It is important to remember that despite media reports to the contrary you are highly unlikely to be the victim of a violent assault. Millions of people make journeys every year in comfort and safety. However a small number of people are unfortunate enough to encounter a violent criminal.
This article is not a complete guide to personal safety. However it will give you ideas that may help prevent you becoming a victim of violence. It is important to remember that attackers rarely target their victims at random. A few simple tactics will enable you to travel with confidence and a new feeling of personal empowerment. The reason we choose to explore the world around us is to learn about ourselves and the cultures we travel through.
Awareness of your surroundings and the people around you is the most important skill to develop. When you enter a train carriage note who is sitting where. What is the atmosphere? Listen to your instincts if it feels wrong then it probably is wrong. Humans have fairly weak armour compared to our animal cousins. We do not have large bony exoskeletons or super hearing to keep us safe from predators. To survive we fragile humans have a highly developed sense of survival. Our awareness triggers our flight or fight mechanism. Sadly in our technological age we use our senses less but they are still ever present warning us of danger.
Awareness of your surroundings brings with it added colour to your travels, practice trying to spot as many features of your surroundings as possible. When tracking we cultivate our observation and awareness by slowing down and listening to our environment. Watch and feel the natural rhythms that guide us. If your walking alone at night and you feel you’re being watched listen and look carefully to see what is around you. If a dog barks what does that signal ahead perhaps its time to cross the road to avoid an area of shadow that may conceal someone hiding.
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Whenever we undertake a journey it takes planning. It maybe as little as finding the car keys and ensuring there is enough fuel in the car to get to journeys end. An expedition to some remote corner of the world may take years of careful thought to ensure a safe conclusion.
Make sure you have checked the map before you leave and you have the correct equipment with you for the journey. Tell someone responsible where you are heading and let them know you have arrived or decided to change plans. The rescue services are called out needlessly every year because people forget let others know they have arrived safely or altered plans.
Look confident and walk boldly. Do not appear lost and vulnerable. Predators are looking for an easy prey.
Avoid taking unnecessary risks. Arriving home late is better than not at all.
Assume it will never happen to you. Be prepared and have a plan ready to be put into action. You are in control of your own destiny.
Whenever I begin a journey or expedition I begin with the same process.
This is the fun part I am learning about the area I will be travelling through, reading accounts of others that have been before. Learning about the culture of the people and their customs etc. Its good to check early what vaccinations are needed for the area as some take time to administer. What is the local medical facility? Is there trained staff with clean medical instruments? Most needles in Africa will have been used several times before they are binned.
Once you have a destination in mind you must work out how you’re going to get there. What transport services exist? Will your airline charge extra for your bike etc?
I try to take as few personal items as possible when travelling. There is nothing worse than dragging a huge case through customs. Most equipment can be sourced cheaply in country.
It is important to have an emergency plan in place if things start to go wrong. You must have proper insurance cover and means of communication. Many rescue services abroad may charge and the costs quickly add up. Rescue from the Inca trail could cost more than $20000 for example. Remember your trusty mobile phone may not have a reception. In truly remote locations you maybe days from help. It is important then to have a satellite phone. These can be hired relatively cheaply. You can then access medical help etc. It may also be worth investing in an EPIRB. These are personal distress beacons monitored by the emergency services.
It is important to keep your valuables safe and secure. Store them out of sight, it is much more difficult to steal what you cannot see. Be aware that bags maybe snatched. Keep your money in a money belt but have some cash free for small purchases. You do not want to be trying to get to your money belt every time you want a bottle of water. Travel in a vehicle with the doors locked. Many people have been attacked when stopped at lights. Keep your windows closed and use the sunroof if fitted or the air conditioning. Only use official taxis and agree a price before getting in.
Remember to be alert and listen to your instincts. If something feels wrong then listen and be prepared to alter your plans. Wait for another taxi or catch a bus.
If you feel threatened when travelling it is important to relax. If you are tense your reactions will be slowed and you may miss vital information. Concentrate on your breathing and consciously relax your muscles. Wiggle your fingers and toes. If you are driving and feel someone is following you or behaving in an overtly aggressive manner. Drive to the nearest police station and seek help. Do not leave your car and engage in argument avoid confrontation and direct eye contact. In the event of a minor collision let the other driver know you are going to the nearest police station or use your mobile to contact the police and explain the situation. Beware cars have been deliberately knocked to get the occupants out of the vehicle so a crime can be committed. If a car tries to force you to stop wait until the occupant is out of their car and reverse whilst sounding your horn to attract attention. Make a note of the cars registration and call the police.
In the event of an accident only stop if it safe to do so. The first rule of first aid is not to become a casualty yourself. Do you have the proper skills to offer assistance? Making a call to the authorities maybe all the help it is safe to provide.
When driving it is important to carry a few essentials in your car kit. A car kit is a matter of personal choice and will depend on the environment you are driving through. Suburban London has very different conditions from the desert.
Car Kit Contents:
- Breakdown Service Policy Details.
- Spare Coins for telephone.
- Pen and Notebook
- Mobile Phone. (Always ensure it is fully charged and has sufficient credit).
- Road atlas
- A good First Aid Kit.
- A Torch and Spare batteries.
- Swiss army Knife or Multi tool.
- 2l Bottle of mineral water.
- Puncture Repair Kit.
- Tow Rope.
- Jump Leads.
- Spare clothing.
- Cheap waterproof coat.
- Spare food.
- Fuel container.
- Warning triangle.
In the event of a breakdown it is important to get the car as far off the road as possible. Switch on the hazard lights. Use your mobile telephone to call the break down service or walk to the nearest telephone.
On the motorway several people are killed each year when then vehicle is collided into on the hard shoulder. I prefer to stand near the car watching the oncoming traffic. Have the doors locked except the passenger door. If you feel threatened you can easily retreat to your car. Ensure that anyone coming to your assistance knows your name and details. Do not allow a stranger into your car. Inform anyone offering assistance that the police is aware and on its way.
When travelling it is important to keep your tickets safe and do not advertise your final destination. Warning bells should ring if a stranger tries forced teaming. Once they have your destination it is easy to suggest that you share the cost of a taxi etc. If you feel uncomfortable then an assertive no should suffice. Beware of people being overly charming to manipulate your decision-making. Niceness does not always equate to the best of intentions. You will develop an awareness of when people are naturally charming or when they are trying to use charm intentionally to manipulate. People seeking to manipulate often use charm and false kindness to create a sense of trust. Another method used on the unwary is to give too many details during a conversation. This guides the victim to believe a certain image that the aggressor is trying to convey. Also beware the stranger that makes unsolicited promises. If it looks too good to be true, there is probably a reason. An offer to stay in a friend’s villa for free may just be a ploy to isolate you from the crowds etc.
A confrontation avoided is the best defence possible. I have trained in martial arts for 20 years but would still much prefer not to get into a conflict. Our observation and awareness is often enough to enable us to prevent a situation getting out of control. However there are times when it is impossible to avoid a struggle.
You do not have to be super human to learn to defend yourself. The more complex you try to make your techniques the more chance you have of messing them up. The key to good self-defence is to keep it simple and do what you see. Every situation is unique and there is no correct method. As long as you use reasonable force the law will be on your side. Therefore carrying a knife for self-protection would get you into trouble with the police and rightly so. I do not recommend you carry tools to defend yourself. Once armed you are more likely to have a confrontational mindset and also a tool will make defending yourself more complex. Remember if you are attacked to make lots of noise.
Do Not scream shout loudly to the attacker to leave you alone. Use your voice as a weapon. Learn to make a fist and use it. Also make sure your technique is effective. Kick low and hard, as this is much faster and harder to see.