Things Your Travel Agent Won’t Tell You

Posted January 21st, 2011 at 5:22 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

I recently wrote a blog about how to try to survive if caught in a shooting spree like the one in Tucson, Arizona.  But a recent posting by the good folks at Stratfor (a private intelligence firm with some very intelligent people) on what to do if caught in political or military unrest in a place such as in Tunisia set me to thinking on a wider scale.

This is an issue with which I have some expertise and a scenario all too familiar to many foreign correspondents.  After all, journalists are usually the ones going into a country to cover the unrest when everybody else is trying to get out.

(This has its advantages.  I’ve flown into some countries where the plane going in is so empty that I’ve gotten bumped up to first class, which is kind of nice.  I mean, if you’re going to get yourself killed, it at least helps to go out with style.  And entering the country is easy.  There are no lines at customs.  In fact, in some cases, there are no customs officials available at all because they’ve all left!)

Finding yourself in the middle of political upheaval such as a coup when you are on vacation can be unnerving, especially for someone not used to it.  If you do find yourself in such a situation – or more to the point, are planning a trip to a place where dangerous things might happen – there are a few things you can do.

The main thing is to think ahead.  Expatriates living abroad may have planned for contingencies, but the casual traveler probably hasn’t. Know the situation in the country before you go.

Fred Burton of Stratfor suggests having an escape kit ready so you can move quickly on short notice.

Have a cell phone. I have found them to be sometimes surprisingly reliable even in the middle of upheaval. After all, even coup plotters need to communicate. A satellite phone, if you have one or access to one, is even better.

Snacks and vitamins, whatever you need for energy, are essential because you may not know when you’ll get your next meal.  I also highly recommend packing a battery-powered water treatment device called the SteriPen, which uses ultraviolent light to make local water safe to drink. It’s lightweight, portable, and will save you from unpleasant water-borne diseases.  Extra currency (both local and foreign) is useful to have to pay for transportation and, if necessary, bribes. Credit cards are often useless when a government and its banking system are falling apart.

Know where you are going or need to go and plan for the unexpected.  I also recommend a small battery-powered GPS equipped with a solar charger from Solio – it can also charge your cell phone.  That plane ticket you have may prove worthless if they close the airport.  How will you get out?  Is your embassy evacuating civilians?  (And Stratfor recommends registering with your embassy upon arrival in the country.)

A little planning will allow you to return home safely with plenty of interesting stories to tell.

One response to “Things Your Travel Agent Won’t Tell You”

  1. Thank you for a very well written and informative blog. I always enjoy your writing and look forward to what the future holds as I see you are gathering a very large group of followers. Thank you

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About this blog

Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas is VOA senior correspondent and news analyst. He has spent more than 30 years covering a wide range of stories on political developments, war, and civil unrest. From 1990 to 1994 he was VOA’s bureau chief in Islamabad, and has made numerous trips back to the region since then. He was also Southeast Asia bureau chief in Bangkok from 1996-2001. He is now based in Washington, providing background and analysis on issues of intelligence, security, and terrorism for VOA’s worldwide audience.


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