How to Travel Safely This Holiday Season, From a Former CIA Operative

Updated 12/14/17

Whenever you travel, staying safe is a top concern—but attention to safety is especially important during the busiest travel time of the year: the holiday season. With so many travelers hitting the skies and many traveling abroad, tourists become easy targets for criminals. While there will always be things you couldn't possibly predict or prepare for, more often than not, ensuring your well-being while traveling comes down to smart planning.

Condé Nast Traveler reached out to former CIA operative Matthew Bradley, who spent 14 years with the service, to share his travel tips. Bradley, who's now the regional security director of Americas for International SOS, a medical and travel security risk services company, is well versed in the exact steps you should take to stay safe while traveling. "You can travel with confidence when you have anticipated the most likely scenarios and are prepared to handle them," he assures. We've highlighted some of his suggestions below.

Do your research. Much of Bradley's advice is founded on smart planning. He encourages travelers to investigate their destination in advance. Some of the things you familiarize yourself with before embarking on your trip are emergency numbers, local customs, and holidays. He cites the CIA World Factbook, State Department websites, and local news outlets as helpful resources.

Leave valuables at home. Streamlining your packing list is always a challenge, but Bradley suggests becoming extra ruthless with your valuables. He warns that anything priced above $100 or that looks valuable—even if it's costume jewelry—will make you a target for criminals.

Pre-arrange transportation. Bradley advises using only official airport taxis, taxis arranged by a hotel, or familiar ride-share apps like Lyft when getting around in a foreign city. If you do plan on renting a car and driving yourself, he underscores the importance of familiarizing yourself with the driving rules and local customs before you get behind the wheel.

Keep a low profile. "Travelers should consider [that] they are guests in a foreign country and behave as they would if they were guests in someone's house," notes Bradley. Again, it is important to be aware of and compliant with local customs and dressing in line with what is expected.

Stay in touch with someone back home. Bradley recommends leaving a copy of your itinerary with at least two friends or family members and telling them the best way to reach you should they need to.

Traveling alone? See the eight must-visit destinations for solo female travelers.

Related Stories