Choose Adventure

Safely Navigating the Challenges of Third World Travel

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.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Mexican Gun Laws

Mexican Gun Laws 777 437 Greg Ellifritz

The gun laws in Mexico are not quite as restrictive as you imagine.  While in general, Latin American gun laws are more strict than those in the USA, fewer guns does not equal less crime.

 

Here is a great analysis of Mexican gun laws from an American ex-pat living in Mexico.  The author is a retired police officer from Florida.

 

Answers to Common Questions About Gun Laws in Mexico

 

 

Advanced Bleeding Control

Advanced Bleeding Control 800 451 Greg Ellifritz

Many of my readers regularly carry tourniquets and other more advanced medical devices on their person or in their car when in the USA.  But a lot of those folks leave their kits at home when they travel.  Folks are worried about having bags too heavy or are concerned about the potential legality of some medical equipment in other countries.

 
Can you control a femoral artery bleed when traveling without your medical kit?   Here are some great tips

 

“SUMMARY: Putting your knee in a casualty’s groin can eliminate common femoral artery blood flow. The key is to place your knee gently in the groin crease, putting too much body weight into your knee will be painful to the casualty, and they will not remain underneath it.”

 

Can’t I just kneel on his groin?

Travel Lessons

Travel Lessons 600 450 Greg Ellifritz

If you’ve traveled a lot, you’ll understand this list on a visceral level.  If not, I hope after reading it, you’ll be inspired to see more of the world.  This is a good article and I think my readers will enjoy it.

 

20 Things I Learned From Traveling Around the World

Eating My Way Through Turkey

Eating My Way Through Turkey 2048 1536 Greg Ellifritz

Last month I took a great trip through Turkey with a friend.  If you are interested in what I did, check out my post titled Back From Turkey.

 

In that article, I didn’t cover one of my favorite parts of the trip- the adventurous food that I devoured.

 

People like food.  I get more comments on the pictures I take of my meals than any other aspects of my trips.  Because of that, I’m making separate dining posts for each location I visit.  Enjoy the photos below of some of the unique dishes I sampled in Turkey.

 

Lots of my readers are looking for something very exotic or completely different from what they might find at home.  This was the menu from a local Turkish restaurant in Bodrum.  I might be losing my hardcore traveler cred, but I skipped these soups and had some amazing Doner Kabobs instead.

 

 

You might ask: “What is a Doner kabob?”  You’ve probably seen Mexican restaurants serving pork “Al Pastor” from a vertical rotisserie like this one.  Doner kabobs are very similar to Al Pastor pork, but are generally beef and sliced on top of a pita instead of into a taco.

Turkish kebabs are not on skewers like you would expect in a Middle Eastern restaurant here in the USA.. They are grilled meat over rice, a pita, or something else. This is a kabob, but it’s really like the Turkish equivalent of a Philly cheesesteak

 

Thinly sliced grilled steak covered with cheese, tomatoes, and onions. Sitting on a bed of hash browns with a garlic yogurt sauce. One of my favorite meals from the trip.

Dinner at the Bodrum Yacht Club rooftop restaurant. This is fish, shrimp, mussels, and calamari. It’s all placed in a large shell. Add onions, peppers and cheese. Bake until delicious

 

It’s served in the shell over a burning fire to keep it hot while you eat. Definitely better than the smoked cow tongue I had for breakfast.

 

Whole fish was a common option in the seaside town of Bodrum.  The Turkish chefs made eating it easy by making some strategic cuts allowing the diner to quickly split the fish apart and eat the meat from the inside out.  This fish was Bream from the Aegean Sea.

 

Before I get off track talking about some amazing food, I also have to discuss Turkish coffee.  As most of the Turkish population practices Islam, many do not drink.  Coffee shops are the replacement for bars.  This is Turkish coffee.  It’s a thick expresso like drink that is very strong.  When you finish the liquid, there will be about a 1/2 inch of coffee grounds remaining in the bottom of the cup.

 

It’s very popular to turn the cup upside down after finishing the coffee.  That allows the grounds to slide down the side of the cup.  Turks will “read your fortune” by looking at the images created by the grounds sliding down the walls of the coffee cup.

 

In Turkey, appetizers are called “meze.” Waiters will come to your table with a massive tray of different varieties. You pick the ones that look good and the waiter brings out dishes full of your selections.

 

This is from one of our dinners. Beets, a local green that tasted like collard greens, spinach in a garlic yogurt sauce, beans, and mashed fava in a curry sauce. All this was about $8.00.

 

A three-meat kabob meal.

 

Tired of kabobs yet?  This is a “Lebanese kabob.” It’s cooked sliced steak placed on a thin pita. The steak is covered with cheese and rolled up in the pita.

The whole thing is then fried until the pita gets crispy and the cheese melts. It’s then cut up like a sushi roll and covered with a yogurt sauce.

Pretty good. Entire meal with a beer was $9.00.

 

You can’t have food without drinks.  In convenience stores, these little cups of water were sold right alongside larger water bottles.

 

 

The local beers were very malty pilseners and ales.  I tried almost all the local brews and never tasted any hops.  I didn’t find any Turkish IPAs in the country.

 

 

 

A very popular garlic butter shrimp appetizer.

 

 

The local pizzas had a very thin crust and less sauce than you might find in the USA.

 

Corn on the cob was a surprising afternoon snack served from a lot of the food carts in the urban areas.  I’ve only seen that in one other country (Brazil) I’ve visited.

 

 

My final dinner was a casserole of shrimp, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes.  Locals broke up pieces of the thin, hard crust, bread and dipped it into the shrimp casserole like sticking a nacho into a bowl of salsa.

 

 

I really enjoyed my meals in Turkey.  If you ever get there, be prepared to have more kabobs than you could ever imagine!

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Log- Turkey

Travel Log- Turkey 768 576 Greg Ellifritz

Earlier this month, I went on a short-notice impromptu trip to Turkey.  To be honest, Turkey really wasn’t ranked highly on my travel bucket list and I hadn’t considered ever traveling there.

 

At the end of August, my friend Nathalie and I had an amazing time attending the Burning Man festival.  We had so much fun together, Nathalie invited me to tag along with her on a family vacation she had planned in Turkey.  I had about five weeks to decide if I wanted to go and to book the plane ticket.  Of course I said “yes” and made the arrangements.

 

The 12-hour flight leg from Houston to Istanbul was the longest flight I’ve taken in 10 years.

 

In 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch (who had recently received a terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis)  shared some advice two months before his death in his Carnegie Mellon University commencement speech.


“It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our death bed. It is the things we do not. I assure you I’ve done a lot of really stupid things, and none of them bother me. All the mistakes, and all the dopey things, and all the times I was embarrassed — they don’t matter. What matters is that I can kind of look back and say: Pretty much any time I got the chance to do something cool I tried to grab for it — and that’s where my solace comes from.”

 

I’ve had a couple of cancer diagnoses myself and have an outlook similar to the one Dr. Pausch personified.  Since reading that quote, I have attempted to embrace his advice.  Traveling with a fun companion on a spontaneous trip to a country neither of us had ever seen before is the very definition of “something cool” to which Dr. Pausch referred.  I booked the tickets and joined Nathalie in Turkey.

 

 

Nathalie’s trip started in Istanbul and then went to Cappadocia, Ephesus, and the Mediterranean resort town of Bodrum, before returning to Istanbul.  Due to previously-booked teaching engagements, I couldn’t accompany her for the entire trip.  I joined her in Bodrum and then flew back to Istanbul with her before spending a few more days in the capital city.  All in all, it was a 10-day trip and I really enjoyed myself.

 

Bodrum is a resort town on the Aegean Sea catering to wealthy Europeans and Russians craving some sun, sailing, and beach time.  Not many Americans make it there.  It was curious.  Many of the local residents spoke some English.  They all assumed I was British despite my lack of a British accent because they so seldom see Americans.  We spent four nights at the luxurious Caresse Hotel lounging on the beach and swimming in the crystal clear Aegean waters.

 

The town was pretty low key, but had some cool history.  We saw the original gates that Alexander the Great walked through when first traversing the country in the fourth century B.C and the nearly 2500 year old Theatre at Halicarnassus.

 

We visited some museums and the historic Bodrum Castle built in the year 1402.  We toured the final resting place of King Mausolos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  This burial site is the origin of the word “mausoleum.”  It was rather unimpressive.

 

We spent a lot of our spare time walking through the local shopping bazaars, checking out all the fancy boats in the marina, eating great food, and enjoying the fun waterfront atmosphere.

 

I’m not much of a photographer, but Nathalie is.  I let her take all the cool photos.  Here are some of the fun things we saw.  Photo credits Nathalie Weister.

 

Sunrise over the Aegean Sea

 

View from the back patio of the Bodrum hotel room.

 

Bodrum Caresse hotel infinity pool

 

Outdoor dining in Bodrum

 

The most low key of the seven wonders of the ancient world

 

Bodrum hotel beach

 

Bodrum castle at night

 

Bodrum marina from the top of the castle

 

At the Bodrum castle

 

Rooftop dining at the Bodrum Yacht Club with the castle in the background

 

Bodrum marina

 

Seaside dining

 

After Bodrum, we transitioned to the capital city of Istanbul.  Istanbul is a city split by the Bosporus Straight.  Half of the city is in Europe and half is in Asia.  The vibe was very different than the atmosphere in Bodrum.  The big city is a unique mixture of ancient history and a modern, fairly secular Muslim capital city.

 

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Istanbul’s residents practice the Islamic faith, I saw relatively few hijabs.  The regular calls to prayer issued from every mosque generally went unheeded.  It was a strange combination of the historic Ottoman Empire and the hustle of a modern capital city.

 

After Nathalie flew home, I spent a couple more days eating lots of good food and touring the historic sites.  I enjoyed the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the “mini Hagia Sophia,” the Cistern Basillica and half a dozen other mosques that were all more than 400 years old.  It’s a perspective shift to be touring structures that are more than twice as old as the oldest buildings you can find in the United States.

 

Istanbul mosques

 

 

Blue Mosque courtyard

 

Early Istanbul was heavily influenced by the Egyptians

 

Hagia Sophia

 

Spice market in the Grand Bazaar.  Nathalie bought an obscene amount of spices here and now my kitchen smells amazing.

 

Courtyard between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

 

Blue Mosque entrance

 

Ritual foot washing station at the Blue Mosque

 

Inside the Blue Mosque. If you go here, skip the inside tour. You must remove your shoes before entering. The whole place smelled of thousands of stinky feet.  You can see everything from the open windows in the courtyard.

 

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque.  It was even more impressive in person.

 

The Cistern Basilica is a 6th century underground water storage facility for an ancient Ottoman palace

 

 

One thing I like about traveling is that it allows the traveler to experience things that are very different than one sees at home.  Here are a few more curious things I saw or experienced on the trip that my readers might find interesting.

 

 

 

The Airport

The Istanbul airport is very impressive.  It’s the largest airport in Europe and the 7th largest in the world.  It’s absolutely massive.  On my three visits during this trip I walked more than two miles each trip just to get through security and get to my gate.  The business class lounge is utterly ridiculous.  It covers the entire second floor of the airport and is probably 200 meters long.

 

All the airports in Turkey have a dual airport security system.  Since the famous airport bombing and active killer attack in the ticketing area before security, Turkish airports have placed metal detectors and baggage x-ray systems just inside the each airport’s door.  In order to make it to the ticket counter, you must place your bags in an X-ray scanner and walk through a metal detector.

 

After getting your boarding passes and checking your luggage, you must again go through a traditional airport screening system.  On international flights, the Turkish equivalent of the TSA also hand searches each passenger’s carry-on bags and physically pats each passenger down before they get on the plane.  It’s quite a process.  I got really familiar with how the system worked when I almost got arrested.

 

“The pen.” All international travelers are locked in this area at the gate after getting an additional patdown and physical bag search. I’ve seen this in a few African airports as well.

 

The airport wheelchairs were actually Segway scooters

 

 

Cats

I had no idea how many stray cats I would see wandering the streets in Turkey.  The entire culture reveres cats and everyone regularly feeds the strays that live everywhere.  For the religious background about why cats are honored in Muslim countries, read Why Are There So Many Cats in Istanbul?

 

This article describes the country’s no catch, no kill policies with regards to feral cats and estimates that there may be up to a million stray cats in Istanbul alone.

 

The view of every sidewalk in the country

 

In every outdoor dining experience, you will be joined by a few feral cats

 

 

Police

Other than the incident I previously described at the airport, I had minimal contact with the police.  There was a moderate number of visible police officers in both Bodrum and Istanbul.  In popular tourist areas there was a massive police presence (especially in the days immediately after the October 7 HAMAS attack in Israel).  They didn’t seem interested in shaking down any of the tourists for bribes.

 

After October 7th, I saw lots of random searches at the popular tourist attractions.  The cops stopped everyone carrying large luggage or bags and searched the bags for explosives and weapons.

 

Cops in Turkey carry the 9mm Canik TP-9 Elite in a generic version of the Blackhawk Serpa holster.  Most cops carried handcuffs and two spare magazines in open top mag carriers.  I didn’t see any uniformed officers carrying long guns, batons, or pepper spray.

 

Armored vehicles and portable fencing parked outside of all major tourist attractions

 

The cops used large and medium sized RVs for mobile command posts and officer rest areas

 

 

Guns

 

I spoke to a few Turkish gun owners and police officers during my stay.  In Turkey, citizens may not possess any semi or fully automatic firearms.  A license (requiring a background check, home inspection, psychological exam, and doctor’s note attesting that the applicant is physically healthy)  is required for each weapon they want to own.

 

The licenses must be renewed every five years.  A possession license does not allow the owner to take the weapon out of the address specified on the permit.  The gun possession license also specifies how much ammunition you may have for that gun.  The general license commonly allows for purchase and possession of up to 200 rounds per year for each weapon.  Ammunition is sold by the government.  Possession of ammo without a gun license is illegal.

 

A separate license to carry is needed to take the gun out of your residence or business.  Those are seldom granted and require a documented “need.”  In addition to the weapons ownership permit, a hunting license is also required to own a rifle.  Despite the rigid legal requirements to own a gun, there are 16.5 guns owned for every 100 Turkish citizens.  Contrast that with the USA where there are 120 firearms for each 100 citizens.

 

 

I was on the lookout for local gun stores to visit.  I walked dozens of miles exploring both Bodrum and Istanbul without coming across a single gun shop.  I’m sure they exist, but I didn’t find any.  What I did find in my explorations were numerous storefronts that looked like this.

 

 

They weren’t open during the day, but in the evening the security doors were lifted to reveal airsoft gun shooting galleries.

 

Airsoft shooting gallery with plastic knock down targets.

 

The storefronts were airsoft shooting galleries.  They attracted crowds like the BB gun booths I saw as a child at the state fair.  The shops had high end gas-powered airsoft rifles with knockoff versions of popular optics.  Of course we had to give them a try.  Two magazines’ worth of airsoft BBs cost the equivalent of $10 US.

 

I picked a AR-style rifle with a knockoff EOTech sight.  I went 29 for 30 on the small knockdown targets placed 10 meters away.  The crowd watching was screaming in encouragement and yelling the English word “military” to explain my shooting prowess.  They saw my haircut and assumed I was a soldier.  I didn’t have the heart to tell all the spectators that I have more than a few real AR-15s at home and can shoot them whenever I want.

 

After I shot, I gave Nathalie her first impromptu shooting lesson.  She had never before fired any kind of gun.  She loved the airsoft rifle and did very well.  We are going to go shooting for real the next time she visits.  It seems like these airsoft shooting galleries are just about the only way Turkish citizens can shoot for recreation if they don’t have a firearms license.

 

The blonde sniper laying waste to plastic knockdown targets.

 

Scams

On my first day in Bodrum and my final day in Istanbul, I intentionally played the role of a clueless tourist and engaged all the scam artists and hustlers I could find.  There were plenty of both, but the hustlers were far more common.  Most were touts trying to get tourists to buy the stuff they have for sale.  Most of the “scams” they used involved isolating the tourist, getting him into a private location, and using high pressure sales to get the tourist to buy more of their wares.

 

I did learn one new ATM scam that I will detail in my upcoming travel scam book.

 

The scam I found most amusing involved selling shoes. Take a look at the photo below.   That’s two shoes (one pair) for 20 pounds not two PAIRS of shoes for 20 pounds. I saw a couple of British tourists get taken by this one.

 

 

 

Medical Tourism

I had no idea about the extent of medical tourism in Turkey until I arrived there.  It’s one of the top destinations in the world for tourist surgeries.  I spoke with a few medical tourists who claimed that their surgeries cost 1/3 to 1/2 the price as the same surgeries in the United States.

 

One of the most popular surgeries seemed to be hair transplants.  I saw a stunning number of patients in the tourist areas with large bandages on their heads after having hair transplants.  Almost all the male passengers on my flight back to the USA were wearing headbands covering the area on the back of their scalp that was removed in order to harvest the hair.  It was wild.

 

Head bandage seen all over Istanbul

 

 

I will be posting a few more articles about my trip on my travel blog.  Look there in the coming weeks if you want to learn more about this unique tourist destination.

 

 

Full moon over the Bosporus in Istanbul