I elected to make this my first “real” posting to not only elaborate on the amazing work of my friend Lesley’s post back in November, but to also provide my insight as someone who does it quite a bit. First, I’m not going into the “do’s and don’ts” of a particular region or how to have proper OPSEC. Your security folks should be properly preparing you if you’re going to austere conditions…not a blog. I will try to keep it as generic as I can, but let’s face it…I’m American and my experiences are going to be as such.
To get the caveats out of the way, I have lived in Europe for a number of years and I’ve been on 5 continents (6th coming this fall!). Many of the countries I have been to are not what I would consider to be “friendly” nations towards United States citizens. On top of that many of these I was in an official capacity and I can only guess how many were watching me closely while we were walking through the park to the local coffee shop! Not fun, regardless if you want to believe you are in a Jason Bourne movie.
So you got your sweet new DFIR gig and the boss has just told you to get on a plane and head to Rio! You are excited but nervous at the same time. This is what you’ve always to do after all, but you’ve never traveled outside the country…except that one time you went to Cancun, but your parents don’t know about that time.
Here is where I see a distinct difference between public and private sectors in the United States. When I was public sector, we had people who’s job it was to prepare us for abroad travel. They got everything in line for us, to include the most important thing: VISAS. I cannot stress this enough, regardless of where you reside as you read this: if you are going to be traveling outside of the country the #2 thing you need to do is make sure you check on the type of Visa you’ll need to gain entry to the country. And many do not just have a blanket one you just sign up for and you’re golden. No, no, no! They’ll have one for tourism, business, or even conferences. Each one will have a different length of time, and speaking with Brazilian officials the last time I was down that way…you don’t want to ever get caught using the wrong one! Yes, I have 2 different visas for Brazil for that specific reason. Depending on my type of travel will depend on which one I present. Do not listen to coworkers who tell you to just use the conference visa (if it applies) to get into a country for 72 hours. Speaking with officials in India, if they even think you’re there for official business on that visa they will arrest you. The process to get one of these is not nearly as bad as you’d think it would be. The longest part is just waiting for your passport to be shipped back to you with the visa put inside of it. Additionally, make sure you check the expiration date of said visa when you receive it back. Some countries will only give you a 3 year pass, others 10. This will become important as you get older because you’ll need to present your old passport to custom officials if that visa is still valid. Hence why you’ll see folks carrying two passports with them. For those in the United States, please refer to State Department’s site for more information relating to threats and visa requirements. It is a great resource and is updated daily by the US Government.
So that was the 2nd most important thing, what is the first? Well the obvious…your Passport
When you are traveling abroad, this is your lifeline. Another country is not going to recognize your US Drivers License. They are not going to care about your Global Reentry card. They are not going to care about your fishing license either. So don’t bring them with you. In fact, go on amazon and get yourself a passport holder with RFID blocking with room for currency and credit cards and call it a day. It’ll cost you around $10-$20 and you can completely forget about bringing your wallet with you. Leave your Lowes rewards card at home and just bring the required cards you’ll need for your travel. For me that is my personal Amex, Visa and my company’s credit card. That is it. I don’t even bring my debit card with me while I travel. Depending on your length of stay, just take out a nominal amount of cash (hopefully your bank can support currency exchange, if not get it before you get to your destination) and only use it when you absolutely have to.
So you have your Passport and Visa, now what?
Speaking of Global Reentry…GET IT.
You’ve probably seen these little things when you’ve traveled abroad. They are the wonderful machines that if you’re Global Reentry approved, you use to circumvent the passport control line when you arrive into the United States. This is naturally just for US citizens, but I would solicit everyone to get on board and get this. It is $100 for 5 years and will also get you a Global Reentry card (which you do not need to travel with), which can be used as a second form of ID. It also will get you TSA Precheck (which is already $85 by itself). Many cards like Chase Sapphire Reserved also reimburse for this, so it is free. The last time I used it in Atlanta, a flight from South Africa had landed just before us. The line was about 300 people long. Because of those little machines, I was able to check back into the country and had my bags and was through the ATL TSA Checkpoint before that line even moved 40 people. Speaking with customs officials, it basically can save you anywhere from 1-3 hours at major hubs (e.g. JFK, ATL, LAX, etc).
So How Can I Make the Flight Better?
Assuming you are like me, you aren’t getting business class no matter how much you complain to your boss. Here is what you will find that can be the absolute worst: the length of time in a plane. Not mincing words, you don’t want to be the person who has sit in the middle seat for a 8 1/2 hour flight from Chicago to Frankfurt. So what can you do to make life a little easier? Honestly, this will go against many folks own convictions but I would tell you to find an airline (which may or may not be your dominate airline at your airport) and stick with them and their partners. For me that is Delta and as such my Amex card is their credit card. Here is the large reason for this — if you are going to be traveling even 10% of the time, accruing miles for a specific airline will get you closer to status upgrades for better seats (and things like their lounges for free) but those miles can be used to just flat out upgrade your seats. The last 3 times I’ve used miles to upgrade (Sao Paulo to Atlanta, Buenos Aires to Atlanta, Amsterdam to Minneapolis) the total was 40k miles each time for a leg that was anywhere from 8-11 hours long. Don’t think that matters?
This was business class from AMS to MSP back in 2015. It was the first time I was able to upgrade to these seats and it was well worth it. The fact it lays out into a bed allowed me to actually sleep on the plane and arrive well rested and able to go about my business that day.