Survival Ideas for Visiting a Foreign Country

An interesting guest post today from Joe Nobody, author of Holding Your Ground,Without Rule of LawHolding Their Own and TEOTWAWKI Tuxedo. Related to today’s post, Joe has spent a lot of time in sketchy countries.

He has a new book out: Holding Their Own II: The Independents. The story of Bishop and Terri carry on in post-SHTF Texas. A review on that to come. Buy and read the book now, then when I post my review, we can use the comments section for SHTF Book Club meeting!


Recently I was asked to provide input on what someone should pack when visiting a foreign country that was unstable. My initial reaction was “don’t go if the government is about to fall,” but if your employer or situation demands the trip, then there are certain items I have found to be useful.

In reality, some of the items below aren’t a bad idea to have no matter where you plan to go – stable or not. I might even want some of these things with me if traveling to some parts of the U.S.A.

The first thing I would do is plan an alternative way out of the country. Airports tend to be control points for rebel troops (along with television and radio stations) and if chaos erupts, you probably won’t be able to get out by plane. Trains, rental cars, berths on ships and even walking out (smaller countries) can all be alternatives. Once I have my options all mapped out, I would create a few pre-printed messages in the local language while I had access to the internet:

  • How do I get to the train station?
  • How do I get to the port?
  • Could you take me to the U.S. Embassy?
  • How do I get to the bus station?
  • If your plan involves a rental car, have that translation ready as well.

Another critical item to have is a map of your surroundings in English. Don’t count on being able to purchase one after you arrive.

Speaking of language (pun intended), communication can be an issue in some foreign places as any well-seasoned traveler knows. Having language cards or a translation dictionary along can reduce stress. In the event of a collapse or even social unrest, language is going to be even more critical. Here are a couple of items that are inexpensive and could make a difference:

  • Language Cards were once issued by the U.S. military to troops operating in foreign countries. I don’t know if they still do that, but I buy mine at Barnes and Noble.
  • Some smart phones have language translation software available.

The next priority would be basic survival items that you can get through customs on the way in. One of the things I always try and determine beforehand is the level of scrutiny that should be expected at the airport. Some countries (the U.S. among them) don’t allow any food products to be brought in. Other places are very picky about prescription drugs. You need to know what the rules are before you pack. Weapons, even knives, are a strict no-no almost any place in the world. My goal has always been to disguise any “prepper” type items in my luggage as much as possible. Remember, in some places being a prepper is akin to being an anarchist. As any learned survivalist knows, water is far more critical than food. Taking along some iodine based purification tablets is smart. You can always take them out of the package and put them in a prescription or vitamin bottle to hide their intent.

Some other ideas:

  1. Diarrhea really sucks – take along Imodium or similar and disguise it as well
  2. Contact your doctor and tell him you’re going overseas and ask for a broad spectrum anti-biotic.
  3. An international voltage converter.
  4. A list of every store that carries survival items. These should be close to where I will be staying. Almost every country has sporting goods stores where I could get a good knife, portable stove or whatever. If you are going to Afghanistan, the airport has a PX that carries all that stuff.
  5. A couple of packs of Jell-O or other high calorie compressed food (if it is not illegal to import foodstuffs). If you can’t bring it in with you, go purchase it as soon as you clear customs.
  6. A few hidden Gold coins if I could afford it – the smaller the domination the better. American $100 bills are still a world standard as well. Don’t take too many and hide them. Customs agents are trained to be suspicious of travelers carrying large amounts of cash. Traveler’s checks are good, but when you cash them they will be in the local currency.
  7. Find out what is valuable in your destination that is cheap at home. For example, American cigarettes are still valuable in some parts of the world. A couple of replica watches – preferably Rolex or similar might be helpful at a chaotic border crossing or with local authorities
  8. Make sure your cell phone works internationally. Even Afghanistan has cell phone service in the major cities.
  9. Don’t forget about DHS or other international shippers. I have put items in a box and shipped them to my hotel right before departure on more than one occasion. Again, be careful what you send as some countries will open your box as it is clearing customs. This is rare, but can happen.

Another critical point is keeping abreast of what is going on around you. English language radio broadcasts are common all over the world. The BBC World Service is one of the best. Many cell phones have news feed applications as well. You want to know if things are tilting over the edge and grab whatever last minute items you can if it looks like the slide is inevitable.

Other good sources of information:

Your church – you would be surprised how many religious institutions have relationships overseas. An email of introduction to someone local at your destination could be a lifesaver.

Travel Agents – even if you don’t book your tickets through the agency, they will often provide free information.

The web – there are as many travel blogs and forums for international travel as there are for preppers. Utilize the resource.

Above all, don’t be an ugly American. The stereo-type of the boisterous Yankee traveler is unfortunately true at times. No one likes that image and if all hell breaks lose you never know who might help the meek and ignore the jerk. The cab driver you insulted on arrival may pass you by as you are trying to bug out.

– Joe Nobody