Survival Tips For Travellers
Quick tips that SHOULD work for anybody travelling to anywhere
Earlier this week I was asked by a writer for an upcoming Lonely Planet book called Travel Goals. The request was for some simple tips on ‘wilderness survival’ and…, well I’ll let you read for yourself:
I am getting in touch as I am currently looking to include an ‘expert voice’ in a feature I am writing for a new Lonely Planet book called Travel Goals.
The feature is on survival in the wilderness, including around five/six expert tips. I’m afraid, though, that there is a fairly tight turnaround and I would need your input by tomorrow, if possible – so sorry for the short notice!
These are the points I’d love to cover and have your opinion on:
– What would be your top tips for surviving in the wilderness? Please feel free to go into step-by step detail on everything from foraging (and what to watch out for) to lighting a fire without matches, building a shelter, using medicinal plants, using a map and compass, mountain navigation, river crossings, etc. Our aim is to present you as the expert here and hopefully give you (and Wales!) some great exposure.
I look forward to hearing from you.
As you have probably guessed – what Lonely Planet wanted was somebody to write some unique content for them (for free) and then for them to make money from selling that content as one of the ‘expert voices’ in the book. Apparently they “never pay interviewees (they benefit in terms of exposure)“. Well, quite. Exposure can be a dangerous thing – too much of it and it can kill you. That’s why our survival courses always include some training in awareness and prevention of hypothermia.
However, it prompted me to write this post – are there any generic survival tips I can give for people travelling the globe? Something quick and easy to read and as applicable to someone travelling to Mongolia as it would be to Mali? Tips that would work in Belgium or Belize?
It turns out I can. So here are some of those top travelling survival tips – given away to you for free – but I like you, so it’s OK.
Knowledge weighs nothing
It’s easy to get distracted by shiny equipment and expensive outdoor toys, but the really important survival skills rely on good decision making and improvisation. Basic first aid training is easy to access and the lifesaving basics of being able to clear an airway, stop a major bleed and perform CPR requires only a few hours of training and either very basic or improvised equipment. When I teach people about survival in different environments there is always a lot more time spent on learning how to make good decisions and plan well rather than relying on gear and equipment.
Pay attention to maps
Unless you’re going out do something like climb a mountain or travel along a certain route it’s unlikely that you will be carrying a detailed map of the area with you. Smartphones and online map sources are great but rely on access to the internet, or at the very least a functioning device with a charged battery. You can at least retain a good idea of what is around you by paying attention to any tourist or information maps you pass – probably found at ‘hub’ sites like fuel stops, railway and bus stations and some tourist sites. You don’t have to memorise each one, but it’s worth checking where important places are relative to your current position – which direction is the nearest town where you are likely to find medical care? Is that waterfall more than, or less than, halfway along the next section of trail? Does this road head more to the north, or more to the east? It may seem trivial at the time but being able to quickly orientate yourself in the direction of the nearest help will remove a lot of confusion and uncertainty from an emergency situation.
Carry the fire with you
If you are travelling to somewhere where there is an outside chance that if you are stranded you may need to light a fire to save your life then carry some form of firelighting with you. This could just be a box of matches, but it would be better to carry something that’s easy to use, is reliable and doesn’t weigh very much. It’s also worth taking something to help get that fire going – dry firewood can always be gathered without cutting tools, but finding dry tinder can be very hard in some environments. When I travel to places like that I take several cigarette lighters (the type with a spark wheel) and scatter them throughout my kit along with some strips of bicycle innertube. They’re cheap, light and small and you can put one in your first aid kit, one in your rucksack lid and one in something you ALWAYS have with you – like the bag you carry your camera in perhaps?
File a ‘flight plan’
When travelling in remote places away from other humans and access to reliable communications the best chance of someone getting help to you when you need is from somebody reporting you missing or overdue. If you are planning on returning to a hostel or other accommodation after completing a hike or other excursion see if there is a facility for you to leave notes of your intended route, your details and when you expect to be home. That way if you don’t return then there is at least SOMEBODY who will send help to the right area. You MUST make sure that you check in with that person when you get back from your trip – plenty of SAR missions have been sent out in search of somebody who had just forgotten to tell their accommodation that they were back safely!
You don’t have to go far to get into trouble
When most people start to think about ‘survival situations’ they tend to picture themselves as a castaway on some strangely uninhabited island or shivering atop a remote mountain. The reality is more likely to come from doing something fairly ‘safe’, like hiking along a trail not too far from a busy tourist area or exploring an area away from where you left your kit. A broken ankle or just misplaced footwear can incapacitate you very quickly in a place where you thought was ‘just a short walk’. Don’t assume the survival situation will be a big, dramatic moment – it’s going to arrive dressed up as something fairly boring and ordinary. Consider the ‘penalty of failure’ for what you’re about to do – although considering and working within that risk are an important part of any adventure.
Make Good Decisions at the Right Times
Survival training is fun. It often involves knives and fire and learning weird and fun skills in the woods or halfway up a mountain. But that’s not the lesson that we hope our course participants take away with them – what we want is for them to take away one VERY important lesson:
Good decisions before you go out. Good decisions whilst you are there. Good decisions when you are back at home and planning the next trip. That’s all it is really – and the single best survival tip I can give any traveller is to learn how to make good decisions. That might mean learning about the potential environmental risks of the country you are travelling to – or how to do some basic first aid so you can make good decisions about whcih way round D,R,A,B, and C go.
I can outline every potential survival situation here, but you can take a good look at where you’re going to, what you’re planning to do when you get there and then decide if you are equipped to make those decisions yet.