OK, so you have decided to travel solo. Maybe you feel a bit intimidated, or perhaps you have family members who are concerned about your safety – or are accusing you of being downright irresponsible. Yup, been there… just hold tight and read on.There is a lot you can do to transform yourself and your surroundings from soft to hard target. The harder the target you become, the less likely the bad guys are going to mess with you. I took this photo right after the suicide bombing in Istanbul where over a dozen German tourists were killed in front of the Blue Mosque. I was less than a block away when the explosion occurred. Looking for irregular human activity and knowing the basics of what to search for in the landscape may save lives some day. Stay connected to your immediate surroundings and to human behavior. Make it a personal challenge to see how much you can notice. This is being MORE connected to the vibrant fabric of your surroundings, not less!
First, you want to avoid compromising your safety by placing yourself in bad situations. This is a no brainer, however it never ceases to amaze me how reckless people can be when it comes to basic common sense safety. No matter what country you are in, no matter what city you are in, the same rules apply. Don’t go out to party at night alone hoping to meet fun people. You might, but then again you may cross paths with opportunistic individuals who do not have your best interests at heart. And it goes without saying: booze wrecks your common sense. Alone plus being tipsy or high…..need I say more? Don’t go there. Use good judgement and look for other travelers and groups vs. just one person. Ask the proprietors of the place you’re staying at for suggestions. Avoid isolated areas – why do girls continue to walk on beaches alone late at night? I love to star gaze too, but not alone on a beach in a foreign country. And the poor girl who was murdered by a crazy dude in Istanbul? I believe she was an amateur photographer and had been wandering around an abandoned train track area looking for photo-ops. It was her first time traveling solo and in her natural trust in the basic goodness of people she failed to take into account the psychologically unbalanced in society as well as the predators. Those two groups are not mutually exclusive, by the way. I’ve seen a lot in my long and varied career in the field of mental health. Crazy actually CAN be very dangerous, and this woman is a tragic example. Much more common, however, is your basic house plant criminal, and they are looking for stupid tourists. Don’t be one.
Be aware of your immediate surroundings. This includes people, places and things. If friendly is your thing by all means be friendly but do be aware that street smart opportunistic individuals can be REALLY GOOD at friendly so be stingy with your trust. Watch your personal space and don’t be shy about barking when someone moves in too close too fast. An honest, normal person instinctively understands appropriate boundaries and will not seriously breach your space, so if someone is moving in and you feel your gut react, listen to it. Do not be afraid to be abrupt or even downright rude. Trust your capability to discern OK from not OK. Our instincts are actually very well honed – we just need to recognize them and to pay attention.
Be sensitive to entrances and exits. Choose where you sit in order to get a good view of your surroundings. Don’t plug yourself into your cell phone. I save looking at my cell for when I use the lady’s room. I don’t even want to appear as though I am engrossed on my cell…it invites self-serving wolves to circle in closer. As well, cell phones depending on the model you have can become an object of fancy for a petty thief and tells them a lot of information about what else you might have worth stealing. And for God’s sake don’t stick earbuds in unless you want to scream “I am a sheep and I have no clue”. Blend in. Think understated. Be alert. Enjoy all the intensity and coolness of your location, but do so in the most engaged, active manner possible.
On to my gear – this is my personal favorite list:
I never travel without my Gerber Tactical Pen, available on Amazon. But if you invest the $35 or so, do yourself a favor and at the very least Youtube tutorials on how to use it for self defense. A few key moves practiced with a loved one could just save your bacon one day. NOTE: It is also an actual writing pen.
Door stopper – I have a good heavy duty rubber one, but I also have one with an alarm so that in the middle of the night if I am comatose from a 20+ hour flying marathon I will awake quickly if the door should move inward (GE Personal Security Door Stop Alarm) from Amazon. In my earlier travels the simple rubber version would have been great in the central mountainous region of Sri Lanka when a very drunk and aggressive dude decided he wanted to hang out with me at 1 am. The proprietor of the little bungalow I was inhabiting had long since gone home to his family and to my horror I realized I was alone. I donned my hiking boots, firmly placing my foot at the door and stopped him from pushing his way in…would have been awesome to have a big ass rubber stopper as well, if things had progressed it might have bought me the time I needed to escape out through opposite side of the bungalow. Lesson learned.
Basic Survival Whistle: There are so many brands to choose from, but the Fox 40 Sonic Blast CMG Official Whistle (Amazon) is my favorite. Just be sure to put ear protection on prior to testing it because it is PAINFUL.
Tactical Flashlight: UltraFire WF 501-B. It is incredibly bright. I’ve used it for night shooting and my target is happily illuminated. Shined in someone’s eyes will result in disorienting them and killing their night vision, allowing you to escape. And of course, a flashlight is a tool that every traveler should have handy.
All of the above items are available on Amazon. (And I do not get a penny from endorsing items available on Amazon, my state of VT doesn’t allow it…bummer!)
Although I detest checking baggage, I’ve learned to deal as it opens up a lot of possibilities. This is what I check – keeping in mind that one must research one’s destination to determine if one’s gear is LEGAL there. That being said….
Pepper Spray/Mace: I carry police strength 35+ quick spurt pepper spray by Sabre Red.
Gerber Ghost Striker Fixed Blade Knife: I do not recommend a knife for personal protection unless you receive training. It is much more likely that your aggressor will gain purchase of your knife unless you have training. That being said, I use my knife as a tool for cutting fishing line too.
Stun Gun: Viperteck VTS-989. This is a great self defense tool and surprisingly it is legal to carry in many countries. I am heading to South Africa and Mozambique in August and happy to say, my Viperteck is coming with me!
Again – all this stuff is available on Amazon.
Smart travel is safe travel. I love roaming the planet – and I have many loved ones who are counting on me returning time and time again in one piece both physically and psychologically. Travel is incredibly empowering and builds massive self confidence. Make sure you reap all the benefits by being savvy and prepared.