How to travel like a spy and stay safe on your travels

Former police officer and expedition leader, Lloyd Figgins, reveals the simple spycraft that will help you avoid trouble on your travels

6 mins

1. Blend in

Avoid making yourself a target by binning the bright clothes and learning to blend into your surroundings while travelling. Dress more like the locals and practice 'situational awareness' by continually scanning for potential danger. Make sure you know where your safe havens are – hotel, police station, etc – and how to get to them.

Blend into the crowd (Dreamstime)

Blend into the crowd (Dreamstime)

Walk with purpose and confidence. If you think you are being watched, you could well be. Get to a place of safety and stay in public places. Don’t be afraid of going into a shop or hotel and asking for help. Tell them you think you are being followed and, if necessary, call the police. Whatever you do, don’t use quiet streets as a means of escape. That will only play into the hands of those following you.

2. Doorstop potential intruders

One of the most effective accommodation security devices is a simple doorstop or wedge. They are very cheap and easy to carry and will prevent even those with a key from entering. Once you are in your room, simply lock your door and push the wedge under it. For added security, simply place more wedges under the door.

Rubber doorstop (Dreamstime)

Rubber doorstop – simple but effective (Dreamstime)

If you don’t have a door wedge, and you are concerned about people entering your room, create a barricade using the furniture in the room. Put a table next to the door and place an object on the edge. If someone tries to enter, they will knock that object off the table and create a noise. This will alert you that someone is trying to enter your room and scare them away. Call reception or hotel security immediately.

If there’s no security, start shouting. This will bring other guests out of their rooms. There’s strength in numbers and those with bad intentions won’t hang around.

3. Pack plenty of duct tape

Most problems can be fixed with duct tape. And the good news is that you don’t need to pack a hefty roll of it. Simply wrap the tape around an old credit card before you leave, creating a more user-friendly-sized ‘roll’ that will easily slip in your pocket or day sack.

Duct tape (Dreamstime)

Duct tape. Useful. (Dreamstime)

I have used duct tape to fix tents, boots, mosquito nets, fractured limbs and a radiator hose on a Land Rover in the middle of Kenyan bush. You can also use it to make a clothes line, seal the bottom of your trousers, butterfly strip wounds or cover painful blisters. You can even make a stretcher with it; all you need are two strong sticks either side and then tape away to your hearts content.

4. Leave the smart phone at home

A cheap, old-fashioned mobile phone is really all you need. They are more discreet than smart phones and less desirable to criminals. They are also often more reliable and have a much longer battery life. If it gets stolen, you’ve only lost a cheap phone with no valuable data on it.

Old style mobile phones (Dreamstime)

Old style mobile phones (Dreamstime)

In fact, I suggest leaving all your expensive gadgetry at home, especially if it contains valuable personal data. Identity theft can happen just as easily overseas as at home. The less desirable (and visible) your travel accessories are, the more likely criminals will look elsewhere to target.

5. Don’t post on social media

Never post anything on social media that could be of use to a criminal, especially not your location or forthcoming travel plans. You’re simply doing their groundwork for them. Smart criminals use social media as a way of targeting victims, both at home and overseas. By posting that you are away travelling, you are effectively telling burglars that your house is empty.

Hooded hacker (Dreamstime)

Hooded hacker (Dreamstime)

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your security settings will protect you. Far too often I see posts on social media from friends who are “In the airport lounge having a few drinks before heading to such and such destination on so and so airlines.” They have just informed anyone who’s watching of their name, their flight, what time they will be landing and what they look like.

It is not unheard of for criminals to target careless social media users when they land. They’ll be waiting at arrivals, carrying a sign with your name on it claiming, to be from the hotel you’re staying at. Never post your current travel plans. Always wait until you have returned home before posting all your fabulous photos. Your friends will still be impressed.


Looking for Lemons – Lloyd FigginsLloyd Figgins is a former police officer, soldier and expedition leader. He has worked in some of the world’s most remote and hostile areas. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of Looking for Lemons - A Travel Survival Guide, available now on Amazon.

Main image: Posting on social media in Paris (Dreamstime)

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