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Tuesday, January 10, 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.



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