At Your Destination
Des Conway has over 20 years' experience in police and commercial security. He uses his additional research and commercial security experience to ensure his own and his family's safety while planning and taking holiday and business trips. Through this and his other security handbooks he is committed to helping people keep themselves and their loved ones safe, wherever they are.
When you arrive at your destination you will probably be tired, a little disoriented and, unless you have been there a few times before, unsure of where to go. Walking around with bags, looking lost, trying to make sense of a foreign bus, train or cab schedule marks you as the classic ‘just arrived’ vulnerable tourist. Criminals love that, because they know you have pockets full of cash and traveller’s cheques, expensive cameras, credit cards and valuable passports and other documents. When you land you must switch to a state of high alert so that you can identify and avoid trouble.
This is an area where people sometimes let their guard down. The possibly long-haul flight is over and you are on the last leg to that luxury hotel. The climate change may have hit you, and you think that you can relax while you wait for your bags to come through. Don’t!
You don’t know who is around you jostling you, pushing to the front. Was that guy who just leaned on you to reach the red suitcase retrieving the suitcase or using it as an excuse to lean on you and dip into your pockets? Stay alert, and don’t join the scrum to get to the carousel first. Chances are yours will be the last bag to come off, and there will probably be a long queue for immigration and customs.
Think About Your Location
When somebody was sick, a friend of mine once had to go on a very short notice business trip. I lc was told at ten past nine that he was on an early afternoon flight to an ex-Soviet satellite state. He was assured that everything had been arranged, and that all he had to do was meet a contact, get some important contract documents signed, then fly back on the return flight the next morning.
He was handed three envelopes. One held the documents to be signed and the name and address of his contact, one contained the tickets and the last one contained his visa documents.
After a flight to Frankfurt he transferred onto a small aircraft operated by an unknown airline. He carried his own baggage to the aircraft and climbed some rusty steps to the cabin. The flight was terrible, nobody spoke English, and no food or drink was available. They landed and rattled down a very long runway and parked near what looked like a camouflaged ex-military hangar to see a horse and cart being loaded with cases. Thinking that nobody would believe him he took some pictures with his pocket camera, only to be confronted by a soldier waving an automatic rifle. The soldier slapped his camera to the ground and then stamped on it before herding him into an office at gunpoint. Then he belatedly spotted military jets on the edges of the airfield.
Nobody had said it was a military base that accepted the occasional commercial flight. Inside, the man waving the gun spoke to an officer sitting at a desk, then the officer asked for his visa. Grateful that nobody had used words like ‘spying’ or ‘jail’, he presented the visa envelope. Two minutes later he nearly died when the officer tore it open and took out a few hundred US dollars in ten-dollar bills. Luckily the ‘visa’ was accepted and he was released.
Research Local Crime Trends
Your research should have let you know what the crime trends are at your destination. Forewarned is forearmed. When you know what the threats are you will be safer! For example, I did a quick search and found the following:
- Belize City – snatch-and-run thieves.
- Managua – pack slashers (pickpockets) on public buses.
- Thailand – a surge in bogus charity collections, and drugged gifts of food or drink (you eat it then collapse, get robbed and wake up in a back street next day).
- Lahore, Pakistan – backpacks stolen from hotels, public places and transport.
- Guatemala – armed robbery and rape in the hills outside towns.
Debts and Corruption
I have heard several stories about tourists visiting third-world countries where they were waved through immigration controls with no real checks. When they came to leave, their documents were checked thoroughly and, having no entry stamp in their passport, they were held for ‘entering the country illegally’. After a lot of shouting and talk of courts and jails, they were only released when a sum of money was paid to the official.
If you have been to the country before, make sure that you didn’t leave any unpaid parking fines or bills on previous visits. I was once told by a fellow passenger that on landing he presented his passport, which was checked and stamped, then was asked to go to a side room. He was told that he had been arrested over debts and would be transferred to jail to await a hearing. Apparently on his last trip to that town he had somehow left some car hire charges unpaid Me didn’t know he had, and in fact wasn’t sure that he had left unpaid debts’
Nobody seemed interested in what he had to say, until he apologised, said it was a mistake and offered to pay what was owed. Money was taken, plus some ‘compensation’ and ‘expenses’. and lie was released.
In some third-world countries corruption is a way of life. Research can sometimes tell you that ‘arrangement fees’, ‘on the spot fines’ or ‘administrative payments’ may be required.
The problem is that generally you don’t know where strange official practices stop and where corruption begins. Worse, I have known some travellers who have assumed that their difficulties have been prompted by some minor official’s attempt to attract a bribe, so they have offered one and been arrested for trying to corrupt the only honest official in the country.
Immigration in some countries is nothing more than a formality, while in others they almost seem to want to find an excuse to deny entry to everyone. In some countries immigration offences, whether real or imagined, are considered to be very serious, especially now that international terrorism is so prominent in our minds.
Just as immigration controls have been tightened in the past few years, customs controls have been tightened too.
Trying to bring illicit or illegal materials through customs is a fast way to prison in most countries. In some countries there are rules about the import of almost everything, from fruit to seeds and plants, and from natural products to meat. This is of course an attempt to stop the introduction of new pests and diseases. Something as simple as sneaking in a Granny Smiths apple to eat on the coach to the hotel could find you detained and deported on the next flight, so don’t risk it.
There are strict rules about exporting a range of items from most countries too, designed to protect their plants, wildlife and historic treasures.