Holt wood would lead us to believe that spies and armed personnel have a sixth sense that alerts them when threats lurk around the corner.
The bad guys dressed as janitors always reveal their earpieces at the last second, and the hit man’s pistol suddenly materializes just in time for the protagonist to react and evade. Real life, sadly, is much less predictable, and often more lethal for the protagonist. The average person traveling in an unfamiliar city can easily chance upon a circumstance that turns violent or tragic. Those looking to take advantage of strangers are likely on their own territory, waiting to exploit a vulnerability a victim may not be aware of until ifs too late. David polled a handful of self-defense experts to provide some basic steps to keep you safe when you’re in transit or in an unfamiliar place.
“There is no substitute for being switched on,” Larry Vickers, a former Delta Force Operator and tactical fire-arms instructor, maintained. “Staying situationally aware and not acting like a victim will keep you safer than any weapon.
There is a time and a place for the Gray Man, but in general, don’t carry yourself like someone who is weak or afraid.” Barry Eisler, a former CIA operations officer and a bestselling novelist of thrillers, agreed. “Alert and aware people do not make good victims,” he asserted. “A violent confrontation is not where any sensible person wants to be. Being alert and avoiding problems before they start is the key. “For example, start with what you are most concerned about. This clarifies whatever you are trying to protect against. Is it being mugged? Carjacked? Shot? If so, contemplate the conditions that would best serve someone trying to do those things and work from there. In other words, think like the enemy. Consider how you would operate if you were one of the bad guys. The threat can often define the solution.” But does being aware mean being perpetually paranoid and edgy? Not necessarily; it’s more about developing a preparedness routine. The key, according to Travis Haley, a former Force Recon Marine, is to “focus on the simple and high yield.”
“Cultivate habits that are consistent and can, and more importantly are, applied on a regular basis,” the CEO of Haley Strategic Partners stated. “Many people are taught things they can do, methods of self-defense, etcetera, but they don’t practice them. When that moment of sheer terror arrives, they freeze or forget. A prepared individual will be aware of what capabilities he has, and how to apply them to the circumstances.” Robert Young Pelton, author of Come Back Alive and The World’s Most Dangerous Places, sees modern habits putting many people at risk. “The next time you are in Times Square in New York, or a train station, or any location where a variety of people flow in and out, look at the number of people that are walking about listening to their iPods through head phones or having a conversation on a phone,” he observed.
“These individuals have shut down their ears and possibly also their eyes if they are consumed with texting. Human predators are like lions watching the wildebeests migrate past; they loiter in the periphery waiting for a weak target. Many of these people are so cocooned, they could have a $2,000 laptop or purse cut off of them, and not even know it. The headphones are an easy tip-off for the bad guys.”
Street or warehouse? Alley or parking garage? Day or night? U.S. or overseas? New surroundings, whether across town or around the world, mean exiting the familiar and encountering the unknown—be they people, places, or circumstances
. So, in an entirely unfamiliar environment, how does one improve the odds? Author Eisler focuses on the in-between places. “The likelihood of something bad happening inside your hotel room, in an office building, or while dining in a restaurant are actually quite low,” he remarked. “However, the alley next to the restaurant, the steps down to the subway, or a parking lot may be excellent ambush points. Your awareness level should adjust appropriately to the surroundings. Again, think like the enemy. Where would you be if you wanted to control a violent confrontation? A bad guy needs time to evaluate you as a target and time to strike, without being observed. Define those places and avoid them if possible.”
Vickers made a tactical observation. “Any time you are entering a potentially threatening area, have an emergency exit strategy,” the man behind Vickers Tactical asserted. “This could be as simple as walking from the street back into a well-lit and crowded building, or knowing where the rear exit is. Don’t set yourself up for problems. For example, unless the purpose of your travel requires it, spend the extra money for a nicer hotel. For a few more dollars, you will likely get a better neighborhood, more conscientious employees, and a more upscale clientele. In this way, you actually solve problems by avoiding them, and you get a nicer room.” Surroundings are made primarily of people and terrain (streets, buildings, and geography).
For terrain, know your location and the surrounding areas. With tools like Google maps and smartphones, there is really no excuse for not taking a quick look at where your hotel or meeting place is in relation to the surrounding area. You don’t need a team full of analysts at Langley to cover the basics. For example, if you’re traveling by plane, there will be any number of opportunities (waiting to deplane, at baggage claim, or in the taxi line) to run down a quick mental checklist of your route, destination, and method of transport. (For a strategy when sensing possible trouble in a taxicab, see “Tacti-cal Travel Tips” sidebar.) For people, trust your gut. Does someone stand out, or does his behavior seem abnormal to the circumstance? “Endeavor to pick up on the vibe of the place and the people,” Vickers advised. This isn’t a detailed poker read, it’s a threat/no-threat decision. If someone is a threat, put people, vehicles, and space between yourself and that person. For the average traveler, rarely will a scenario be so advanced that one threat is driving you to another, greater threat. Simply make it more difficult or complicated or too public for the perpetrator to get you rather than somebody else.
Sometimes, however, friendliness can be a mask. “In many parts of the world, the person trying to be nice and helpful—with your bags, a taxi, or by giving advice—is there to take advantage of you,” Pelton added. “Outside the U.S., there is a whole cottage industry of people waiting to take advantage of jet-lagged and unfamiliar Western tourists.”
Concealed carry laws are generally improving nationwide. However, coordination from one state to another can be tricky. Again, there’s no excuse for ignorance. There are several CCW smartphone apps that can instantly com-pare your location against your license(s) and let you know whether you are legal to carry. Carrying a firearm is not always practical. Airline travel complicates firearm logistics exponentially. For your own sake, you should know the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) firearm regulations and how they apply to you. But be prepared for the rules to be enforced subjectively depending on location.
For example, in New York metropolitan airports (including LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International). Port Authority police officers handle firearm checks and will take down your personal information, the serial number of your weapon, and any applicable carry licenses you may have.
Don’t expect the police to err on the side of letting you through. In the past several years, there have been several cases of metro police arresting travelers with firearms in airports, only to release them later after much time and expense, not the least of which is a missed flight. Keep this all in mind as you make your travel plans. In addition. the current Manhattan district attorney has launched a campaign to save residents from the scourge of people carrying knives with blades of over 4 inches. Sound silly? You might think so, right up until you get arrested. Carrying a folder with a pocket clip exposed is defacto brandishing in the minds of many law-enforcement officers, so be conscientious of what you are carrying and how you are carrying it. Applicable laws are as much a part of the environment as people and buildings are.
The value of carrying a defensive weapon can be measured by how much less safe the carrier is without it. However, is a weapon always a good thing? Does having a weapon compel the carrier to engage in risky behavior? “Many people carry weapons as totems rather than as a defensive tool,” Eisler noted. “If you have not trained to employ it, it may actually get in the way.” Vickers. on the other hand. prefers having one. “If the circumstances don’t allow a gun. I try to have an edged weapon,” he explained. “Even a small flashlight you can shine in someone’s eyes or a tactical pen can be useful to deflect an attack and create space to escape.” Haley returned to the consistency theme. “I would rather see someone master a simple strike or an unarmed combat escape than get confused by trying a hundred different techniques.” he said. “Always be aware of the extent and limitations of your capabilities.”
“Within the reality of today’s legal environments, you may be better off with a BIC lighter and a cell phone,” Pelton exclaimed. “However. there are many items that can be used as edged weapons when screening does not allow a traveler to carry a traditional knife or firearm. I like a Montblanc pen refill. It’s strong. pointed and long enough to deliver a nasty, but non-lethal wound. Non-lethal is important here. A person who was clearly a predator-aggressor can quickly become an innocent bystander when he’s the nephew of the local prefect. It’s much easier to debate the source of a puncture wound than a dead body.”