Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Kidnapping and Other Income Generating Activities

If you travel off the beaten path, especially in war-torn or other high-poverty areas, you know that in addition to the myriad of things you need to be aware of (pick pockets, malaria, etc), you also need to be aware of the risk of kidnapping.  The recent kidnapping of a tourist in Uganda put this fact back on the front page of many newspapers, but it is actually a tradition as old as time.  Poor people + rich tourists = money making opportunity to ransom them back.  Not great for tourists, obviously, but many a civil war is funded this way.

The State Department issued a recent warning about countries where tourists are most likely to be kidnapped, but this topic should be top of mind for any traveler.  In order to avoid being kidnapped on your next vacation, consider these safety tips:

  • Simply don't travel to places where kidnapping tourists is considered a national sport.
  • Avoid certain areas of countries where kidnapping is common (ie: Manila is a fine place for tourists, several places in Mindanao aren't).
  • Stay in the tourist areas and avoid wandering off by yourself (the tourist areas are often heavily policed to keep the tourists safe and coming back to spend their money, when you leave these areas the danger increases exponentially).
  • Don't travel about by yourself.  Going around in a group is better, going around with a group of locals is even better.
  • Stay up-to-date on State Department and other warnings for the areas you will be traveling in (these can change quickly so check back often for updates).
  • Never flash your cash or valuables and don't talk about your work/lifestyle/assets/investments/etc.
  • If you must travel in dangerous areas, have kidnapping and extrication insurance.
  • If you work or travel in highly volatile areas, there are actually classes that teach you how to survive being kidnapped (yes, really).
  • Be wary of posting your travel plans or other travel information on social media (yes, kidnappers do use this information to target people).
  • If you are staying for a while in a volatile area, take extensive security precautions at your home and place of business (even building a "bolt hole" isn't too extreme in my book).
  • Avoid looking like an American as much as possible.
  • Be consistently inconsistent.  Vary your routine daily, don't frequent any one place all the time, etc.
  • Always pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Be able to speak a bit of the local language.
  • Leave your itinerary with a trusted person back home and update them as your plans change (at least this way people will know when and where to start looking for you if you appear to have disappeared).
  • Be polite to people but never trust people you don't know well.
  • Avoid being a drunk idiot in public (these are the easiest people to kidnap).
  • Always have a "plan B" and "plan C".  Nothing in these countries seem to go as planned so always be ready to pivot if needed (this includes creating a quick escape plan in your mind of how you would get away from the place you are at in an emergency, what weapons could you improvise, etc).
  • Keep your favorite PMC company on speed dial for emergency extraction services if you do end up kidnapped.

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