How to Stay Safe While Out of Your Comfort Zone and Survive While Traveling
The enclosed recommendations are a result of my travel throughout the world on business for 20+ years. These observations are offered as a helpful supplement to other sources on the web dealing with personal security issues while traveling. My apologies to those who do not find these observations pertinent to their particular situation. Allow me to say that these suggestions are offered freely and without restriction so they may be passed around with no obligation. Very little of this information is original to me, and I apologize if anyone has written anything similar. Also, I am not a security professional and make no claims of expertise. This stuff works for me… each reader’s mileage may vary. Some of my ideas might actually get people in trouble with the authorities and/or cause physical harm. Please read this with an open mind and a critical eye. .
Lots of US Embassy staff, host country Federal Police and Army staff gave me input, horror stories and advice regarding personal safety issues while I was visiting and working in overseas markets… mainly, Latin America, but including trips to Western European and Pacific Rim countries.
I also have input from international and US expatriates living and working there. I know that many people have a lot of experience in many different countries, and may honestly laugh at all these ideas and issues presented here as stupid and alarmist. How you take it is your business… it is submitted in serious concern for the safety of all international travelers. strictiond
It was necessary for me to learn this stuff because I have lived and worked outside the US most of my life. I first traveled internationally in the 1960s and retired in 2005 to live in Argentina. I hope you can understand that the world in post 9-11 has really changed. Radicals of the right, the left and the lunatic religious extreme and NarcoTerrorists all celebrated when the twin towers went down. You should also be aware that even pre 9-11, international travel was seriously more dangerous than it was in the 1960s. Now, bad guys all over the world have become more encouraged by their perception that bad guys can get away with bad stuff… hence, have become more aggressive.
* TRY TO FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF with the area you plan to visit. There are various aggregates of news that allow one to program their search “bots” to look for keywords involving your area of interest. I use Yahoo News, DogPile News Search element and some others. I also look for the local news sources for the area in question on the web. Here are some questions you should consider when seeking information about your geographical area of interest.
* Are terrorist/organized criminal groups currently active in the area?
* Do they aggressively attack visiting foreigners? Or, is it more local-on-local crime?
* How active are they? How violent have they proven to be within the last 4 – 12 months?
* How sophisticated are they? Do they use military weapons and tactics?
* Are they predictable? Can you expect to be safer by staying out of known areas of operation?
* Will local citizens warn visiting foreigners? Do you have local contacts who can advise you?
Groups and individuals have demonstrated their willingness to employ terrorist/criminal tactics to further their agendas. While some threats have a regional focus, others have become international and affect multiple areas. Foreign visitors, military and diplomatic staff are seriously targeted in virtually every region of the world.
ALWAYS PLAY THE “WHAT IF… ?” SCENARIO GAME
Consider ways you might become a victim of a criminal/NarcoTerrorist attack. Several factors to keep in mind include:
Taxis: Try to never travel alone in a taxi. Try to never take a taxi off the street. Try to ALWAYS have a taxi company card on you and call or have someone call the cab for you. If not, a taxicab stand is the next best solution. Even US embassy marines have to take these precautions, and we know they’re in good shape… pretty tough in a fight. They are also excellent sources of good local information. Unfortunately, one of the thriving businesses in criminal/NarcoTerror Land is to pick up a rich guy (you) off the street in a taxi, and around the corner are two additional thugs with guns who escort you to a quiet place, strip the rich guy, take his luggage, etc.
If a Visa or debit card is found, they will escort you to an ATM and make you withdraw the daily limit before they strip you naked and leave you on the side of the road. Unless… if they are impressed with what they find among your effects, the thugs may decide it’s worth a try to sell you to the NarcoTerrorists (drug traffickers). They may ask for US$5,000 – US$15,000, knowing the NarcoTerrorists’ usual minimum demand for ransom is US$250k. Then, you may spend the next several years of your life chained to a tree in the jungle swatting mosquitoes and eating undercooked beans. If you or your taxi driver notices a suspicious vehicle or two in the vicinity, consider asking the taxi driver to take you to the nearest police station… or high traffic area.
If you must drive a car and your budget does not include an armored vehicle with “run-flat” tires preceded by a “chase” car and a following “blocker” van full of armed bodyguards, try to rent/select an 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance. A heavy-duty bumper is a good idea for running through barricades. If you see a police roadblock manned by only one or two officers and one (or NO) clearly official vehicle, consider running the roadblock or going around it. You may prefer to reverse out of the area quickly to a place where you can turn around and leave the area. If it is really a fake-cop scam (or, off-duty/retired cops pulling a scam), you should be OK. You may really need a heavy duty vehicle for this maneuver. If is a legitimate control point/official police roadblock and they catch you, humbly and VERY politely explain that you are sorry and will never do it again, but a friend of yours warned against false roadblocks by criminals/NarcoTerrorists. All around the world, official roadblocks usually have many, many clearly marked police vehicles and uniformed/heavily armed officers. Don’t forget that NarcoTerrorists have Police uniforms and equipment, too… but, usually not too many official vehicles.
If you happen to be driving down a street and one or more people run out in front of the car in an attempt to stop you, PLEASE DO NOT HESITATE to slam down the accelerator as if you are trying to hit them. They will get out of the way.
If you are in a known area for auto-related crime and someone rear-ends your vehicle as if on purpose, consider leaving the scene as rapidly as possible. This is a serious “What if… ?” scenario.
In many countries, police understand if you slow down but fail to stop at traffic lights and stop signs after dark because it is known to be too dangerous at night.
PLEASE BE AWARE that motorcycles and scooters are not always a good idea if you have to try to escape while someone is shooting at you. Car sheet metal isn’t much, but every little bit helps.
ATMs: Try to only go to an ATM in the daytime ANYWHERE in the world. Even in the US. Also, pay attention to who is in the area before, during and after getting your money. Situational awareness is difficult when you’re trying to get the pesky machine to work… so, consider not going to an ATM alone.
Buses: Until 1995, I always felt safe taking the bus. I would still take the Nuevo Laredo – Monterrey bus, but probably think twice about taking one in the Juarez or Sinaloa state areas. Why? The various Colombian and Mexican NarcoTerror groups stop buses full of people as bait to get the government forces to move into kill zones where IEDs take them out. I have seen the results first hand, and seeing where 40+ teenage army guys got brutally cut to pieces by home-made bombs will mess up your whole life.