Tatiana Whitlock: How to Travel Safely

Tatiana Whitlock is one of this country’s top shooting instructors, and as a result, is an itinerate traveler. We’ve noticed her travel safety tips sprinkled occasionally in her social media platforms, so we asked her to share more with us. Tatiana graciously consented to a phone interview recently. We think you’ll like what she has to say.

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How much do you travel annually?

I’m on the road roughly 30 to 35 weekends a year, at training and industry events. It’s a lot of fun. Most of the time I travel by air. I’m in states across the US all year long.

Didn’t your bookings fill up quickly this year? 

Yes, I’m typically booked out by August of the year, and that’s been a theme for the past couple of years. It’s really a true honor because I do not solicit ranges, so these are groups and businesses that are extending an invitation.

Tatiana Whitlock Concealed Carry Photo by Oleg Volk
Tatiana Whitlock (Oleg Volk photo)

Does that include repeat customers?

Yes! It’s been fun to watch that community grow and for folks to travel from state-to-state to participate in classes that they’re interested in. That’s a lot of fun and it makes for a really great network and a growing community.

Do you feel there’s a difference at all between cities and rural places?

Yes, and no. I would say that my safety strategies are uniform; however, there are areas of the country that are more permissive and some that are less permissive to the Second Amendment community. I do try to make sure I’m sensitive to that, because the last thing I want to do when I’m on the road – as a petite female with a fair amount of luggage, which just makes me look cumbersome and distracted – is to draw more attention  to myself than necessary. In the less-Second-Amendment-friendly gun culture communities, I try to make sure I keep a very low profile. That means, I will not wear any branded gear or apparel. I’ll keep the Walther ballcap for the range, but I won’t be wearing it in and out of the hotels or off the range. That’s also true for range bags. I make sure all of my range bags and firearms transport paraphernalia is as benign as possible. Sometimes that means, traveling with an oversized cooler bag that you can get at Sam’s Club or Costco. They do a great job of disguising what you’re transporting – the pistol sleeve or the locked case. You look like you’re preparing for a picnic. Sometimes, I’ll use a gym bag. 

What are some pieces of safety gear that you recommend for people to always take with them?

Number one is medical: Start with the tools you will use the most. Statistically, you probably will need medical more than your concealed-carry firearm. I love the Walther Defense Division DDAM kit; it’s an excellent ankle pack, travel pack, purse pack, there’s-no-reason-not-to-have-it pack. It has all the critical components of a tactical range kit in a very concentrated area. 

There are some other, like Dark Angel Medical, that provide the same types of kits. I always have at least one on me, as well as one in my range bag.

The next thing is communication. We take it for granted. If you can’t call for help, you are stuck truly by yourself. I always recommend, especially for female travelers – be very mindful of the charge level on your devices, and make sure you’re tanking those up before they’re half-empty. We need to be the “glass is half empty, not half full” mentality when it comes to communication.

Number three for me is illumination. If you can’t see it, you can’t make good decisions. And if you can control the environment with light, you have more information, hopefully, than they do. The two that I love are the Surefire Stiletto and the Surefire Defender. They’re super discreet and they don’t scream, “Hey, look at me! I’m cool kid gear!” 

Wherever possible and legal, I carry POM or SABRE products. 

And, concealed carry – whenever possible and legal. Those are the two caveats to the lethal tools. 

A multi-tool – you’ve got to be careful you do have knives on those, but I always some kind of multi-tool with me, because I like to be my own Eagle Scout whenever I can.

Do you believe in wearing shoes that you can run in when traveling?

No one wants to run a marathon in stilettos, so being able to be mobile in your footwear choice is a good idea. That typically eliminates flip-fops or open-back shoes for a lot of women. Be mindful of the height of your heel and the ankle support, and how much you’re hauling around. You might be able to be super comfortable in those wedges with just you and a purse, but if you’ve got luggage to carry or drag behind you, probably not.

Let’s talk about situational awareness.

For me, situational awareness is easy because I enjoy people watching. For me, if I enjoy it, Im going to do it more. I try to work with people on situation awareness to play the game of “What’s interesting here?” What would they point out to someone else, a conversation starter. You’re more apt to stay engaged if you enjoy looking around, and repeating the cycle of awareness. The problem I find with travelers is that they either go out of their hotel rooms absolutely paranoid or terrified, which draws a lot of attention, or extremely anti-social face buried in a cellphone – the opposing sides of problems. The cycle that I like to go through repeatedly in any environment, every couple of minutes when something gets to your attention, are these four things:

  • Who could hurt me?
  • Who could help me?
  • How do I get out?
  • Where are the other members of my party, or important members of this party?

Another method is to play the tourist, even in a familiar place like a coffee shop or grocery store … change your mindset and pretend that you’re giving someone a tour of your local grocery and trying to explain everything in the environment that’s interesting. It’s fascinating and you’ll start noticing things that you stopped paying attention to and you didn’t run through the four-part checklist because you go there all the time. Just because you’re familiar, doesn’t mean that space isn’t dangerous today in a way that it wasn’t yesterday – because the cast of characters is always changing.

hotel key Travel Safely
hotel key

Let’s talk about staying alone.

This is something that I get asked a lot about. First, when you park your vehicle, park as close to the front door and in the light and if at all possible, in view of security cameras. As you’re driving in, make a pass through the parking lot before you choose your space to make sure you’re choosing the most advantageous position.

The next thing is discretion at check-in. I really would prefer that the person checking me in does not announce my room number when they assign it. I’ve even gone in the elevator, waited for the lobby to clear, come back out and asked from my room to be reassigned because the guy who followed me into the parking lot and into the lobby, didn’t leave until after my room number was noticed and then he walked right out. I’m not OK with that … I’m more than happy to go and request a different room because they’ve compromised my safety.

luggage Travel Safely

The next thing is to stay with your luggage during check-in. It’s going to be cumbersome, weird and awkward, but make sure you fall over the luggage that you’ve positioned between you and the front desk. I’ve had serious people picking on the locks on my gun case and asking, “What’s this?” That’s not something you want. Also, you’re near the entrance/exit. By the time you realize that bag is gone, you’re behind the power curve.

Grab a couple of the manager’s business cards at the front desk at check in. Sprinkle those throughout your everyday come-and-go stuff. If you needed to, you could talk to the manager and you have the address of your hotel in the event you get separated from you device, and don’t have the address memorized.

Inspect the room! Actually close and lock the door. Make sure the window is actually closed.

If you have been given a room that has an adjoining room door, please make sure that door lock works, too. Use the hotel safe if there is one and you need to … Throw the bolt and use the latch. Travel with a rubber door stop, at least two. They’re cheap. 

phone recharge Travel Safely

Always carry a back-up charging pack for your phone. I have some harrowing stories. Once when I was very low on signal and no one on the front desk was picking up the phone, and an intoxicated person was trying to break into my room, convinced that it was his room. Fortunately, he changed his mind and moved on, but that was the last time I ever went anywhere without a fully charged phone.

As soon as you get into the room and confirmed it’s safe there, hang the “Do not disturb” sign. You don’t need room service or linens on a daily basis. If you’re leaving the room, keep the sign on the door and I always like to leave the TV running, just to give the illusion that someone might be there. 

Let’s talk about training.

A little retail therapy never hurt anybody. If you’re missing some of the items we talked about, go ahead and invest in those – just make sure you take a class to learn how to use those tools. That includes pepper spray – I know so many people who carry pepper spray but have never taken a class on how to use it or deploy the device they’re carrying. 

For international travel, I recommend following Greg Ellifritz’s blog, “Active Response Training.” 

uber driver and woman

Let’s talk about Uber and rentals.

Uber has a phenomenal page on its website about security and safety for the rider. They have a 10-point checklist that I agree 100% with … number one, request your ride inside. Do not wait outside, distracted with your head down in your social media. That puts you in a position of observational power to vet your ride. I always confirm the license plate matches the one on the app. I make sure the person driving looks like the picture. I will ask their name and ask that they confirm mine, and then, I jump in. I prefer to sit in the back seat, with my safety tools at my disposal. If it’s possible, I’ll let someone know I’m enroute – the host venue. I will have a time stamp and communication for when I’m leaving. Because I’m traveling alone, when people make conversational small talk (drivers, especially), I’m very careful about what personal information I share. The answer is: negative amount. A white lie is really there to keep your anonymity and to build a perception in that driver’s or person’s mind. I will always say, “I’m here to visit family.” That implies that there are people waiting for you and expecting you, and that you are known to be present in this space. I’ve even faked a conversation call with a girlfriend of mine. I had one driver one time, and it was just too much. I faked a call to my girlfriend and pretended that I was talking to my husband. I told her that I had left the airport and that we’re passing the Whataburger … completely benign conversation … I gave the description of the Corolla and what time I was expected to arrive. That gave the person driving enough of an idea that I was not alone. That really, oddly enough, changed that person’s demeanor and questioning with me after. Go with your intuition. If you need to stay on a call, stay on a call.

rental car woman

Rental car advice?

Ooh, yes. If you can get the most boring granny car in the lot, get it. The less flashy, the better. And preferably, a rental car with the same state as you are in. A local plate is preferable. When parking, use valet parking. It’s less time you’re alone in a big empty concrete or asphalt box. Use those services, it’s worth paying the extra little bit of money to make sure that your vehicle is delivered to you.

Anything else?

I always keep a paper copy of vital contacts and addresses with me. I know that’s so old school, but just in case your phone dies. I will pin the pertinent addresses into my phone before I leave. That keeps from being head down in a parking lot for 15 minutes. A little prep goes a long way, to looking like you belong there and not looking like you are a point of interest, a soft target or a tourist.

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    The Women's Outdoor News, aka The WON, features news, reviews and stories about women who are shooting, hunting, fishing and actively engaging in outdoor adventure. This publication is for women, by women.