If you’re reading this magazine, you’ve probably already got your head in the game when it comes to personal and home defense. You have most likely accepted the fact that you might become the target of violent crime and have prepared yourself and your home accordingly. If you’re smart, you carry at least one weapon on a daily basis and you’ve pursued re- sponsible training to learn how to use it (or them) properly. You’ve probably also made the effort to assess your home’s physical security and strengthen it as necessary to deter or prevent a break-in or home invasion.

Unfortunately, many people who have done everything described above and generally maintain good habits have a fatal flaw when it comes to their person- al security—they travel. No matter how prepared and vigilant you are on your home turf, whenever you travel, things change. Whether it’s the nature of the potential threats, the weapon laws, or just being in an unfamiliar place, personal security away from home is different. To keep yourself and your family safe, you need to know how to change gears accordingly.


On your home turf, you know your way around, you know how to get places, and—very importantly—you know which places not to go. In case of emergency, you know where to find police stations, fire stations, populated areas, friends’ houses and other potential safe havens and sources of help. You can also carry appropriate tools to pro- vide for your personal defense and power those tools with well-trained skills and reflexes. Interestingly, when you’re at home, you also fit in and do not stand out from the other locals.

Now imagine suddenly taking all these things away. Most rational people would be very uncomfortable with that and feel vulnerable and unprotected, but amazingly, many do not. To many people, traveling is an excuse to mentally “check out.” They take the concept of “getting away” very literally and actively try to separate themselves from the stresses and pressures of everyday life. This is particularly true of folks going on vacation, who make the conscious decision to “do nothing” when they’re away from home.

Traveling should not be a reason— or an excuse—for you to leave yourself or your family vulnerable. This article is designed to address this problem and suggest some options to help you keep your guard up when you’re on the road.


The first step in staying safe is making personal security a priority. As obvious as that may seem, I am constantly amazed at the number of people who completely abandon their personal- defense strategies when they travel. If you have taken the time to develop good, security conscious habits at home, make sure you take those habits with you when you travel.

Regardless of where you are, aware- ness is always going to be your most important personal-defense skill. Staying actively aware of what’s going on around you is the best way to identify potential security threats and causes for concern early in the process. The sooner you are aware that something isn’t quite right, the more options you have to avoid it or address it before the situation escalates.

Again, logic would suggest that in an unfamiliar environment you would be more alert than normal and more likely to actively scan your surroundings. After all, what you’re seeing is new and different than your typical at-home scenery. Unfortunately, traveling often has the exact opposite effect on our awareness—especially when we’re traveling for pleasure. When we’re on vacation, we tend to go to places that are fun, visually exciting, and—we believe— safe. We choose vacation destinations that offer “a lot to see.” And the more sights and attractions there are to gawk at, the more distracted and potentially vulnerable we become.

How do we enjoy the sights with- out being oblivious to possible threats to our safety? By practicing to keep our heads in the game, choosing our vantage points, and developing a good visual “rhythm,” we can maintain situational awareness.

The concept of keeping your head in the game is simple: Accept the fact that bad things can happen to good people no matter where you are and refuse to become complacent. It’s not about being paranoid; it’s about achieving a reasonable balance of re- laxation and safety. If that’s still difficult to grasp, think of it this way: Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you stop looking both ways before you cross the street. You know you can get hit by a car anywhere, so you main- tain proper habits and don’t let your guard down. If you learn to regard being aware as a normal state of conscious- ness, you’ll be less likely to turn off that awareness when you travel.

You can also increase your awareness by picking your vantage points. Most people are familiar with the concept of “keeping your back to the wall” based on the idea that it prevents someone from sneaking up behind you. From an awareness standpoint, it functionally cuts your job in half, since you reduce the area you must cover to 180 degrees instead of 360. And, just as the members of entry teams work to the corners of a room to reduce their area of responsibility to a 90-degree arc, you can also use corners to reduce the area you must monitor. The trade-off, however, is that you may also reduce your options for escape routes. In simple terms, where you choose to position yourself can greatly simplify the process of staying aware because you have less area to cover.

Another way of maximizing your awareness without turning your trip into full-time guard duty is to establish a good visual rhythm. Learn to relax and enjoy what you’re doing, but in a rhythm that allows you to scan at regular intervals to stay aware. That rhythm will obviously depend upon the specific environment you’re in, so there is no hard rule for the timing. Practice will allow you to make this process a habit and give you the experience you need to properly tune your methods to the circumstances.

Take Your Time

One of the most important things that you can do to increase your safety when traveling is to make a conscious effort to slow down and look around before you do something. For many people, travel is a frantic, hectic ex- perience and they allow that to show in their behavior. That type of preoccu- pied task fixation can actually make them very attractive targets for criminals. If they allow themselves to be over- whelmed with the process of traveling, they’re obviously poorly situated to deal with any additional stress—particularly a sudden, violent attack.

Before you make any significant move when traveling—like leaving your hotel and heading out on the streets— take a moment to collect yourself, clear your mind, and look around. If you’ve got a specific destination in mind, take a few minutes to plan your route and get it straight in your head before you step out. Rather than wandering around aimlessly or having your head down looking at a map, you can now walk upright, alert, and with purpose. That difference alone makes you a much less vulnerable target and, once again, keeps your head in the game.

Taking the time to scan with your eyes before you move your feet moti- vates you to look for possible causes for concern and enables you to identify them from a distance. Distance and the ability to see potential problems while you still have the time to avoid them are the best possible ways to stack the odds in your favor.

Traveling is hard work. Traveling safely is even harder. Make the commitment to keep your head in the game and use heightened awareness and sound habits to your advantage. That’s the easiest way to avoid trouble away from home.

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