Editor's Note: This is the eighth installment in a series in which Stratfor discusses the many facets of travel security.
Over the course of this series, we have tried to prepare would-be travelers for some of the risks they may encounter while traveling abroad. This has led us to address a variety of forms of travel. However, another type of travel exists, one that we have yet to address, one that we believe distinguishes itself from other forms of travel and merits a closer assessment of the risks it presents: adventure travel.
Adventure travel involves traveling to remote locations and natural environments with little, if any, public infrastructure. Increasingly popular over the past 10 years or so, adventure travel typically involves a physical component, such as hiking or river rafting, and it has become an industry unto itself. All of the security suggestions and advice given in previous installments of this series are relevant to adventure travel, but this installment aims to highlight some of the issues a traveler should understand — and some of the risks a traveler should accept — before venturing into remote locales and undeveloped country.
Before going to a remote village in the mountains or embarking on a sailing trip around the world, a traveler must ask himself or herself if they really want adventure, or if they just want photographs of adventure. There is a reason adventure travel destinations are sparsely populated: They are extremely difficult places to live. A critical safety precaution for an adventure traveler is to not take lightly or cavalierly the decision to travel.
Indeed, the best preparation for adventure is adventure closer to home. When planning a trip, a traveler should not plan a three-week climb to the base camp on Mt. Everest unless he or she has spent time in the mountains at high altitudes carrying 70 or more pounds on his or her back. It is advisable to become practiced at one’s adventure of choice, river rafting, for example, before making it the focus of a two-week trip to Costa Rica. A traveler should begin with small excursions — a day hike in places where there is no cell phone service — to experience what it feels like to be without water for up to six hours or to sleep outside when it is cold and rainy. These hardships will not endanger a traveler and will prepare him or her for the real thing.
An adventure traveler must be adaptable and accepting of hardship. The whole point of adventure travel is to abandon one's comfort zone. Whether hiking through the jungle, kayaking down a river or staying in an indigenous community in the Andes, travelers are bound to encounter problems not easily solved — or problems that are impossible to solve. Buses may not arrive, guides will quit and the hostel might not even remotely resemble its online pictures. The biggest mistake a traveler can make in those situations is to spend too much time figuring out why something went wrong and not enough time figuring out how to resolve the situation. In an adventure situation, food, water and shelter are the only things that matter. Weather, while a consideration, is less of a concern if a traveler has appropriate shelter and the ability to protect himself or herself from the elements. All other considerations, such as a soft bed or a shower, should be considered luxuries.
Preparation, situational awareness and thoughtful action remain the foundation for mitigating risks in all forms of travel, but they become more important in adventure travel because, given the destinations, immediate support is difficult — if not impossible — to find. In major cities of developing countries, an injured traveler can seek treatment at a hospital or clinic. A traveler who has lost his or her money can locate a bank to get more. If the hotel in which a traveler is staying is dangerous, there are other hotels in safer areas. Once outside of major cities, an adventure traveler's options are more limited.
In the wilderness, the consequences for inadequate planning, lack of situational awareness or impulsive decisions can be death. In the event of an injury, very few options exist for a traveler, other than to stabilize the injury as much as possible and seek help. Planning is very important before going on an adventure trip, but planning a trip can be difficult in places of the world where little information is available. Travel guides, webpages and blogs can be valuable sources of information in such instances. However, adventure travel by its nature means less information will be available.
It is critical that a trusted friend or family member not going on the trip has a detailed itinerary and an emergency plan, including important phone numbers for the local consulate in a foreign country and the authorities, such as the local police, in developed countries. Because communication equipment can be nonexistent in some remotes destinations, travelers should decide prior to departure when they will return, designating a deadline after which their emergency contact will call the authorities.
Travelers should always leave a trail to be followed. They should sign and date as many guest books as possible at hostels and the front gates of parks or reserves or historical attractions they visit. They should also make allies and friends along the way with people who could remember them if shown a picture.
Another aspect of planning — and, thus, risk mitigation — is understanding what equipment is necessary for a specific location. Advances in technology have made adventure travel more accessible than ever. Water filtration devices, lightweight, easy to use white-gas stoves and clothing technology advancements have all made adventure travel easier. However, travelers should never rely on technology to save them in an emergency. Lighters stop working, batteries run out and water filtration units break. Even satellite phones and other emergency response technology, while valuable, cannot always guarantee one’s safety.
Notably, preventable diseases in the developed world can be fatal in the wilderness and in the developing world requiring travelers to have a different mindset. They should be up to date on vaccines, especially hepatitis and tetanus. Doctors are sometimes willing to give travelers a few antibiotics or pain medications before they go to remote locations. Travelers should understand and be prepared for the indigenous flora and fauna, as well as for diseases that are specific to a location. Medical care in remote locations is sometimes non-existent, and having some training can sometimes save a life. Travel insurance that covers a traveler on adventure trips is also very important.
Threat recognition is paramount, and many travelers misread a situation because they do not understand the environment in which they find themselves. It becomes the responsibility of the traveler to have a plan in place in the case of emergency, to have proper training to know how to deal with the emergency and to make decisions after thoughtful consideration (if time allows).
Outdoor adventure schools such as National Outdoor Leadership School or Outward Bound can be great places to learn survival skills in the wilderness. These skills also translate to remote locations in third world countries and these schools allow novices to experience the wilderness while being trained in proper survival skills. At minimum, every adventure traveler should take a wilderness first aid course. Wilderness First Responder courses are highly recommended.
Many travelers are more comfortable going on pre-packaged trips with an adventure travel company rather than attempting to plan the trip themselves, especially if time is a factor. If a traveler chooses to go it alone, adaptability becomes all the more crucial because it is very difficult to make arrangements for nonexistent amenities. After all, one cannot plan a bus schedule where there are no buses, and one cannot make hotel reservations if there are no hotels. Pre-planned trips, especially for one's first time in a location, remove much of the stress involved in such scenarios. However, they also place limitations on the traveler — seemingly counterproductive for one seeking adventure in a foreign country.