So, this is a mini blog post to bring awareness to travel safety for everybody. Today we had an interesting situation unfold at our house… not while we were traveling. Please take a moment to share this with anybody that travels via plane, train or boat, as safety for everybody is the utmost importance. ***Updated at end of article – see how meeting with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents was.
Note: we’re sharing this of our own accord and at the request or partnership of nobody else. We’re very passionate about safety in general and travel safety impacts more than just us.
What you'll find...
Travel Safety and luggage handling
The following is what prompted this post and travel safety tips. This happened completely out of the blue and now we’re going to much more conscious of our belongings going forward.
Finding mysterious materials in luggage
So today I was packing for a simple family trip to the Washington coast when I pulled my usual travel backpack down from the closet shelf. Randomly, something caught my eye IN my backpack. Located between the shoulder strap piece (adjustable harness pack) and the primary storage compartment of my backpack was a book. I thought maybe it was one of our National Parks passports or something that one of the kids had put in my back pack. Nope, it was something else totally different. And this is where travel safety and paying attention at all times is important.
What I found was a helicopter manual with tabs added to it and pages dogeared. I thought that was odd and maybe something that had fallen from another passenger’s bag and mistakenly placed in mine. Weird, but not a big deal. Then I looked again and there was another item. I pulled out a small black book with meticulously folded pages and some other papers. The black book contained phone numbers, radio call signs, passwords, parts lists and map coordinates. Okay, now I’m tripped out a bit, but still not too concerned as this could just belong to a technician.
The turning point was when I looked at the papers stuffed with the other materials. What I found was a stack of leaflets written in Arabic picturing armed soldiers chasing armed citizens across a desert mountainscape with an airplane of some sort pictured as back up. The soldiers have Afghani flags on their uniforms. The message written all around is a mystery to me, and I kind of don’t want to know what it says, but then there are phone numbers listed on the leaflets also.
Note: I cannot picture the clear images of the leaflets per request of Department of Homeland Security.
What to do with suspicious activity
This is the only time we will ever tell you to call the government, particularly the department that handles immigration, but this is the right thing to do. Here’s what I did and the process to follow if you spot or somehow get involved with suspicious activity, concerning travel safety or if you see something.
My experience finding questionable materials
When I realized what I found, I had no idea what to do. I talked to Chris and we decided that the appropriate step was to call the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). I Googled the number and dialed: 866-347-2423.
Note: the phone tree options are horrible when you call the Homeland Security Tip Line. Please only ever call if there’s an actual security threat to the nation. If you call, they prompt you to report illegal aliens, people who married for a green card, or people working in the USA illegally. It’s really sad. I don’t know anybody that falls into these categories, but it’s just sad.
After a short wait on hold, a Homeland Security analyst came on the line and we reviewed everything, from how I discovered the materials to reviewing the actual pages of the notebook and leaflets. It was really odd. It finished with him requesting the documents to not be shown to anyone (called them confidential) and let me know that an agent would be in touch to collect the items.
…and now I’m waiting for a black Suburban to roll up the driveway and a bunch of agents to surround the house…
UPDATE: Meeting with Department of Homeland Security
After waiting for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to follow up with us since they didn’t come fetch the materials immediately upon reporting them, I called the tip line again on after the weekend. The agent I talked to was surprised that given the nature of the materials nobody had followed up. He took care of that though and had somebody reaching out to us within a few hours.
The agent offered to come to our side of the water from Seattle to meet and collect the scary stuff that had been sitting on our counter over the weekend. We agreed and met at a public park… because truthfully I had this weird feeling that they’d take us away or something (too many movies and stuff have me programmed this way).
Three agents met me and stored the materials away immediately upon hand-off. They had all kinds of questions about my travel pattern, habits while traveling, and specific moments when I might have let my bag out of my possession. None of their questions were too weird and they made me feel very at ease sharing way too many details about my life and whereabouts, but they were great. One of the agents pointed out that since we don’t know how long the materials were actually stuffed in my backpack, it’s a really good thing a foreign customs or security agent didn’t find them. I mean, what if I had been detained in China or Mexico?
We’re now all done dealing with the suspense of the situation. We’ve gotten rid of the good and washed our hands of it. For sure, going forward, we’re going to much more aware of our travel safety and pay closer attention to our surroundings and those nearby in airports and on trains. We’re not scared to travel or feel like we’ve been targeted, but we’re just more aware.
Proper steps to report travel safety concerns or situations
If you come across something suspicious, say something immediately. Suspicious situations may include:
- abandoned packages or luggage – it’s not just something the say in airports for fun
- people chatting you up in uncomfortable ways
- people lurking in baggage claim areas or touching lots of bags
- if you find something on your person or in your luggage that YOU didn’t place there
If something makes you uncomfortable, tell an officer (police or security) immediately. DO NOT RACIALLY PROFILE anybody though. Just because a person might look different than you, it doesn’t for one moment mean that they are either a travel safety concern or going to pose any sort of threat to anybody. Don’t even.
If you are onboard a flight or train, there is always a security person aboard that is trained on how to deal with suspicious activity. Let an attendant know what your concern is right away. Don’t second guess yourself because you don’t want to seem like “that person”. They know how to confirm threats of all sorts, so feel empowered to say something.
I love the slogan of the Tube in London: “See it. Say it. Sorted.”
Helpful Travel Safety Resources
The following are important numbers and websites if you have questions or concerns about travel safety within the USA. These can be used internationally as well, but are primarily for travel within the United States:
US State Department – travel advisories
If you have additional advice or resources to help people understand travel safety better or would like us to include links to other helpful articles, please let us know. Hopefully all of this is useful but not ever needed; at least now you can be prepared in the event you feel yours or another’s travel safety has been compromised.
Please share this experience and these resources with others. 🙂
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”