How to travel through War affected countries.

I’ve been to several countries now which have had (or were in the middle of!) some quite serious problems. My first taste of Danger was Iraq in 2008, followed not long after, when I was caught up with the problems in Georgia. Since then I seemingly have developed a thirst for travelling to countries people assume you would have to be crazy to visit. So, here are a few tips to the adventurous traveller looking to get in the thick of it!

1. Research. Before I travelled to Iraq I spent two weeks on the net making sure I what was going on, where the no-go zones were and what places were worth visiting. Writing down hotel names/phone numbers to tell border guards who have accommodation sorted etc is also useful.

1. Make sure you are there legally! There’s no point sneaking into a country with problems. If anything happen good luck trying to convince your embassy for assistance! If the country isn’t issuing visa chances are it’s really not a good idea to head there!

2.Blend in. Look what the locals are wearing and do the same. In Pakistan I grew my beard and donned a Shalva Comiz, however just wearing long trousers and a shirt is usually enough if your a guy in most countries.

3. Be Confident. When I was in Cote d’Iviore a few months back I was harassed several times by the rebels (or the army, not sure?) at the road blocks. They were only after money, however I refused to pay, and sure enough each time, after a few minutes I was let through.

4. Common Sense. Sometimes you will have no option but to give in to your proud ideologies and stuborness and have to play their game, this would most likely mean paying a bribe, getting your bags checked, or simply being told to leave a place you’r not welcome in. I’ve only ever had to pay one bribe, but have on several occasions been confronted with racism. In this instance, just walk away; use your common sense.

5. Be Neutral. More than likely the problem going on has nothing to do with you personally, so remain passive and neutral. Time to change this frame is of course when something goes wrong and you and confronted with a situation that demands otherwise. Thankfully so far I’ve not been forced into this.

6. Tell someone your going. I have seemingly taken a while to learn this one. My parents had no idea I was travelling to Iraq. I couldn’t deal with their worries so I mearly went, hoping everything would be fine. It was, but it wasn’t a wise decision on my behalf. Let your loved ones (or at least someone) know where you are.

7. Talk to the locals. I met some amazing people in the ‘problem’ countries I’ve visited. Remember, the locals there still have to live their lives and from my experience they have been interested in talking, and of curious as to just why I am here!?

8. Watch your Camera. I’m a photographer. I love nothing more than heading out into a town and taking photo’s. Again, I’ve had no problems. Use your common sense and you should be fine. Don’t go taking photo’s of Guards, anyone/anything Military associated, and when you do feel comfortable getting your camera out, always ask permission.

9. Know your limits. There are obvious no go zones. I wouldn’t even consider travelling to Tripoli in Libya at the moment, even Kabul in Afghanistan is probably a bit too crazy currently. One has to look at the big picture however when travelling to these places, and the odds. How many ‘whites’ were killed in the Cote d’Ivoire conflict? Were they targeting ‘foreighners’. No.

10. Know when to leave. If you were unlucky like me and are in a country that suddenly erupts into war the best idea is just to leave, as fast as possible. Especially if you aren’t sure of the seriousness or scale of the problem. Again, just common sense.

In my experience it is possible to travel through countries currently involved in War. Your best bet in having a truly memorable and challenging experience is to do your research, use your common sense and don’t be completely insane by travelling to a country with a no-fly zone or one that is targeting foreigners.

Look forward to your comments and opinions on this subject!

Safe and adventurous travels!

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9 Responses to “How to travel through War affected countries.”

  1. August 29, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    I’d also consider reading the great, resource-filled “How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone,” a survival guide for conflict zones by journalist and Al Jazeera English producer Rosie Garthwaite.

  2. August 30, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Haha wow, nice one! Thanks! I’ll look into it when I’m next in a War Zone 😉

  3. August 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Great post. I think #2 is so important, sometimes people stupidly or unknowingly don’t realize how much they stand out because of their attire. And sometimes that disrespect can be dangerous.

  4. August 30, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    Thanks Mica! Yes I agree. I saw the documentary about Mark Beaumont cycling around the world the other day and he was wearing his short cycle pants through countries like Pakistan, and of course his experience there was quite negative (whether the BBC wanted to put across this image regardless?) Yes it definitely makes a difference. Such a simple thing to do does make such a difference.

  5. August 30, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    great post sam… im planning to travel to some countries next year that are considered as somewhat “dangerous” due to some political situation… this post will definitely be useful…

  6. August 31, 2011 at 4:59 am #

    I’d be cautious about being confident. I witnessed a bunch of tourists pulled out of a bar at gunpoint and imprisoned by soldiers in Mali for not doing what the soldiers wanted. I think you need to apply judgement to every situation and being polite and deferent is much more important than being confident.

  7. August 31, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    I agree you can never be too confident, which is why I mentioned in point 4, that at some points you have to just allow the situation to move in the way it’s moving. There’s no point arguing with a man with a gun. Nevertheless, when your moving just in a normal situation you have to present yourself as being confident. After years of travelling you can spot a new traveller by how confident they look. Also, Were your friends seasoned travellers? Or college kids on their summer break? Were they wearing shorts and behaving as they would back in the West? All these points add up to how your treated (and how far you can push them) in this situation… Thanks for the comment, and your honesty! :)

  8. August 31, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    The only country (apart from Cote d’Ivoire which was currently in a war when I was there) that I found a little sketchy was Liberia. The police weren’t the nicest and I got the impression they really didn’t want me there. Saying that, my friend (a 68y woman) travelled there around the same time as me and had few problems. Guinea was the worst in regards to corruption, however I was never forced to pay anything (I did have some quite long arguments to get out of it though!). Sierra Leone was great, no problems at all! I had a couple of racist situations in Niger and Togo, though I wasn’t in either country for very long so my impressions of the place can’t be fully justified. I hope to head there again one day, enshallah!

  9. September 14, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Good points…and very good tips for any situation!!

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