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Don’t stick out like a sore thumb traveling

March 29, 2017 • Editorial

Several acquaintances have recently approached me with their concerns about traveling to Europe. With the recent attacks in Germany, France, Belgium and England, being concerned is justified. However, there are ways to make yourself a smaller target against any terrorist attack or the infamous thieves preying on tourists.
I have worked most of my life in the incentive travel industry in Europe. Incentive travel is a niche industry and also one of the tools for companies to motivate and reward its employees. We also did product presentations worldwide. One of our favorite groups was the American gas station companies. Instead of sending only the owners, their companies brought in the entire families. Many of those families had never been outside of the U.S. and were vulnerable.
The Red Army Faction and the Revolutionary Cells in West-Germany were supported by East-Germany’s secret police and Russia. They targeted industrial families and Americans, military members and tourists. The Revolutionary Cells alone were held responsible for 296 bomb attacks, arson and other attacks between 1973 and 1995. Three generations of homegrown terrorists influenced the lives of Germans. Adding to that time of uncertainty were the homegrown terrorists in Spain, France and Italy who targeted mostly tourists. The most considerate terrorists — as far as terrorist can be labeled being considerate — were from Corsica, a little French island, which is famous for being the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. The island’s terrorists wanted to be independent from France and were against the big hotel chains moving in in the mid-’90s. They regularly blew up those hotels before they opened, when nobody was working at the hotel, that is. Unfortunately those thoughtful terrorists are a rare breed. In 2016, the local islanders have founded one of the first anti-ISIS militia groups protecting their island.
When terrorists targeted ancient sites in Egypt mid-’97, Europeans and Americans pulled out. My company was concerned about the livelihood of our bus driver families whose only income came from tourism. I called one of them myself, his name is Ibrahim. He laughed about us worrying. “We still got the Israelis,” he said in a phone call with me. “Nobody can stop them from traveling if they so want.” Ibrahim was one of the victims of the attack on tourist buses at a museum in Cairo in September 1997. He recovered from his wounds and went back to work a month later.
Together with my colleagues, we started to put together a guide for every country in the world. Some of these guidelines I adapted for my cousin from Missouri who was stationed in Germany. It kept him and his friends safe while being able to enjoy the countries when he didn’t have to be on duty. I will share these with you, adapted to the unique form of individual terrorism we fight today. You, as an American tourist, are not just a target. You represent freedom, your country and with every trip you take, you show that terror will never win.
There are simple ways to travel safely. First of all, blend in. While it is easier for younger people who have the same fashion, thanks to internet, sports and music idols, older tourists stick out like a sore thumb. The international airports today are better protected than any military base. As a tourist, as soon as you step out of that airport, you might as well wear a neon sign saying, “Here I am.” This is something you can change easily. Don’t wear typical American travel clothes, also known as jogging suits, jeans, bright colors with large messages or sneakers. Europeans wear business casual. Color-neutral slacks, T-shirt and dress shoes are best. For men, let your hair grow longer than a G.I. Joe cut.
My favorite advice is, travel with an empty suitcase. It’s shopping time. As soon as you are recovered from your flight, talk with the hotel clerk about the best shopping mall for locals. If you are in Italy or Spain and you have a good budget, go to the boutiques where the locals go. Before you start your shopping spree, take the time to learn where you are and where you are going. Nothing attracts pickpockets and the famous children gangs, such as on the Spanish steps of Rome, than tourists looking around helpless. If you have to check your smartphone or map, go into a restaurant. Know your environment and keep an eye out for anybody suspicious.
The new kind of terrorism — where single terrorists use cars and knives as deadly weapons — makes it hard for the local anti-terror units to stop. Be smart, avoid large groups. Terrorists always try to do as much damage as they can. Educate yourself and avoid times of rush-hour pedestrian traffic. Visit the sites when no one else is there. For example, visit the Louvre in Paris in summer, on the weekend, on a hot day. All Parisians who can get out of town will be on the beaches in Normandy to go swimming. The town will be empty. If you visit Italy, visit it in the fall. Venice on a rainy day is beautiful. Instead of going to the Munich Hofbräuhaus in Germany, go to the little villages outside to their wine, beer, cherry and strawberry festivals.
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Christina Stock may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.

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