Choose Adventure

Safely Navigating the Challenges of Third World Travel

Guns in Haiti

Guns in Haiti 1024 663 Greg Ellifritz

Take a look at the guns seen during the ongoing Haitian rebellion.  If you were trapped in a foreign country in a lawless situation like this, would you know how to operate all of these weapons?



An Examination Of The Guns of Haiti


Avoiding Bribes While Traveling

Avoiding Bribes While Traveling 1000 667 Greg Ellifritz

Bribes are a part of daily life in the developing world.  American tourists are aghast at the idea of paying off a corrupt cop, but few realize that paying a small bribe will generally be the least expensive way to deal with the police and judicial system in a foreign country.


Here are some good tips to remember.  Following these guidelines may reduce the chance that you will be targeted in a bribery scheme.


Option Gray: Avoiding Bribes While Traveling


Solo Female European Travel Advice

Solo Female European Travel Advice 768 629 Greg Ellifritz

Those of you traveling to Europe should check out this article about best practices for female solo travel there.   Most of the advice is applicable to males as well. She also has a great perspective about people providing travel advice:


“Most women are nervous about visiting Europe because they’re not sure whether it’s safe. Many of these women have well-meaning relatives and friends who tell them that sure, Europe’s safe if you have a man with you, but it’s not safe for a woman on her own.

Those well-meaning relatives and friends are wrong. They’re coming from a place of love and concern, but they’re wrong.

I always tell travelers to consider the source. Who is giving you this advice? Ask yourself the following questions:

Does this person travel?

Does this person travel in my style of traveling (i.e. backpacking as opposed to resort travel)?

Has this person been to this destination?

Has this person been to this destination recently (in the past 3-5 years)?

If the answer is yes to all of these, chances are you have an accurate source and should listen to what he or she has to say. But if the answer to one or more of these questions is no, you should seek out opinions elsewhere.”



Solo Female Travel in Europe: Complete Travel and Safety Guide



Stingray Injuries

Stingray Injuries 768 610 Greg Ellifritz

I’ve seen a couple of stingray injuries in my travels over the years. They can be pretty nasty.   I once did a sea kayaking trip of the coast of Belize and the support boat driver got stung in the ankle while checking the moorings of the boat one night.  He was out of commission for about three days, unable to walk and having really bad flu-like symptoms.

Read about how to treat these stings in the field if you travel in areas near the ocean.


Stingray Injuries

Rule One?

Rule One? 1800 1800 Greg Ellifritz

A couple months ago, Alex Ooley interviewed me on the topic of travel safety for his “Forge of Freedom” podcast.  Alex was an excellent host and I really enjoyed talking with him.  You can watch/listen to the podcast at the link or embedded video below if you are interested, but doing so isn’t necessary to understand the context of this article.


Episode 87. Choose Adventure: Safe Travel in Dangerous Places by Greg Ellifritz


I was looking at the listener comments (I know. Dumb move.) on YouTube and saw this one:


“I highly respect Greg, and agree with almost everything he writes, and without hesitation would ask him to join me in a foxhole. But, every time I read about his travel escapades I think to myself, why does he insist on violating rule #1. The fact that he may be better than 99% of people in doing this safely does not mitigate whatever risk he exposes himself to. Unless he’s doing it to deliberately expose himself to that 1%.”


It was an interesting and respectful comment.  I get this question from gun people a lot and think it might be useful to discuss my thought process.



“Rule #1” for those who don’t know is:”Have a gun.”  It has been attributed to the legendary Col. Jeff Cooper in the quote: “Remember the first rule of gunfighting … have a gun.”



The commenter was remarking on the fact that I often travel to other countries where it is illegal for me to carry a gun.



That baffles a lot of gun owners.  The idea that a full time gun instructor like myself (who carries a gun whenever he leaves his house while in the USA) would voluntarily visit a place where he can’t carry is the very definition of insanity for a lot of the people I teach.  I want to take some time to explain to those folks why I spend a couple months a year violating “Rule One.”



Most of world thinks regularly carrying a firearm is an aberrant behavior.  The Earth has over eight billion inhabitants.  How many of those folks do you think carry a gun every day of their life?



Let’s be honest, even most American gun owners who have legal carry privileges often refrain from carrying guns.  In my cop career, I stopped a lot of people with concealed carry licenses for traffic violations.  It was exceptionally rare for me to encounter someone who was actually carrying their firearm, even when it was legal for them to do so.  Very few Americans carry guns everywhere they go.  Even fewer people in other countries carry on a daily basis.  In most of the world, it is only the cops, the military, and the criminals who carry guns.  Have you ever wondered how all of those eight billion folks manage to survive every day without carrying a gun?  Maybe you should ponder that for a bit.



I’m not saying that carrying a gun is bad.  I carry one constantly when in the United States.  With that said, we gun owners should recognize that our carrying guns is often considered strange and unnecessary by the rest of the world.  If all of those eight billion people on earth manage to survive without carrying guns on a daily basis, why do you think that you will most certainly die if you leave your house without your pistol?  Is it possible that you could survive a vacation without a gun just like all the rest of the residents of the country you are visiting?  It’s something you should consider.



A gun is just a piece of emergency equipment.  I find it odd that the people who won’t leave their houses unarmed don’t have the same level of equipment fetish for other emergency gear.  I have a few fire extinguishers in my house.  I carry a fire extinguisher in my car wherever I drive.  Fire extinguishers are useful to have in an emergency, just like guns are.  I would argue that most of the “never unarmed” folks are probably at a greater risk of experiencing a dangerous fire than a lethal criminal attack.  Why aren’t we seeing the “never unarmed” people sharing “pocket dump” photos on social media that contain EDC fire extinguishers or AED machines?



If it bothers you to go anywhere without your pistol, you might ask yourself why you don’t feel the same anxiety about being deprived of carrying your fire extinguisher.  Interesting thought exercise, huh?



There is a difference between being in a dangerous situation and one where your response options are limited.  I wrote about this concept extensively in an article titled Danger? 



In the article I discuss the fact that you are not in any more danger should you venture out of the house without a gun.  Not having a gun doesn’t change the nature of danger in your everyday activities, it just limits one of your possible responses to that danger.  This is a concept few gun owners have considered.



If I think a situation is too dangerous, I will attempt to avoid it whether I have a gun or not.  Going without a gun doesn’t actually increase my risk for attack.  It only limits my response options once that attack commences.  That is an important difference.



Being unarmed forces us to practice our awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation skills.  While I never want to get in a fight with a criminal, I’m extra careful to avoid those incidents when I’m unarmed.  I think sometimes we get lazy when we have a gun.  If something pops off, we have the ability to handle the problem.  Without that problem solving ability, we have to rely on our skills and instincts to keep us away from danger.



In the last quarter century, I’ve taken over 4500 hours of formal training in firearms skills, intermediate weapons, empty hand fighting, and counter terrorism topics.  Despite all that training, I’ve learned far more from traveling alone in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language.   Being forced to handle unique challenges without assistance in a foreign country provides more training in adaptability, survival, reading social cues, and staying calm than all the tactical training I’ve taken.



Risk versus Reward Calculation.  Traveling without a firearm slightly increases my risk of being hurt or killed should I be attacked.  That’s what most folks in the gun world focus on.  What they don’t consider is that our decisions are made by balancing risk and reward.  What about the “reward” side of the equation?



For me, the reward of solo travel is extensive.  I truly love learning about other places and cultures.  I enjoy interacting with new people and solving unique problems.  I greatly enjoy the confidence and insights on the human condition that I can only get by traveling to countries where I can’t carry my gun.  I suspect for many of my critics, the “reward” side of the equation for foreign travel might not be so valuable.  That’s fine.



For me, the tremendous increase in benefits from travel is worth the small increase in risk I suffer when not carrying my firearms.



I’ve trained extensively to defend my life.  I want to ensure I’m living a life worth defending.  I’d much rather carry a gun in most places I go, but I’m not willing to forego the amazing life experiences I can have by rejecting any location where I can’t legally be armed.  Your mileage may vary.




Travel Dangers

Travel Dangers 860 547 Greg Ellifritz

I discuss this issue at length in my travel safety book.  If you die overseas, it won’t be from a terrorist bullet or an infectious disease.  It will most likely be the result of a car crash.  This article does a great job explaining the difference between the theoretical risks you envision and the actual risks you take when you travel in the developing world.


International Travel’s Biggest Risks



Travel Safety Interview

Travel Safety Interview 1440 540 Greg Ellifritz

I did a short interview today with author Jason Brick on his “Safest Family on the Block” Facebook page.


We talk some travel basics, how to find information about areas where you are staying, assessing neighborhood safety, and what is most likely to kill you in a foreign country.

It’s only about 20 minutes long and may be useful for some of you travelers.





The Definitive Guide To Flying With Guns

The Definitive Guide To Flying With Guns 620 309 Greg Ellifritz

I travel by air quite a bit.  Last year I took 67 flights.  Fifty-two of those flights were domestic and I traveled with guns on every one of them. I’ve flown with guns on over 50 flights a year for the past three years since my police retirement.  Even though each airline and airport is slightly different, after a lot of trial and error I’ve figured out how to fly with firearms hassle free.



As I was going through the airline firearms check-in procedures on my most recent trip, it struck me that many of my readers might not know that it is legal to carry guns in checked airplane baggage or how to do it.   Here’s what you have to do to be legal:


-Unload the guns.


– Place the unloaded guns into a locked, hard sided case.  The case must be completely sealed.  If a TSA agent can manually pry open a corner of your case enough to slide a finger inside, you likely won’t be allowed to check the gun.


After hearing frequent reports of TSA agents trying to pry open a corner of the gun case (to claim it was unsuitable for properly securing your gun), I also switched to carrying a Travel Armor gun case.  With its unique latching mechanism, there is no way to access the case when properly locked.

Travel Armor double pistol case


Also, a strict interpretation of the law seems to mandate that the lock on your gun case must NOT be TSA-accessible.  In practice, I have not found that to be the case.  The TSA itself has a different interpretation of the law on its website.  They directly state: “You may use any brand or type of lock to secure your firearm case, including TSA-recognized locks.”


No one has ever even mentioned the fact that my gun case is secured with a TSA lock.  In fact, it has sped up the check-in process a few times for me.


I’ve wavered back and forth over the years about using non-TSA locks on my gun case as seems to be required by the law.  After this experience two years ago, I’ve chosen to lock the case up with TS-accessible locks.  My guns are insured.  My gun case is not.  I can’t afford to buy an $80 gun case every time I fly when the TSA decides to break it to gain access.  I put two non-TSA locks in the gun case with the guns in case the agent wants to quibble about details.  I’ve never had to use the extra non-TSA locks I carry.


I also have my phone number taped to the outside of the case along with a copy of my LEOSA retired cop nationwide carry authorization.  In case my flight gets diverted to a less “gun-friendly” city, that law enforcement credential might save me some hassles.




-Place the hard-sided case into your locked (with TSA-approved lock) suitcase.


-When you check your bag, inform the ticket agent that you would like to declare a firearm.  Don’t say “I have a gun” or something equally stupid.  Say something like, “I have an unloaded pistol in my checked bag that I need to declare.”


– The ticket agent will give you a little white or orange form to sign and may ask to inspect the gun to see that it is unloaded.  That depends on the individual airport and airline.  Most ticket agents just want to see a locked, hard sided case, but I would estimate that on 5% of my recent flights, they have asked to physically see the guns inside the case.  Be ready for that if they ask.



If the ticket agent does ask you to show that the gun is unloaded, I place my suitcase on the baggage scale and use my body to block the view of the gun from my fellow passengers in line.  I open the case and tell the ticket agent: “You can see that the guns are unloaded.  I signed a form attesting that the guns are unloaded.  I’m uncomfortable handling the weapons in a public area like this.  If you’d like to call a police officer over to verify the guns are unloaded, I’ll allow him to handle the guns.”


That line has worked every time I’ve used it.  They have never called an officer to verify the unloaded status of the guns.  It may help to insert a chamber flag into the weapon to prove it is unloaded.



People are crazy in airports.  I would hate to be shot by a CCW carrier or local cop because I was waving a gun around at the airline ticket counter, even if it was at the agent’s request.



– Each airline has different procedures for placement of the form.  Southwest will tape it to the outside of your case.   Others will instruct you to place the form into your gun case and lock everything up.  Some other airlines tell you to place the form on top of the case in your luggage.  Just do what the ticketing agent tells you to do.  You are then theoretically are good to go, but in practice, you may have a few more hurdles to clear.


– Every airport has a different procedure after the baggage declaration.  Some don’t require anything more.  In that case, the entire process adds less than five minutes to your check in time.


Other airports will require you to have your luggage inspected by the TSA before loading it onto the plane.  Some will want you to wait in the ticket counter area for 10-15 minutes until the bags are inspected.  Others require your presence during the inspection.  There isn’t much consistency across the country or even between airlines.


With that said, after more than 25 years of flying with guns, I’ve never had any serious issues at all.  I’ve had one gun case broken by TSA, but I’ve never had guns stolen.  Many of my friends are now placing Apple Air Tags into their luggage (or even inside the mag well of the cased pistol) to have an additional tracking option.  I think that’s a good idea and have been doing that for the last couple years.


Air Tag tracking device


A couple of other things you might want to know….


– You are not allowed to check a firearm at the curbside luggage check in counter outside the airport.


– Most airlines limit ammunition to 11 lbs and and require that it must be carried in a box or container that is designed to hold ammunition.  Some airlines allow loaded magazines if the bullets are completely covered by caps or a magazine carrier.   I just unload my mags and carry the ammo in a factory cartridge box.  I keep the ammo box separate from the gun case, but TSA regulations say that it is OK to keep the gun and ammo together.


-Unloaded magazines are supposed to be boxed or locked in the same case as the firearm.  I actually didn’t know this until last year.  When teaching my classes, I regularly fly with a range bag filled with eye and ear protection, boxed ammo, and unloaded magazines in my suitcase.  It’s never been an issue, but if your mags fit in your locked gun case, you should probably transport them there.


Screenshot from TSA website (linked above).


Make sure your ammo is all boxed, or in an enclosed case.  Check the pockets of your clothes for spare cartridges.


– If you carry pepper spray, it must be in a four-ounce or smaller container and placed in your checked bag.  I usually carry mine inside a Ziploc bag because canisters can leak as a result of the plane’s varying air pressurization.  For what it’s worth, I carry pepper spray in my checked bag on every trip I take.  In hundreds of flights over the last 25 years, I’ve never had a canister explode or leak during a flight.


Southwest Airlines officially prohibits the carry of pepper spray in checked luggage.  With that said, I’ve carried my pepper spray in my checked bag on every Southwest flight I’ve taken.  It’s never been an issue.  The spray has not been seized, nor has my baggage been delayed.


Screenshot from Southwest’s website


– Each airline has different procedures about how you pick up your bag with a checked firearm.  As of January 2024, if you have a handgun case inside another piece of luggage, Southwest and United will just throw your bag on the luggage carousel with all the other bags and there is no special procedure to pick them up.  On those same airlines, if you check a stand alone long gun case, you will have to pick it up at the airline’s baggage claim office.


Both American and Delta now deliver all your luggage that contains guns to the baggage claim office rather than placing it on the conveyor belt.  You’ll have to show your ID to get the bag.  About 10% of the time I flew last year, my gun bag which clearly said “RETURN TO BAGGAGE OFFICE” on the luggage label was placed on the same conveyor with Gen Pop suitcases.


As I’m waiting for my bags,  I usually pick a spot where I can see the baggage conveyor belt and the baggage office door.  That way, if I see the bag was improperly paced on the conveyor, I just grab it and head out.  If it doesn’t come up on the conveyor belt, I can see when the baggage handler delivers my bag to the airline office.


Delta also regularly zip ties the bags closed before releasing them to you.  That processes is done by individual airport policy and/or at the discretion the person working in the baggage claim office.  They don’t want a passenger to immediately open up the bag and begin shooting up the baggage claim area (that happened in Ft. Lauderdale in 2017).


Consequently, when I fly Delta I always pack a small pair of trauma shears (blunt points and under four inch blade length) with the first aid supplies I have in my carry-on luggage.  Those shears are allowed by the TSA and make short work of their zip ties as soon as I take possession of the bag.


Snipping the zip tie used to “secure” my suitcase.


– Be cautious with your batteries for sights, lasers, and flashlights.  Some security screeners freak out if you have loose lithium batteries in either checked bag or carry-on.


-Putting knives in your checked bag is allowed as well.  There are no special declarations required when checking a bag containing a knife (or multiple knives).


– If you encounter any difficulties during the check-in process, calmly ask to speak to a supervisor.  If the supervisor doesn’t remedy the issue, the person to contact is the airport’s “Ground Security Coordinator.”  That person is in charge of all of the security for the entire airport.  He/She has final say about issues involved in transporting your weapons.


Some folks take the time to print out copies of TSA regulations and airline policies in the event that a ticket agent asks the passenger to do something different.  I find that doesn’t help much and just adds time to your check in.  As long as it isn’t dangerous, I’ll do whatever the ticket agent/TSA inspector tells me to do, even if it’s “wrong.”  I’d rather not miss my flight.  I’d rather my bags not be delayed.  In my mind, it’s better to get to my destination on time and with my bags than to argue with mindless bureaucrats and be “right.”


-No matter what your airline app says, if your gun bag is delayed, they will not send it to your location.  You will have to return to the airport to pick up your bag in person.  Don’t expect the airlines to call you and let you know  where your bags are or what you must do to  complete the re-unification process.  The apps will indicate that your bag will be transported to the address you specify.  It will not.  Pick it up at the destination baggage claim office.



I primarily fly the large domestic legacy airline carriers.  I have lots of experience flying Delta, American, United, and Southwest with guns.  I have zero experience flying the budget airlines like Spirit, Breeze, WOW, or Jet Blue.  I understand that their policies are similar, but I have no direct experience with them.  I’ve also not flown with guns to a foreign country.  The advice above applies to flights within the USA only.



If you are traveling to a state that has reciprocity with your CCW, why not take your guns?  Even if you don’t think you’ll need them at your destination, it doesn’t hurt to have them along.  Imagine vacationing in Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina hit.  Wouldn’t you like to have a gun if you were subjected to that chaos?  What if you get stranded in your travels after another 9/11- style terror attack stops all airline travel for a few days?  If you have to rent a car and drive across the country to get home, wouldn’t you want your pistol?



Some things are out of our control.  It’s smart to be prepared, even if you are visiting an area where you don’t think you’ll “need” your gun.



Mexican Pharmacies

Mexican Pharmacies 2048 1536 Greg Ellifritz

I just got back from spending five weeks in Mexico running from the winter. I saw this sign at the grocery store pharmacy while I was there. They won’t sell antibiotics without a prescription as of the start of 2024.

Every country has different rules about what drugs they will sell over the counter. Costa Rica hasn’t sold antibiotics without a prescription for almost 20 years.

The Mexican stand alone pharmacies will still sell you whatever antibiotic you want, but I expect that might change in the future.

New Podcast Interview

New Podcast Interview 1000 522 Greg Ellifritz

If you are interested in travel topics, check out my recent interview with Alex on his Forge of Freedom podcast.



In the show we talk about my travel book Choose Adventure and discuss some travel recommendations you may not see in your Lonely Planet guidebook.


I stopped doing podcasts after I got my cancer diagnosis about four years ago.  Since I put my book out just a couple months after my diagnosis, I haven’t done any travel-related podcasts.  Now that I had surgery for my cancer and am no longer likely to die anytime soon, I’ve started doing podcasts again.  This is the first travel podcast I’ve done.


I’ve done a lot of other podcasts in the past.  I found Alex to be one of the best hosts I’ve experienced.  He had an in-depth outline for how he wanted the interview to go and was extremely well prepared.  I think you’ll enjoy the show.