Overland to Japan

 London to Japan Overland

  

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Personal Safety
Around the World

 

Lawrence of Arabia posterMany people are concerned with personal safety when travelling around the world. Being away from the security of your home or home country it’s natural to feel vulnerable at first, so to a degree it’s understandable.

Regardless of what country you will visit, it will soon become clear to you that people are very friendly and they are mostly willing to help in exchange for nothing.

It is rare to find hostile locals. The best thing you can do is to use common sense. The thing is that common sense is not common at all!

I have a nice and true tale to tell here. Back in the ‘90s my father was travelling in Western China with a group of friends. They all had an argument with the Chinese van driver, who insisted in showing them what he wanted them to see, totally ignoring their wishes... typical of the Chinese regime.

So one day they ventured on foot on their own in the middle of nowhere, just admiring the natural beauty of a particular corner of the desert. Suddenly at a distance and braking the surreal silence that usually surrounds deserts, my father saw a group of about 20 people on horses wearing robes and guns, manically galloping towards them. They looked as if they just came out of a “Lawrence of Arabia” movie scene.

Once they reached them, they surrounded them and kept trotting around them in a circle for a few seconds until they stopped. Their personal safety was more than at risk here. They looked intimidating to say the least and they probably didn’t Crushed Marlboro cigarette packhave the best intentions. They sat on their horses staring at the group of defenceless tourists and the two groups stared at each other without saying a word and just waiting for someone in charge to make a decision on what to do.

All of a sudden, before the group leader ordered to slit the tourists' s throats, my father took out of his chest pocket a packet Marlboro cigarettes (the most appreciated cigarettes in any third world country) and offered them a smoke. Suddenly as for magic, the atmosphere changed dramatically and everyone turned friendly and welcoming. That was a situation that could have turned very nasty, given the battle-like attitude with which they arrived, but with a positive attitude everything ended with a nice shake of hands and personal safety was no longer an issue.

Passport walletDoes it matter what passport you carry? Yes, unfortunately it does. As a rule of thumb, keep your documents out of sight, unless asked to produce them and always use a passport wallet; it will hide your nationality to the curious who don't necessarily need to know where you are from... even though your appearance and body language might give it away. 

I have been to certain places (not necessarily war zones) where local inhabitants told me – without being asked – that they wouldn’t have been please if I was from a certain country. Unfortunately citizens of certain countries have a harder time around the world, due to their country’s international attitude, but this should not make people stay at home.

The important thing is to always show a positive attitude and a big smile; chances are you will get the same back. Positive attitude (just like negative attitude) is very contagious and mostly you will find that whatever you give you will get back.

I am lucky enough to have two passports, as I have dual nationality (Italian and British). So depending on the country I am visiting, I can choose which passport to use. For instance when visiting India, because of historical reasons, I will not use my British passport, if anything not to be charged for a visa, which as an Italian I would not need. This is perfectly legal and unless asked, I will not say that I am a British citizen at all.

In every country in the world, regardless how small and insignificant it is, people feel they are the most important around and that their ways are the best. They mostly think that your country is wrong and your culture needs some fixing up. Let them, this is only human nature and remember that you are only going through their country... you have no right to change people, they do not want to be changed: observe, appreciate and leave. If you think of it, you are just about the same if you haven’t travelled enough and you probably wouldn't like people to come to your home country and teach you their ways.

Man holding goat head in algeria butcherShould you carry a weapon? The answer is and will always be NO! I’ve met a few people in the past that travelled with a concealed gun. Many countries around the world made it illegal to carry a firearm and by all means, you as a traveller MUST respect local rules; if anything else, to stay out of trouble.

Your rules do not apply in a foreign country. A gun is hardly useful anyway. When you carry a gun you better be prepared to use it, or you might get shot when pulling it out. My advice is simply don't.

A person (regardless if they are tourists) caught with a gun, is in for some serious trouble in most countries. For example in the United Kingdom there is a 5 years prison sentence, regardless if you used it or not. Just the act of carrying a gun is illegal. Actually in the UK it is illegal to carry even a stunt gun or a pepper spray, because they could be used as offensive weapons. The reason behind this is that if everyone is prohibited to carry weapons, then there is a lesser chance of anyone using them. In the UK even the Police do not usually carry firearms, that’s why they are so serious about any other people carrying them. This is the way they like it and you as a tourist MUST respect this.

This has nothing to do with freedom, I feel very safe knowing that most people out there do not have a gun, while when travelling in countries like the USA I feel extremely vulnerable knowing that anyone around me could be carrying a lethal weapon, including not so exemplary citizens. When I lived in the USA as a student, twice I had witnessed young students pulling out a gun in a student’s environment. This doesn’t make me feel safe at all.

Old wise man from India pointing fingerIn the city of Kennesaw, Georgia, United States it is illegal to go around without a gun. The law states that every citizen must own a gun... if you are found without one, you will get a fine. This peculiar attitude is very unusual pretty much anywhere else in the world.

When visiting a foreign country you must remember first of all that you are visiting somebody else’s home and like it or not you must respect their rules, religion, habits and culture.

You will find that by doing so life will be much more pleasant. Remember that YOU are going to their home, they didn’t come to you... and if they did, you would expect them to respect your culture, so do the same. If in a worst case scenario you are confronted at gunpoint, let them have your money and that will be the end of it. In 99.9% of the cases that is all they want.

This way you will probably lose less than what it would have cost you to purchase a gun in the first place and let’s be reasonable, chances of being confronted at gunpoint are so slim that you are much better off planning to play and win the lottery.

Remember to never keep all your money together. Keep them in many different places, so that if you do get robbed you will not lose all of it and please, do not use a money belt: that's the very first place a thief will look for your cash.

If you absolutely must carry something, then get a pepper spray, where it is allowed. If you don’t want it to look like pepper spray, then make your own and put it in any container you like. Here is a pepper spray recipe to make 100 ml of it in four easy steps and you could store it in a small fire extinguisher bottle for example:

Red bottle powder fire extinguisher

 

1. 

Get 100g hot chilli powder and 200ml of pure alcohol (or ethanol) and mix the solution very well.

2.

Pass the mixture through a strainer to make sure there are no solid bits of chilli powder left.

3.

Put your solution in a pot on a stove burner and bring to a boil until the alcohol evaporates. You'll end up with an orange solution of wax consistency.

4.

Add 20ml of baby oil and mix well. Make sure you end up with a viscous liquid. Done!

 

To put it in a pressure container you can go to a company that refills fire extinguishers and the trick is done. Carrying a fire extinguisher on a vehicle is perfectly reasonable and you will not be considered a threat, even when holding one.

Most of the world is a safe place and in many instances much safer than your own city. Enjoy travelling, the world is a pleasant place and your attitude says so much about where you come from. Be happy and show happiness; you will find that no matter in which country you will happen to go through, you will have the same attitude back.