traveling while american

I haven’t always been blonde, but I’ve always looked American. The only time people speak a foreign language to me is in Chicago. They think I speak Polish or Ukrainian.

I remember traveling for work during the Bush administration. Before there was ISIS, there were fake weapons of mass destruction and Abu Ghraib. And, all around the world, people wanted to know if I supported George W. Bush.

The answer was no, of course. But as a guest in another country, I had to politely endure lectures on the dangers of American foreign policy from taxi drivers, waiters, and even colleagues.

So, now we’re in the age of Donald Trump, and it feels like déjà vu all over again. We’re enacting a Muslim ban in countries where Trump doesn’t do business. We are limiting access to family planning associations around the globe. And Trump is about to appoint a Supreme Court justice to cement his legacy.

Is this 2017 or 2007? Ugh.

If you travel internationally for work, here are some tips to stay safe when traveling while American.

1. Maybe reconsider travel. Do you need to go? Right now? We’ve got Skype and other ways to conduct business.

2. Don’t travel alone. It’s good (and sad) advice for women at any time. I think this is good advice for everybody, right now.

3. Work with your corporate safety or risk management team to ensure you have a plan to get home. I was in London, traveling to the town of Kent, on the morning of July 7th, 2005. My corporate safety colleagues were helpful and had my back. And I never worried about getting home even though London was in a state of chaos.

4. Don’t look so American. As a blonde woman, this is an impossible request. But you can try to blend as much as possible. Keep your voice down, don’t smile so much, and don’t talk on public transit. Pay attention to your route and stay alert.

5. Tell people you’re Canadian. Are you American? You’re damn right you’re American. You bleed red, white and blue. But you’re not a public official or an ambassador, so it’s okay to lie and say you’re from Toronto. You live downtown. It’s nice, and the people are friendly, but it’s chilly in the winter. You get a lot of snow.

The best way to stay safe is to lobby for smart and sensible foreign policies that benefit America but don’t hurt the rest of the planet. Short of that, look sharp and mind your manners. And always notify the State Department when you travel.


  1. Yes! I was always told when I’ve been in Paris to say that I’m Canadian and that it would especially get me a better rate on a portrait at Sacre Coeur. Of course, if I saw New Yorker, this is a completely different beast than saying American, so there’s that too.

    Stay safe!

  2. Not to discount the rest of your content in this post, but your note about Chicago caught my eye…

    I have a very, let’s say, distinctive look (which, sadly, is NOT code for handsome)… Long face, deep-set eyes, big nose, big lips and a tall forehead. Basically, I’m all FEATURES.

    Anyway, whilst visiting Chicago more than 25 years ago, I dined at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant — total hole-in-the-wall neighborhood joint.

    There was coffee klatch of elderly, babooshka-type Lithuanian women huddled up at a corner table. I stepped in the door, and they mobbed me — speaking in a flurry of Lithuanian.

    Turns out my 18yr old self was the spitting image of a young Lithuanian man. And they assumed I had just arrived from the old country.

    A portion of my ancestral heritage is indeterminate, but I’d say that’s a pretty strong indicator the unknown element hails from Eastern Europe.

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