Security Musings

Security Musings

Information Security Travel Guide

Stephen Northcutt, an Information Security Researcher, United Airlines 1k, Writer and Instructor, documents the struggles of the travel and hospitality industries as we all face continually increasing energy costs. He and his peers share their travel experiences and give you quick tips and short reviews of the companies they do business with as they travel. If you came across this article because of a Google search, what you want is probably here, just use find with your browser (CTRL - F), it is easier than reading from top to bottom; however, you may get some useful tips if you stick around and read. Each major cluster of trips is documented in a separate file.

Other Related Articles in Information Security Travel Guide

Information Security Travel Guide: Tips for Traveling

By Stephen Northcutt
Version 1.4

One of the readers of the Security Travel Series asked me to put all the travel tips in one place, so here you go!
Version 1.4

Health Related Travel Tips:

  • A source of hot water to make tea on the road is your hotel room coffee maker. Run at least two runs of water before making tea or it will taste like "cofftea". Consider adding a stick of Astragulus to your tea to keep your immune system up. Don't over do it though, I leave one stick for several days. If you are male and over 45 years of age, consider also adding Ginseng, I get mine from Shumachers.
  • One travel tea to consider is Bigelow Cranberry Apple Herb Tea. No caffiene, and the main ingredient is Hibiscus and "Studies have shown that drinking hibiscus tea can effectively lower high blood pressure and reduce high cholesterol levels in many individuals.
  • While flying: walk if you can, stand up if you can, wiggle your legs at your seat and stretch your legs every 45 minutes to and hour to avoid a serious condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis.
  • Toothpaste on the road. An alarming number of toothpaste vendors are changing their packaging to non-screwtop toothpaste tubes, so-called screwflips. These do not seal tightly, and it would be sad to have a toothpaste explosion in your bags. I prefer Crest toothpaste (notice all the pictures of their packaging only show the back of the tube), but keep getting the screwflip in Crest packaging; that is fine for home, but it will not work on the road. For the present, at least, the Arm & Hammer 7.2 oz. tubes are still screwtop. You can also refill travel size toothpaste tubes by gently pressing the air out and putting them "mouth to mouth" against a full one. I never thought I would end up doing such a thing, but I am not going to travel with a screwflip tube, so I do what I have to. By the way, if you are interested in search engine optimization and web marketing, do a few searches on things related to toothpaste and oral care; the vendors are really working for top position with Google, and it will be interesting to see how they do in a year or so. There is a fairly amusing blog on the screwflip subject if you have too much time.
  • Get your flu shot, both seasonal and H1N1 if still in the wild, in 2010 they had a combo shot.
  • Carry hand sanitizer, the small bottle, put it in your liquids zip lock to get it through security, then put it in your right front pocket or something else accessible
  • Keep a napkin or paper towel in your right front pocket use it to open doors if possible, throw away and get a clean one if possible
  • If you have a choice of bathrooms choose the ones without doors, in airports the ones by the gates usually do not have doors, they have a 90 degree turn for privacy instead
  • Wash your hands often, cough into your sleeve if possible, consider carrying a mask, especially if you are sneezing or coughing
  • If someone near you sneezes or coughs, if you can turn up your personal air flow interface at your seat that may help keep the germs from getting to you, before you fly make sure it is pointed at the top of your head and you are familiar with how it works.
  • One of the reasons people get sick on travel is they allow themselves to get tired. People have different strategies for sleeping on planes, you will have to find what works for you. I have a strap on my sunglasses and use them for darkness instead of the fabric eyeshades. If I plan to sleep on the plane, I will usually take a Myocalm and one or two Melatonin. Myocalm also helps me with restless leg syndrome, I don't have it that bad usually, but one 10.5 trip in the back of an El Al 747, it was so bad I was flexing my legs the entire trip, boy was I sore the next day. Other people prefer Ambien to get to sleep, I get a hangover from Ambien so I try to avoid it, but it works as well as anything I know of.

Hotel Travel Tips:

  • When choosing a hotel for travel, get as close as you can to your work place and also, when possible, use the chains; Hyatt, Marriot and Starwood have been better bets for me and you can even earn points.
  • When attending meetings or conferences, keep your room available till the afternoon. We leave a tip, (here is a good article on tipping, how much, and why), and a note that says please clean the room after lunch, usually about 1:30 PM. That way, you have your room as an option if you need to use the facilities. Hotel shared facilities are often kept clean, but when they aren't it is a real bummer.

International Security Travel Tips:

  • If you travel a lot and you go to Israel, ask them to not stamp your passport, it can cause problems trying to enter other middle east countries.
  • Do not wear an American flag or pin, a US sports team logo, or a T-shirt that screams America, instead, buy a T-shirt in what every country you visit and wear that when you are international.
  • When in public speak as softly as you can and still be heard, nobody knows you are an American for sure until you open your mouth.
  • If you are going to travel a lot, purchase clothes internationally and wear them when you travel.
  • Always know your exits, when you enter a restaurant or any place you will spend significant time, get up to use the bathroom even if it is just to wash your hands, see if there is a back way out.
  • Stay alert at all times, don't have more than one drink in public, if you want to get sloshed do it in your hotel room.
  • Don't flash a wad of cash, keep up to one hundred dollars/euros in a pocket separate from the majority of your money, use that to pay for things.
  • Consider using two money belts, there are a number of leather money belts with a zipper on the inside that can hold 8 - 12 bills and then the classic fabric underclothes money belt.
  • If you are going through customs, get your passport out of your moneybelt and into an accessible pocket.
  • When you are on the plane, go into the bathroom and take all of the previous currency of the country you are leaving out of your wallet and into your money belt ( or where ever you store cash ) and put the currency of the country you are headed for into your wallet. Sounds obvious, but you have habits for handling cash and you are far less likely to screw up if you handle cash in a foreign country in the exact same way you do at home.
  • In pickpocket prone areas (Rome, Jerusalem) you really want to invest in defensive clothing. As many zippers as possible, including zippered pockets inside of pockets. Many people suggest putting your cash in a couple pockets, I prefer the underclothes fabric moneybelt for the larger volume of money. I try to keep enough cash in my leather money belt to get by until I can arrange for a funds transfer. I didn't carry much cash at all in the past, but now ATMs with card skimmers are just as big of a problem as pickpockets, I try to use ATMs inside of banks whenever possible.
  • If you get in trouble in the desert in the middle east, the law of the desert is still observed by most Bedouin, so you can probably count on three days of protection. When you are in their tent avoid three things, do not burp, do not show the soles of your feet and under no circustances fart. If you have to, ask to walk outside of the tent and a good distance away. In many cases it is best not to use your left hand. Never take advantage of the law of the desert, if a Sheik takes care of you when in need, pay it back richly.
  • If you are going to an area of the world where kidnappings happen, discuss your company's policy before leaving on travel. If it is private travel, make sure to set up a power of attorney with someone to ransom you.

Theft and Safety:

  • Consider a money pouch, the elastic strap goes around your waist under your clothes and depending on your choice of pants or skirt, may be virtually undetectable.
  • I just read about the TSA Security Screener caught with 66 cameras, 31 laptop computers, 20 cell phones, 17 sets of electronic games, 13 pieces of jewelry, 12 GPS devices, 11 MP3 players, eight camera lenses, six video cameras and two DVD players. Guess he will do some time. TSA screener theft has been an issue in the past in Texas, JFK airport, and at least 30 other airports. So this travel tip is obvious, don't check valuables unless you have no alternative.
  • You can't take everything in the world with you on travel, but consider a surge protector, especially in the summer time. We just use a standard six plug protector. It would be terrible to have a lightning strike near your hotel and lose your laptop, cell phone, digital camera, all the things you leave on charge.

Saving Money on the Road:

  • Carry one water bottle made of BPA free nalgene (think backpack) for the whole trip. Not only does it save about $20.00 and is easier on landfills everywhere, but it is healthier. Any gain from the filtered water in throwaway bottles is lost and more because the plastic leaches out into the water. Also, nalgene can handle hot or cold. In the winter time, or when you have a scratchy throat, you can make tea in your water bottle. I would skip the metal water bottles that are becoming popular, if you go that route, pick up one of those unbreakable themos they now sell.
  • Always travel with at least one plastic coat hanger, you can save hundreds of Euros by washing your own clothes when possible and save time as well. The heavy duty ones are far more useful, since the thin ones break easily.
  • Travel with a length of rope and learn a few knots, especially a bowline. I use my rope to tie bags together when I need to move my bags instead of renting a luggage cart when we are packing heavy. It is far more versitile than the luggage straps that come with some bags. It can also be used as a clothesline. Mine is nylong braid about four feet long, but experiment and see what works for you.
  • If you ever break one of those plastic hangers with the built in clips, do not throw the clips away. They make awesome travel clothespins to keep your clothes from blowing off a line when drying clothes.
  • When choosing an airline, don't just think price. Google for that carrier's Contract of Carriage. This will tell you what they will and will not do for you when things go wrong such as weather related events, flight cancelations and delays.

Airport Security:

  • Before you leave for the airport, just before you shut your laptop down, go to your airline's web page and check the flight status of your flight. If your plane is delayed or canceled the earlier you start working with the airline to reschedule the better. Make this a faithful habit even if you printed your etickets an hour earlier.
  • Some airlines now let you use your mobile phone as your boarding pass. But what if you can't get signal? On the iPhone you can take a picture of whatever is on the screen by holding down the power off key and the square return button at the same time. It is store in your photo rolls. Now you have your bar code . . . of course if your battery is all run down you are in a pickle.
  • Check your liquids, twice, everything in one zip lock back, not bottles or tubes greater than 3.4 ounces.
  • Put as much metal as possible in your carry on instead of the little tray they have, keys, cell phone, watch, I even put my wedding ring in my carry on the go through security at sensitive airports.
  • Make sure to choose pants that stay up even without a belt, and pick good looking underware in case you get that part wrong.
  • Consider slip on shoes, since you have to take them off and put them back on as part of the process.
  • If possible, don't put your laptop in a laptop case, instead get a laptop sleeve and put your laptop in a standard carryon, if you put it in a laptop case it is obvious you have a laptop.
  • It sounds obvious to say don't leave your laptop unattended, but I see it done all the time.

Airport Specific Travel Tips:
  • Thrifty and Dollar car rentals are not recommended at Dulles, I have heard (unconfirmed) horror stories of business travelers arriving at Thrifty at 7:30 AM to drop off their cars and it is still not open. That will mess up your travel schedule.
  • Be certain to factor in the shuttle time to get to gates at Dulles, that is an additional five to ten minutes, because of the shuttle system.
  • If you are trying to decide between Dulles and Regan National airport for Washington DC, keep in mind the Metrorail serves National, it may be cheaper when you factor in taxi costs to land at National.
  • According to one of my favorite Houston IAH travel tips pages, the best time to schedule a flight from Houston is just after lunch.
  • Houston has more than one Airport, know if you are going to Hobby or IAH. Also, Houston is huge, so taxis can be very expensive. The Houston Super Shuttle may be a wiser bet.
  • The Security line in Las Vegas McCarran Airport can be very long on Saturday/Sunday, try to arrive at least two hours early.
  • When flying in and out of Monterey CA's airport, the shuttle type flights are in a different part of the airport and it is a long walk, make sure you know what type of flight you have before the cab drops you off. San Diego is the same way.
  • Branson wins the cutest airport award with the rocking chairs, wireless and the barn like treatment of the roof. The barbeque place is tasty, but pay up as soon as you get your food, they can get easily overwhelmed.
  • The security line at Lihue airport can get overwhelmed, especially during the day on Saturday. Also, if you get a glass of wine at the snack bar instead of the bar it is cheaper, but if the bartender is Val, pay the difference and sit at the bar, she is awesome, local girl, very wise, friendly and outspoken. Lihue also has a body scanner at the main entrance, always check to the if the mauka security line is open.