International Travel Preparation- Part 1, by O.D.

When the mushroom cloud goes up or the grid goes down, those of us preparing will be fortunate if we are home or at our pre-planned bug out location and with our family. But many of us work away from home, with a sizeable minority of us travelling out-of-country. What then? Are you prepared for international travel?

Getting All The Way Back Home

I’ve been flying to and from work for about three decades, usually not to places high on the “must-see for the party scene” list. On my second-ever expatriate assignment, I got a quick and extremely pointed wake-up call when I was hijacked on the taxi ride in from the airport. Now I may not be able to see ahead to the future, but I am a relatively quick learner from the harsh past. And now, everyday travel prep is second nature, especially when going to places where the rule of law still doesn’t apply or has been worsening.

Some of these places, for example, include the “Trashcanistans”, Sudan, or Brussels. So, I will share a few comments on what I have personally found to be useful. I have only needed some of it for real on two occasions in 28 years. However, during those two times I was very pleased to be my own backup.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be “the man with a plan” doing my utmost to get all the way back home. The main thing that allows me to think like this is because I have, I believe, already prepped to the best of my ability for my family to manage without me. I’ve worked out water, food, shelter, fuel, backup power, buried caches, buried cash, and an alternate location. As our children have grown older, this has been made a lot easier, and the second of four children is a trustworthy lieutenant. (The first of four is now making his own way in the world with a good job a couple of hundred miles from home.)

What To Think About

It’s different when we are out of our own country. Even if we are in a neighbouring country, which we think we know well, we actually don’t. I remind myself that even if I’m home when the balloon goes up, many people who I think I know well will surprise me and maybe not in a good way. I hope I also surprise them, in a good way. However, no one really knows for sure.

That risk assessment is much different when in a foreign culture. In most places, except maybe Mogadishu and their Frenemies, and the Middle East, most of any country’s citizenry have no potentially-lethal problems with most foreigners most of the time. But every now and then when an internal coup is attempted, whether it ends of success or not, or when an external event arouses passions against some hated country, foreigners (whether we actually are citizens of that hated country or not) are easily-identified targets for personal and institutional violence for people to both vent their frustrations and do quite a bit of opportunistic looting. (Foreign-looking people who are nevertheless nationals of the same country tend to do even worse, as in ethnic minorities; Copts in Egypt, Chinese in Indonesia, Kurds in Turkey,…)

My suggestions apply to individuals. If you travel with your family, a huge amount more is required. Comment if you want to get more detail about what my wife and I did when we had small children overseas, what worked, and what still didn’t work.

The Basics Before Travel, First

In terms of personal protection, start with vaccinations. Know what could go wrong. Take precautions against getting stung and bitten, particularly in a tropical country where malaria, dengue, typhoid, leprosy, tuberculosis, plus most of the rest of the two-volume Encyclopaedia Of Tropical Infectious Diseases could be located in the neighborhood kampong without a great deal of effort.

Where To Stay

I don’t knowingly stay anywhere the Diplomatic Pimp Squads and the Lords of Poverty frequent. Also, I don’t stay in an airport hotel. I stay somewhere located well away from TV and radio stations, political offices, the Diplomatic Quarter, and the Houses of Parliament/Bundestag and their local equivalents. If you have to stay in a particular spot for work, then on Day One find and walk the best exit route when on foot. In my experience, it’s never more than a few miles’ walk away from any known or new hotspot; it’s just that the first 500 yards is the worst.

At the actual hotel, if it’s a high-rise, I always pick a low floor but not the first floor. I want one I can scramble down out of but which lazy mobs won’t quickly climb up to. The third floor is a good compromise. Make sure you know how to tie hotel sheets in a bowline. Generally, I want a room at the end of a corridor, because again most people who are too lazy to work for a living will start robbery and mayhem at the rooms closest to the elevators. I also like to be in a room two or three doors away from the external emergency stairs on the side of the building. Note where all the emergency exits are. (This is a safety precaution to take any time you go into a building that is new to you.)

What To Carry

It’s easier now that I’m older. I never venture anywhere without a stout walking stick. Once, a bit of impromptu cane therapy dissuaded an opportunistic mugger in Kiev. A stick will still get through airport security, where even LED torches are being confiscated. The old roll-of-coins in a sock trick works, but it looks like exactly what it is– an improvised weapon. When law and order is completely broken down, we can break out the extremely effective improvisations. (I’ll have more on that elsewhere, but for now, you gotta travel under the radar literally and figuratively.)

Who To Team Up With

This is difficult. Just about none of the people I travel with for work do any kind of prepping. Maybe they do and they have excellent OpSec, in which case we would find out about each other at the time. My suggestion is, pick/team up with a colleague, one maximum if you want, but don’t be a white knight. Remember Roderick in “Tunnel in the Sky”. Never lose your head over a piece of tale, if you’ll pardon the expression. For lack of drama and congruent thinking, my preference will be to team up with a geezer as old as me.

Last-Minute Prep

I generally carry with me a small bottle of cooking oil, which when applied to doorknobs makes it difficult for the ungodly to get a grip. I’m a fussy old lady when it comes to always putting on the security chain. I also travel with a motorcycle cable lock, which helps secure the door on the inside. (For double doors, bind it around both knobs in a tight loop). The cable lock, by the way, makes a good impromptu swinging weapon. Pair it with a couple of motorcycle gloves and a motorcycle helmet, and you have got things in your luggage that will protect you, arm you, and not raise eyebrows. But the cheapest prep, which raises absolutely no eyebrows at all, is to carry a couple of simple door wedges.

If you are clearing out of the hotel, make sure you take all of the hotel TP and hand-cleaner, soap, toothpaste, and shampoo. Every time I travel, I always pick up the airline toiletry kit, just in case.

What I Won’t Bother With

There are some places and items that most people will turn that I won’t. I won’t bother with…

  • The embassy. Everyone will have gone there.
  • The airport. Everyone who didn’t go to the embassy will be at the airport.
  • Rental cars. That would just neatly package me trapped inside a tin can in a roadblock.
  • GPS – useful as standby to navigate from one fixed position to another, but screen light gives you away in the dark; which is when I’ll be intending to do most of my walking.

Speaking of walking, I have from time to time bought an old bicycle and stashed it in the basement of the apartment complex where I’ve been housed. I had it to “get out of Dodge” quickly and quietly. You can abandon a $75 bicycle without a thought. (It merely cost 50 bucks to buy it and 25 bucks to service it to make it reliable.) Usually the freebie tourist paper maps available in hotels will get you at least as far as the city’s edge.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part two of a two part entry for Round 72 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

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Round 72 ends on September 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. As a national and former international traveler myself, going on the road prepared is an exercise that has become much easier over time. I almost always pack a small travel suitcase with a get home bag and boots. It’s easier when traveling in the US as there are many items I can include in checked luggage that I can’t bring across borders. This includes firearms. Your kit can remain unchanged and packed ready for use at any time.

  2. As to room selection…if travelling in countries that have histories of terror bombings chose a room four or five stories up on the backside of the hotel, away from the entrance. Increases likelihood of surviving a car, truck or donkey bomb but the fire service can probably still reach you with their equipment. Stay away from American brand hotels and pick a nice European or locally owned hotel to further reduce your likelihood of not getting blown up.

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