The first place you should seek security information is from the organization with which you are volunteering. The organization will have the latest knowledge of any security issues. Heed their advice and follow their instructions. They are on-the-ground at the program site and have both a current and historical knowledge of security issues.
You can also take some basic security precautions to protect your personal security. Be particularly aware when traveling and sightseeing. Following are some suggestions which may be helpful.
ALWAYS BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Have a sense about what is going on around you. There are times when even an experienced traveler can let down their guard. One night I was on a “red-eye” flight from Los Angeles to Guatemala City. I knew the bus system in “Guate”. I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in that country so I decided to take a municipal bus to the city center. I did not get a lot of sleep on the plane and was tired. As I had my suitcase with me on the bus I was standing. Suddenly two men came up and bumped me. In my tired condition I had forgotten to remove my wallet from my back pocket—a violation of a basic security tenet I had learned in the Peace Corps. You know the rest. The two men got away with my wallet and its contents. I did not lose much money but I did have a credit card, my driver’s license, and a telephone credit card in the wallet. I spent the rest of the day making calls to cancel both my telephone and regular credit cards. For two months after the incident I kept getting billed for purchases and calls made from El Salvador to the U.S. Fortunately, due to the policies of the companies involved, I did not have to pay. Recently I had another incident in Skopje, Macedonia that I attribute to jet-lag and carelessness. You can read about it here.
ALWAYS ACT AS IF YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING
I used to travel to my Peace Corps site from a bus station noted for criminal activity. The station was in a busy and frenetic marketplace. Until I learned the roads in and out of the facility I got lost a couple of times. Even though I was very anxious on the inside while in the market, I walked as if I knew where I was going. Eventually I got to know the area and I never did have problems. I believe the demonstration of self-confidence during my early traveling at the station deterred anyone bent on a criminal act.
BEWARE OF OVERLY FRIENDLY STRANGERS
Be very careful when approached by strangers trying to sell you something, offering to help guide you, or even asking for help. Usually the approach is sincere, but there are times when the approach can have criminal intent. I know of a traveler who was approached by a woman carrying a baby and who asked for help. While the woman was keeping the traveler busy her accomplices stole the traveler’s wallet and passport.
KEEP YOUR IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS I.E., PASSPORT, CREDIT CARDS, IDENTIFICATION CARDS, ETC IN A SECURE PLACE
Also be careful where you put your money. After my encounter with the pickpockets, except for the incident described in this story, I began carrying my passport and cards in a pouch on my belt and inside my trousers. Security pouches and belts are available in travel stores. They are worth the cost.
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU CARRY PURSES, BAGS AND BACKPACKS
I always carry my bag or pack in front of me when I walk in strange areas. This way I can protect it. Many travelers have their purses pulled off their arms or their backpacks slit open with a knife when they don’t have full control of their belongings.
NEVER CARRY OR SHOW LARGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY. ALSO, DON’T WEAR OR CARRY VALUABLE JEWELRY
Valuable personal items are best left in a secure place at home.
DON’T KNOWINGLY VENTURE INTO UNLIGHTED AREAS AT NIGHT
AVOID LARGE PUBLIC DEMONSTRATIONS
Large public demonstrations can turn violent in an instant. Keep your distance.
Awareness is the key to personal security whether at home or abroad. Taking some sensible and basic precautions can make your travel experience secure.
Visit the following websites for some excellent security advice:
- U.S. State Department
- Canadian Government
- British Government
- Austrailian Government
- New Zealand Government