Hiking Tip # 3: Personal Safety, Risk Mitigation, and Traveling in Foreign Countries

January 28, 2017

uspassportrenewalsThe following story was chronicled on television recently and the full article on the tragic story of Aubrey Sacco’s disappearance in Nepal while hiking can be read at the following link:

http://www.backpacker.com/gone-girl-aubrey-saccos-disappearance-hiking-in-nepal/destinations/18334

The key safety lesson from Aubrey’s story is never go hiking in a foreign country with someone that you do not know in a high-risk location.  Practicing good personal protective measures and risk mitigation while hiking in a foreign country is necessary.  Aurbrey’s story reinforces the fact that American women are lucrative targets for kidnapping in foreign countries.  Therefore, if you decide to go on a hiking expedition in a foreign country with some friends, you should always be out on the trail with a partner from your group (a.k.a. a Battle Buddy, as the US Army calls them).  You should be wise about who you choose to be your hiking partner if it is only the two of you going out on the trail.

Another safety recommendation by experts is to have a communication plan. Before, you go on your hiking adventure, always have a plan to communicate with others on pre-determined times. For example, you agree to call your family or friends every two to three hours during the hike and once a day when not out on the trail. You should also have several ways to communicate (e.g. cell phone, text messaging, email, skype, etc.).  If you can afford one and the data plan to go with it, I would recommend that you take with you a satellite phone into a foreign country. That way if you have an emergency while hiking in a foreign country and have no cell phone coverage, you can still communicate with the local US Embassy or Consulate or with your family or friends in the United States who can assist on your behalf.

In regards to communication in a foreign country, always have the emergency number to the closest U.S Embassy or Consulate in the area you are going hiking. All United States Consulates and Embassies have a Unites States Marine Corps watch desk that is manned twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. Keep their contact number on you and in your phone at all times and do not hesitate to call them if you need to get to the US Embassy or Consulate in an emergency.

Another safety consideration to remember is never give up your US Passport to anyone in a foreign country. Upon entry into a foreign country, the customs officials may take your passport for a few minutes to stamp it, but most foreign customs officials will return your passport.  If a customs official, law enforcement officer, military member, hotel clerk, or private citizen of a foreign country attempts to confiscate your passport, do not give it up.  Immediately make your way to the nearest US Consulate or Embassy for protection and report the incident.  Then as soon as possible, leave the country.

As we are discussing travel in a foreign country, always heed the Official Warnings published by the US State Department, even if one is published after you arrive in a particular country. Do not travel to countries where there is an active civil war going on or there are open hostile feelings towards Americans. I realize that there is a whole world of things to see and do in many countries of the world.  However, if you decide to travel in a country that has an Official Travel Warning published against it by US State Department, you are traveling at your own risk. Do not tempt fate at the expense of having a good time and broadening your cultural horizons. You may regret that decision later and cause your family and friends unnecessary worry or grief.

If you are planning to travel to a particular country, learn as much as you can about that country and its laws before you leave the United States. BBC News online is a great resource to learn about different countries and the latest news coming out of those countries. If it looks like the country of choice for your travels is going to slip into turmoil, cancel your plans to travel to that country.

The next safety and risk mitigation factor is to try to learn about the laws and social nuances of the country in which you plan to travel and hike.  For example, is it a law that hotels must keep the passports of foreigners at the front desk? Is it a law that one must dress a certain way? As a foreigner, are you libel for any accidental harm to local nationals or their property (e.g. in a vehicle accident)? In speaking of driving, memorize the international road sign symbols of the particular country you will be travelling in. Understand that you are in a foreign country and not in the United States, so law enforcement, liabilities, and legal procedures are not probably going to be in your favor. If the police in a foreign country detain you, you may be there awhile.  There is no such thing as due process and Miranda Rights in many countries and you are guilty until proven innocent. So be informed, be aware, and be careful.

Food and drinks in a foreign country can be a risk.  While in a foreign country, try not accept food or drinks from questionable origins. Many drugs are slipped to people through food and drinks (e.g. accepting an alcoholic beverage from someone that you did not see pour or prepare the drink). In some countries, standards for food preparation and handling are not the same as in the United States. This makes eating the local food a potential health risk. So be careful what you eat and where you eat.

When travelling in cities, do not go down alleys and streets that are not on your planned route. Understand where the high crime areas are and avoid them at all costs.

In closing, I have traveled in many different countries.  You can have fun and enjoy yourself in foreign countries.  Be smart, be wise, have a plan, and if it is against the law in America it is probably against the law in a foreign country. If you mind your business, and keep a low profile, you will find your time in a foreign country to memorable and enjoyable. Do not be reckless, foolish, or provocative and you will return to the United States with a mental backpack full of hiking memories and not regret.

Take care, have fun.

See you on the trail!

 

Author: majorhykr

Major Hykr is my blog site to chronicle my hiking and backpacking experiences. Here you will find information and tips on outdoor activities, wilderness safety and survival, equipment, first aid, health, and other related items of interest to hikers, backpackers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Enjoy and See you on the trail!

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