James Mandeville is a Survival Expert, though he acknowledges the title is self-imposed. The only qualification required: put yourself in danger, and don't die.
An ex-soldier, global traveler, and urban businessman, Mandeville has done exactly that. The Scotsman has distilled his close-calls and hard-won wisdom into It's All About Survival, a compendium out this month of useful tips for making it out of anywhere alive.
Survival in the streets and in the everyday requires just as much preparation and thought as when one steps into the wilderness, he explains. In a true survival situation, nine times out of 10, the first few decisions you make will be critical.
The author and survivor shares some useful tips with International Business Times that could prove vital to travelers headed for points unknown.
When planning to visit an exotic place, what is the first step?
Mandeville: Do your research thoroughly before travelling to a country where there is likely to be danger or difficulty. The first port of call is the embassy in your own country. Embassies should be aware of potential dangers and difficulties for their nationals travelling to specific foreign countries. Start by looking at your embassy's website to see if they have the necessary information posted there.
Search the Web to see what's been written about the areas you plan to travel in. It is always good to talk to someone who has recent, direct experience of entering and leaving a country. Bear in mind that situations can be volatile and what worked for one person may not work for another. Also, just because one person has had a bad experience, it doesn't necessarily mean you will.
Border crossings can be intimidating. What can one do to prepare?
Mandeville: Few countries these days accept visitors with open arms and floral tributes, so it is stupid to arrive at any border without the correct documents and without knowing the requirements to enter or leave a country.
At the best, border police are law enforcement officers whose job it is to make sure that anyone entering their country is a bona fide person with a valid reason for coming. At the worst, border police are corrupt, low paid individuals who have only one agenda, which is making extra money. Border police in any country can arrest and detain whoever they wish; in the First World, rights are generally respected, but in other countries an individual may have no rights at all and will be regarded as guilty until proven innocent. It is essential to have all the necessary documents in order before you arrive. Carry certified copies of all your documents and be very careful about handing in key travel documents (like a passport) to any official that you suspect may be dishonest.
If you have no criminal record, are not carrying firearms or illegal substances, have a valid visa, passport, and sufficient funds to support yourself for the duration of your stay, there is no reason for any border official to deny you entry into any country in the world. However, in some countries, border officials have total authority and can use personal discretion. This is often the case in Third World countries where there is little chance of redress if things go wrong and complaining to a supervisor may or may not help your situation.
Women especially may be at risk when travelling abroad. Do you have any good advice for them?
Mandeville: Well, travelling alone or with a friend is never a good idea; best to travel in a group and always stick together. Make a pact that the group will not split up for any reason and look out for each other. Women are often at risk in cheaper hotels or hostels. Share a room, never open the door to anyone you do not know. A very good tip is to carry a simple plastic door wedge and place it under the door. It is very hard to force open a door when it is wedged closed.
In a club or bar, never leave your drink unattended to prevent anyone spiking it with drugs such as Rohypnol.
Always carry money in a money belt, never in a bag. If you carry a bag, wear it in front of you so it is less easily snatched. The same advice goes for all travelers, but never carry valuables with you that you cannot afford to lose. If you want to wear jewelry on a night out, take some cheap costume jewelry with you and leave the diamond rings and expensive bangles and necklaces at home.
Taxis can be risky, especially if alone. It is best to arrange a taxi through your hotel reception. If you get into a taxi, call a friend and tell them where you are going. Give them the taxi number, and make sure the driver overhears your conversation. Never chat to the driver and disclose anything about yourself or your party. Certainly not your travel plans.
Never have personal details on display on your luggage. Keep luggage tags inside the case; this can help recover a lost case at an airport. Thieves and no-goods are very quick to note down personal details. Even in your own country they use this method, and you may return to a burgled home.
Plan each day so you know exactly where you are going and how to get there. Standing on a street corner looking lost is a sure sign that you are a tourist and potentially rich pickings to a thief.
Finally, be aware of how you dress. In some countries casual First World dress is regarded as immodest and the sign of a loose woman. Showing too much flesh (or even a small amount) can easily attract unwelcome attention. Authorities will have little sympathy for you and may view you the same way. Take careful note of how women in the area dress and make sure you respect religious shrines and places of worship.
James Mandeville is a survival expert and the author of IT'S ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL - The Ultimate Survival Book. Possibly the most comprehensive survival book ever written, it is fully illustrated with over 1,600 full-color photos, 385 diagrams and 87 graphics. Everything you need to know about survival is contained in this mammoth publication. It includes: Survival on land, at sea, in the home, at war, industrial accidents, in the streets, urban survival, natural disasters, extreme environments, psychology of survival, and survival fitness. The book can be purchased online on the Survival Expert website (www.survival-expert.com).