Foreign travel can be dangerous. Each country has its unique peculiarities. The continuation of Arab Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter… the fall of European Union economies… or hell, even traveling through L.A. can potentially be dangerous due to emotionally charged crowds responding to media driven “crisis du jour.”
Protest gone hostile is growing and will until economic crutches are removed and solutions implemented. Until then, getting ahead of crisis is always a good idea. Where there are pissed off masses of people stand pissed off and sometimes crooked, fake, and dangerous local law enforcement.
How to Travel Safely in Foreign Countries
Here are some pointers I provide to those who travel from home to work or Dulles to Cairo… Enjoy and pass to those who will benefit!
- Invest in good local interpreters recommended by the embassy, local being the most important word.
- Established, personal relationships go a long way. Where possible, have someone on the ground maintain ongoing working relationships in underdeveloped parts of the world.
- Women Travelers should have at least one male with them at all times – preferably a local. The more people in your entourage, the better, as long as they are the right people.
- Know the culture of the area you are working in and understand the local customs, especially those pertaining to gender. Try to fit into the local culture where possible, especially where dress is concerned. Cultural and personal awareness are critical to avoid attracting undesirable third party attention.
In Crowds or Areas of Civil Unrest
- The person who can yell the loudest can usually sway the crowd. This is especially true in Arab cultures.
- Know your surroundings. Start from high ground or the high floors of a building. Look and listen before moving to lower grounds where crowds are gathered.
- Have an exit strategy at all times. Plan this in advance, before heading into any situation, especially one where there is civil unrest.
- In areas of conflict, understand that things can change in an instant and combatant strategies are constantly being adjusted. Because one side has acted a certain way previously is no guarantee you can count on this happening again.
- Run… BEFORE all else fails. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, identify potential risks and set invisible thresholds. Take action if threats cross the thresholds you have set in advance.
- If possible, avoid the checkpoint. It might be an ambush. If legitimate, third-world countries have weak economies and poor training – a potentially deadly combination when you’re stopped and at the mercy of someone (sometimes a kid) with an AK-47.
- A line of traffic and soldiers/police vehicles often signals a checkpoint ahead.
- At night, use vehicles ahead as “checkpoint detectors.” Watch traffic patterns and brake lights.
- Try to keep another third party vehicle in front of you.
- If you see flashlights suddenly waiving in your direction, at that point, look for a left or right turn, and box your way around the potential checkpoint.
- Ideally, employ a lead car of locals to run interference two to five minutes ahead and call in the road conditions. Travelers can then turn around before anyone sees them.
- One option is to have a money bag man in the lead car to grease the skids before the travelers get to the danger point.
- Consider going low profile if this is an option. Projection and demeanor paralleling the culture can decrease attention considerably.
- Travelers may want to hide cameras and credentials in third-world countries and bring them out only as a last resort. Being a American or foreigner can make an individual a target – where once it might have offered safe passage.
- Keep constantly alert to identify potential risks and take action if threats cross the invisible thresholds you have set in advance.
At a Checkpoint
- When approaching a checkpoint, overwhelm the security personnel with kindness, yet always be cautious!
- Show the palm of your hand, have your ID ready, but don’t immediately give up who you are or your occupation.
- Start with broad explanations when asked where you are from – Example: America.
- Don’t roll windows all the way down. Keep all doors locked. If asked to roll windows down more, roll them down, but never all the way. Or, say the window is broken, or that you are not able to roll them down.
- You can cooperate fully but still end up with someone firing into your vehicle. Remember, these may be poorly trained guards who are little more than kids.
- Always be prepared and anticipate all potential scenarios. Look for outs. Your goal is to get away from the checkpoint as soon as possible.
- If you are taken captive at this point, remember, this is just the beginning. Do not give up. Your goal now is to escape as soon as possible. Survival is increased the less time you are in captivity.
SOFREP recommends checking Travel.State.Gov, a service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, prior to planning your overseas travels.