So, you’ve finally landed that infosec job of your dreams! The clouds have parted and angels have descended from the sky singing Aphex Twin.
Congratulations, I believed in you all along.
One small problem: they say you’re going to have to travel. Maybe to a customer site. Maybe to training. It doesn’t matter. You’re an introvert and haven’t traveled much, and you’re starting to panic.
Don’t worry – I’m here for you, friend! Let’s go over some basic travel tips for introverted infosec people.
Learn How and What to Pack
There are hundreds of great blogs on packing for travel you can seek out, so I’ll keep these tips fairly brief:
- A decent suitcase is a really important investment. Cheap suitcases without proper roller wheels are frustrating to lug across airports and will break at incredibly inopportune times. I recommend that every traveler have one decent quality carry-on suitcase and one decent quality backpack or shoulder bag with a laptop pouch, at a minimum. The last thing you need is a strap, zipper, or wheel snapping in the middle of the airport. I see no particular advantage to either soft-side or hard-side bags – the most important things to me in a carry-on are a lightweight, sturdy bag that will fit in regional jet overhead bins even when full.
- Learn to neatly and tightly fold or roll your clothes. Clean ones, and dirty ones upon your return. Packing cubes are a huge help by this. I personally like these ones. Some people prefer compression bags, but I’ve found them a lot more frustrating to use on the return trip, and they don’t last as long.
- Choose clothes that don’t easily wrinkle, and stick to a common color scheme. The more pieces of clothing you can mix, match, reuse for a couple days, and layer, the easier your life will be on your trip.
- Shoes and boots are some of the bulkiest and heaviest things you can pack, so choose a versatile pair of dress shoes and bring as few pairs as possible.
- Pack a small towel.
- When flying, always pack essential travel-size toiletries and one change of clothes (underwear and socks at a minimum) in your carry-on bag. Luggage does get lost, and flights get delayed (sometimes overnight).
- On the same note, always have medication, contact lenses, underwear, and socks for one more day than you plan to travel.
- Always carry a travel-size Ibuprofen, Benadryl, and antacid. Those are a few small things you do not want to have to take a walk for in a strange city when you really need them.
- Consider your personal daily usage of toiletry items. A million bloggers will tell you a million different things about how much soap to pack. For the most part, travel-size items will last you 3-4 days. For longer trips, you’ll probably need more. However, if you have long hair like I do, you might need more than a 3oz / 100ml bottle of conditioner for even a three day trip. This is something you’ll learn with practice.
- If you run out of your travel-size toiletry items, buying toiletries at your destination is usually by far the most economical option, particularly when flying. There are convenience stories or pharmacies almost anywhere. However, expensive cosmetics or skincare products are definitely an exception and may motivate you to pay $25 each way to check a suitcase. Your call.
- One final note about toiletries and flying – learn what the TSA and similar international agencies consider a “liquid” and a “gel”. There are lots of alternative toiletries like face wipes and solid deodorants that are not controlled by liquid restrictions that can give you a bit more wiggle room.
- Have two phone chargers – one in your suitcase or car, and one in your carry-on or laptop bag.
- If traveling to a different country, ensure you have the correct power adapters or plugs for your electronics. Bring a power converter if necessary, but they’re bulky and becoming irrelevant. Most laptops and phones made in the last 10 years can handle either 110v or 220v AC, so all you’ll need to replace is the plug, not the power brick. Check yours and make sure.
TIP: MacBook wall plugs side off the power brick and are trivial to swap at will!
- Plan for a catastrophic laptop crash, with either a USB drive or a recovery partition.
Have a Passport
They last a decade and aren’t super-expensive, but they take quite a while to arrive unless you pay for them to be expedited. Every infosec person should have one for last minute work or conference travel. Pat notes that it’s a great idea to pay for a passport card as well, as secondary emergency ID, and for the smaller form factor.
Learn How To Fly
It’s okay if you’ve never flown on a plane before. Lots of great infosec people hadn’t before they got their first job.
Read up a bit on air travel regulations before getting on your first flight. Prepare to go through airport security. For instance, read up on liquid and gel restrictions, and keep this bag easily retrievable in your carry on. Be prepared to take your laptop out quickly in the security line. In most places, security also requires removing belts, jewelry, wallets, and shoes, then placing them in a bin.
US Residents – ensure your State ID or Driver’s License is still adequate to use at the airport. Some states’ will not be soon, and you may need to purchase an enhanced ID or use a federal ID card such as a passport or military ID card.
Domestically, check into your flight at least an hour prior to boarding time (not departure time) – longer if you intend to check a bag. (If you’re running late, checking in on your phone can sometimes get you on the plane after check-in closes at the airport.) International travel has a significantly longer lead time – check the airport’s website for details.
Check the gate on your boarding pass and find and verify it has not changed before going off for a washroom break or a coffee. Airports all over the world are full of signs and maps to help you. Make sure you’re back at the gate before boarding time. (Once again, this is not the same as departure time.)
Most economy-class domestic flights in the US no longer serve any meal, and some may not even serve drinks. Others offer packaged food at a pretty exorbitant cost. I recommend you grab a sandwich and a drink in the airport after you find your gate. In my experience, most other countries’ carriers still serve a light snack – your ticket will usually indicate this. International flights will usually serve at least one meal, but you might not get any choice of what it is (allergen free, vegetarian, etc).
A bit about boarding groups – you and I will probably never be in the oft fabled Boarding Group 1. That tends to be pay-to-play, or extremely frequent travelers, or business class. If you’re in a higher boarding group (3-5 on most airlines), the overhead bins may fill up, and you’ll be required to check your carry-on bag for free at the gate. Ensure your important documents, electronics, and medications are transferred to your person if this is required.
On the plane, follow all posted safety instructions and stay seated with your seatbelt fastened unless you go to the lavatory. Be polite to the crew and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
What I normally have on my person or under the seat (not in the overhead bin) on your average flight:
- Phone in airplane mode
- Headphones (most commercial aircraft now support standard ones)
- Sandwich (on domestic flights)
- Water bottle
- Travel neck pillow
- Pen (especially if I have to fill out international customs forms)
- Melatonin (on international flights) – (please note different sleep aids are OTC-authorized in different countries; plan accordingly).
- Vicks Vapor Inhaler or equivalent (no, it’s not a vape – it helps with the dry air.)
Congratulations, you’re now an airport pro.
Safety and Security
A few small fundamentals:
- Be aware of the threats you will face as an individual and as an information security employee of your company in the place you’re going, before you arrive.
- Consider bringing loaner / disposable electronic devices. At the very least, update and encrypt your devices. (They should be already, but this becomes absolutely critical during travel.)
- Do not carry large sums of cash on your person, and don’t carry all your money in one place. Consider a discreet money belt or anti-theft bag.
- Ensure the locks, peephole, phone, and safe in your hotel room work properly and ask to change rooms immediately if they do not.
- Never let a stranger into your hotel room.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. It’s very easy in a strange city to get distracted by the sights or your map. Tourist areas all over the world often have heavy pickpocket activity and crazy traffic.
- Consider sightseeing with a buddy, but don’t let eating or sightseeing alone stop you from getting out. (Just make sure somebody knows where you are.)
- Don’t make yourself a target! Don’t wear clothing that identifies your point of origin or that you are a tourist (language, flags, distinct regional clothing styles, etc). Dress like a local whenever possible. Keep the camera in the bag until you’re ready to use it.
- Addendum, AMERICANS: Yes, us! We stand out. We tend to be significantly louder and less professionally dressed than locals, especially in Europe. Please, just don’t.
- If you’re leaving your country, understand what access foreign internet service providers and customs agents may have to your personal and work devices.
- Evaluate your personal threat model and make an informed risk decision about what devices and data to bring with you, and how you plan to connect to the internet and authenticate to your accounts while traveling (private VPN? Yubikey?)
- @SecurityCatnip notes that when progressing through security, Immigration, or Customs, it’s never particularly wise to introduce yourself as as a “computer hacker”. “IT” or “computer security” is quite sufficient unless pressed for specifics. “Hacking” carries various legal and social connotations around the world.
We as Information Security professionals tend to be highly and often reasonably paranoid about our personal security, so I will simply leave you with a reminder that everyone is in fact not out to get you, and while you should always make sensible and informed risk decisions about your security, you should also not let them entirely prevent you from exploring a new place.
Before You Leave Your Country
For US Residents:
- Check the State Department Website for travel safety information on the country you will be visiting: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html
- Check the CDC website for information on vaccinations you require prior to travel: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list/
TIP: Doctor on Demand can provide you a cheap and easy vaccine referral via your phone or tablet when walk in clinic nurse practitioners cannot.
- Consider enrolling in the US State Department STEP program.
- @YouAre138 comments that the TSA PreCheck and Global Entry programs are a huge benefit for frequent air travelers, especially travelers in a professional group. Those programs do come with significant background checks and biometric disclosure, so while I personally find them extremely time-saving, you will need to make your own privacy decision.
- Contact your personal and/or work mobile phone provider for information on international voice and data plans for the duration of your travel. If you do not purchase international data service, disable cellular data for the duration of the trip or you may unwittingly face extremely steep fees. T-Mobile One is my favorite pick for frequent international travelers from the US, as it provides free 2G data service in dozens of countries with no plan modification or additional fees. @securitykitten prefers GoogleFi for the faster global 3G speeds, but their plans contain a firm data cap and overage charges if you plan to tether. If your phone is unlocked, you can also consider buying a SIM card at your destination if you need to do a lot of local calling.
- Consider purchasing a travel health insurance policy, particularly if you’re traveling somewhere without universal health coverage for non-residents, or if you might be participating in high risk activities. Do get your shots in advance.
- Choose a chip-enabled credit card that is preferably not your primary bill auto-payment method to bring on your travel, and contact the provider in advance to inform them you will be traveling abroad. (@mopman adds an great reminder that some credit cards carry not insignificant international transaction fees – ensure you check this with your bank).
- Read up a little on your destination. Understand the general geography, weather, economy, customs and courtesies (like tipping), criminal statistics, food and water safety, corruption, and political climate. Learn the current exchange rate to your country’s currency. Learning a couple phrases in the local language, (particularly courtesies and greetings), is usually appreciated by locals.
- Make a copy of your important travel documents to lock in your room safe for the duration of your trip, in case of a lost or stolen wallet.
Have a Good Attitude
So you’re going to training in Springfield, population 700, with nothing but cornfields for miles in every direction. Or maybe you’re going to a country you never wanted to visit and you don’t speak the language. Everything’s terrible, right?
Let me let you in on a secret: I have never in my life traveled anywhere I didn’t like something about! In the most remote, Midwestern town I’ve ever traveled to, I found an amazing Amish market with the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten! I had amazing traditional Central American chocolate and an incredible boat ride through the glaciers in Anchorage. I saw adorable meerkats at a private zoo in Germany. These are the things you will remember in 10 years. You will not remember the hotel room – they start to blend together.
It’s important to remember that people are complicated individuals with lives and hobbies, wherever you go. Life might be much faster paced or much slower paced than what you’re used to, but people still eat, have families, and find recreation. If you keep your spirits up and ask around, you’ll find something cool to do anywhere you’re sent.
Packing the Game Console?
I love gaming too, but try to leave the PS4 at home if at all possible on your first trip to a new place. Give the place a chance. If you still hate it after 3 days, I’ll give you a pass on watching cable and playing smartphone games.
Plan Outside Business Hours
Traveling for business is a very different experience than traveling for pleasure. Significantly – packing requirements will be different, and your schedule will be different. This shouldn’t be an excuse for you to stay in your hotel room. Particularly in large cities, there are plenty of sights to see after business hours. While museums may frequently be closed after 5PM, outdoor sights will likely remain open much later – and be less crowded! Many attractions and tour companies offer passes and tickets at discounted rates in the evenings. There are also musical and theatrical events, even on weeknights.
Tripadvisor and Viator are a great resource for finding interesting things to do prior to your travel. Keep in mind that lots of smaller attractions have active Facebook pages where you can seek additional information from locals or employees. I like to take some notes with operating hours, locations, and prices to bring with me.
Ask a Local, and Keep an Open Mind
Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues, employees, or the hotel concierge for recommendations of local stuff to do or places to eat. People usually love talking about their favorite things! Even if what they suggest isn’t normally your cup of tea, consider giving their recommendations a shot (with reasonable health, security, and safety considerations).
The absolute worst that is likely to happen in 99.5% of cases is you’ll be stuck ordering the plain tomato soup, or you’ll be bored and bemused for a few hours. Conversely, you might have a great time, and discover a new favorite food. Either way, you’ve had a new life experience and you’ve grown as an individual.
Be The Travel Agent
Traveling with a group can be tough – even deciding where to eat can take a while if everybody is polite and introverted. Don’t be afraid to make yourself the travel agent for a day. Once you’ve identified something cool to see or a great place to eat, do a little research and suggest it to your traveling companions, and you’ll probably be surprised how many people were just waiting for somebody else to take the initiative. If you can tell them how you’ll get there and what the entry fees and hours are, all the better!
Have An Escape Plan
It’s important for any introverted traveler to plan reliable places to recombobulate that frequently exist and are similar in any unfamiliar city. Two reasons:
1) When something goes wrong (hotel room not ready, plane delayed, etc), this will give you a place to spend an hour or two and rethink your plans, and
2) When you get fed up with being around the same coworkers or customers, it will provide you something do to alone.
These places are unique to you and I can’t tell you exactly what yours are going to be. In general, they should:
- Be open across a broad range of hours.
- Have a place to sit with free WiFi.
- Be safely and easily accessible by ride-share, walking, or taxi – even if your phone’s dead.
- Have reasonably clean public washrooms.
- Be reasonably secure.
- Allow you to stay for an hour or two.
- Have friendly employees or patrons who can give you directions or assistance.
- Provide you something to do, even if it’s just read a map without disruption.
- Outlets are a plus.
My personal choices are shopping malls and yoga studios. They exist pretty ubiquitously and it’s easy for a stranger to patronize them without a lot of discussion. They provide me with familiar surroundings and some peace and quiet to think about my next move. Any rideshare driver knows where one is. Some other suggestions that exist in nearly any medium to large town might be:
- Gyms with drop-in rates.
- Coffee shops
Bars are great but I don’t recommend them for this purpose in specific.
Whatever you choose, make sure you have those factors in the back of your mind, and even consider looking up where your choices are on a map before you travel. You’ll have a fallback plan when something goes wrong (or you just need some time to yourself). Don’t spend all of your time there, but use them as needed to recharge.
No amount of Vitamin C in a pouch alone will reliably keep you from getting sick! The facts are simple – you will likely be in a confined space with a few sick people during any flight, class, or conference. The #1 best way to prevent con plague is adequate sleep, healthy meals, and washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water. Bring hand sanitizer, but don’t rely on it exclusively. Try to drink plenty of water and juice to moderate coffee and alcohol.
No Problem is Insurmountable
Everybody makes mistakes while traveling. I’ve been in 7 countries this year and have a go bag, and I still occasionally forget to pack basic stuff. Things are going to go wrong. You’re going to forget something important like deodorant or medication, or it’s going to rain your entire trip, or your luggage is going to get lost. Maybe your wallet will get stolen or misplaced.
Do your best to plan sensibly, but realize plans will sometimes go awry. There are very few places you will travel for an information security job where even these problems will be insurmountable or deadly. There are convenience stores, pharmacies, and Western Unions all over the world. Clothes can be replaced. Replacement credit cards can be overnight-ed to your hotel. Toiletries can be replaced. Cables and adapters can be same day delivered by Amazon. Even money, passports, and mobile phones can be replaced within a day in most places. Consider it a learning experience.
The first thing you must do when something goes massively awry is take a deep breath and think. The second thing you should do is contact the authorities if a crime has been committed. This may be local police, or your country’s consulate, or both. Your employer’s loss prevention, physical security, or travel team will probably be able to assist you with next steps. Your hotel can also provide assistance in many situations you might feel are impossible crises.
You can do this! Keep calm and carry on!