Travelling to far flung places or nipping off on a city break at the weekend? If you’re a journalist the chances are you will be travelling alone with a small amount of kit. It gives you much greater freedom to explore and work in the way you want – but, inevitably, the onus for your safety falls squarely on your shoulders.
There is one over riding rule – from which every other tip and suggestion follows: A Risk Assesment. Plan for the expected and the unexpected.
The Risk Assesment.
From the beginning to the end of the trip ask yourself what the hazards are and what are the risks. Ask yourself what the consequences are should something happen. Crossing a road is a risk. A small one, perhaps, but a risk nevertheless. What is the hazard? A car could hit you, you could trip and fall, you could stub your toe. The consequences of a sore toe may not be much. Falling over might hurt but you’ll get better. Getting hit by a car is, obviously, a lot more serious. What would you do? Where’s the nearest hospital? Have you got medical insurance to pay for a repatriation flight? Suddenly a simple action can lead to a whole world of pain. Could you plan to minimise the risk of it happening? Yes – you could remember which side of the road the cars travel. Now you’ve managed to cut the risk, cut the hazard and eliminate the potential consequences. From arriving at the airport to the moment you get home there are risks and dangers.
1. Always check the Foreign and Commonwealth office website for up to date analysis of the risks involved with travelling to the country you’re off to. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
2. Check your travel insurance. Does it cover the country you are heading to and what restrictions are there on it. Does it cover business travel, for instance? You might find a few surprises in the detail.
3. You might want to take out ‘gadget cover’ insurance. You can find policies that insure up to five pieces of equipment valued at under £1000 for around £30 a year. Google it.
4. If you’re off to an area of the world where social media and your personal history could have a bearing on whether or not you are admitted then consider taking action to ensure nothing stupid is left on your phone or tablet. The most draconian method of doing this is to wipe your phone before travel. This will kid nobody. So…
5. A couple of weeks before travel you might find it useful to populate a new email address. Use it for innocuous information but ensure that it is valid and you are using it. Be aware of emailing yourself your travel plans, consider the risk of losing your phone and having no record of your flight details. Think about it – do you have ANY idea what the time of this summer’s holiday flight to Spain is? Lose your phone ‘in country’ and you’re in trouble if you don’t have print outs. There are some things you don’t want printing out, of course. That’s why we have online cloud storage for documents.
6. Don’t store photos on your phone. Think about using a camera app that stores footage and photos in its own library and doesn’t copy to camera roll. Most casual browsers will only look at your photo roll.
7. Upload your footage off your phone as soon as possible to a cloud based store – for security and peace of mind.
8. Use file upload services like WeTransfer to shift material. Delete the return emails or put in an address that’s not on your phone or anyone who gets hold of your phone can view the footage.
9. If you feel you have to you could delete apps while going through security and reload them once through… although you might be slightly paranoid if you do this!
10. Watch out for officials asking you to show your phone working and getting you to unlock it and then taking it away. Learn how to disable finger print sensors and facial recognition on your phone.
11. Buy local sims at the airport but be prepared to have your passport copied. This means that the government can have a pretty good idea where you are, who you’re calling and what websites you’ve been on. In some countries there are strict restrictions on what websites you can access. Be aware of local laws and customs.
12. Pack more batteries than you need.
13. Know your blood group.
14. Make photocopies of your passport. Laminate a few. Offer up a laminate rather than your original if at all possible. Be prepared for it to disappear and never be seen again.
15. When travelling carry $100 and a credit card in a body wallet or down your pants.
16. Carry two wallets. One with out of date credit cards and some currency. Offer this up if forced to do so but, of course, be prepared to hand over your full wallet if need be. It’s only money and that’s why you took out insurance.
17. Drink more water than you can cope with. Finding a toilet every half hour is better than dehydration (don’t forget to pack some toilet paper!).
18. Take a photo of your baggage before you put it on the plane. If you lose it you can show people a photo even if you don’t speak the language.
19. Padlock your bags. No brainer.
20. Take photos of yourself and your team every day before you leave to go working. Email the photo to someone else so they can pass it on if you are lost or get into trouble. Check that it’s been received before you set off.
21. As you leave an airport always wear sunglasses – so you don’t get spotted looking for taxi ranks. You’re immediately making yourself stand out. Most thefts on overseas trips happen within 30m of your hotel or airport.
22. Most thefts from hotels happen just before you’re due to leave.
23. Don’t engage in chit chat with people outside the airport or in the hotel bar. You wouldn’t talk to someone like that elsewhere so don’t it now. Always think: They’re not being friendly, they’re trying to con you.
24. Have a credible back story for a boring job. I fit industrial carpets in restaurants. I sometimes put the cones down on the motorway. Other times I pick them up. Don’t say what you really do for a living but don’t pick something stupid or too interesting: “I’m a doctor” is a dangerous one.. you could end up being asked to treat someone!
25. Don’t put pictures of your kids on social media. How stupid are you? Go and check your accounts now.
26. Use geolocation apps such as Find My Friends to allow someone back at base to monitor your real time location.
27. Make sure your family know your itinerary. If something goes wrong and you are held they may be the ones who are contacted first. They need to know if you really are being held or if your details have been stolen and they’re trying a con trick.
28. Leave a copy of your handwriting and the questions and answers of three important things in your life. Things you won’t forget. However much you are being ill treated. They could be used to prove you’re alive.
29. Thefts from hotel rooms tend to be of things that have been left out. Unfortunately the hotel safe isn’t much of an option. The master codes for them are known to lots and lots of people.
30. Don’t pick a room above hotel reception. Most attacks on hotels involve an assault on the reception area – you don’t want to be above it.
31. Don’t pick a room higher than 3rd floor if possible. Imagine climbing down the stairs with all your kit if there was a power cut or a fire alarm.
32. In hostile areas don’t unpack your bags – live out of a suitcase in case you need to leave in a hurry. Take a bike chain and lock and padlock your suitcase to something that won’t move when you leave your room.
33. Ring in to the office every day at the beginning of a journey and when you get back. Don’t break curfews – they’re there for a reason.
34. Buy anti diarrhoea tablets. Then buy some more.
35. If you are travelling with two bags then split your clothing and kit between them – if one goes missing you’ll still have a pair of pants for the next day.
36. Don’t drink out of cans – use a straw. Cans stored outside stay warm at night. Rats like to sleep on them. Then they wee on them. Then you drink out of them.
37. Don’t have a drink with ice in it.
38. Read number 37 again.
39. Only drink beer with Tin foil on the bottle tops. Beer stored in warehouses attract rats who lick the tops of the bottles where dried beer has crystallised. You’re putting a rat’s tongue in your mouth.
40. Don’t take photos of people without asking. Especially on a phone… you could be breaking all sorts of cultural taboos. Especially don’t take photos of women without permission. It’s often considered really offensive and rude.
41. Don’t make eye contact with people carrying guns. Eyeballing a soldier hardly ever helps. Become grey. Blend in.
42. Carry a hat and a jacket. If you run into a tense area you can change your appearance and blend in. Don’t wear shorts and t-shirts if it goes against the cultural norms of the country you’re in. Blend in.
43. Remember most militia don’t wear uniforms and have, from time to time, been known to lie about who they are and who they’re fighting for.
44. Don’t get scared at checkpoints. They’re common in many countries and are run by children or teenagers. They’re often there just to check who’s on the roads. It doesn’t necessarily mean trouble. They might want paying. Don’t ask for a receipt.
45. Checkpoints ARE tense places. One of you should talk, the others should shut up. Don’t eyeball the soldiers through the window but keep the windows up if at all possible. If you need to wind them down, to hand over documents, then lower it as little as possible. Keep the doors locked. Try to just ‘show’ your documents through the glass rather than handing them over.
46. If you’re shooting pictures in areas with children then get a friend to take photos noisily so the youngsters gravitate towards them – leaving you to work on your own.
47. Don’t ever take pictures of military areas. It’s not going to end well. Even in the UK it could be enough to get you arrested and your material removed from your device. Think what might happen in the country you’re visiting.
48. If you’re in a car always wear a seatbelt. Most deaths of Journalists overseas are in RTAs.
49. Check the car before you get in it. Smell the drivers breath. Learn their name. Shake their hand. Look them in the eye. Examine the car to make sure it hasn’t got something in it that could get you into trouble with the authorities. An armed driver is not a good thing.
50. If you drive into a cul-de-sac then turn the car round so it points OUT of danger before you park up.
51. If you go to an area and lose phone signal momentarily then send yourself a text. It’ll ping when you are back in range so you know for sure that a signal is THERE. Mark your location when you receive it. If you go further on, and run into trouble, at least you know where a phone service is available.
52. Always keep your car doors and hotel doors locked.
53. Carry a rubber door wedge. Pop it under the hotel door at night to ensure nobody comes into your room.
54. If you are in an area where water supplies are at all at risk (an earthquake zone is a good example), fill the bath.. then you’ll have enough water to fill the toilet cistern if the supply drops out. Of course, you remembered to pack a set of bath and sink plugs didn’t you?
For more advice on safety:
Got any more tips? Send them to me @nickgarnettBBC on twitter.