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Advice About Travel in a Time of War

19 March 2003

by Edward Hasbrouck, author of “The Practical Nomad”

As I write this, the television in the background is reporting the first bombs falling on Baghdad. But should we be afraid? Should we cancel or change our plans to travel? What happens if we want to change our plans? And will we have to give up some of our freedoms and civil liberties in order to ensure our safety and security when we travel, especially by air?

There’s much new information on all these questions on this Web site. There are links below to FAQ’s and articles on key topics of concern.

In general, it’s important to remember that this is an excellent time to travel. I’ve travelled on 4 continents since 11 September 2001, and I get messages from readers and clients every day. From around the world, the message is the same: no matter how unpopular the government of the USA may be, people continue to extend a warm and genuine welcome to individual American tourists and visitors (as long as you don’t present yourself as a spokesperson or chearleader for the government or the war).

Prices for airline tickets are the lowest they have ever been, and possibly the lowest they will ever be. Airlines are determined to reduce capacity until they can raise prices. If you wait until summer to buy your tickets, there will be fewer, more expensive tickets available.

Hotel prices are very low too in most of the world. And with fewer people travelling, there’s less need to make reservations in advnace, so you can allow more flexibility in your plans. I’m going to London next month on vacation, during the Easter holiday week. I’ve bought my tickets, but I haven’t reserved a hotel, and I probably won’t bother. I’ll wait until I can pick a room in person when I arrive — there will be empty rooms.

Is travel scary? For many people, yes. But “frightening” doesn’t necessarily mean “dangerous”. Road accidents are the biggest danger in travel. Even now, airplanes are by far the safest way to travel.

Let’s deal with our fear as fear — not throw away our freedom to appease our fear, without even getting any real safety into the bargain. What really terrifies me are the government’s plans to compile everything in our travel records — where we go, when, with whom, and behind the closed doors of our hotel room, whether we ask for one bed or two — into a database we could never see, but which could be used as the basis to decide whether we would be allowed to fly. And which could be kept for up to 50 years and given to any foreign government without restriction.

I’m one of a small group of privacy advocates who have been invited to meet with the Transportation Security Administration next month about their “CAPPS-II” system for profiling and compiling information about travellers. I’ll be telling the TSA that they need to bring the USA into line with international norms for protection of privacy as a human right, such as those that have been enacted into law in Canada and the European Union. Before more travel records are turned over to the government, we need privacy protections for existing travel databases, especially the ones maintained by computerized reservation systems.

But travel isn’t just an act of “assembly” directly protected, in the USA, under the First Amendment. Travel is also an act of peacemaking.

We may not be able to do anything directly about this war. But by travelling around the world, learning about other peoples and cultures and other ways of seeing and doing things, and bringing that knowledge and awareness back home, maybe we can make the next war a little less likely.

So please keep travelling, and keep doing what you can for peace.

Yours for a better future,

Edward Hasbrouck
19 March 2003

Links to FAQ’s and articles on other travel concerns:

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