"The average man, who does not know what to do with his life, wants another one which will last forever." Anatole France
This list of "rules" reflects my personal opinion on traveling, after living in a military regime, residence on three continents, visits to more than 200 countries and territories, and all "danger zones". My ideas may be controversial and sometimes counter-intuitive, but they have worked well for me. So far.
Rule 1: Don't worry
The "risks" of travel - and life in general - are highly exaggerated. Many industries profit from making us feel "insecure": insurance companies, the military, police suppliers, airport scanners, news networks, book publishers, story tellers, travelers who want to look like heroes, ...
Wherever we travel, there is people: normal people who live normal lives with normal motivations and no intent of causing harm to you. On the contrary, the less traveled a place, the more hospitable people tend to be to you. Only when you find yourself in places without people (Arctics, Mountains, Deserts), you may be in real danger.
Our biggest risk is at home. That's where most of us die. Anyway.
Rule 2: Look rich and carry at least US$ 1.000 in cash
It is a total misconception that "looking rich" attracts gangsters. It is weakness that attracts aggression and creates victims. The lonely backpacker trying to save on a hotel room at 4 a.m. in a Cental American downtown is likely to kill not only time, but himself. No matter how "poor" he/she looks. Of course, a tiny person "looking rich" by wearing expensive jewellery, alone, in the wrong place is in danger too, because he/she is out of a corresponding environment. Blending in is a good concept, but it is quite limited once you are out of your cultural and racial context. A habitus of being above your environment is the best. Appearing confident and well connected is your best deterrent.
IF you are attacked by a street criminal or overland robber, be happy that you can make him happy. And what makes him happy? Your money. If you get attacked without a nice sum of cash in your pockets, you are in real danger. Always carry a minimum of US$ 1.000.
Money buys you safety. Full stop.
Rule 3: Do not carry a back pack, waist pack, money belt (or wallet !)
Why? Because it makes you look weak, concerned about your safety, being a traveler, being out of your context. Carry small notes and one credit card in your right pocket, so you don't show all your money when buying a sandwich. And carry the bigger notes and another credit card in the left pocket. In total not less than US$ 1.000.
Forget the concept of carrying a wallet. It is nerdy anyway - and it is the "gift wrapping", a signal that any gangster, even a first-timer, appreciates from far.
Rule 4: Don't communicate your schedule to anyone - especially not online
If you travel to places with a reputation for high-jacking or highway robbery, make sure that no one knows your exact schedule. So no one can prepare to "meet" you. Even the keep-in-touch-email to your parents or friends should - at most - indicate a later travel date.
Rule 5: Travel quick
The longer you stay in a place, the more people will know about your presence. And read you. And understand your value. And your weaknesses.
Rule 6: Travel at night but be careful in the morning
It is another misconception that traveling at night is more dangerous. Yes, maybe there are more reckless and drunken drivers out there, but there is also less traffic in general, which is probably a risk equalizer. OK, you shouldn't stay immobile or outside in a public place at night. But overland driving poses no problems.
Why to be careful in the morning? That's when most IEDs tend to blow up in those few terror-ridden countries, because they are usually planted in the safety of the night.
Rule 7: Avoid public transport
Using public transport already makes you weak, because strong people don't rely on public transport. You are immediately in the "victim" target group. Buses and trains always arrive in the more dangerous areas of town, where you need to walk on foot for a while. And likely become a target. Even the famous terror attacks in the West happened in public transport (Madrid, London). Which should tell us quite a bit about the nature of terror.
In many countries, a taxi for a full day costs just US$ 100. Perfectly safe. You can even tell the driver to go slower, or wake him up just before he drops down that steep gorge ...
Rule 8: Stay in the local "Grande Dame" or other "best hotel"
The local "Grande Dame" hotel is your best safety concept, because it already has the best security concept anyway, and it makes you look strong. They can get you the most reliable fixers, guides and (taxi) drivers. There are extremely few incidents where the top hotel was the target of violence (Serena Kabul and The Taj Mumbai are recent exceptions), but many mishaps happened in cheap hotels or hostels.
Your other advantage: in the local "Grande Dame" you have the opportunity to personally meet some of the real movers or shakers of any country. A perfect opportunity to really understand the place you visit. All countries in the world are driven from the top and it is one of the most naive ideas of travelers to "learn about a foreign place" by staying with a poor family in a remote village. Will you learn more about the real USA from a farmer in Kansas or the local elite at The Willard Interconti in Washington? This is even more true at the Serena in Kabul or Kampala.
If you like the rural family stay experience, fine, just don't try it in a country where you could be a target.
Rule 9: Spend time on web research and save money on guide books
The internet has given us the opportunity to do a trip in a virtual 2.0 world without leaving our homes. The better prepared you are about your travel route, the names of hotels, crossroads, places, even powerful people (in case you need to bluff your way out) the stronger you appear and the less likely you become a victim. Most guide books are a waste of time and money. Their content is usually available free of charge at your arrival airport or in your hotel.
Rule 10: Carry a satellite phone, but never a gun or other arms
GSM reception is widely available even in the most remote and "dangerous" places. Again, this is telling us that there are mostly normal people, living normal lives, although in places we may perceive as exotic. A satellite phone will be your back-up in case you are really outside of "normal" areas, or in case "the shit hits the fan" and the local cell reception is cut off by the military.
Carrying a weapon during your travels is difficult enough to organise. It is also the easiest way to get you in jail, or worse, in a coffin. If you are attacked and become a victim, you have already done something wrong. Don't make it worse by trying to be a hero. Carrying a metal pen instead of a real weapon is a good equalizer against a knife, if you really have to fight it out. Much better: look strong and don't get attacked in the first place. Or be happy to pay your way out with the US$ 1.000 in your pocket ...
Safe and joyful travels !!!
Crime Profiles: The Anatomy of Dangerous Persons, Places, and Situations
Crime Profiles provides a descriptive summary of seven major forms of crime: homicide and aggravated assault, sexual assault, robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, occupational and organizational crime, and public order crimes.
The third edition of this thought-provoking text addresses the following questions about crime:
- Who are the offenders and victims?
- What are the major motivators of crime?
- Are most offenders specialists or generalists?
- Are most offenders planners or opportunists?
- What are their criminal histories?
- How often are co-offenders involved?
- What are the common features of dangerous places, times, and situational dynamics?
- How effective are current crime prevention strategies?