Travel Security Advice.

Whether you're going away on holiday, going abroad on a brief business trip or working away for longer, there's something in this section for you. General advice given includes advice on mode of transport, on day-to-day safety issues and on getting through difficult situations.

Generally, it's better to avoid difficult situations than to know how to deal with them. Many martial arts and combat masters will advise that "the best way to block a punch is by not being there in the first place". They will also say "nobody was ever harmed by displaying a clean pair of heels". This is advice that's very valuable. The purpose of this page is to illustrate ways in which you can avoid trouble rather than how to deal with it when it arises.

In many cities, street lighting is seen as being the main method of stopping street crime. The argument is that criminals don't like to be seen. This is, to a large extent, perfectly true. Having said that, the same has been said about closed-circuit television yet regularly one hears of people being attacked, mugged, robbed or murdered in front of closed-circuit TV cameras. Their presence doesn't deter criminals; it just makes sure they wear balaclavas or ski masks to cover their faces. One group of children were recently shown on television, burgling a shop. They all wore parkas with the hood pulled close over their faces so their faces couldn't be seen. Similarly, two youths were shown attacking a couple. They were not even wearing masks. They were caught but the couple who were attacked will bear their injuries for the rest of their lives, no matter what happens to their attackers.

Senseless street attacks are generally more common during the evening and night. Thus, it makes sense to stay out of the centres after dusk or after office hours have finished. These attacks can take many forms. It can be a group of drunkards or drug addicts, spoiling for a fight and you happen to be in their field of view. It could a planned attack based on the clothes you're wearing, the colour of your skin or any other factor. The best advice in the street is to walk assertively, walk briskly and to walk close to the kerb. If somebody says or shouts something, do not reply. Walk on. If accosted, cross the street. Above all, stay in the best lit section of the street or walk behind or with a group of other people. Street attacks are usually made on people walking alone or in pairs.

Muggings. These can occur at any time. Having said that, they're about the most predictable violent crime. Usually, muggers work in pairs. Almost always, one of the pair will lure or guide the victim towards a darker area. Sometimes it will take the form of an aggressive beggar, looking for money or cigarettes. The victim will instinctively avoid, heading in the direction the decoy is guiding him or her in. Always, if you are accosted, step out into the road to pass the decoy. It draws attention to you and will help you pass by the decoy. Once spotted, many will not pursue further. Sometimes the decoy will take the form of a young lady who proposes to provide sexual services for a small sum of money. She will guide her victims into a dark doorway where her partner will be waiting. The best advice is always: walk where you can be seen, walk with a group if possible and stay away from prostitutes. Treat any contact that will cause you to deviate from your planned route as a possible mugging.

Terrorism. This is rarely out of the news. Fortunately terrorist attacks are not that common. They are devastating and completely unpredictable. Sometimes a terrorist will phone a warning or a series of warnings. Sometimes these warnings will be real, sometimes not. Sometimes the warning will force the police to assemble people in areas away from the supposed bombs but into the area where the terrorist has actually planted his bomb - the warnings merely serve to decoy people into harms way.

Identifying terrorism is difficult because it takes so many forms. One form is via the Internet, as computer viruses and methods designed to slow the Internet by bombarding servers with hoax requests. This is physically, the most harmless form of terrorism. The physical forms of terrorism are hard to detect and harder to prevent.

1. Bombs: These frequently give off a smell of toluene, petrol, diesel or nitrates. They may or may not tick. Only bombs that have analogue clocks will tick. Many are built with sophisticated timing devices that don't make any noises. Some will have motion detectors built in. The IRA, in Northern Ireland were very fond of car bombs. These were small explosive devices placed under the car, on the driver's side which were activated by a mercury tilt switch. They were cheap, easily made and extremely effective. They were relatively easy to see if you looked under your car, either directly or with the aid of a mirror. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to look for suspicious packages. Suspicious packages can be of any size from a cigarette packet sized bomb to something much larger, for example a lorry. Often they'll be something that's not strange but just not quite where it should be. Somebody might put something heavy into a waste bin. Bombs are usually quite dense and quite heavy. It's always wise, in a strange city to keep moving.

2. Shootings: These are usually not directed at the innocent bystander but at specific targets. Sometimes, the innocent bystander might be mistaken for the specific target although this is rare.

3. Car Jacking: . Car jackers can be seen and prevented more easily than one might think. There's one rule about car jacking - it doesn't work if the vehicle isn't stationary. Keep moving. If somebody stands in the street in front of you, aiming a gun at you, don't stop. Duck down and push the accelerator down hard. Your survival is important. His is not. Do not believe you can just let him take the car and you'll be safe. He will probably  kill you in order to eliminate a witness. Keep all your car doors locked at all times. If somebody tries to speak with you, do not open the window more than 5 mm. The wider it's open, the easier it is for the car jacker to reach in with a knife, to lever the window down etc. Car Jackers are usually after the car and your valuables.

4. Hijacking: These usually occur because the hijackers want hostages to use as bargaining chips or they need the mode of transport to use as a tool. If it's a bus, try to slip out through the emergency exit when the bus is moving slowly. The police will usually be following so the hijackers won't usually jump off to collect you. They might try to shoot you if you do jump off so it's best to seek some solid cover. Also remember that the police don't know whether you're a hijacker or a hostage. Listen to their instructions carefully or, if you don't speak their language, shout to them in English.

Train hijacking is very rare. It's so rare that it's not possible to recollect a single episode that has occurred in Britain since the Great Train Robbey. Modern trains complicate the matter because their doors will not open until the train is stationary because many people are alleged to have fallen out through doors that allegedly opened themselves. Train hijacking might occur near a foreign border because the hijackers need to cross the border without going through customs or through a border check for whatever reason. As with bus hijackings, extracting yourself from the situation is the best response. Remember: if you're not there, nothing can happen to you.

Plane hijacking usually happens on planes heading to, from or around the Middle East. Often it's performed by zealots. The advice to date has been to keep your head down, not to be noticed and to await rescue. After what happened in America, perhaps that needs to be updated. All hijackers should be regarded as dangerous. There's no face to be lost and much advantage to be gained by attacking them from behind. There are many weapons available on the average aeroplane that don't resemble traditional weapons. A pair of shoelaces can be used to garrotte a hijacker or a ladies stiletto heel can be used as a stabbing weapon. Always remember that if a hijacker surrenders, you have to keep him held down and watched. That takes precious manpower that might not be reliable or available. An imobilised hijacker requires less attention. The important thing is to seize control of the situation as soon as the hijackers make their presence known. Hijacked planes are quite liable to be shot down these days - even though it's illegal to shoot down a non-military aeroplane under UN law. We use aeroplanes for speed but since the latest increase in security, the increased check-in time plus the flight time and any delays might easily make other modes of travel more time-efficient.

Boat hijacking (piracy) is rare but does happen. The last boat within memory that was hijacked was the Achile Lauru. During that hijacking, one or more passengers were murdered and thrown overboard. Boat hijackers can be outnumbered easily and once they've been thrown overboard aren't liable to be any more trouble.

5. Bungled Robberies: These are usually performed by criminals who aren't too bright. Usually they end up taking hostages and sealing themselves and their hostages into banks or some other premises while the police arrive in large quantities. The end is always the same: after a delay that can range from half an hour to several days, the criminals are arrested. There's little to be gained by killing anybody so generally they won't although they might take out their frustrations physically. In the case of bungled robbery, the best advice is not to draw attention to yourself and keep your head down. Always look for a means of escape, however. If during the night, all the hijackers are asleep and it looks easy to escape then try. If you have to visit the toilet, try to leave via the window.

6. Highway robbery: This can take any form from a single gunman stopping a lone motorist to a gang of gunmen holding up a bus. Generally, it's better to travel during the day and to sleep in a safe hotel at night. Lone motorists have been held up by gunmen as close as Eastern Europe. Buses have and are sometimes stopped by armed gangs. The aim is always robbery, sometimes rape as well and frequently murder too. The safest way to travel overland is by train although sleeper trains have somewhat of a reputation for burglary. In some countries, the burglars inject sleeping gas into the compartment via a vent and then open the door with a key. The victims wake with nothing.

7. Hotel robbery: This usually takes place when the victim is out for the day. In Eastern Europe, a year or two back, a man returned unexpectedly to his hotel room to discover burglars. After a brief fight, the burglars pulled out a pistol and killed him. There is little defence against this although a good bodyguard will always check-out your room before he lets you enter.

8. Street robbery: This can take any form. It's usually prevented by common sense and by judicious use of a bodyguard. Don't carry all your money in one pocket, one wallet, one purse. Don't carry all your cash point cards together. Keep your credit cards separate. Don't carry all your money all the time. Don't wear jewellery that's worth more than five pounds in total. Don't wear clothes that look better or more expensive than the locals. Try to blend in.

Prevention of robbery: In order to prevent robbery, certain precautions are advisable:
1. Don't carry more than a minimal amount of cash.
2. Don't openly carry a camera.
3. Don't carry anything expensive - it'll probably be stolen.
4. Don't leave your money in obvious places in your hotel room.
5. Do take out holiday insurance but take it out through your credit card. Under British law, if the insurance company messes you around, you can contact the card company who will take over and provide the services for which you paid. I've had poor experience of so-called travel insurance companies - one refused to acknowledge my calls for assistance when I was desperately ill. The moral: insure your insurance! Also remember that while a company might say "phone us", that might not be possible from some countries. Reverse-charge is not available in all countries either.
6. Do keep your eyes open.
7. Don't go near beggars, tramps or prostitutes.
8. Keep a lookout for pickpockets at all times.
9. Don't be afraid of injuring children if a group go for your pockets. One American man picked up the smallest and threw him at others who were trying to pick his pockets. He got up and tried for the man's pockets again. At that point it was obvious the only way out was to clout them hard, which he did. The police view beggars as scum in most countries and violence as the only sensible defence.
10. Don't get involved in arguments.
11. Don't leave your drinks unattended (anything could be put in them from Rohypnol to Cyanide) - even better, don't drink. You can drink at home.
12. If you need to carry a lot of money, conceal it. Remember that if you get mugged, you might get searched rather thoroughly. Be creative with your hiding places. Do not buy money belts or pouches for your money. They are almost the first things people will search for. A typical police search pattern (which most criminals will copy) would be all the way up the trouser legs, all the way along your arms, all the way down your sides, front and back. Pockets will be next, followed by an inspection of your belt. Notice the places that have been missed: inside the shoes or better, inside the socks and inside the trouser waistband. There is another place that won't be searched. Two places on women but that's getting really desperate! The pages of books will be searched too. Rolled notes within cheap pens won't be seen. Expensive shoes might be taken by robbers/ muggers as might expensive clothes. Remember that what we call normal may be very expensive in some countries. A useful thing would be to carry a decoy wallet. This could also be used to carry your day-to-day money. This shouldn't contain more than about 5 in places like Eastern Europe. Remember that most criminals are very stupid people that can be easily fooled. But also be aware that they can be very violent once they realise they have been fooled. A good ploy would be to let them think they're in control but guide them subtly in the wrong direction.
14. Do not wear anything that can distinguish you as being anything other than a local.
15. Do not speak unless you know the language, the dialect and can speak without an accent.
16. Above all, don't look for trouble for trouble will quickly find you and usually more than you can handle.
17. Remember that you're in a foreign country and that the police could be (and sometimes are) the bosom friends of the local criminals.
18. When travelling by bus or train or when waiting between trains/busses at changeover points, do not ever eat or drink anything offered by a fellow passanger or by somebody you've met on the way. Many travellers have been supplied with drugged drinks and have woken up with nothing. Carry a bottle of mineral water tucked away inside your shirt that nobody else can touch. Do not let anybody else touch it, drink from it or even see it. Keep a couple of cereal bars or a banana or two tucked away in your inside pockets too in order to avoid hunger and in order to ensure a safe food supply.

In all situations:
Keep calm.
Don't announce your intentions.
Look for a means of escape.
Don't rely upon anybody rendering assistance, even if they've promised it.
Don't draw attention to yourself.
Keep your eyes and ears open.

In dangerous countries: This currently includes all of Eastern Europe, Central Europe (excluding the European Union), Africa, Asia, South America and parts of North America. If it's necessary to be outside your hotel room outside business hours, hire a bodyguard. Also consider investing in protective clothing. A level 2 bullet-proof vest should be adequate. Knife attacks will be less common than pistol attacks. Use of larger weapons such as Kalazhnikovs cannot be ruled out but are less common in the street.

In very dangerous countries: These are places that you shouldn't be in anyway. If you're unlucky enough to be there then several armed bodyguards are essential. If it puts your mind at ease, also consider carrying a pistol yourself but before you do, go to the local pistol range and learn how to load, aim and fire or it'll be of no use. Always remember that your weapon is the last resort to use solely after all your bodyguards have been killed.

When travelling by air, remember that hijacking is an ever-present danger. With some extremists, killing a plane-load of people is their only goal. Security is still incredibly lax at all airports (despite the latest security measures) so aeroplanes can still be attacked and destroyed quite easily. If I can spot the holes then terrorists surely can.

General advice: Don't carry with you, more than you need. For a typical 2 week break try not to carry more than around 5kg of luggage. Men don't have to shave every day on holiday and women don't need cosmetics etc. Typically, a shaver will weigh 120g and a mobile phone will weigh about the same. A phone charger will weigh around 500g. Most airlines allow 5 or 6 kilograms of hand luggage. If all you carry is hand luggage then your check in and check out times are much faster. You also have less luggage to carry and to look after. Taking the phone, charger and shaver out means you can put 1kg extra of things you need in. Many people pack far more than they really need. As an example of what it's possible to put into 5kg, here's what I packed for a trip to Spain:
1. A pair of cheap (1.99) plastic sandals just in case the shower was a bit grubby. These weighed nothing much and were thrown away to make space before I left.
2. A small quantity of toothpaste, shampoo, suntan lotion and soap squeezed into film containers. This was thrown away when I left to lose weight and make space. Generally you can buy all these on holiday and can leave them behind too.
4. Medical stuff - a film container with two dozen charcoal tablets. These usually stop my food-poisoning in its tracks, deals with upset my stomachs and many other of my stomach ailments. A few sticking plasters (ready cut) and a small tube of antiseptic/antifungal cream. Some paracetamol tablets could also be put into another film container although I find painkillers pretty ineffective and never use them.
5. Clothes - lightweight from a camping shop. I use Rohan and Eurohike trousers and shirts. Generally I always wear long trousers and long shirts because they reduce the chance of sunburn. Rohan does make skirts and blouses so ladies can have lightweight too. Generally it's a good idea to carry three changes of clothing - two pairs of trousers and three shirts. In a hot climate that means washing 2 shirts every other day. Rohan dries without creasing so that's fine - no ironing.
6. Shoes - just take the pair you're standing up in. If they break then either get them fixed or buy a new pair and throw the old ones away. Shoes are heavy!
7. Books - you don't need them and they're heavy. Take a pocket dictionary or a pocket phrasebook.
8. About half a dozen sets of undergarments.

What one carries on holiday depends entirely upon the location and the time of year. Most people take summer holidays in warm countries. Thus, the following list is aimed at that scenario. Rain is unlikely to fall and if it does, everything will dry relatively quickly so no waterproofs are included.

This all weighed about 4kg for me and worked well enough for 2 weeks. To that I added a small camera and my mobile phone. I don't advise carrying a mobile but as I have friends in Spain, it was cheaper and easier for me to use a mobile to call them. I didn't need a charger because I only used my phone for outgoing calls and switched it off when it wasn't in use. Mine also takes 3 AAA batteries as a backup. Film can be bought pretty well anywhere although in former Soviet countries, you need to take your own as theirs tends to have been badly stored and therefore has a dreadful colour cast. Thus, in post Soviet countries, buy black and white film only. I had all my film processed when I was away. This meant extra weight and bulk on the way back hence the reason for disposing of unnecessary items. If you use a digital camera and digital films then that problem doesn't exist. Batteries are universally available although in countries with a high incidence of theft and poor batteries, perhaps ordinary film might be more reliable. There's also the alternative of buying picture postcards and then making sure that you visit the attractions depicted.

For longer stays, visits with particular reasons such as study, business or winter visits, packing needs to be more specifically geared toward the reason for the trip. For example, in winter in Russia, expect -30 centigrade and pack accordingly. When I worked in the former USSR during the winter one year, I wore a Russian fur hat that I bought out there and a Swedish army-surplus winter jacket that I bought in Britain for just $20. (NB anti-fur campaigners please note: I tried man-made fibres and  they packed down, quickly becoming useless. Fur worked). Other than that, a pair of jeans, longjohns, a scarf and sheepskin mittens were all I needed. My boots were the waterproof camping type with thick insoles and thick socks. Combat boots would have been much better. Always, in a cold climate, keep moving - stamp your feet, rub your face to stop the skin freezing.