Monday, January 09, 2017

Traveling Abroad In The Age Of Trump? Wear Dark Clothes


Roland and I just got back from 3 weeks in Thailand. People there aren’t obsessing over Trump. Thailand, which I started visiting first for holidays, then for business and now for holidays again, is a profoundly pro-American country. But pro-American culturally, not necessarily politically. Without exception, people who mentioned Trump to me, did it humorously— which is pretty much how people I met last summer in Russia also referred to him. (It was different in Azerbaijan, where he is best known for his business relationship with a notorious criminal clan, his partners in the now shuttered Baku Trump Tower.)

Roland has been asking me for weeks how I thought travel for Americans would be impacted by Trump’s presidency. I started traveling abroad while Nixon was president and found people sympathetic. In Holland I was the subject of a documentary about a Vietnam war resistor living in Amsterdam. Folks I talked about politics with in Iran, India, France, Germany, Hungary and Sri Lanka (then still Ceylon), Afghanistan, Finland, Sweden and, of course, Holland, were very aware of the difference between an anti-war, anti-Nixon American like me and whatever they themselves hated about Nixon’s policies.

Sunday, Newsweek dealt with Roland’s fears about American travelers being unwelcome. I mean, Russia was OK, but we’re not planning on going back and… there is the rest of the world. Colby Martin is an intelligence director for Pinkerton and he warns that “a potentially controversial president means you have to prepare. Americans traveling abroad need to have a comprehensive plan for staying safe.” But, no real need for worry since most Americans who go abroad just travel to Mexico and Canada anyway. We love Mexico and we love Canada but that is how our travel habits could be described. And, accordng to Newsweek, experts say that “wander outside the well-trodden areas, and things could get interesting.”
"The likelihood of any impact on American travelers abroad" will depend on what policies the new administration enacts, says Scott Hume, the director of security operations for Global Rescue. He says you shouldn't be surprised by people who ask you direct questions about American foreign policy and politics. If your goal is to avoid those conversations, "Take care not to stand out as an American," he says.

So how do you do that, exactly?

Taryn White, a writer and frequent traveler based in Washington, tries to maintain a cover. "You have to look the part," she says. "This means no white sneakers, 'I Love NY' T-shirts or sweatpants. It also means being considerate of local customs and dress."

One simple trick: Pack black. Darker colors are versatile and ensure you don't stand out. Beyond the wardrobe selection, it means downplaying American mannerisms like laughing out loud, smiling a lot or using hand gestures.

But others say now may also be the best time to identify yourself as an American. Kori Crow, a political consultant from Austin, Texas, and a world traveler, says that counterintuitively, the more fractious a country's politics are, the better your experience could be.

"They're more forgiving because they don't usually equate elected leaders as a reflection of its citizens," she says.

Crow says people understand that American visitors are not its ambassadors. "You'd be surprised at how many foreigners will over-compliment you just to try and make you feel more welcome," she adds, mentioning a particularly warm welcome at Vietnam's American War Crimes Museum.

All of the above is true. There are times when you'll want to fade into the crowd, but ultimately you have to be true to yourself. And as the experts say, don't leave anything to chance.

How do I know? Because I grew up in Europe during a time of controversial American leadership. Most people I met were smart enough to know that American citizens do not represent the American government, and they knew from personal experience that democracy is imperfect.

In fact, I think we should all travel more internationally during the next four years. Just to show the world that Americans are a far more varied lot than the politicians they see on TV or read about in the paper.

Three things you should do during the Trump years
Apply for a passport. Less than half of Americans have a passport. You'll need one if you want to travel abroad… Cost: $110 for adults, $80 for kids under 16. Does not include a $25 "execution" fee.
Learn another language. No matter where you go, knowing a few words in the native language will take you far. The next four years are a perfect time to pick up Spanish, French, German or Mandarin…
Build a bridge. Whether you strike up a friendship with someone who lives outside the U.S. or take a volunteer vacation outside the country, you can use your travel to show the world what Americans are really like. Check out organizations like GlobeAware or tour operators such as REI, which offer extensive volunteer vacation programs.
Also worthwhile, take a look at the State Department’s travel advisory updates— warnings and alerts. Just since Trump was declared the winner on Nov. 8, travel warnings have been issued for 15 countries— North Korea, Burundi, Ethiopia, Mexico, Algeria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Philippines, Mali, Jordan, Egypt, Congo, and, last week, South Sudan, Bangladesh and The Gambia— and alerts were issued for Haiti and Europe. There were already warnings in effect for Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, El Salvador, Turkey, Iraq, Libya, Chad, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Laos, Tunisia, Israel and Palestine, Iran, Cameroon, Honduras, Nigeria, Lebanon, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. And that’s just 2016 and the first month of 2017! Tip: everyone's wise to Canadian flags sewn into your backpack.



At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more point about passports. There are several states that may NOT use expanded licenses, therefore the TSA will require you to have a valid passport in order to board a plane (or a train?? not sure). BTW, this law has changed and extensions for compliance have been granted and also withdrawn since 2015. I don't know the exact status any more so... your mileage may vary.
Here are the states affected as far as I know today:
4.New Mexico;

I last travelled when cheney was the bushbaby's puppeteer and when the us had invaded an innocent nation in order to steal their oil. But obamanation was running and the people were very optimistic that he'd be elected and he'd fix us. They were wrong, but they were also very friendly.

However, I don't see myself travelling until after that pile of rancid shit dies.

If muskrathead does a few colossally stupid and evil things, I think their natural patience and empathy might just get worn out.
But it's also true that the entire world is moving rapidly right toward fascism and despotism, so maybe they'll feel sympatico even after der fuhrer pushes the button a couple of times.

The us is a fucked-up shithole with very few redeeming features. The rest of the world seems to be trying to compete.

Does anyone else feel a world war brewing?

At 4:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I fear for the Trumpanzee's tiny finger on that nuke button, with his vindictive and impulsive style and lack of regard for the consequences of his actions. As Digby says, in the end the Republicans might actually have to remove him from office. But what would he have to do for that to happen? I shudder to think about it. And it is looking more and more like the Republicans are compatico with him and just as bad. Think Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Everything we hold dear will be attacked and destroyed from the inside, and probably very quickly, so much so that it will make our heads spin. The first hundred days will be here soon and the horror is upon us.

At 5:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

4;30, I despise sessions, but he's the LEAST of the problems. The biggest are all the conflicts of interests among the billionaires and ceos nominated, der fuhrer and the wh staff.

Once again, goldman-sachs, probably the biggest criminal enterprise in the history of mankind, will be in charge of the economy; exxon is in charge of us foreign policy; and the illegal nom, mattis, means a truly scary and amoral warmonger will be constantly urging for more and bigger wars.

At least der fuhrer will first check whether he has any money at stake before he pushes the button. I look for a drumpf signage on one big building in every city on earth as immunization from being nuked. He'll make a trillion in brand license fees before he retires from being fuhrer... if he retires.

In us history, the most corrupt cabinet was under Harding. This group will outdo them by several orders of magnitude. It's expected. It will also go unreported and unpunished... like all 10-figure crimes of the past 20 years.

At 6:01 AM, Blogger VG said...

Great question from Roland. But, knowing him to the extent that I do, he's already an extremely savvy world traveler, as are you, Howie.

Having traveled to some far flung places myself (though no match to you and Roland), here’s my take:

To echo the “don’t stand out” in the article- don’t do anything to call attention to yourself. Even in places that might not seem threatening, like the Paris metro. There are crooks, or whatever they should be called, everywhere. These are “equal opportunity” crooks- one’s nationality doesn’t really matter.

I say this based on a personal experience. Once, long ago on trip to Paris, I had planned to go by myself, but a friend invited herself along. So, we were on the metro, standing up in a crowded car. Buskers, muscians, whatever, were playing at one end of the car. Me: drab overcoat, and holding my drab-colored small backback close to my chest. She: big buxom bleached-hair blonde wearing a bright pink coat, with her purse at her side. It was New Year’s Eve. And, lo and behold, what should happen- after we got off the metro, she discovered that her purse and wallet (with money and credit cards) were gone! This lead to some interesting adventures at the nearest police station. The police we spoke to (well, I spoke to them in my limited French) were totally kind, and even took us in a police car to our appointed destination- a private NYE party in the Bois de Bologne.

From this, and many other experiences, I’d say that there are kind people everywhere, and also mean crooks and liars everywhere. I don’t think this will change much, in the age of Trump.

More than “don’t stand out”, I’d say “learn to have eyes in the back of your head”. Be constantly aware of your surroundings. Pay attention. For me, it is a natural thing to do, and has not ever interfered with my ability to enjoy the scene.

I’d also say, traveling is an adventure. Or rather, one made up of a lot of small adventures. Savor these and embrace them. I’m thinking of the most recent trip I made- to Nice. Shortly after arriving, I ended up with a blood clot in one of my eyes. It was filled with blood. Drawn to my attention by the housemaid who cleaned my room. And the ensuing events, I’d count as an adventure.

This leads me to say: whatever happens, don’t panic. Don’t disasterize. Keep your wits about you.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Europe, anyway, pickpockets are everywhere. I knew a guy who had his MONEYBELT stolen from around his waist under his shirt. Sometimes those guys are very good.

Ostentatiousness will lead to being targeted. A maple leaf on your backpack or jacket will pin you as a tourist, so expect to be groped. I caught a hand in my pocket once and dislocated its index finger. Not a sound was heard after the pop. Never figured out which one in the subway car owned the injury.

But when they pin you as American?

At 10:49 AM, Blogger VG said...

To anonymous at 10:01 AM.

I must say I did enjoy your story of dislocating the index finger of the hand in your pocket. I've never had to do anything as dire as that, but I'm filing it away, just in case. Excellent example of being aware and keeping your wits about you.

And good point about wearing a Canadian flag. Out-dated advice from the end of the travel article Howie linked. I think Howie said as much too (which doesn't detract from your comment, rather, reinforces it).

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leaving in October for a trip to Tanzania, Kenya (yikes!) and Rwanda. Hoping for the best. A few years ago, we were on a city bus in Costa Rica and my husband (6'2" and 200 lbs., ex-football player) felt something touching his leg where he had his billfold in a velcro pocket. The rest of the gang had cut me off in my seat on the bus. He reached down and picked up the guy by his shirt and was ready to break his nose. The little (they are a lot smaller than my husband down there) guy tried to say he was looking on the floor for his glasses and begged my husband not to beat him to a pulp. Always good to travel with someone bigger than you. It was a lesson learned and hopefully not forgotten.


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