Traveling to a foreign country, whether with a tour, a local, a friend, a group, or by yourself, introduces some measure of danger or risk to your safety. While all danger can’t be completely avoided, it can be mitigated to some degree by learning ways to avoid it and by being prepared for it.
In self-defense, there is a term called, “Get off the X,” which basically means, don’t be the target, get out of the line of fire, or move to somewhere safe. Unfortunately, traveling to another country already puts us at a disadvantage, and puts us on the “X”. Usually you have limited knowledge of the language, the city layout, and the customs and culture, all of which make you vulnerable. The more foreign you look, the more of a target you are.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do, to travel off the “X”. This is Part 3 of a 5 part series dedicated to traveling off the X.
*Disclaimer, I am in no way guaranteeing safety or validity to the following suggestions. They are just things I have found through research, classes, and experience that could potentially be useful.
DON’T BE POLITE
We are taught to respect authority and be kind to people beyond all else, but I suggest that sometimes it is better to distrust authority and be rude and apologize later. So many victims of crime say, “It didn’t feel right, but I didn’t want to be rude…” In one story, the victim hitchhiked and realized the driver was going the wrong way, but didn’t say anything to not be rude; he almost murdered her. In another account, a man in car in an empty parking lot was asking for directions, she didn’t want to be rude, so she approached the car and he tried to grab her. In another story, a girl thought she was being followed and, instead of being polite, she turned to the guy and said, “Stop following me.” He was startled and said, “I am so sorry you thought that,” and backed off. She apologized, but if he was following her that might have been enough to dissuade him.
Those accounts may seem extreme or even obvious red flags, but if you take a second to really evaluate yourself, you will see how many times in your past that you chose to be polite, and how each of those scenarios could have turned. There are heaps of situations for me where the outcomes could have been much worse if the other party truly had malicious intent. Fortunately for me so far, I have been lucky, but I would rather not leave my fate up to luck. If you have a gut feeling, or something just doesn’t seem right, don’t do it. You don’t have to explain, or justify, or even logic that feeling, just follow it, and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. If a friend is offering to take you home after a long night of drinking and something doesn’t feel right, don’t be polite, decline the offer and get another friend or someone else to take you. If walking down a street just doesn’t give you the right feeling, don’t walk down it. If you get in a cab, and something just doesn’t seem right, don’t be polite, get out and find another ride. Your subconscious picks up on more than your brain can understand, so learn to trust it.
KEEP YOUR FACULTIES
I’m not saying don’t drink or party, but I am saying you should realize that it can put you on the X and you should do what you can to stay safe. For one, you are operating in the white when you are drinking and doing drugs. Make sure you have a sober friend or someone looking out for you. When I was traveling solo in Thailand, I met some travelers and went to one of the wild beach nightclubs. These clubs are renown for their famous “bucket drinks,” basically, an entire bucket full of alcohol, and just one can black you out. The people I was partying with were very nice, but I didn’t know them and I didn’t know if they would look out for me if I became too inebriated. So, I held back, and didn’t lose my mind and I still had a blast
Nightclubs and bars are also hot spots for criminals and are no strangers to violence. Of course, you want to watch your drinks and make sure no one drugs you whether you are male or female. You also want to be aware of your surroundings, a fight could erupt within minutes. I was in a reggae nightclub in Belize when a fight broke out and the whole place erupted. When I left the place, I had to walk over piles of blood.
Lastly, not only are nightspots havens for criminals, but also for undercover cops. In Thailand, undercover cops will try to sell you drugs at places like the Full Moon Party. The last place you want to be is incarcerated in a foreign country. Also realize that some countries have very severe penalties for drugs and sometimes alcohol. Know the laws there before you engage.
Also, be very weary of any drugs you buy and take, as you have no idea if they are laced or of what their quality it. Plus, drug dealers are usually involved with some violent people and other criminal activities that you don’t want to be mixed with.
LEARN TO DEFEND YOURSELF
You don’t have to be a black belt in karate, but taking even a couple classes in self-defense or a martial art can help you fend off an attack. You don’t need to be able to fight, you just need to be able to fight back enough to be able to run away or get out of dangerous situations. If a riot breaks out or someone is trying to kidnap you, you want to have some fighting skills. I have been taking krav maga, muay thai, and other defense classes in hopes to know a little bit if there comes a time when it is needed. It is also helpful to research how to fend off certain attacks, like how to defend yourself against a knife, or worse.
If someone is trying to kidnap you, do everything you can to not be put in the car. The minute he or she gets you in the car, your probability for survival drops tremendously. Fight tooth and nail not to be put in the car as getting free from that situation and anyone tracking you is severely diminished. If you are kidnapped, do everything you can to be free within 24 hours. Time makes it more difficult for authorities to track you, and you will likely become more weak from lack of adequate food and water, and potential injuries. It’s helpful to learn how to escape duct tape, rope, zip ties, and handcuffs.
Now that you have completed Part 3 of the “Traveling Off the X” series, please go on to Traveling Off the X – Part 4, where you will learn about safety measures for political and economic instability, scams, animals, and health.
“Whatever happens, it’s going to happen fast, and your survival will to a large extent depend on your competence..” – Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth