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Travel Security, Part Four

Posted by on April 9, 2010

Part Four of our short series from Captain Rick.

See You can carry pepper spray in checked luggage on SOME airlines. Local cops not trying to rip you off typically won’t hassle you for having it for DEFENSE. It is not against the law in any part of the world that I am aware of. EXAMPLE: Two US guys off a private sailboat walking down the street in beautiful downtown Cartegena, Colombia in broad daylite when 5 thugs armed with knives tried to pull them into an alley to have their dastardly way. The sailors applied pepper spray and fled easily. The cops were televised grinning and slapping the sailors’ backs in congratulation for having foiled the crooks. The reports talked a lot about the fact that the sailors had used pepper spray, and marveling at the fact that the pepper spray had so effectively disabled the crooks that they were still coughing and spitting 20 minutes later when the cops arrested them.

The small, compressed gas capsicum pepper spray canister can easily fit in the pocket… even on a key chain and is available anywhere. These canisters are usually available for purchase in any country, perhaps in a salvage/surplus/sporting goods retailer. If you prefer, IT IS LEGAL to carry a small plastic bottle or baggie with cayenne pepper in checked luggage on an airplane. You could also carry an EMPTY plastic squeeze bottle, and mix up a little criminal cocktail in the bottle with the pepper when you get access to some water at your location. I haven’t used it on humans, but it worked really, really well on uncontrolled dogs trying to chase me down the street.

The good news is that accurately applied pepper compounds really work. I have seen very tall, large musclebound guys rolling on the ground screaming for their mommy… while the petite 4 foot 9 inch lady at their side is just crying quietly. The bad news is… don’t bring pepper spray to a gunfight. Also, I have used pepper spray on guys lit to the gills on chrystal meth… doesn’t work. Doesn’t even slow ’em down. A really, really drunk Mejicano I used it on ALSO didn’t seem to notice.

Like anything else… pepper spray defense is an excellent option for most people, and can be considered legal everywhere… but, it requires good judgment and adult behavior.

. FIREARMS: If you habitually carry a firearm, you tend to feel naked without one on your person while in unfamiliar circumstances. Except for active duty military or law enforcement, it is difficult to get the paperwork necessary to legally carry a firearm in a foreign country. Carrying an illegal firearm is a really, REALLY bad idea in an unfamiliar country. Severe penalties, up to and including the death penalty, ensue if caught at it. While Mexico is currently a more dangerous place that either Iraq or Afghanistan, please understand that if NarcoTerrorists get their hands on you, you will be faced with 15 – 20 guys with AKs and A2s. Your measly popgun will just be added to their collection. Going about unarmed in potentially dangerous territory means that situational awareness and “What if…?” scenario planning are not optional

EXAMPLE: Not so long ago, two US guys were leaving their sailboat in an African port. It was around sundown, and they were walking to a restaurant about a mile away. They noticed a group of locals giving them THE EYE as the sailors ambled away. They soon passed beyond sight of any passers by… the dock areas were deserted. They noticed a guy running parallel to them on a path about 50 yards away in their direction of travel. They realized that they were in trouble… unarmed at night and in a foreign port with no witnesses. Sure enough, the thug ran up to them and held them at bay 30 feet away with a pistol as his two thug friends came running up from behind. Even with martial arts training, this was the perfect setup for the thugs… no way to reach the guy with the gun before suffering serious injury, two unarmed thugs shaking them down for all their valuables. The even lost their secret hideaway stashes, and were stripped of ALL goodies. They later said the thugs searched them from the skin out, including shoes. And only the crotch area was safe. Because they were unarmed, they were left alive. The criminal with the gun had the drop on them… going for a gun would have resulted in sustaining serious injuries. This was not a scenario for a quick-draw exhibition. The police and port officials reported that the tourists were lucky… the hijack group was highly experienced and professional. Mostly, the less professional groups in the area at that time just shot you dead and took what they wanted.

WHAT have we learned from this? Playing the “What if… ?” game, we may make suggestions.

. If you are leaving a safe place in an unsafe general area (in this case, an African port… there are no “safe” ports in Africa), consider calling a taxi to come collect you. Please do NOT take an unsummoned taxi off the street… you want to avoid being taken around the corner so a hostile group can rob you. Having the dispatcher know which driver collected you is your best safety net.
. If a group of local idlers are eying you, you are probably being sized up as a target. Return to a safe area… in this case, the secure marina, and call a taxi.
. If despite your best efforts you are approached by a criminal group as professional as described, your best course of action is to submit, as did the unarmed victims in this example. Please believe me when I say that you will instantly recognize a well-planned assault. They lived through the experience, and we can learn from them.
. They had a few moments after noticing the running gunman where they could have drawn their firearms. When I carry a weapon in a dangerous area, I carry it in a shopping bag or a folded magazine/newspaper… even a hat or cap… with my hand on the grip, finger off the trigger. Just drape a handkerchief over your cocked and locked pistol if necessary, keep your ready weapon in a convenient pocket or under your shirt… but you must have your firearm in your hand ready to use, not holstered. I practice these things in the safety of my home. With 20/20 hindsight, several people were going to get hurt that night if the victims had at least one firearm in their hand… but, at the time, they had no knowledge that the usual practice was to kill the victims, and might have hesitated to fire. They would have guiltily realized at this time that they should not have been there in the first place… realizing that they had ignored the danger clues when leaving the secure marina. They might have realized that their many hours of target practice were not sufficient for a situation requiring split-second instinctive shooting at someone who had ‘the drop’ on them and would be shooting at them. The only chance with a weapon in this scenario would be to turn to face their attacker, cooly bring up the pistol up and take their best shot. The chances of this action being successful were not good if they didn’t already have the gun out and ready.

Gunfights are serious matters. The outcome is serious. Using a firearm to wound or kill an attacker will change your life forever. We all have to look at a gunfight as an admission of guilt, of failure… you probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. EVERY gunfight is evidence of bad judgment, unless it happens defending your family in your own home, a carjacking, etc. We must plan to be arrested after such an incident, and carry local phone numbers of attorneys/embassy officials/personal or business acquaintances for notification of your situation. Also, it is important to know the local laws regarding such incidents. It would be a good idea to read up on gunfights and take an instinctive shooting course if you plan to travel armed. Most importantly, practice, practice, practice. If I may suggest…

. If using a semi-auto, arm yourself with a CO2 pistol as close to the type you will be using, practice drawing and firing as trained in an instinctive shooting course. Practice walking, running or sitting while shooting. Practice shooting from different types of cover from different positions. Practice instinctive shooting in low light conditions. I use my J-frame .357 with wax bullets/primers/plastic shells that I make up myself. My friends who hate guns actually enjoy this activity and look at it as play. I don’t. I practice at 7 – 15 feet… about the useful range for a wax bullet… shooting at a cardboard recruiting poster. You can just tape a silhouette target over a cardboard box. You must literally train for hundreds of hours if you want to get into peak performance. And, why would you NOT want to be the best you can in such critical situations?

. Gunfight outcomes are decided by mental attitude, instincts and carefully nurtured muscle memory. Please read up on the gunfighters who have survived lots of gun battles. There are lots of websites describing such books, and recommendations are available from gun enthusiast and survival blogs. I first read Jordan’s No Second Place Winner in the 1970s. I learned to carry spare cartridges in my pistol-side jacket pocket to more swiftly flip my coat tail out of the way when drawing my weapon, and practiced it. I learned about stances, how to draw and shoot from the hip, again as my weak hand met up with the gun and again as my arms fully extended… the Jordan triple-tap… and lots more. I practice, practice, practice. The book is out of print, but used copies are available on the net for as low as US$15 plus shipping. You can’t have my copy.

EXAMPLE: A more successful outcome. It was Christmas in Houston, and my friend Sara was at Sharpstown Mall carrying lots of packages and shopping bags as she went to exit the mall to go to her car. Since the lot was crowded, her car was not in an optimal location for security. Sara’s situational awareness kicked in. She saw that it had gotten dark early, as it does in Houston at that time of year. She noticed some young thugs hanging around the exit. Sara returned to the mall, sought out a security guard, and requested that he escort her to her car, but he refused. Sara stood at the door for a while, contemplating a route to her car that would avoid parked vans in the lot… the criminals’ vehicle of choice in Houston at that time… took careful note of who was visible from her vantage point, and plotted her course. Before she started out, she carefully sat down her packages and removed her keys and… discretely… a very small .22 caliber pistol which she concealed in her strong hand, retrieved her packages with her purse over her arm and set out to her car. As she was on her way, she turned around several times to scope out the other people in the lot and what they were doing. She planned to return to the mall and insist on an escort if she didn’t like what she saw. When she got to her car, she was putting her keys in the door lock when a young thug rushed up to her and yelled some obscenities and threats at her as he grabbed Sara’s purse, attached to her gun arm by the strap. The action caused Sara’s pistol’s pointy end to actually go UP HIS NOSE. He said… and I quote Sara’s description… “Whoa, Mamma! Be cool.” Sara said, “This is as cool as I get.” The thug’s friends were running up to help, but the young thug said, “Let’s get outta here… Bit_h got a PIECE up my nose”, and they all took off running. Sara immediately drove to the nearest police station to report the attempted crime and the mall security guard’s indifference. She later found out that the young criminals were part of a large group that kept a rental van parked in a central location, and the various teams were dropping off their ill-gotten swag so their hands were free for more crime without encumbrance. Several older people were hurt that night in the Sharpstown Mall parking lot. One younger victim, a man, tried to resist with his wife and children present and ended up in the hospital with permanent damage from the beating he got.

. IN THESE TWO EXAMPLES we see that options only exist for the wary. The two sailors ignored the little stomach lurch of instinct when they saw thugs eying them. Had the group of thugs that targeted them been less professional, they would probably have died for ignoring their instincts. It only takes one mistake like that… an instant of recognition that was ignored… to end our lives.

Sara’s example ended well because she understood that only outstanding situational awareness and planning via “What if… ?” scenarios can help us survive potentially dangerous situations. Even though she was armed, Sara’s pistol would have ended up as part of the criminal swag had she not had it in her hand and “gotten the drop” on her own private thug. She probably would have sustained a few injuries as the thug pistol-whipped her with her own gun for being dumb enough to carry a pistol she wasn’t ready to use.

PLEASE KEEP IN MIND that thugs hate you and everyone else that has more than they have. They have only contempt for those who have less. As they gain more experience at thuggery, they develop a bored indifference to violence and will kill without remorse and spend their swag on a nice meal immediately after a rewarding murder. If you are in law enforcement, you already know this.

Ex-military people who have been in Close Quarters Combat know how to shoot instinctively, how to survive a gun battle, and how to keep their heads on a swivel… adept at the “What if… ?” game. Unlike police officers who have survived many criminal confrontations, they may lack other important skill sets. Whomever you may be, it is important to brutally analyze your inventory skill sets, try to determine which sets you lack, and work on trying to improve your chances in a criminal confrontation. Please keep in mind that though Sara did everything right except be in a crime-prone area… not very avoidable in Houston at that time… she had to use every skill set she had plus a lot of nerve to survive unscathed her criminal confrontation. And, yes… street survival is a mind game.

. Decoy Money: Consider keeping about US$30 – 50 folded up in a place where you can get to it. If an armed thief comes up to you, GIVE IT TO HIM. He may just go away and leave you alone. Seriously… it’s been reported as a successful ploy and may save you. Be aware that I have seen video of 5 armed guys stripping a guy on the street at nite… no hiding place when you’re barefoot and naked, unless you have your goodies in a tube inserted into a body cavity. If you can avoid that by giving them the bait money, good for you. If not… you’re gonna lose the bait money and everything else anyway. Just a thought… consider carrying the bait money in small bills and throw them to the wind so you can get a head start in running to a safer place very fast. I know from personal experience that this works… sometimes. I also carry my pepper spray concealed in my hand with my finger on the trigger while observing suspicious activity. Since I am not allowed to carry a firearm in my residence country, I need the pepper spray to get far enough away to pull my collapsible baton/flashlight combo as I run toward a safer place. And, yes, I have trained in baton tactics, read many instruction manuals and scenarios, and practice, practice, practice.

. Other common sense items: Try to share info from the internet, news items, overheard comments, etc from traveler Internet boards. We need to help one another.

. Dress for success… Wear layered clothing with lots of zip/Velcro/snap pockets to make it more difficult to clean you out if your pockets are “picked”… spread your cash around your body and clothes… taxi/bridge fare in your shoes.. If you are in an area known as a high threat area for kidnapping, it is best to NEVER wear sandals or flip-flops, no matter how hot. This is in case you are kidnapped and have to walk in rough terrain 10+ hours per day for a few days.

. Never carry a checkbook. Identity theft attempts were made after I lost my checkbook in Colombia.

. Never sign the back of a credit card… write “see photo id” in the signature block. Whenever possible, carry Xerox copies of your important docs. In Argentina, I have a Xerox of the signature/foto page, last entry page and visa page of my passport reduced to fit on the front and back of a single sheet of paper, as well as the receipt for my application fee to obtain an Argentine National ID card/Resident.
. STUN GUNS: Until they come out with a secret stun ring, I would worry about the cops getting cranky if they found it on you. The good news… they work better than any other non-lethal method of self defense. Oh, except not going to a place where you are likely to need it. No matter how drunk, pilled up or crazy an attacker… no matter how big and tough… they WILL be rolling on the dirt screaming for mommy. Again… don’t bring a stun gun to a gun fight unless you are ex-law enforcement or otherwise trained/expert in defensive tactics.

. Collapsible baton: This is my all-time favorite. Be advised… a baton is not legal in ANY part of the world. However, it is easily concealable… I carry my 17 inch (extended) baton from eBay discretely in a jeans hip pocket. I paid extra for an LED flashlite butt from eBay so it appears to be a flashlite with a long handle… doesn’t even look extendable. The flashlite module gives good light and replaces the butt ferrule.

More about legality. In the State of Texas it is legal to have a shotgun or rifle, loaded, in your car. It can be concealed or in plain sight per TX law. Local jurisdictions in TX may vary. You do not need any kind of permit or license. HOWEVER, the statute says “handgun, knife or club” is illegal except with a concealed carry permit, or if crossing three different county lines while traveling in a 24 hour period, concealed or not. Legally, TX officers CAN arrest you… especially if you mouth off to them… if you have an UNLOADED rifle or shotgun in the vehicle, concealed or not, because it can be considered a club. I am not kidding. The cops don’t care if it will hold up in court, and will let you go in 24 hours with a big grin. Don’t bother asking to get the weapon back. Collapsible batons, pool cues, unusual walking sticks/canes, baseball bats can be considered by the courts to be violations of the statute. You can probably get off if you hire an attorney and don’t have a criminal record. A carry permit covers everything.

But… if you are fluent in the local language, do not show off or act like a jerk, you may be get by OK with a collapsible baton in most countries. EXAMPLE: I have carried my “flashlite with an extensible handle” in MX, in Colombia and Argentina on and off cruise ships (the worst questioning I had to endure while going thru bag checks by ship personnel). I had a problem with an federal officer checking hand luggage at the Buenos Aires airport. I had planned to leave it at my Argentine home… I forgot it was in a small bag stuffed in my carry-on luggage. Woooops! I was embarrassed. This could have been serious if I wasn’t muy fluido en castellano and such an obviously nice, friendly guy. This guy was giving me a bad case of cop eye as I smiled and explained that it was a flashlite. With an expressionless face, he extended it. I showed him my FL commercial appraiser license and explained it was for seeing into dark corners while appraising buildings. He said… “Sir, this is a weapon”. I smiled and stuck it in the box they had there for disposing of small knives, scissors, etc… still smiling… shrugged my shoulders and got the rest of my stuff together and departed, dignity almost intact. My wife was laughing. I heard the Feds laughing, too. I was out $50 for my own stupidity… it would have been fine in checked luggage. No problem… I got another one off eBay for about $50 and resolved to ALWAYS recheck carry-on bags prior to leaving home.

In ANY country, it seems reasonable to follow some common sense safety tactics:

. Try to avoid places without a lot of activity, especially dark places. If you have to wait for another group to leave the location to have some company, please do so.

. Carry a whistle and/or pepper spray on your keychain. If attacked, make as much noise as possible while running away, if possible.

. When exiting a building to go to your car, stop for a second to visually scan the area. Cops are trained to do this. Hold your keys in your hand… not in your pocket, bag or belt clip. Check the back seat visually prior to unlocking the door of the vehicle. If you see suspicious activity, or a van parked next to your vehicle that blocks the view of your entry into your vehicle from others, do a wide sweep… a walkaround before entering… or, consider going back into the building to observe for a while. This is especially important if you are with an adult entertainment specialist… she may be part of the gang that want to check out your pockets.

. If you are carrying a bag with a shoulder strap, wear the strap laterally across your back with the bag in front and walk TOWARD vehicular traffic. Why? I once saw a lady being dragged down the street for almost a block before the strap broke… a pickup passenger had leaned out and grabbed her strap… in broad daylight with lots of witnesses… and fled the scene. Pillion riders on motorcycles or scooters are the most common snatch thieves.

. If you are carrying a purse or the equivalent, consider carrying it upside down, snap open and held closed by your hand. If a thief grabs it out of your hand all your stuff will go on the pavement… which is a good thing. It gives you a distraction so you can use your best weapon… your feet… to escape.

. It is difficult to over stress the importance of the conscientious and judicious use of your eyes, brain and feet to keep anyone safe no matter where in the world you may be. Observe carefully with your eyes so that your brain can evaluate potential threats, and use your feet to avoid iffy locations.

Note: Items pictured here are available at

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