TRAVELING TO DANGEROUS places is controversial.
A quick search of travel forums never disappoints for a debate on whether those journeying to pariah or unstable countries are independent-minded travelers discovering the facts for themselves or gullible assistants in legitimizing and indirectly funding condemned governments.
Both sides have been argued passionately and at length, but what is inevitable is that there are those who will continue to venture through such places. Many will continue to explicitly travel to such places as Burma. Others will journey to such zones indirectly – as those who travel from Cape to Cairo must cross Sudan and those who trek Nepal must be wary of areas affected by the Maoist insurgency.
I don’t think such travel should be motivated by simple thrill-seeking, treating areas of great human suffering as danger safaris. But when it is necessary to be in these areas, very careful attention should be paid to the details of the journey.
Plan Your Routes Properly
Traveling potentially dangerous routes should not mean courting disaster for its own sake. Getting badly sunburned on a boat safari might be hilarious as time passes. An unexpected encounter with an armed militia will most certainly be a high price to pay for a lack of foresight on your part.
Checking alternative routes can mean the difference between a thoroughly entertaining journey and one spent worrying more about what may happen in the next hour than actually involving yourself in the experience of your travels. Proper route planning is something that any nomad should pay attention to regardless, but where a journey has inherent risks, it’s absolutely important.
Find Out How Dangerous Dangerous Actually Is
While useful for broad-strokes information, you would do well not to rely on the mainstream media for travel advice on smaller areas and out of the way places. Not all of Sudan is a warzone, not all of Northern Kenya is unsafe to travelers and not all of Zimbabwe is an economic ruin. Spending some time and effort to sort out when and where is actually dangerous can save your life – and help guide you to places the mainstream media unfairly campaigns against.
Certain specialist groups such as Hot Spots provide services, like emailing detailed, specialist information on events in your intended travel areas each week. With included analysis of likely future developments and an overall assessment of the severity of the threat level, such updates can offer far more precise evaluations of how dangerous an area is likely to be than news reports or guidebooks could provide.
Other organizations, such as Stratfor provide far more detailed, though less immediate (and for full access, unfortunately not free) assessments of what is happening in areas you might be passing through. This information can allow for informed changes in itinerary, allowing you to make an evolving decision about where you are prepared to travel and where you would rather avoid.
So you know what is happening in a region and have decided that you are comfortable with any risks involved? Then make sure that you have more than bravado to rely on during your travels, that you know what you would do in an emergency and that you can get out if possible, or that others can get to you.
Leaving a copy of important documents with someone back home is time-tested travel advice. But what about a map of your likely itinerary? If you disappear from contact with people back home, where would they begin looking for you? Something as simple as a map with your intended route and dates of likely arrivals and departures means that the people who care about you have an idea of where you might be if something were to happen.
Check in regularly. Bring your own mobile phone and swap SIM cards from country to country, or put the phone on roaming. If you intend on moving completely off the grid, then you may want to consider a satellite phone if you feel that the circumstances warrant it.
From point to point, if you have Internet access, checking in with anyone following your journey is also a good idea – it allows them to clarify where you are and where you are heading next. If your plans change, those watching out for you should know.
Finally, make some space in your pack for a first aid kit. A proper one. Consider what might go wrong and pack appropriately. Beyond band-aids and sunscreen, you may need splints, bandages, burn gauze and other more serious dressings and instruments. Make sure you know how to use these things.
First Aid courses are widely available and relatively inexpensive – a quick Google search will find somewhere close to you offering various levels of first aid qualifications, from basic wound care to treating far more serious injuries.
Travel can be a planning challenge at the best of times, but travel through potentially dangerous areas even more so. Doing all you can beforehand to realistically assess the risks you might face, trying to reduce dangerous routes as far as possible and equipping yourself with the right gear and skills to mitigate potential dangers can all help to keep your traveling as safe as possible.
Have your travels taken you through areas of concern? How did you cope with deciding on your route and planning for emergencies on the way?
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Richard lives and works in South Africa, exploring as often as possible the strange and unknown places that his continent is so rich in. What stories of far flung places and mischief he is able to trap and bring home are mounted on his blog. Where the Road Goes.
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