My parents, family and friends flipped the f__ out when I told them I was going to Iraq. First they didn’t believe me, then they panicked, then they pleaded with me not to go. But the truth is, Iraq, like so many other places in the world–including the USA–is not just what you see on the news. The media only shows you the bad stuff. I could flip it, and tell you that there are many foreigners afraid to visit the U.S. because of what they see on the news: a murderous, gang-infested and drug dependent population, where shootings happen everywhere, all the time. We all know this isn’t the case, but it is what the news shows. Bottom line, humans, in general, are “good.” And even the places that you’d never think of setting foot in are filled with everyday people like you and me, just trying survive: working, playing, raising families.
First, a disclaimer: I am not a security expert nor have I ever even worked in the security field…not even as a mall rent-a-cop! The following are some common sense tips I’ve picked up along the way and I’m sharing them with you. Traveling anywhere will always come with risk–even if it’s just leaving your house to go to the store. By reading the following information you agree to hold me harmless from any liability and claim for damages as a result of bodily injury, death, or property damage due to traveling crazy places. Okay, now back to the blog!
Here are my nine must-dos before traveling to an unstable or risky region:
1) Location, Location, Location.
Compton is not the same as Beverly Hills, as Mosul is not the same as Najaf. Just like the US, there are bad parts and good parts of every country. Even the countries with bad reputations usually have some chill spots. For example, the south of Iraq was awesomely laid back and trouble-free. Wanna visit Somalia? Try Hargeisa, which is super peaceful and another world compared to Mogadishu. Venezuela‘s countryside is paradise, compared to Caracas, which has become one of the most dangerous places in the world.
In most of the less-stable African and Middle Eastern countries, most of the terror-type shenanigans are happening outside of the big cities, in the deserted badlands that are harder to control. It’s in these open areas where the trouble makers are running free and unchecked, unlike the cities, where military and police are on-guard. “Most” of the stories you hear about tourists getting kidnapped are happening far away from the city. While there is risk everywhere, as far as I’m concerned, you’re safer in the cities, where there police on patrol and people nearby if you get in a jam. But if you’re in the middle of nowhere wandering about, you have less options if you run into bad guys.
2) Timing is Everything.
Stay up on the current events of the destination you’re traveling to. While it wouldn’t have been wise to visit Cairo during the Arab Spring, most other times it’s fine. Is the country at war? At peace? Are you going during or after a turbulent election? It’s these questions you’ll want to ask and get answers to. Some places that seem like idyllic paradises were getting bombed less than a year ago. Things can change–for better or worse–quickly. Know what’s going on and plan accordingly.
3) It’s Who You Know.
When traveling somewhere I’m not sure about, I hire a local guide. Do some research and find a host who is well connected in the community. You don’t know how invaluable this is! Things work differently in other countries, and having a guide who is well-respected and knows the people, police and officials of the town you’re visiting is always a good thing!
4) Ask The Experts.
Talk to people who’ve been to the destination before; who’ve experienced it first hand. They’ll give you the tips, tricks and hints, and warn you about any trouble they’ve had, or what to look out for. Search travel blogs, message boards and Facebook travel groups to meet people who have already traveled to where you’re going. Most will be happy to give you advice and answer your questions.
5) Don’t Reveal Your Location on Social Media in Real Time.
I love social media as much as the next guy, but I never post where I am in real-time. If you’re in Libya, don’t post about it until you leave! I love showing my friends and followers the crazy places I visit, but I’ll wait til I am outta there before I start posting pics and locations.
6) Make Sure Loved Ones Know Where You Are at All Times.
I email my detailed itinerary to friends and family before I leave, including all flight numbers and hotels, then I check in as often as possible. It helps put their minds at ease and may help you if something bad happens.
7) Keep It Movin’.
I don’t like to stay in risky places more than a night or two. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies or too many episodes of Locked Up Abroad where people are kidnapped–but they’re usually “cased” first: usually noticed by a bad guy, then studied for a while. The perps note the victim’s movements, patterns, and of course location. I hope that if someone ever plots to kidnap me, that I’m already checked out and long gone by the time they arrive at my hotel with their van. Really, tip number seven isn’t scientific or proven evidence at all; just my own personal belief that a moving target is harder to hit than a sitting one. While I’d love to stay longer in most places, I don’t linger in the more tense areas. I’m in and out.
8) Get Your Affairs in Order.
What would happen if I got hit by a bus and was in a coma for six weeks? I sure hope that never happens, but if something were to go down that would put me out of commission for awhile, my best friend has a list of instructions and important info about all my affairs, including bank accounts, a contact list, and special directions for a handful of important things, like making sure my mortgage is paid and my business continues running. I hope he’ll never have to use that list, but it’s there if he needs it.
9) Get travel insurance.
No brainer, right? You don’t wanna end up without medical coverage, God forbid an accident happens while you’re out of the country. Keep in mind that safety, sanitary and transportation standards aren’t as high in most other countries. Make sure you’re covered with good travel medical insurance. It’s totally worth it, and the cost is minimal. Here’s hoping you (nor I) will never need it. Safe travels.
See more travel tips HERE!