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Backpacking Security Tips

US
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Backpacking Security Tips

I'll be backpacking through Tanzania for about 3 months. I'd be very grateful if the experts here could answer a few of my questions:

1). I'll be carrying two expensive things - my video equipment, and my netbook. The netbook is not awfully expensive, but I'll need to do some work while I'm there, so even though I'll be backing things up, it would be highly inconvenient for me to part with it. So what is the best way to make sure that I come back with both items intact?

a). Always carry them with me (doesn't sound like the best idea?)

b). Leave them at the hotel in my room.

c). Leave them at my hotel in a safe. Should I tell the clerk what's in the bag, before leaving them in the safe?

d). Do you know of any insurance company that can insure my electronics only (I don't need the whole trip insurance package?)

I'll be staying in budget/mid-range hotels, so the security probably won't be the best.

2). If I decide to leave things in my room, would it be wise to chain them to something, or would it just attract more attention? Has anyone used the following types of locks/devices (obviously, nothing is ever completely thief-proof)?

The net:

corporatetravelsafety.com/catalog/pacsafe-ba…

The beeping/alarm lock:

corporatetravelsafety.com/catalog/lock-alarm…

3). What would be the best way for me to get on the Internet using my own netbook? I understand that higher-end hotels provide wi-fi, but what about budget/mid-range?

4). How safe is withdrawing money from ATMs? Are they located outside (like in the US), where everyone can see you, or inside buildings?

5). In addition to money belts, do you guys use arm/wrist/ankle belts? There is such a diversity of them, can you recommend some good ones?

6). Water filters. Since I'm going for an extended period of time, in addition to buying bottled water, does it make sense to bring a water filter? I hear that the tablets taste pretty vile. What types of filters do you use (sorry, I'm clueless about this, so if you could let me know the brands too, it'd be great :)

7). Is it a good/bad idea to carry pepper spray for self-defense? I'm a girl traveling alone. Obviously, I don't want to end up in the slammer either, so I want to make sure I do everything legally.

8). If I do end up in the slammer (by all means I will not be doing anything illegal, this is just a what-if question, if some misunderstanding arises), who do I call? The embassy, the lawyer back in the States, the friend who knows my ATM code???

9). In addition to all the vaccinations, should I ask my doctor for some other meds that you think might be useful on a long trip (antibiotics, etc.)?

10). Is it stupid/overcautious to bring your own needles and ask the hospital to use them if I get sick? Are there any laws about "illegal needle possession" :) in Tanzania?

OK, I think this is it for now :) Thanks guys!

Edited: 01 August 2011, 22:15
Minneapolis...
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1. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

KHIC - you asked too many questions in one post. It intimidates people... they know that responding to everything might take a half hour or more. You might have to break this out.

Also - a little research on your part can cut down on the uncertainty.

You need better advice than we will give you. You need to read a few chapters of a good "traveling rough" guidebook that covers security and travel health. These are topics best approached in more length and thoroughness than forum postings.

For Tanzania-secific answers, there is a search box at the top and you'll find that ATMs, for example, are frequently discussed, as is room security and how to carry money safely. I'll take a brief stab at a few...

4 It depends. (lots to read on the subject via search)

5. I use zipped pockets sewed inside the waist of my pants inside the regular pockets - I buy the neck pockets and cut off the strings and sew them in. I just couldn't get comfortable with waist belts, plus it is too easy for a thief to make you show them your waist belt... the pockets are obscurred by stuff in the regular "front" pockets - and thieves are unlikely to want my pants!

6. bottled water is available everywhere we travel these days. the trouble with filters is often that you start with contaminated water on one end and it just seems hard to keep the contaminated water from getting on the rest of the rig. We do it in the mountains when there is no choice - but we buy water, soda, juice, and beer instead when traveling. Note - you can brush your teeth with beer...)

7. pretty sure it is against regulattons to fly with pepper spray and it is illegal to bring into many countries. I guess if I were a woman backpacking Tanzania on the rough I might consider buying a can there - but it is a very "American" thing to do... I've never heard of anyone carrying it there. It is also a weapon that can be turned easily on the user, so unless you have some training and real assurance that you can incapacitate one or more assailants FOR SURE... just like a knife, it is better to have no weapon than one that is possibly/likely going to end up in the hands of the wrong person.

8. Calling mom is always the right way to go. As an alternative, when traveling extensively it is really hand to have a couple of people on your "call any time" list that are smart and mature. The US Embassy is probably the key to your getting things sorted out - but a person in the States with unlimited communication time and access is going to be able to keep following up for you when your own access to phones may be very limited. If you can only make one call, it should be to somebody who will make many calls for you.

9 Yes you should carry some basic meds. Imodium to stop diarrhea - but only use it when you absolutely must stop things up - like while on a bus trip - it is powerful stuff and being severely constipated is just about as bad for you as the runs. Cipro - wide range antibiotic - to be used if you get serious food poisoning or if you get cut/injured badly enough under rough circumstances where infection is a serious possibility. I always carry headache/pain medications, including at least one prescription-type pain killer like Vicodin or Oxycodone/Oxycontin. If my back gets twisted and I need to get on a 6 hour ride on an old bus on a bumpy road... I'm going to have some narcotics in me.

All of the medications I mention require some knowledge of travel medicine and are not to be treated lightly... but I never travel without them.

In addition... triple antibiotic for cuts, antihistamine liquid or cream for bites, and a little tube of anti-fungal that you probably won't use, but is the only thing that will clear up athletes foot and assorted kinds of jungle rot... yes, even girls get crotch rot occasionally!

10 yes it is stupid. On the other hand, my first aid kit has one syringe needle (just the needle) because it is, hands down, the best needle for removing slivers. I also carry a scalple blade... just the blade, no handle - never gets me in trouble if I check the bag... for cleaning up cuts/wounds that are jaggedy. Amazing what a butterfly bandage can do if the edges of the cut are clean.

US
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2. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

Thanks so much for your reply, idiotsabroad!

I have looked at some guidebooks, but more often than not they say things like "make sure your buddy watches your back while withdrawing money," etc., so it doesn't really apply to me. But I'll definitely do more research.

That's an awesome idea to convert neck pouches into mini-wallets by sewing them into the inside of your pants! I usually wear low-rise pants, so I don't think a money belt would work great for me.

OK, I'll just buy bottled water rather than worry about filters. I went to a store and looked at some water filters, but they all turned out to be heavy/expensive, and weren't very reliable either (can't work properly on cloudy water, etc.) I thought that maybe there were better filters out there that I didn't know about, but it looks like bottled water is really the way to go. It would have never occurred to me to brush with beer :), but I was wondering whether or not tap water was safe for brushing.

No pepper spray then, got it :)

Good point about the extra meds to carry - I'm gonna visit my doctor next week, and I'll ask about them. I'm not sure if I walk out of there with a prescription for Vicodin and Oxycontin, but you never know! But, yes, definitely Imodium and cipro.

Thanks again, really appreciate your time and advice! I just didn't want to start too many threads, but rather ask everything at once, but it probably is really taxing for people to read through my saga here, so I apologize for that!

Copenhagen, Denmark
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3. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

I am not a expert, so these comments are based on my own experiences traveling in Tanzania last month:

First of all I generally found Tanzania to be a safe country, and the people was very helpful! We did not have any problems at all.

1). We brought our camera with extra zoom. In Arusha people told us, than it was not safe to carry visible valuables, but most other places we had it with us and felt perfectly safe. When we carried it around in Arusha and while travelling, we put it in a bagpack, so people could not see that it was a camera.

When we left it in our hotel, sometimes we left it hidden in our backpacks in the room other times we left it at the reception. Some places they locked it in the managers office, other places they had a safe. Some places we got a receipt other places we did not.

3). There was only WIFI in very few of our hotels, but in some places you could use your own notebook and connect it to the internet. There are also some cafes with free WIFI, if you buy your lunch or a cup of coffee.

4). Most places there was armed guards at the banks, so we felt safe using the ATMs. We also brought at lot of USD in cash, and we were glad we did, because sometimes the ATMS did not work, and some places there was no ATM.

5). I travelled with my husband, and we divided our money and kept it different places. When travelling with all our stuff we used a moneybelt and I put money in a small plastic bag and hid it in side of my bra under my arm.

10).We brought our own needles just in case.

Hope you will have a fantastic trip!

Dar es Salaam
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4. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

3. You can buy a USB dongle with a pre-paid SIM card that gives you internet access. All the major telecoms providers sell them, you just need to go to their shops in Dar or another largish town. Fairly inexpensive...

Canada
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5. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

10. We were advised by our travel clinic to take needles and syringes. We bought them at the clinic and they gve us a letter with their letter heading and our names on, authorizing us to travel with them.

Minneapolis...
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6. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

well... color me embarassed! I'd never read the recommendation for carrying your own needles, syringes, and suture kits. I guess I never thought to ask if the medical professionals/facilities on the tourist safari trail are so suspect that this kind of "insurance" is advisable. Another question to ask my TO.

Something new to put on the "worry" list.

Still... a young woman, backpacking, solo, with video equipment... needs to go light... I guess I'd be prone to buy a swiss army knife when I get in country, but it is hard for me to believe that the weight-and-space versus need equation would put syringes in her pack.

BTW - the TSA regulations for those of us flying from the States are mute on this issue. They specifically mention it being OK to carry syringes for diabetics, as long as they are accompanied by an appropriate amout of insuling. People with other conditions requiring injections say they, too, can carry the syringes with a medical letter. But the TSA only talks about people with diabetes... I'm going to email them - inquiring minds want to know.

Canada
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7. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

It was probably OTT taking the needles, of course had we needed them we may not have thought that. However they were small syringes so didn't take up much weight or room in the luggage.

US
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8. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

Thanks everyone for replying!

Signev, thanks for the tip about Arusha. I don't plan to use my video camera openly in large cities. It's mostly for things like Kilimanjaro, National Park safaris, and "cultural walks" when I'll be surrounded by other tourists. I have a smaller, less attention-attracting camera for other places, but I'll probably have to be careful using it as well, when exploring things on my own (which I would be doing most of the time). I guess I'll figure out whether to leave all my equipment at hotels, or always carry with me once I get there, depending on the vibe of each hotel, as it looks like there is no one straightforward rule of thumb for it :) The bra is a good idea for an extra hiding place, so I'll definitely consider it.

Africanexpat, I think that's the wi-fi solution I was looking for, thanks :) Sounds simple enough too, which is perfect.

jintyf - thanks, I'll probably pack a couple then - I can pick them up from my doctor. I know there are some countries that still don't use disposable needles, I just wasn't sure what were the legalities of showing up in Tanzania with your own supply :). I'll just bury them in my backpack.

idiotsabroad - "Still... a young woman, backpacking, solo, with video equipment... needs to go light... I guess I'd be prone to buy a swiss army knife when I get in country" - that mental picture made me laugh. I sound like an idiot going abroad, especially with all my equipment :) :) :)

Actually I own a Swiss army knife (one of those Victorinox multifunctional toys), and am planning on packing it (and checking it in). But I think I better practice using it beforehand - I don't want to confuse the blades in the heat of a moment, and end up threatening someone with a Philips mini-screwdriver, or, worse yet, a toothpick!

Minneapolis...
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9. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

Oh, dear... I've miscommunicated yet again! I generally don't check bags when I'm backpacking... everything in the carryon... thus the comment about picking up a knife in-country when I arrive.

But I meant so you had a Phillips head screwdriver when you needed it... and the all-important corkscrew for opening a bottle of wine with friends. I'd never recommend an inexperienced person try to use a knife for self-protection. The old saw about a knife cutting both ways is based on reality. Police will tell you that a knife is more likely to be turned on the victim than used effectively.

When facing a person with evil intent carrying a machete, you will simply feel foolish with your knife. I'm back to the pepper spray. Dar must have shops where you can buy it - get it when you are in-country, give it away before you leave. Do not think of your SAK as a protection device!

Your number one safety tip is to not get into the tough situation in the first place. Traveling alone makes that tougher. There truly is safety in numbers. A lone woman on a street ANYWHERE at night is exponentially more at-risk than two women. Three is even better.

I know nothing of the backpacker/hostel scene in Tanzania, but I assume there must be places where young people hang out instead of having regular jobs and paying into social security to support my aged indolence. That's where you find companions to share experiences with and increase safety.

People consistently say that in Tanzania, outside of the city scene, you have very low risk of serious incidents - rape/murder stuff. Crime tends to be the kind that occurs when have's come in contact with those who are severely have-not.

Your main concerns will to be avoid truly dodgy places, especially at night... and then to keep track of your personal gear. A camera bag left on the rack above the bus seat may well be emptied or gone by the end of a journey - and that is true anywhere in the world. Most "backpacking" lodgings are low-cost and equally low-security.

As to "cultural walks..." - I don't know about being surrounded by other tourists. When we started planning, I assumed we'd be with larger groups for our safaris and experiences... now I find we will have a private safari and then will be traveling as a couple cross-country and that we may well be alone with a local guide when we explore villages and such. The travel scene in Tanzania is different from any of the countries on other continents I've experienced. Traveling solo will require some adjustments in approach.

The bra is good for storage. My rough-traveling female friends, though, say it is way too easy for a thief to demand you unbutton your blouse - may even do it just for fun or to make you feel vulnerable. On the other hand, south of the belt is unlikely to be explored except in dire circumstances. Thus were born the panty-pocket... a pocket slightly larger than a passport, made of stretchy thin fabric, lined with plastic or a sandwich bag ziplock, sewed to the front of the panty. Room for the essentials - passport, emergency credit card, and $100. Just be a little careful when responding the call of nature in the bush or over a short-drop (squat trench toilet.)

At this point, as an old dad-type... I'm saying... "are you sure you want to make this trip solo, dear? Wouldn't it be more fun with your friend Minnie?"

Findlay, Ohio
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for Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
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10. Re: Backpacking Security Tips

Just back for a short visit to London and trying to catch up on a lot of things.

I always travel with syringes. I am an insulin dependent diabetic and now have to carry insulin pens, along with their needles, never have any problems. Prior to be insulin dependent I always carried 4 or 5 syringes along with me; didn't like the thought of needing an injection in a place where the HIV/AIDS stats are as distressing as they are in Tanzania. I wanted to have my own, just in case. Been seen at customs and never questioned.

On the safety of equipment issue, it will be true that in more budget housing you will not have the same kind of security as in high end (actually sometimes it will be better). If my room doesn't have a safe which I alone have the code to get into it, then I take things like that to the manager's office and ask them to keep it under lock and key. They always have.

As for the person/place to call; as a US citizen you should register with the US Embassy (you can do this online) that way you will get all the Warden reports which might be important. The Embassy personnel will assist all those who get into difficulty, don't expect them to bail you out, and that assistance will most likely be to make you aware of your rights there. So in the case of very bad difficulties I would call the US Embassy and see what they say. If you use your head, avoid confrontations if at all possible, and just go about enjoying yourself you will not have any difficulty. If a police person stops you and asks you questions, remember you are not in the US, so with a smile be courteous and try to answer their questions. If you aren't they can make life difficult for you and you will wish you had. There are some posts on this forum about a person who ripped off a taxi driver because he didn't think he charged him a fair price, and the next persons he saw at his hotel room were the police and he ended up in jail and paid a lot more in fines and attorney fees to get himself out then he would have if he had just paid the taxi what he asked for. And of course he confronted the police with his self-righteous behavior, and it didn't work. Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.

Go and have a good time, and don't worry too much about all the downsides.