Life on the Road: Maintaining Security While Traveling - ITS Tactical

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Life on the Road: Maintaining Security While Traveling

By Jon Gaffney

Security on the Road

This past spring, my girlfriend and I resigned from corporate jobs in Boston intent on a year long road trip. We spent 2 months living at my parents house building a Sprinter van into a camper and in mid-August, hit the road with our apartment on wheels. For the last 10 weeks, my girlfriend and I have traveled from Maine to Northern California, continuously redefining and tailoring our situational awareness and operational security along the way.

Living in Boston the last five years there were rarely situations that I felt unsafe. Most of the time being smart, avoiding bad areas of town, not staying till last call at the rougher bars and combining a good dose of common sense, kept life pretty easy and predictable. In the rare instances where a situation developed that felt off or was clearly bad, it was usually easy to step into a well lit safe place within very short order. Basic things like not making calls or texting on my cell phone while walking in public helped keep me stay aware of my surroundings more actively. I’d gotten to know many of the variables of the city and took the logical steps to mitigate risk. However, making the shift to life on the road changed all that.

Security on the Road

With our surroundings changing on a near daily basis, we’ve gotten the opportunity to see and experience new places and people we wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s been nothing short of fantastic, but that variance has provided challenges. No longer do I know where the good or bad neighborhoods start or end, which dive bars are safe to stop in for a High Life and which will have the music grind to a stop the moment you walk in. Often times we’re nowhere near a known, safe, well lit haven, as we’re frequently camping well off the grid. Out of this, I’ve identified a few tips I think can be valuable to consider if you travel frequently or have chosen to live on the road.

Security on the Road

Be Cognizant of Social Media

We all know what posting our birthdays, high schools and first cars can lead to from a social engineering standpoint and this only gets magnified with traveling. A live post from the road alerts people not only to your current location, but that you’re not at your stationery home. Keeping posts general to an area you’re in and not pin point specifics is prudent. If possible, try to lag your posts by a few days so it’s not live from your current locale. A moving target is rarely a soft one. For me this is a constant balancing act since I’m a freelance photojournalist and posting live often comes with the territory. Even small counter measures are better than none.

If You Feel Uncomfortable, Keep Moving

Traveling, even for fun, can get tiring. Finding a place to stay after long day on the road, whether a spot for a camper van, hotel, or an Air BnB is usually the last thing you want to do. The first option may be the one you want to jump on, but if it feels wrong don’t stay. Why risk it? You might lose a little sleep in the short term as you find a better option, but it’s better than a night of restless sleep where you’re perking up at every sound. Prudence is always worth the peace of mind.

Security on the Road

Talk to the Locals and Be Polite to a Fault

You’re on their turf, so don’t go running your mouth or thinking you know how things work, as you most likely don’t. Most locals are proud of where they live and will want to show you the best of it. They’re an invaluable resource so check in at visitors centers and get recommendations. Since the people working there are from the area and want you to enjoy your experience in their town, they’ll rarely give a bad recommendation and never an unsafe one. When you find a coffee shop or bar you like, tip well and talk to the bartender or barista. Ask them where to go, or if there are places best to avoid. Doing this will allow you to figure a place out quicker and enjoy your stay that much more.

Secure Your Valuables: Don’t Flaunt What You Have

It’s classless to do so wherever you are, but sometimes it can be dangerous. This becomes magnified when all your belongings are in a vehicle or a rolling suitcase. If you’re parked or camped, keep important things stowed safely and out of sight. Always double check the locks on your vehicle and if someone starts showing undue interest in you or what you have, it’s time to refer to my second point and move along.

I admit that none of these insights are revolutionary.  They’re smart things to do at all times, but being on the road and traveling magnifies the need to adhere to them. Keep them in mind the next time you head out for a trip and safe travels!

Security on the Road

Photos © Jon Gaffney and Gale Straub

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Jon currently lives a semi-nomadic life with his girlfriend traveling North America in a camper van of their own design. If he’s not hiking, climbing, waterskiing, or attempting to surf you’ll probably find him playing with a camera. You can follow along with his antics on Instagram.

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  • Dennis Peight

    Would like to see another article on how the made the van!

  • Dennis Peight

    Awesome thanks!

  • ferenji

    I’d like to think I can read the terrain pretty well in… let’s call them “western”… areas and cultures.  I am a little more at a loss, though, in non-western cultures and areas.  Those two guys shouting and gesturing may be haggling over the price of figs, or over where to hide our bodies.  The graffito on that wall might be may be “hot band this Saturday”, or “death to gweilo, next left”.

    Curious as to thoughts and tactics.

  • Robert Larrieu

    John A Larrieu Jr

  • kellyblack

    Great article! One thing that I’ve wondered about as I’ve watched your posts around the country is how you prep for the varying wildlife. Do you use the same precautions at every destination or are there specific security measures you take in different regions to ward off possible bear/wild boar/wildcat/wolf attacks?

    • JonGaffney

      kellyblack We always read the posted information at whatever park we’re at as well as do some back ground research on the area we’re entering. The primary concerns we’ve been in the area for are bears and mountain lions. We have our bear spray and always try to make a respectful racket while we’re on trail to alert any critters. Knock on wood we haven’t had any chance encounters.

    • kellyblack

      JonGaffney I’m glad you haven’t had any critter encounters, the possibility of that always makes it hard for me to get to sleep at night in a tent. Growing up with movies like Cujo, Jaws and Swamp Thing probably has contributed greatly to my paranoia!

    • Allwet

      JonGaffney kellyblack ” Lions and tigers and bears,oh my…”

      Just a note for trail runners, or would be trail runners….nothing triggers prey/predator drive like flight.

      Trail running in areas with frequent bear and mountain lion sightings is a bad idea…unless you are really lookin for that x-treme sport version(kinda like trolling…).

      Stay sharp, and have fun out there!

  • Michel Cowart

    Victor Barchers

  • Allwet

    …A little common sense goes a long way.Good article.

    I’ve had several friends come up walletless, phoneless , cashless when they have closed down the local bars in Lone Pine,Ca when headed for Mt Whitney. Keep wallet separate , use cash(small denoms, not high roller c-notes),tip with ones(several is good  vs the ole’ ” keep the change loudly I’m loaded” routine  , tip well but not hi-roller well, pay/tip by round not a tab, don’t get hammered(or you might when you leave), leave the attitude at home, play nice,leave early.

    Have fun.

    • JonGaffney

      Allwet All good tips! Thanks for reading the article.

  • This is going to sound odd I’m sure, but this is why I travel with a crossbow.  Nobody messes with you when you point a crossbow at them… just as fast as a bullet, and the potential to do egregious amounts of damage, there’s a real fear on the person’s face when you’ve got one pointed at them.  Because who uses a crossbow these days?  Crazy people that’s who, and that’s the message you communicate to the person who dares to cross you.  Staying safe on the road can be very tricky, particularly if you’re visiting another country, where people have been raised to a life of mobile crime, including breaking your window out of your car just to steal a cell phone.

    • Aaron Richards This is really amusing guy… but you really going to try to pack up a crossbow to travel?  It’s not gonna get through security easily at all, and though I find the picture of a man pointing a crossbow at an attacker, I doubt the viability of this one.  I’ll keep my concealed carry for a gun any day of the week.

  • RichardGarrett1

    A little urban travelling tip to add: 
    As a private investigator and prior LEO, I travel quite a bit and most of the time the locations that I have to do surveillance at are not the safest places. One of the biggest tips that I can add to this article is take advantage of Google Street View. If you are going to be staying at or travelling through a location that you have never been before, take a few minutes to look at the area with street view. Look at the type of people walking down the road, look for bars on windows, look for gang grafitti (easy to spot because it looks like a scribble scrabble my 6 year old makes), look for liquor stores that are as secured as Fort Knox is. It’s not hard to pick out the safer locations from the ones you are likely to take a stray round or get mugged at.

    • JonGaffney

      RichardGarrett1 Great idea Richard. That wasn’t something I would’ve thought to do. Thanks for checking out the article.

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