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Safely Navigating the Challenges of Third World Travel

Cycle Touring

Cycle Touring 701 404 Greg Ellifritz

Although I don’t think I would enjoy a long term cycle tour, the idea of biking around the world seems pretty cool.

 

This article covers the basics you need to understand before embarking on this unique mode of travel.

 

How to Travel by Bike – A Beginners Guide to Bikepacking & Cycle Touring

 

 

Becoming a Digital Nomad

Becoming a Digital Nomad 1263 631 Greg Ellifritz

Working remotely from a tropical country has a unique appeal.  If your work is location independent, why tie yourself down to any city you don’t enjoy?

I recently spent over a month doing my writing/blogging work from Mexico.  It was one of the best moves I’ve ever made.  Why should I suffer through winter in Ohio when I don’t have to?  Writing in Mexico in the sun was a far better option than being stuck in the snow in Ohio.

Much of my income comes from teaching classes, so remote work won’t be my sole occupation for quite some time.  With that said, I plan on consolidating my training classes in the future to allow me the opportunity to do several months of remote work from beautiful tropical countries for a good portion of the year.

If being a digital nomad is appealing to you, you’ll learn a lot by reading the following article.

How to be freelance: this is the reality of living the ‘dream’ Instagram lifestyle

 

Online Training Courses

Online Training Courses 150 150 Greg Ellifritz

One of the good things that has come out of Covid-19 social distancing is that many companies are improving their online training technology.  Those changes can help international travelers.  There are now a plethora of online classes one can take.

 

I recently found these two article recommending online back country safety and outdoor skills classes.  If you are stuck at home and want to learn new things, these look like great options.  Some of them are even free.

Stay Safe in the Backcountry: Take a Free Online Course

Prepare for Your Next Backcountry Adventure With These Online Outdoor Skills Courses

 

 

European Car Rental?

European Car Rental? 150 150 Greg Ellifritz

When I travel, I rarely rent cars.  Driving is a hassle in many countries.  Driving is exceptionally dangerous in others.  For me, relying on public transportation has always been my go-to method for foreign travel.

With that said, I realize some of my readers would rather have the freedom associated with renting their own cars on vacation.  If you are moving around a lot on your holiday, it may be more convenient to drive yourself.

I found this article to be exceptionally valuable.  It covers all aspects of European car rental.  Most of the tips are also useful for other continents as well.  If you are considering renting a car in a foreign country, it will be a useful resources.

 

Everything You Need To Know Before Renting A Car In Europe

 

Covid-19 Testing

Covid-19 Testing 600 383 Greg Ellifritz

As the world starts to open up, more and more places are requiring negative Covid tests from all travelers.  The USA also requires all citizens returning from an international destination by air to have a negative Covid-19 test within three days of their flight.

I recently had to take three different Covid tests in a two week period (coming home from Mexico, entering the Dominican Republic (random passengers get tested on arrival.  I was lucky enough to be chosen) and returning from the D.R.

I absolutely despise anything in my nose.  I have some damaged cartilage from boxing and sparring and the Q-tip up the nose Covid test is agony for me.

You’ll definitely want to be an informed consumer in this arena.  I found the following article to be exceptionally useful at explaining all the testing issues.

https://internationalman.com/articles/covid-tests-gone-wild-an-epidemic-of-covid-positive-tests/

The bottom line according to the article is:

Summary:

  1. We have an epidemic of COVID-positive tests that is substantially larger than the epidemic of identified Relevant Infectious COVID Disease. In contrast, people with actual, mild cases of COVID-disease aren’t all getting tested. So the data, on which lockdowns are supposedly justified, are lousy.
  2. The data on COVID hospitalizations and deaths in the US are exaggerated by a government subsidization scheme that incentivizes the improper use of tests in people without particular risk of the disease.
  3. Avoid getting tested for COVID unless you are symptomatic yourself, have had exposure to someone who was both symptomatic and tested positive for COVID, or have some other personal reason that makes sense.
  4. Know that getting tested before traveling abroad puts you at a modest risk of getting a false-positive test result, which will assuredly screw up your trip. It’s a new political risk of travel.
  5. There is a lot more to this viral testing game, and there are a lot of weird incentives. There are gray areas and room for debate.
  6. Yes, the COVID disease can kill people. But a positive test won’t kill anybody. Sadly, every COVID-positive test empowers those politicians and bureaucrats who have a natural bent to control people—the sociopaths and their ilk.

 

 

 

Travel Quotes

Travel Quotes 1000 1500 Greg Ellifritz

I really enjoy reading motivational quotes.  If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that I introduced every chapter of my book with a relevant quote that helped support the material.

 

Here are some cool travel quotes that might brighten your day.  Enjoy.

 

100 Best Travel Quotes of All Time (with Photos & Captions) to Inspire You to Travel the World

Travel Log- Saba and St. Maarten

Travel Log- Saba and St. Maarten 620 465 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip to the Caribbean in December of 2014.

 

I spent the last week in the Caribbean, visiting French Sint Martin, Dutch St. Maarten, and the Island of Saba.  Saba was the place I was most excited about…primarily because most folks have never even heard of it.  It’s the smallest Caribbean island.  An extinct volcano sprouting from the sea, Saba is only about five square miles and has about 1500 residents.  It’s very quaint and known for its friendly population, mountainous hiking, and excellent diving.

 

There are no direct flights from the USA to Saba.  In fact, the only way to get there is by ferry or prop plane from St. Maarten.  Saba has the shortest commercial airstrip in the world and cannot accommodate jet planes.

 

The Saba airstrip as viewed from the prop plane's approach

The Saba airstrip as viewed from the prop plane’s approach

 

We flew into St. Maarten, rented a car and spent a couple days enjoying the French side of the island.  The people were amazingly friendly and the food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten.  It’s hard to beat fresh seafood and gourmet French cooking.

 

The driving was quite challenging.  Typical of third world travel, things are bound to be screwed up.  This trip was no exception.  I don’t normally rent cars in my third world travels.  Driving is usually very expensive and dangerous.  But this was St. Maarten.  It couldn’t be that bad!

 

With car rental prices averaging about $100 for an entire week, I figured it would be cheaper to drive rather than use public transportation.  Since all the car rental agencies were approximately the same price.  I decided to patronize a local company “EZ Car Rental” rather than one of the big American companies like Hertz or Budget.  I generally think that using the services of local companies provides a more positive impact to the local economy and I try to do so as much as possible.  I booked and prepaid for the car rental through Orbitz.com.

 

Using the local company was an incredible mistake in this case.  When we arrived at the airport, we went to the booths of rental car agencies in the arrivals hall.  There was no “EZ Rental Car” booth.  Other agencies told us that the company goes by another name and directed us to the correct booth.  Unfortunately, it was the only booth that was unoccupied.  No one had seen any of the agency’s employees all day.

 

I had to pull up the rental contract and ask around until someone loaned me a telephone to call the company.  I finally spoke to the agent on the phone and she unapologetic ally said that she hadn’t planned on working that day, but that since I had a reservation, she would send someone in a shuttle to pick us up from the airport and take us to the rental lot.  The shuttle arrived after 30 minutes and it took us to the waterfront slum where the rental agency was located.  We got a beat up Hyundai hatchback with a broken tail light.  I guess we were lucky to get a car at all.

 

Lesson one learned.  Never prepay for car rental.  And never trust third world companies to offer the same level of service that we are accustomed to here in the States.

 

Driving was quite a challenge.  Knowing that I couldn’t use Google maps on my phone because of the outrageous foreign data package charges, I downloaded and printed directions to our hotel.  The directions were completely wrong.  We followed them diligently (despite a lack of street signs) and ended up on a dirt road with nothing but an abandoned field where our hotel should have been.  Lesson two learned.  Don’t rely on Google maps outside of the USA.  We finally found our hotel after asking for directions numerous times and then randomly driving through the neighborhood where it was located until we spotted it.  Not much fun.

 

The driving itself was quite different than driving in the USA.  Traffic laws are generally more like “suggestions” than hard and fast rules.  Cars drive excessively fast or extremely slow.  Random stops are commonplace.  Drivers will stop in the middle of a two lane highway just to talk to friends for awhile.  No one cares that they are holding up all the traffic behind them.

 

Right of way isn’t determined by any other factor besides vehicle size.  Large buses and trucks didn’t yield for anyone.  The bus drivers knew that other cars wouldn’t hit them so they just pulled out in front of us on a regular basis, forcing me to slam on the brakes so we didn’t die.  Driving there was like playing a real life game of “Frogger.”  We saw one pretty bad accident where a bus struck a motorcycle.  The motorcycle driver was thrown from his bike and landed head first on the pavement.  He wasn’t wearing a helmet and looked pretty messed up.

 

Other than the driving difficulties, we enjoyed our stay in St. Maarten.  The beach was beautiful, weather was nice, and food was amazing.  What more could a person want?

Mt. Scenery on the Island of Saba

After a couple days of beach lounging we flew to Saba.  Saba was cool.  It was a very quaint and slow paced island.  We did some diving, snorkeling, and lots of walking up and down the mountain roads.  The underwater geography was first rate…a beautiful and healthy reef ecosystem that supported lots of cool marine life.  I saw several large sea turtles among the tropical fish.  Lauren spotted a couple sharks, a sting ray, a Moray eel, and a barracuda.

 

We spent three days in Saba and then flew back to St, Maarten where we spent two more days on the Dutch side of the island.  We had fun there too, but both of us liked the French side significantly more.

 

There isn’t much to report on the weapons/tactics/crime element to our trip.  We didn’t encounter any problems.  Saba has essentially zero violent crime.  They haven’t had a murder in 25 years.  Rapes and robberies are unheard of.  Residents all know each other and that fact completely deters all violent crime.  We weren’t even given a key to our guest house because no one locks their doors on the island.  The Saba residents I talked to said that guns were rare.  Residents could get permits for rifles and shotguns (after background check and shooting competency test) and there was some hunting on the island.

 

There are only nine cops assigned to the entire island.  They are brought in from the Netherlands or Bonaire for short rotations on Saba before going home.  The residents stated that the cops were extremely bored and spent most of the day napping.  We didn’t see a single officer during the three days we spent on the island.

 

In French Sint Martin, the cops were very well equipped.  The wore uniform BDUs in navy blue and had complete gunbelts containing a Sig Pro pistol in a Safariland SLS holster, extra magazines, flashlights, handcuffs, and Tasers.  It’s one of the few third world agencies I’ve seen that are equipped similarly to the cops here in the USA.

 

On the Dutch side the cops were a little more casual.  They only carried S&W M&P pistols in Safariland SLS holsters.  They didn’t carry any spare mags or less lethal weapons.  Their belts were bare except for gun and handcuffs.  Residents on both sides of the island said that the police were professional and wouldn’t take bribes.  That’s another third world rarity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weapons and Carry Methods for Foreign Travel

Weapons and Carry Methods for Foreign Travel 620 455 Greg Ellifritz

In last weeks’ article, I talked about the common guns I see carried all around the world.  As a traveler, since you aren’t likely to be able to legally acquire firearms overseas, this continuation of last week’s theme covers some of the weapons you ARE able to carry.

 

When I’m at home, I carry a gun for protection because it is both legal for me to do so and it is the most effective weapon in my arsenal. Overseas, with very few exceptions, the average traveler will not be able to legally acquire or carry a firearm. Although widely available on the black market in almost every country, the penalties for getting caught with a firearm are so severe that it is in most travelers’ best interests to avoid acquiring one. The increased protection one may receive isn’t worth the cost of doing time in a third world prison in the event you are discovered carrying an illegal pistol by police.

 

Since guns are not recommended, the most effective weapon for most travelers is a knife. Knives can be legally brought into almost every third world country in checked luggage. Unless the knife is massive in size or the traveler has dozens of them in his luggage, customs officials rarely look twice if they see a knife when searching your bags.

 

Even though it’s rare that carrying a knife into a country would be questioned, the traveler should still have a believable “justification” for the presence of the knife in the event that customs or law enforcement officers ask you why you are carrying a blade. “Self-defense” is never a good justification to use with corrupt third world officials. Remember, most people in foreign countries don’t have the same “right” to self-protection as they do here in the USA. It’s best to have a more innocuous reason for carrying the knife.

 

I generally carry a Spyderco “Salt” folder when I travel. The knife is made of a special type of stainless steel that does a phenomenal job resisting salt water. Thus, I have a handy justification for my blade; it’s my “diving knife.” That excuse has worked for me no matter where I have traveled. “Dive knives” are commonplace and cause no additional scrutiny. You could even get by with a larger fixed blade knife so long as it looked like it had marine applications. Other “justifications” could be that you are going “camping in the jungle” or that the knife is your “cooking knife.” No matter what justification you choose, have a ready answer for when the cops ask you about the blade. “Cutting throats” is not generally recommended.

 

If you want to avoid the hassle completely, you can purchase a knife when you arrive in country. Hardware stores or outdoor/camping stores will have the largest selection. You may also be able to acquire a knife at a local market as well. If you buy a knife locally, keep the receipt. If you do get caught carrying it, you can tell the officer that you just bought it as a souvenir to take home with you. Playing the role of the clueless tourist with this excuse might keep you out of jail.

 

All of these knives were purchased at third world markets as “souvenirs.”

All of these knives were purchased at third world markets as “souvenirs.”

 

If you can’t find a hardware or outdoor store, don’t forget that you can buy cooking knives at almost any grocery store. A small paring knife won’t cost more than a couple dollars. Use a discarded piece of cardboard (from the inside of a roll of toilet paper) and some duct tape to create a makeshift sheath for safe carry.

 

If all else fails, stealing a steak knife from a restaurant table is a valid option as well. That may be the best option for cruise ship passengers who have to go through a metal detector every time they get back on the ship. Take a sharp knife from the dinner table and carry it around with you on your land excursion. Dispose of the blade on land before your re-board the ship. Grab another knife at dinner to repeat this process for the following day.

 

In addition to carrying my Spyderco Salt folder, I also carry a Talonz brand ceramic fixed blade knife. I carry this one because it contains absolutely no metal. While not quite as sharp or durable as a metal blade, the ceramic knife isn’t detected by metal detectors.

 

Even though it makes it through metal detectors; x-ray or pat-down physical searches will find the blade. If you try to smuggle it into the passenger cabin of a commercial airplane, there is a very good chance you will get caught and go to jail. Spending time in a Federal Penitentiary will ruin your vacation.

 

I honestly don’t know the laws regarding knife carry for most of the countries I visit…and I really don’t care. I recognize that I may be breaking local laws by carrying a blade, but my personal protection is very important to me. I’ll risk an arrest or fine in exchange for being able to save my own life if I am attacked. You’ll have to make a decision for yourself with regard to what you are willing to risk. It’s “Big Boy Rules.” If you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime.

 

With that said, the chance of getting caught and/or arrested when carrying a knife in a third world country is next to zero. If you are smart about carrying the blade, you won’t get caught. If you do get caught, you’ll usually be able to pay off the cop who catches you to avoid going to jail. I’ve only been caught with a knife one time in all of my travels when I had to go through a metal detector unexpectedly in Peru. I gave the knife to the cop. He pocketed it and that was the end of the issue.

 

To avoid being caught, you have to be smart. Don’t carry your blade clipped to your pocket like you may in the USA. No one carries knives like this in other countries. It’s a huge red flag that cops and security guards will notice very quickly. If you have a folding knife with a clip, carry it down in your pocket or clip it inside your waistband with an untucked shirt. It will be harder to access this way, but you won’t get shaken down by the cops.

 

Be careful of metal detectors. In third world countries, you will encounter metal detectors in places where you might not expect them to be. Depending on the country and the area, you are likely to find metal detectors in hotel lobbies, train stations, bus stations, government buildings, and museums. If you are sightseeing in those locations, carry the ceramic blade.

 

I carry my ceramic blade in what’s called a “slip sheath.” I attach the cord on the sheath to my belt or belt loop and then position the blade in my waistband. When I draw the knife, the sheath falls off as soon as it reaches the end of the cord. If I need to have a lower profile, I will shove the knife completely down the front of my pants. The only thing visible is the cord attached to the belt. If you use paracord that is the same color as your belt or your pants, the cord will be barely noticeable. Even if you do get searched by the police, there’s a good chance that they will miss the knife. Male cops don’t tend to check other men’s genital region in a thorough manner.

 

Talonz Ceramic Knife in “slip sheath” stuck in waistband

Talonz Ceramic Knife in “slip sheath” stuck in waistband

 

When I pull up on the knife, the cord attached to the belt reaches the end of its range of motion and the knife clears the sheath.

When I pull up on the knife, the cord attached to the belt reaches the end of its range of motion and the knife clears the sheath.

 

But when the cops are around, you can push the entire blade down into your pants and only the cord shows

But when the cops are around, you can push the entire blade down into your pants and only the cord shows

 

If you are carrying a metal blade and stumble into a location with searches or metal detectors, you may still be able to get through the security checkpoint without being arrested. Often, police and security guards use metal detecting wands instead of using walk-through metal detectors. The cops get lazy and grow tired of bending over. They regularly won’t sweep body parts that are low to the ground with their metal detector wands. Sticking a knife in your sock or shoe will often allow it to make it through security undetected.

 

If the shoe isn’t an option, clip the knife to the front of your underwear right behind your pants zipper. That area won’t likely be searched well. If the metal detector does go off, you can blame it on your metal zipper, belt buckle, or pants button.

 

One other technique that is regularly used by criminals here at home is to allow their female companions to carry the weapons. Women aren’t viewed as being “suspicious” enough to warrant a search in lots of situations. If they are searched, male security guards and cops will avoid searching the breast area or genitals of females. These practices are even more evident in foreign countries than they are here. Clip your knife to the front of your wife or girlfriend’s panties or to her bra strap and she will probably get the blade past security.

 

In addition to the two blades I mentioned above, I also carry the knife that I designed, the Ka-Bar Last Ditch Knife.  I designed it specifically to be a last ditch weapon or escape tool that could be hidden anywhere on your body and would likely be missed by a cursory pat down search.  I made the blade smaller than a credit card so that it can be hidden in a wallet.  The sheath has multiple attachment points so that it can be taped or safety pinned anywhere inside your clothing.  You can even lace the knife up in your shoelaces.

 

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My LDK knife design

 

When I travel to countries where kidnapping is a probability, I safety pin the knife inside my pants below the belt line in the small of my back.  In that position, it isn’t likely to be found on a search.  Again, most men don’t want to spend time feeling another dude’s ass.  That position also makes the knife easily accessible if my hands are tied or taped behind my back.  The knife is just the right size to cut my way out of a lot of problems.  I’ve seen some folks tape it to the inside of their belts, carry it on a cord around their necks, or pin it under a lapel.  It’s truly a versatile knife that you can carry anywhere.

 

Those three blades have traveled around the world with me for many years.  No one ever gives them a second glance, but in a pinch, they’ll work well as defensive weapons.  I carry other weapons as well, but this article is already over 2000 words and I don’t want to bore you.  If you are interested in the pepper sprays, hidden impact weapons, and improvised weapons I carry with me on my foreign travels, check out my upcoming third world travel safety book.   In the book I describe all the weapons I carry and how I avoid getting arrested for carrying them.  It’s worth a read for any of you who travel in “non permissive environments” whether those places are in third world countries or right here in the USA.

 

 

 

 

 

Google Hotels

Google Hotels 1279 576 Greg Ellifritz

This might be an exceptionally useful resource for those of you interested in getting good hotel deals.

 

Google Hotels: A Best Features Guide & Slick Tips

 

This site may revolutionize the choosing of foreign hotels when traveling.  I urge you to check it out.

 

 

Safest South American Destinations?

Safest South American Destinations? 1024 683 Greg Ellifritz

The article below has a lot of good information.

 

Safest countries in South America to visit: 6 places to travel stress-free

 

I’ve personally traveled to all of the countries (and most of the sites/cities listed as well) and generally agree with their assessment.

 

With that said, I would exercise caution in two places mentioned.  The first is Buenos Aires, Argentina.  It’s a big city in a country suffering an economic collapse.  While most areas are probably OK, I’m hesitant to give the entire city a “safe” rating.

 

The second is Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.  On the border of three countries, this city has a lot of drug trafficking, human trafficking, and stolen goods.  Be exceptionally careful here.