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Personal Safety for Travellers  

A Brief Word on Staying Safe

When you first get off the plane lots of people may try and tell you helpful stories about bad things that happened to a friend of  a friend of someone they met, who had the bottom of their rucksack slit open, or who had their finger chopped off in order to have their wedding ring stolen. Well-meaning though these people may be, scare stories are just going to make you appear frightened and therefore vulnerable; the more vulnerable you appear, the more likely somebody is going to view you as a possible soft target.

  • The key to staying out of trouble is to look like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing, whilst assuming the confident appearance of someone who has spent their whole life sauntering safely along foreign streets. You are much more likely to be a victim if you have the air of one; keep your head up and your shoulders back, smile confidently at everyone and you'll have a great time.
  • Make sure you always tell someone where you are going; even if you just drop it into conversation with the reception staff, they will know to expect you back. Also make sure you let someone know if you change your plans. Get your hotel or hostel to ring ahead and book your next one for you, then they'll know to expect you.


  • Only a complete womble is going to walk down a dark alleyway counting fistfuls of cash, but do try and be discreet.
  • Stop for a coffee and count your cash under the table; likewise it is much more sensible to look at your map and bite your nails in despair over a cool drink in a café, than to stand on a street corner looking confused.
  • Keep some money in a coin purse for small purchases, lunches etc., then you won't have to flash your large notes and cards about.


  • Buy a cheap wedding ring from Argus before you leave home, it's remarkable how many gentlemen will desist from harassing you when you say you're just waiting for your husband.
  • From time to time I have mentioned that I am "just over here visitng my husband, he is working with the local police force." This seems to do the trick, but do be aware that in certain regions this could, far from acting as a deterrent, turn you into a target.


  • Upon arrival book a taxi from inside the terminal. It might cost a few bob more but gettting there safely will be worth it.
  • Never get into unlicensed cabs, and always agree the price of the journey before you get in.  If the cab has a meter make sure they are using it.
  • Make sure your luggage labels are covered, or tuck them into a pocket so thieves can't see the address of the property you have just left empty!
  • Make sure you also pin an additional luggage tag onto the inside of your bags in case the others get ripped off.
  • I always keep a little compass in my pocket, then at least I've got a vague idea of which direction I should be heading in when I inevitably get lost.
  • If someone stops you on the street and gives you helpful advice, dont believe a word of it. This is very common in Bangkok, where seemingly well-meaning people will stop you and tell you that it's a bank holiday and you'd better come to their cousin's shop because it's the only thing open.
  • A working pay as you go dongle allows you to keep in touch with your family and loved ones and adds to your security.


  • It's always worth spending a few extra quid on a room where you feel safe and secure.
  • A cheap door wedge from any hardware shop will help prevent  intruders getting in.
  • Hang the "Do not Disturb" sign on the door, even when you are out, to deter burglars.
  • Do not use the "Please clean this room" sign as it advertises you are out; call housekeeping instead.
  • Make sure you check the way to the nearest exit as soon as you get there. Pace it out so that you know you could make it in the dark.
  • As soon as you unpack put your torch next to your bed, so if you had to get out in an emergency you'd be able to find your way quickly.
  • When the waiter asks you for your hotel room number, never say it out loud, just show him the key discreetly.


  • Be wary of anyone who seems too good to be true; they probably are!
  • Don't let strangers buy you drinks, and don't leave them unattended; if you  nip off to the loo, take your drink with you.


  • If you have an accident make sure you get out only if it is safe to do do.
  • I f you are unsure, roll down the window slightly and inform the other person that you are driving to a police station; it has happened that accidents have been caused deliberately so a worse crime can follow.
  • If you break down, pull the car off the road as far as possible then get out. Lock all the doors and windows except the passenger door, then you can get in and lock yourself in safely should the need arise.
  • Ensure that anyone coming to help you knows your name and details so you can verify they are who they say they are.

 Basic Survival Tips

 Hopefully you'll never need to use any of these tricks, but coming from someone who can get lost in the Camberley branch of Marks and Spencer's, anything that can help you find your way back home is a good idea!

To find north, using an analogue watch

  • hold the watch horizontally to the ground
  • point the watch with the 12 facing the sun
  • look at the hour hand
  • the bisected line half way between the two will point north/south
  • this works for BST, for GMT use 1 o'clock as your marker instead of 12
  • if you don't then know which way is north, remember the sun rises in the east and sets in the west
  • the moon also follows the same pattern, rising in the east and setting in the west; as a very general rule, if you draw a line from the top point of the crescent moon to the bottom point, then continue this all way to the horizon this should give you a rough idea of south.
  • you can also find north/south using 3 sticks on a sunny day. Place a one metre-long stick upright in the ground, then place a marker stick at the end of its shadow. Return after an hour or so and you will see that the shadow has moved (as the sun moves about 4 degrees an hour). Put another marker stick at the end of the shadow, then draw a lie between the first and second markers. This will give you the east/west line, so draw a line perpendicular to this and it will show you north/south.

To find out how many hours of sunlight are left

  • hold your arm out horizontally so your hand is level with the horizon
  • find the location of the sun, without looking directly at it
  • now count how mnay times you have to flip your hand up sideways until it touches the sun
  • each hands width represents an hour of daylight
  • when there is less than a handwidth of space left, use your fingers, each one being roughly 15 minutes

To attract attention using a torch or whistle, use the Morse code sign for SOS

  • ...---...
  • This would mean short short short long long long short short short
  • wait three seconds before doing it again
  • don't stop until help has actually reached you, your signals will help to guide assistance right into your area
  • however, don't worry about the niceties of it; if you can't remember the signal, just keep blowing as long as you've got breath and the rescue services will find you!

Doing anything in groups of threes will attract attention

  • place clothing etc., in triangles of three, (particularly orange coloured items)
  • light signal fires in triangles of three, so rescuers will know it is an emergency signal and not just a BBQ (pile pine branches or damp leaves on to make the fire smoke more)

Other tips

  • if you have an emergency light stick, rather than just waving it about, tie it to a long piece of string or paracord, then whirl it round your head like a helicopter
  • bees are never more than a mile from water; if you can see one, there must be fresh water about!
  • to alert aircraft to an emergency, use a mirror. Hold your left hand flat in front of you, little finger parallel to the ground. Now using your right hand, focus the reflected light of the mirror on to the palm of your left hand. As the plane flies along, move your left hand along just under it, then flash the reflected light just above and below the line of your index finger, in groups of three.

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