in economy (the others may space them 30 or 31 inches apart).  On the plus side, airlines are expanding their premium economy cabins on international routes, with United being the latest to announce they are adding premium cabins this year.

2. Business class will feel more private and get upgrades, so this could be a good year to consider splurging (or spending miles).

Singapore Airline's new first class suites are like mini apartments

Singapore Airline’s new first class suites feature a real bed. Photo: Singapore Airlines

Some airlines will be adding more privacy to their business class cabins, offering all-aisle access in a 1-2-1 configuration. Singapore Airlines’ new first class “Suites” will feature a real bed and a seat, not just a seat that turns into a bed (two people traveling together can turn them into a cozy double bed). British Airways is rolling out an enhanced business class cabin with quilted mattress pads and a fancier meal service.

3. You’ll fly more comfortably if you choose the right planes.

We’ll see newer planes on many more routes, but be sure to opt for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350, if available, on ultra-long-haul flights. These aircraft lower the equivalent altitude inside the cabin by about 2,000 feet compared to other planes, meaning you’ll breathe easier and generally feel better on long flights. They also keep more passenger-generated humidity inside the plane; your mucous membranes will thank you for choosing one of these aircraft. Boeing shows where the Dreamliner flies and on which airlines. There are many similar sources for the A350 (just do a search for “A350 routes”). Or ask a travel agent.

4. Watch for new technology that will speed and simplify boarding.


britishairways biometric boarding gates LAX

British Airways has introduced biometric boarding at LAX. Photo: British Airways

We will see more airlines automate the boarding procedure by using self-boarding via facial-recognition technology. British Airways tested this on international flights from LAX in January and eventually all airlines will use self-boarding turnstiles to speed the process and make it more secure. (Scans of U.S. passport holders are compared to their photos stored by Customs and Border Protection; scans of foreign visitors are compared to photos captured by cameras at immigration.) I recently witnessed 180 passengers self-boarding a Dreamliner in less than 20 minutes. No need to show passports or boarding passes, just look into the camera and pass through the turnstile.

5. Spend more time in airport lounges—they’re improving.

Air Canada's business class lounge at Pearson Airport in Toronto

Air Canada’s business class lounge at Pearson Airport in Toronto. Photo: Air Canada

Passengers with access to airport lounges will find vastly improved pre-flight dining options. Air Canada, for example, has launched a new business class lounge at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, available only to paid business class passengers, that combines the traditional amenities found in airport lounges with a restaurant helmed by Vancouver-based celebrity chef David Hawksworth. Those operated by United, American and Delta, many of which were showing their age, are getting upgrades: new furniture, décor, and lighting, with places to charge your electronics at every seat, and a wider choice of edibles (Delta now serves a full hot breakfast in some of its Skyclubs). Most U.S. airlines will sell you a day pass for about $50 (think of it as three airport martinis plus free Wi-Fi and nibbles and it won’t sound so pricey).

The truth about Travel Warnings

Watch: This Is How to Interpret Travel Warnings

One of the biggest mistakes I see travelers make, over and over, is to unnecessarily cancel a trip or rule out a country because they’ve misconstrued a U.S. State Department travel advisory. A Travel Alert does not mean don’t go. And sometimes that’s true for Travel Warnings too. Right now there are Travel Warnings for 45 countries, ranging from war zones that should be avoided (e.g., Syria) to places that millions of people travel to safely every year for blissful relaxation (e.g., Mexico).

Last week, the U.S. State Department updated its Travel Warning for Mexico. According to State Department officials, this was a routine update. Still, the info that crime has increased in 2017 in areas including the states of Quintana Roo (where Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen are) and Baja California Sur (where Los Cabos is) is making the travel news rounds.

The reality is that most of the conflicts have been between rival criminal organizations and have not involved travelers. The Travel Warning acknowledges this, stating: “There is no evidence that criminal organizations have targeted U.S. citizens based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.”

At Journey Mexico, the trip-planning company run by Zach Rabinor, the Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico on my WOW List, the staff has offered an in-depth explanation based on their first-hand, on-the-ground experience. They write, “It is important to note that, again, these conflicts and any related violence have not and are not targeting holiday travelers.  There has been no violence against tourists within hotels or resorts or traveling to or from any of the main tourist attractions in the area.” They also remind travelers that “Many areas of Mexico, such as the popular state of Yucatan and city of Merida, and throughout the Central Highlands in destinations such as San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City, have no travel warnings at all.”

Yes, you should be careful, but you should also keep these warnings in perspective.

Most countries are a lot like the one where you live: safer in some parts, unsafe in others. Just because Mexico has dangerous parts (e.g., border areas), it doesn’t mean you should avoid others that are hundreds of miles away. I took my own staff to Playa del Carmen in January of this year to host a summit with my WOW List travel specialists from all over the world, and we all felt safe the entire time. Would you avoid Beverly Hills because of terrorist shootings in San Bernardino (which is only an hour away)?

This video will help you quickly understand and act upon travel advisories. I shot it last year when I was in another country for which there is a Travel Warning but which tens of thousands of tourists visit safely each year. Can you guess where? Here’s a clue:

Wendy and a new friend in Cartagena, Colombia, last month.

Wendy and a new friend.

Transparency disclosure: Our sponsor, MedjetAssist, provided the financial support that made it possible to bring you these travel tips.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Signage about the electronics ban at the Air Maroc check-in desk

How You Can Prepare for the Laptop Travel Ban

UPDATED 5/14/2017:

Very soon, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to expand the laptop ban to include flights coming into the U.S. from Europe. Less than two months after the first ban required that fliers arriving from several Middle East countries pack their laptops, tablets, game consoles, digital cameras, and other devices in their checked lugged, there’s now news that planes arriving from the European Union will be subject to similar rules. As Skift pointed out, this extension “would affect trans-Atlantic routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on over 400 daily flights”—and we know that includes many of our own readers, who are planning trips to Europe right now.

Unfortunately, any ban on carrying laptops and tablets into the passenger cabin impacts not only business travelers like me, whose work productivity will be affected, but also professional photographers like my husband; families with children who use tablets, game devices, or laptops as part of their long-haul-flight toolkit; and countless other fliers who rely on their tech devices in various ways.

Apart from being inconvenient, the current ban—which affects flights from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey—is confusing, and a lot has been left undefined.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s wording is that nothing “larger than a smartphone” can be carried onboard, but the agency is vague about what that exact size is. A FAQ on its website says, “Smartphones are commonly available around the world and their size is well understood by most passengers who fly internationally. Please check with your airline if you are not sure whether your smartphone is impacted.”

So far, it seems that the ban is being implemented inconsistently in foreign airports. When my husband flew home from Morocco with our two boys, one son’s Nintendo DS game console was confiscate out of his backpack, while the other son got to keep his. As expected, though, in the weeks after the first ban was implemented, a few of the affected airlines started to test out solutions: Qatar is providing complimentary laptops to premium-class passengers, Emirates introduced a laptop-handling service, and Etihad is offering free Wi-Fi (which you can access with your phone).

So in the interest of helping all travelers prepare (not just those flying from airports or on airlines listed in the original ban, and not just those planning trips to Europe), we’ll keep updating this FAQ as we learn more about how airlines and airports will be handling the changes. In the meantime, here are some answers and solutions.

What devices have to be checked now?

While it’s safe to expect that laptops, tablets, game units, and digital cameras must be packed in checked luggage, it seems that you could easily be at the whim of an individual security officer or your airline’s interpretation of what devices are acceptable for carry-on. The DHS FAQ says only: “Generally, passengers will be instructed to place large electronic devices in their checked bags when traveling from one of the last point of departure airports. We provided guidance to the airlines who will determine how to implement and inform their passengers.” How the airlines are choosing to implement and inform is inconsistent. “The manner of a Security Directive/Emergency Amendment is to tell an airline the end result required (no electronic devices larger than a cell phone allowed in the cabin) and allow them the flexibility to implement within their business model.”

What airports does the ban affect?

If you are flying through or from any of the following airports, the current ban applies to you: Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), Cairo International Airport (CAI), Ataturk International Airport (IST), King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED), King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Mohammed V Airport (CMN), Hamad International Airport (DOH), Dubai International Airport (DXB), and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). The specifics of a European-flight ban are still being worked out.

Am I exempt if I’m part of a trusted traveler program?

No. Membership in Global Entry, TSA Precheck, Clear, or any trusted traveler program does not exempt you from the ban. You still have to comply with the new luggage rules.

Related: The Real Things You Should Be Wary Of When Traveling Abroad (Hint: It’s Not Terrorism)

What can I do to prepare for the inconveniences of the ban?

•Turn your smartphone into a laptop.
Most of us think of portable keyboards as accessories for tablets, but they can be used with smartphones too. The screen may be smaller than you’d like, but at least it’ll let you get through some emails while you’re in the air. (If you’re accustomed to using more than one electronic device in-flight, you might consider getting a second phone. After all, airlines are not limiting the number of smartphones you can bring onboard. You could use one phone as a tablet or computer while you’re listening to music on the other. Get a cheap burner phone that you need not activate with a mobile carrier; you can just use it with Wi-Fi.)

•Read offline.
E-readers are part of the ban, so if that leaves you without something to peruse on the plane, you still have options. Add the Kindle app to your phone and do your reading there; the app will maintain your library, with bookmarks and notes, across all your devices. If you’re a periodicals reader, check out an app such as Instapaper, which lets you save any article or video from the web and read it later offline. And of course, you could always go back to old-school books. Now that there aren’t any tech devices in your carry-on, you may have room for the latest bestsellers.

•Travel with an inexpensive “travel laptop.”
If you’re like me, you cannot possibly travel without your laptop, and you’re loath to check it. After all, even with TSA locks, most checked luggage is easy to open and subject to sticky fingers. That’s why I plan to buy a cheap laptop for trips on which my flights will be affected. I’ll probably buy a ChromeBook, which costs as little as $165. I’ll copy the files I need from my “real laptop” onto USB drives and carry these in my carry-on, and I’ll relegate the ChromeBook to my checked bag when necessary, leaving my “real laptop” safely at home. Should the ChromeBook get lost or stolen, it won’t be a big deal.

Related: A Pro Photographer’s Solutions to the Airline Electronics Ban

•Insure your checked luggage.
If you’re willing to entrust your laptop to your checked luggage, know that airlines reimburse very little if your baggage is lost, stolen, or damaged; and they don’t cover valuables (such as laptops) in checked luggage. A few credit cards do provide loss and damage coverage for valuables in checked bags. The American Express Platinum Card provides up to $2,000 for checked-bag losses, although it caps electronics at $250. Travel insurance company TravelGuard reimburses up to $500 for electronic devices in lost luggage.

Related: How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It

•Take the time to install anti-theft software and features on your devices.
In case you’re forced to check your laptop, install or activate theft-protection apps on it. Apps such as Prey or Find My Mac allow you not only to track where your laptop is, but also to lock it and erase it completely—and, depending on the software, even enable you to take a photo of the thief.

For an additional bit of tracking service, consider attaching a Tile to your various devices. These little squares use Bluetooth to keep tabs on keys, wallets, anything you can think of; use a Tile (or your phone) to set off a sounding beacon on your lost item. This isn’t so helpful if your laptop, camera, or game unit is thousands of miles away, but the app has a cool secondary feature: Activate the “Notify when found” option, and if anyone who has a Tile comes within range of your tiled item, you’ll get a notification of its location.

Stay tuned because we expect to see a burgeoning industry of travel-specific anti-theft gadgets to fill this heightened need. For example, the new PetaPixel is a remote shutter button for digital cameras that comes with the added bonus of geotagging for theft protection.

•Choose your airlines carefully.
Some of the impacted airlines are innovating to make life easier for premium-class passengers. Qatar Airways has begun offering first- and business-class passengers a complimentary laptop loan service; passengers can download their work onto a USB before stepping onboard and collecting their loaner laptop. Etihad Airways is lending premium-class passengers iPads and free Wi-Fi. Some airlines are offering a service at its gates where they say they will collect and securely pack passengers’ electronic items, for pick-up at the destination airport.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.


This article was originally published April 3, 2017. It has been updated with new information.

northern lights photographed from airplane

A Pro Photographer’s Solutions to the Airline Electronics Ban

Travel bans of any kind never come at a good time. But this latest one is coming at a particularly bad time for me. As a photojournalist, it’s my very job description to carry my cameras with me. Sure, iPhone cameras are fine for snapshots, but I make my living using professional-grade cameras that I am now forced to place in checked luggage if I’m flying to the U.S. or U.K. from certain airports. So this ban is going to hurt. I have an assignment in Morocco next week and another in Dubai this summer, and I’ll be flying through and from airports that are on the new watch list.

I always arrive at the security gate well before scheduled departure so that my gear can be scrutinized. In fact, I fly with so much gear, electronics, and cords that I get very suspicious if the security agency doesn’t check my bag with a fine-tooth comb. But this ban will seriously change how I work.

My biggest complaint with the ban is the vagaries of it. Okay, I understand laptops won’t be allowed, or iPads, or my kids’ DS. But what about battery chargers or the cell-phone-sized hard drives I use to back up all the photos I shoot on assignment? What are you supposed to do with a key piece of equipment you thought was okay to carry onboard when a security guard says you can’t take that onboard because…well…he says so. Your checked bags are already down the chute. Now what?

My other concern is theft. You might as well put a “Steal Me” sticker on the outside of a bag with your camera in it. Security staff and luggage handlers X-ray bags well out of sight from the public, so the theft rate could increase exponentially. I remember going through Heathrow years ago when a similar ban was in effect. I had placed my underwater video camera in a checked bag (because my carry-on was already maxed out with other— more important—equipment), and they brought it to the gate where I was waiting, and I had to show the security agents what it was and prove that it was operational. That was the last time I saw it. Those little TSA-approved travel locks? Sure. Why not? But they and your ballistic-material luggage can be breached in mere seconds. Or just stolen completely, little locks and all.

So what am I going to do about it?

I live in fear of a camera getting lost or stolen on a trip, but now I will be changing how I work.

•For starters, I will leave my top-of-the-line camera bodies (the part of the camera minus the lens) at home. Instead, I will use cameras that are a few years or models old. Though not the latest and greatest, they are still usable and more expendable than my best—which I will need back at home.

•I will never put more than one camera body into each piece of checked luggage. That will give me a better chance of arriving at my destination with at least one of them.

•I will carry more media cards on which to store the photos I shoot. Let me explain: Until now I’ve always carried my laptop on my trips, downloaded each day’s photos to it each night, and backed them up on a portable hard drive (if not two). This is so as not to lose the images I’ve shot during the trip. The system allowed me to reuse media cards once I’d transferred the images to my laptop. Since I’ll now be leaving the laptop at home (since I won’t entrust my laptop to checked baggage), I’ll buy more media cards on which to store my photos. I’ll simply save the photos on the cards and wait till I’m home to download them to my laptop. SD cards are actually cheap enough now to do this, but keep in mind that they are small, notoriously slippery, and easy to lose!

•On some trips I might bring an older laptop (from which I’ve erased my personal data) to use as storage and for transferring photos to a portable, cell-phone-size hard drive. Will I be allowed to carry the hard drive into airline cabins? I don’t know.

•I will probably invest in a product such as Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless Pro. You can plug your SD cards right into it (its USB slot handles other format card readers) and copy photos or data right to a 2 or 3 TB drive.

•If you place your cameras in checked baggage, make sure to remove the media cards from the cameras. My video camera was stolen at Heathrow, but at least I had the sense to take the tape out and hand-carry it.

You will also have to remove the batteries from your camera, as most cameras use lithium batteries. However, the FAA specifically says that lithium batteries can’t be in checked bags, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that catch-22 gets solved.

•So what about chargers? I’m going to have to carry extra spare batteries in addition to what I carry now, in case my battery chargers are banned from carry-on luggage and get stolen. I’ll get a second charger too—so I can put each into two separate checked bags, again hoping that both of my bags won’t be taken or violated.

•With the camera bodies in the belly of the plane, that will leave more room in my carry-on for lenses. But this worries me too. A security agent once probed his finger into my telephoto lens and not only made it unusable but did several hundred dollars’ worth of damage to it.

On a personal level, one of my favorite things to do is to take photos while I’m flying. That’s gone now. I will miss shooting sights from a 33,000+-foot vantage point.

I’ve lived with previous bans and increases in airport security since the days of D.B. Cooper and almost daily hijackings to Cuba. And I’ve dealt with higher-speed films being ruined by third-world x-ray machines. So this ban is nothing new. I just wish it weren’t so vague. I’m looking forward to hard-and-fast rules.

Stay tuned.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Wendy making friends at the ancient Phoenician city of Baalbek in Lebanon

The Real Things You Should Be Wary Of When Traveling Abroad (Hint: It’s Not Terrorism)

Don’t spend so much time focusing on avoiding risks that are highly unlikely—such as a terror attack—that you neglect to take sufficient steps to avoid those risks that are far more likely to ruin a trip abroad—such as a traffic accident, theft, or food poisoning. The following do’s and don’ts that I shared with U.S. News & World Report will take care of most potential problems. A reliable (and reachable) travel planner will take care of the rest.

Drive carefully on your way to the airport.
Renting a car? Remember that motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of death of Americans overseas.

traffic on a street

Traffic rules are different in other countries, and car accidents kill more tourists than terrorist attacks. Be careful crossing the street. Photo: Timothy Baker

Look both ways before crossing the street.
Motor vehicle “rules” in many countries are not what you’re used to back home.

Leave valuables at home.
Most of us have learned to leave fancy jewelry at home, but we now bring all manner of fancy electronics.  Consider leaving your larger and more expensive electronics at home.  Whatever devices you do pack, be sure that the information in them is password-protected and that you have a copy of that information somewhere safe.

Use your in-room safe.
Store your passport in it. Leave the Do Not Disturb sign on your hotel room door when you’re not in the room.

Use trustworthy Wi-Fi.
I carry my own portable Wi-Fi hotspot rather than logging into free Wi-Fi on the street.

Watch out for scam artists.
In big cities, pickpockets may prey on tourists, especially in crowded transportation hubs. Clothing with internal zippered pockets, or a neck pouch, are a good way to keep cash and credit cards safe as you walk around and sightsee. If you’ll be carrying a handbag, use a cross-body one. A few examples of scam artists:

I was walking in Buenos Aires once—in a good neighborhood, in broad daylight—when suddenly some inky, foul-smelling liquid landed on me and my husband.  Two young women sympathetically showed us an outdoor faucet where we could clean it off.  Suspicious, we opted to remain a mess and started to walk away—at which point the duo offered Kleenex.  They seemed a little too eager to help, so we quickly left the area. Back at our hotel, the concierge immediately guessed which street corner we’d been standing on and confirmed that we had nearly fallen for a common con: Had we put down our bags to clean up, they would have made off with them.

Other traditional scams in certain countries include the handbag snatch (you’re sitting at an outdoor café, you place your handbag on the ground or hang it on your chair, and somebody grabs it and runs off), the fake street fight (boys pretend to beat each other up, one approaches you in tears, pleading for money so he can get home to safety, you pull out your wallet and the kids grab it and race off), the crowded subway car (a group of women and children waltz into your subway car in a distracting whirl of colorful scarves and skirts, remove your wallet from inside your pocket, and exit before the doors close), and even the baby toss (a woman tries to hurriedly hand you an infant—some actually toss you a doll, in hopes that you will instantly drop your bags to catch it. An accomplice then swipes your belongings).

Dress smart.
I wear jackets with internal zippered pockets that nobody else’s hands can reach.  Rather than keeping my wallet in a handbag that could be stolen, I keep small bills and credit cards in various pockets, so that I never have to take out my whole wallet. If you must carry your wallet in your outside pants pocket, wrapping rubber bands around it makes it more difficult for a pickpocket to extract it. Don’t wear brand new white sneakers. They’re a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist.

Don’t pull out a map and scrutinize it in a public place.
Step inside a restaurant or shop if you want to check your map.

Think before you photograph someone.
Don’t photograph policemen or anyone who does not want his/her photo taken. Here are some more tips on photo etiquette when you travel.

Program local emergency numbers into your cell phone.
I ask my hotel concierge for those numbers.

Carry your hotel’s business card in the local language.
Have at least one of these so you can show it to non-English-speaking locals (e.g., a taxi driver) and get back to your hotel quickly in an emergency.

Carry a mini-flashlight (so you’re never caught in the dark).
I once made the mistake of not packing one and learned my lesson the hard way. You can read all about my best travel mistake here.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

wendy perrin playing music in Jordan

Traveling in an Uncertain World: Essential Tips for Smart Travelers

Some Americans tell me they’re nervous about traveling right now. Given the recent ban blocking travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries, and whatever unpredictable new rules might suddenly get implemented tomorrow, they’re worried that if they leave the U.S., they could have trouble getting back in. Some people are concerned about possible hassles with immigration officials in foreign airports. And, given the new administration’s “America First” attitude, some people fear anti-American sentiment at their destination.

I don’t.  That’s because I’ve traveled in many countries at times when the U.S. government was disliked—and, time after time, I’ve found that, as long as you don’t behave like an “ugly American,” people don’t judge you based on your government. That’s because they don’t want you to judge them based on their government. Many people are accustomed to living under a regime that curtails their freedom and the press. If you’re sensitive and sympathetic, and as intrigued by them as they are by you, what you get is not hostility but a bonding experience.

Even in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War, I never encountered any hostility from the locals I met. In fact, I always got a warm welcome because people were so intrigued and curious to talk to an American. In the Middle East, I’ve always found people to be astonishingly friendly, warm, and hospitable. As just one example, I remember a policeman in Damascus, Syria, approaching me with a look of concern and an outreached arm, only to pick up my suitcase like a true gentleman and carry it across the street for me.

It’s my firm belief that, right now, travel is more important than ever. That’s not just because travel is fatal to ignorance about other cultures and peoples. It’s because we frequent travelers can help rectify misperceptions that the world may have right now about the United States. It’s important that other countries see that Americans are open to different cultures. It’s important that they meet Americans who don’t necessarily subscribe to the motto “America First” but are, instead, global citizens first.

Here are a few things travelers can do to convey this message and avoid the “ugly American” stereotype. These are easy ways to blend in, avoid offense, bond with locals, and stay safe. These rules of etiquette have long been the case; they’re not new to this or any presidential administration.

Avoid logos and labels.
Don’t wear T-shirts, hats, or anything with words or symbols on them. Don’t wave a U.S. flag. Don’t wear religious jewelry (no Christian cross or Star of David.) Don’t wear a red baseball cap that says “USA” or “Make America Great Again.”

Wear simple, plain, neutral clothing.
Forgo bold colors in favor of earth tones. Wear old black or brown shoes, not shiny new white sneakers (they scream “tourist”). Instead of shopping for new clothes before a trip, leave space in your suitcase to buy clothes once you arrive. That way, you gain the experience of shopping like a local, you blend in, and you come away with great souvenirs.

Speak softly and respectfully.
“Ugly Americans” speak loudly and draw attention to themselves. Remember that, when you travel, you’re like a guest in someone else’s house. Speak to the people of your host country with respect.

Steer clear of crowds.
This is not just for your safety but because crowds usually make both travelers and locals cranky, and crowds in different countries have different etiquette. Bypass political demonstrations and rallies. When practical, avoid rush hour on public transportation. Go against the normal flow of tourist traffic.

If there’s someone you’d like to photograph, establish a rapport first.
Here’s Photo Etiquette: How to Take Pictures of People When You Travel. Remember that it’s often against the law to photograph government buildings, military installations, policemen, guards, and parts of airports and train stations.

Know the country’s rules and customs.
Here are 25 Fascinating Rules of Etiquette From Around the World.

Ask questions that show that you care and can relate.
Good conversation topics—to ask locals you meet—include: How has technology changed your life? (Has it made it better? How has it impacted your work and your family? Do you feel more connected to the world at large?)   What are your biggest stresses and challenges? (The cost of medical care? housing? schooling?) What happens when there’s a new baby in the family? If the mother works, how is this dealt with in the workplace? (Different cultures have very different maternity customs and laws.) How do you care for the oldest members of your family? (Many countries worldwide have more and more elderly people and not enough young people to care for them.) If you were to plan a trip to America, where would you go? What are the things you would most like to see?  Such questions will establish similarities, as well as interesting differences, between your life and that of the people you meet.

Hire a stellar local guide.
A private English-speaking guide, arranged via your hotel concierge or a reputable tour company, can keep you out of trouble and introduce you to receptive local people. Remember, it’s in a guide’s best interest to keep you safe and happy. When a trip is arranged by one of my Trusted Travel Experts, you automatically tap into a network of guides and insiders at your destination who will watch out for you and can arrange for you to exchange ideas with the right local people without fear. These TTEs have their ears to the ground and know how to keep you safe and solve any problem that arises.

Get a new passport if that will give you peace of mind.
If your current passport has a stamp from Iran or another country that’s named in a ban, consider getting a new one, to avoid potential hassles coming and going.

Stay calm and relaxed, knowing you have a safety net.
Being on edge won’t win you any friends. A MedjetAssist Horizon membership can take the edge off because it provides help in an emergency, should a crisis—a political threat, a terrorist attack, violent crime, or the like—strike. It gives you access to a 24/7 Crisis Response Center, a veteran security expert to advise you, and response services to come to the rescue if necessary. Even if no major security incident has been declared yet and you’re just feeling uncomfortable and want to get out of a place, MedjetAssist will help. Full disclosure: Medjet is a sponsor of this site—but they’re a sponsor specifically because I believe in and use their service. Here are 15 other simple steps you can take to be prepared for an emergency when you travel.

Do you have tips to add?  Share your thoughts below.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

dancing in Turkey

Why I Think Travel Is So Important Now

Since the U.S. presidential election, there’s been a lot of talk about how certain groups of voters—from the “liberal elite” on the coasts to folks in the rural heartland to the tech establishment in Silicon Valley to the media that covered the election to anyone who gets their news solely from Facebook—are living in a bubble.

But isn’t it true that everyone’s always lived in a bubble? That’s the reason why we travel—to get outside the bubbles we were born and raised in or currently inhabit, see how other people live and think, and broaden our worldview. Whatever your political leanings, I think this election reinforced how important it is to experience new places (especially within our own country), connect with people who aren’t like us, listen to different perspectives, and find common ground. As Mark Twain put it, “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”

With America’s role on the international stage unclear, though, some people are wondering how they will be treated when they go abroad now. As someone who has traveled in a number of risky countries at times when U.S. government policies were not in favor, I’m here to tell you that, in my experience, as long as you don’t behave like an “ugly American,” people don’t judge you based on your government. That’s because they don’t want you to judge them based on their government.

I can also tell you that, in countries that depend on tourist dollars and don’t see lots of U.S. travelers, people are particularly nice to Americans because, simply put, the American visitors who do travel there spend more money and tip better than other tourists.

When I went to Istanbul during the build-up to the Iraq War—a period when people were worried about anti-American sentiment and experts were advising not to fly on U.S. airlines or stay in Western hotels—everyone I met, from waiters to carpet merchants, told me that while they might disagree with U.S. policies, they love American travelers since they are more interested in learning about Turkish culture than other tourists who go straight to the seaside on cheap package holidays.

Later, during the Iraq War, I found myself in Kurdistan in southeastern Turkey and, again, nobody I met equated me with the foreign policy of the nation I live in. I was treated as a fellow human being first.

The same happened when I traveled in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In fact, I’ve found people in the Middle East to be among the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve met anywhere in the world. As Aldous Huxley said, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”

It’s a good thing I saw the sites of Syria when I did; today it’s off-limits, as a result of a brutal and tragic war. Lord only knows what the ancient city of Palmyra looks like now. I’m always telling people: Go while you can.

That’s why I’m taking the family to Sri Lanka this winter. Yesterday I asked my husband, Tim, if he’s having any second thoughts about that. “I was in Nicaragua during a war when Reagan was in power,” he replied. “After that, anything’s easy.”

People overseas are already wondering how they will be treated if they travel to the United States in this new era. We’re already seeing foreign governments issuing warnings to their U.S.-bound citizens to exercise greater vigilance. Will State Department travel warnings for outbound travelers change? It will be interesting to see.

In the meantime, here’s how to interpret travel warnings. And, if you’re concerned about safety in a foreign country that’s perceived as risky, here are steps you can take.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

How to Avoid Long Airport Security Lines This Summer

Airport security lines have grown absurdly long of late, thanks to more people traveling and fewer TSA workers. With the busy summer travel season upon us, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Here’s how to minimize your time stuck in a TSA line on your next trip:

If You’re Flying Soon

Find out if your airport terminal has more than one security checkpoint.

Many terminals do. Before leaving home, go to the airport’s website and pull up a map showing the security checkpoints. (This map, for instance, indicates where the three checkpoints are in Newark airport’s Terminal C; this one shows where they are for all five terminals at Dallas-Fort Worth.) At the airport, ask an official which checkpoint has the shortest line.

Download the MyTSA app.

Available for free for iPhones and Android, this app gives you current security wait times at your airport, as reported by your fellow travelers. You can also view them here; just type in your airport code.

Arrive early and hit the club lounge.

The bigger and busier your airport—e.g., J.F.K., Chicago (O’Hare), or Miami International—the earlier you’ll want to arrive, especially if you’re flying at a peak time.  At least two hours early for a domestic flight, and three hours early for international, may be a good rule of thumb for most airports. To keep your stress level down, you might consider arriving really early and buying a day pass to an airport lounge club (if the club is gate-side).

If You’re Flying Later

Don’t buy airline tickets for flights at peak times.

Avoid Friday late afternoon and early evening, for example, because that’s when business travelers returning from business trips are hitting the airport at the same time as leisure travelers leaving on vacation, creating security-line pile-ups. If you’re taking a long weekend, consider flying on a Saturday morning and returning Tuesday. (That’s also less expensive than a Thursday-to-Sunday long weekend.)

Enroll in TSA PreCheck or, even better, Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck admits you into a priority lane where you need not remove your shoes, liquids, or laptop. The $85 fee covers you for five years. For an extra $15, though, get Global Entry (the $100 fee also covers you for five years), which lets you skip the long customs line on your way back into the U.S. from an international trip, and which automatically gives you TSA PreCheck. Not every airport has PreCheck lanes or Global Entry kiosks, so check whether yours does.

Buy access to the priority security line.

Many travelers who have elite status with an airline can use the express lane at the security checkpoint. If you don’t have elite status, some airlines let you purchase access to the priority security lane on a one-time basis. United, for instance, lets you buy access at 68 airports worldwide (prices start at $15), and JetBlue lets you buy it at 62 airports.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.