• Rafe MacLennan

On your way to becoming a smarter and safer traveller -Part 1

The term ‘accidental tourist’ has been used to describe someone who travels to locations ‘on the fly’ without pre-preparation. This is an exciting way to travel; however, depending on where you are travelling to, this can also lead to disastrous and catastrophic outcomes. For those wishing to travel to countries with known reputations for heightened criminal activity, violence, kidnappings and natural disasters, then planning your trip and not being an ‘accidental tourist’ is paramount to safe travelling.

Alternative Options Security Group (AOSG) focuses on providing training services to educate people on how to mitigate some of the risks they may encounter when travelling to faraway places with the goal of making their journeys a safer and more fulfilling experience. AOSG’s travel awareness courses are designed to develop a traveller’s knowledge in skills to take them from being an ‘accidental tourist’ and turning them into a more experienced and safe traveller who understands risks, how to identify them, how to avoid or mitigate unnecessary risks and how to travel as safely as possible in environments that are deemed potentially hostile.

What is risk and risk mitigation?

Every day we take risks and every day we formulate risk mitigation strategies on the fly and for the most part do not even realise we are doing it. We wake up in the morning, check the time and work out what time we need to leave home to beat the traffic to arrive at work on time, so the boss doesn’t get angry.

  • Threat – Angry boss

  • Risk - Not getting to work on time, so the boss gets angry

  • Mitigation Strategy - Leaving home early enough to beat peak hour traffic, arrive at work in time so the boss does not get angry

Agreed, the example above is a very simplified; however, it shows that even in our daily lives, we formulate risk assessment plans even at a basic level. Throughout our courses, we teach methods to expand on the basic human instinct of self-preservation by adding enhanced situational awareness to everything you do.

Can you think of any other risks you encounter daily that you subconsciously develop a risk assessment for?

Applying risk assessments to travelling

The difference between an ‘accidental tourist’ and an experienced traveller, is the experienced traveller plans and formulates risk mitigation strategies knowing the environment they will be travelling to, while the ‘accidental tourist’ jumps both feet first and hopes for the best.

Which one are you?

An experienced traveller also understands and incorporates ‘Situational Awareness’ into their planned and ‘on the fly’ risk assessment strategies.

So, how do we define Situational Awareness?

According to that online oracle known as Wikipedia, Situational Awareness can be defined as: “The perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status”

In layman’s terms, it simply means being aware of what is going on around you.

Every time we cross the street our brains are reminding us that getting run over by a car is bad for us, so most of the time, we will look both ways before crossing. What we are doing when we perform these actions is being situationally aware and formulating risk management strategies on the fly.

  • Threat – Getting run over by a car

  • Risk- Injury and/or death

  • Mitigation Strategy - Look both ways before crossing and don’t cross until the way is clear

The same basic formula for risk assessment we used in the Angry Boss scenario is applied again to a potential life and death situation. A scenario we use almost daily to the point it had become second nature until……mobile phones.

Now take that same scenario and put a smart phone in your hand and imagine you are texting and walking at the same time. If you haven’t done it then you are one of the few!

Take a walk around any city and you will see people everywhere looking at their phones while they walk.

You will even see them cross streets without taking their eyes off their phones. Are they situationally aware? Absolutely Not! They are distracted and vulnerable to outside influences and are unnecessarily putting their safety and wellbeing at risk.

Do travellers do this? Of course, they do!

The great thing about smart phones is they have GPS capabilities, so we can view maps and use them to find out where to go and of course cameras, social media for happy snaps and selfies. But if we are absorbed in our phones while we navigate around a foreign country or even in our local environment, not only could we be missing some interesting sights, but more importantly, we are missing what is going on around us and we are now open and vulnerable to injury by environmental elements or even theft and attack by criminal elements.

Tip – Do not walk around using your phone unless you absolutely have to. If you must, then find a more secure location off the street to use it, like a restaurant or hotel foyer. Not only does it take away some of your situational awareness, it also potentially turns you into a beacon for thieves looking for an easy mark.

There are many videos getting around on social media of people having their mobile phones snatched right out of their hands while they are walking because they are unaware of their surroundings. The link below is a good example of what has been recorded on the streets of London where theives on motor scooters ride up beside the unwary victim on footpaths without the victim even noticing the motorcycles are actually on the footpath!

AOSG also conducts international travel insurance investigations for insurance companies and is often assigned to investigate thefts of luggage occurring in popular tourist locations like Rome, Barcelona and Paris.

Do you know what one common element to the majority of thefts was?

You probably guessed it. The person who was robbed was too busy scrolling or looking at their phone and not keeping an eye on their belongings. They had zero situational awareness and because they were not taking reasonable care of their luggage at the time, many of them would not have been covered under their travel insurance policies.

Being aware of your surroundings all the time, is your second line of defence. Your first line of defence is planning your movements in advance and knowing exactly where you are going and what you are going to do when you get there. We expand on trip preparations in more detail throughout our Travel Awareness Safety Training courses.

Take a moment now to reflect on your past actions while you were travelling or relocating to a new place.

  • Were you constantly aware of what was going on around you while you were there to the point of paranoia?

  • Were you there for a while, then overtime became more complacent with your own personal security measures because you were lulled into a feeling of being safe?

  • Did you have an experience or close call that could have been avoided if you were more ‘on your toes’?

  • Has an adverse experience now changed your behaviour and made you more situationally aware?

Paranoia is good but not always practical. It can adversely affect you from enjoying your travel experience and your friends might stop asking you to hang out with them, because they might start to think you are a little crazy.

Paranoia might be a suitable behaviour if you are an at-risk VIP travelling to a country in some of the more hostile Latin America, Middle Eastern and African countries, but not so suitable if you are travelling to New Zealand on holiday or business. Proper preparations with safety considerations and contingencies put in place before you travel will reduce the need to operate at the paranoid level for the majority of occasions, but it should not detract from the fact you should remain ‘situationally’ aware at all times.

Things to remember

  • Always be aware of your surroundings and what is going on around you.

  • Use your inbuilt ‘risk assessment factory’ to assess and reassess your current situation and potential threats

  • Being aware will give you more time to react to adverse situations which could save your life, or at the very least, your wallet from being stolen.

  • People who are obviously situational aware often act in ways that subconsciously alert other people to their heightened state of awareness. This may put criminal elements off from targeting you because they can see you are not an easy mark.

  • Put your phones away, soak up and enjoy your surroundings. You are in a foreign country with new and exciting things happening around you all the time. Take happy snaps but be sensible and cognizant of where you are and what you are taking photographs of. There are some countries where photographs taken of certain locations or events could get you into a world of trouble.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. AOSG is all about travel and travel safety, For more information about our Travel Safety Awareness and Hostile Environment Awareness Training courses please visit our training page:

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