7 mins

How to travel safely in unsafe places

Adventurer and writer Richard Grant shares hard-won wisdom on surviving - and thriving - in troubled destinations

Richard Grant (Nicholas Weisnet)

Writer and adventurer Richard Grant travels in dangerous places for a living. While researching his book, God's Middle Finger, he narrowly escaped death at the hands of drug lords in Mexico’s lawless Sierra Madre. And in his latest book, Crazy River, he plunges into the troubled corners of east Africa in search of the Malagarasi River, known locally as the 'river of bad spirits.'

He shares his tips on staying safe in unsafe places.

1. Don't go it alone

Try to find a reliable local guide or fixer in advance. If this isn't possible, be guided by your instincts and intuition. Find a face that appeals to you and looks trustworthy. Beware of people who call you "my friend" when they first meet you. The more genuine friends you make, the safer you are.

2. Never use the safe in a cheap hotel

Keep your cash and valuables in two moneybelts: one around the waist, another around the leg just below the knee. Carry a fake wallet to give to muggers with $40 in cash and some expired credit cards. Don't flash your cash. Separate out the banknotes you are likely to need for the day.

3. Be alert and aware

This applies equally in cities, and in the wild among dangerous animals. Cultivate your senses, peripheral vision in particular. Notice as much you can when you walk. Try to notice people on the street before they notice you, especially if they look like predators. If you get the first glance on them, it makes you less of a mark. 

4. Don't be paranoid

Don't stunt the travel experience with overcaution. It's better to plunge in and get used to being out of your depth, than to cling to the remnants of your comfort zone. Don't be too concerned about your personal dignity. Accept that you're a fool here, and hope that people teach will you this gently.

5. Understand don't judge

You are here to learn. Resist the impulse to apply your own cultural standards to the place. Remember: there will be predators, but respect and acknowledgement is what most people in poor dangerous countries want from a traveller. In this way, friendships are formed, and friendships are the best defence against danger.

Crazy RiverCrazy River: A Plunge Into Africa by Richard Grant is published by Little, Brown and can be ordered on Amazon now.

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