The spate of terrorist attacks in recent times has an extremely disturbing, increasing trend. Wikipedia says between January 2016 to March 2016 there have been 370 different incidents of terrorist attacks globally. The next quarter, alone, accounts for 580 incidents.
Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and Libya are frequently getting ‘mass execution’ and ‘massacre’ incidents. Other nations to have faced at least one incident of 45+ deaths are France, Belgium, Turkey, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, United States and Cameroon.
When I see this 2016 list, am proud, my resident country Singapore doesn’t feature at all and my nationality India has only a few stray incidents and one major Pathankot attack. For a country holding 17% of the world’s population, the government and security agencies must be doing something good to ensure the attacks are very limited. Ditto for China too.
However the tourist in you needs to travel, and that too, travel safely. And while terror mongers are extremely creative and come up with new ways to kill often, it always makes sense for tourists to avoid certain places to stay safe.
Terror attacks at tourist destinations have certain patterns. They always go for
- Highly crowded places
- Religious worship places
- Embassies of certain countries
- Western culture events
- Places where more number of westerners are visiting
- Popular tourist spots on crowded nights
- Low-security spots
These are my list of rules to follow, during a holiday, to minimize your chances of falling victim to a terror attack.
- Always prefer a flight/personal car journey to train/bus journey
Flights have a high degree of security checks, not seen in trains or bus journeys. The accident rate of buses is high in developing countries too. Prefer flights or personal drive car. Terror attacks always take place in highly populated modes of transport.
- Take off-peak flight journeys
Recent attacks in Brussels and Istanbul underline the fact that airport entrances and departure halls are susceptible. They become more susceptible when weekend peak crowds are thronging to fly out. Try taking flights on off-peak days and timings, when crowds are expected to be less.
- Avoid tourist-heavy months
Most tourists do the grand mistake of flying in peak holiday season and into the most crowded places. As if the calendar just has 20 days a year and world just has 20 destinations. Crowds are high, costs are high, security threats are high and fun factor is low! So what’s the point? Try making journeys in off-peak seasons, in new and upcoming destinations.
- Avoid crowded places
From Istiklal street, Istanbul to Las Ramblas, Barcelona to Malls in Mumbai – these are so crowded and so packed places, that it’s a matter of luck to survive a blast! Or even a stampede! Whilst in your hometown, visit these places in off times. Whilst on holiday, try minimizing your visit and stay time at popular streets. Instead of visiting it at peak time 9 pm, visit at early evening 6 pm – would be easy to manage the kids too! Stay at hotels or apartments at off-peak areas, at local neighbourhoods and away from embassies of nations.
- Avoid popular Western Cafes/Bakeries
French Cafes, Bakeries, Italian restaurants and Fast food joints next to popular tourist spots are susceptible and mostly filled with westerners. Am a bit surprised that attacks haven’t happened at a McDonalds or a Burger King! All popular non-halal places with high degree of Americans / English / European people visiting are at huge risk. You can always eat at the joint/bakery – same brand, another branch – near your house/hotel which isn’t much popular!
- Avoid western culture related shows with weak security
A rock music show or a cultural open air celebration (Bastille day in Nice) is expected to be more vulnerable than a sports event. The security checking intensity for a 50000 capacity stadium event is expected to be far higher than a 5000 fans music event or a 10000 on a beach stroll watching fireworks event. Always prefer a sports event to a western music or cultural one. Sports stadiums also have many nationalities and religion entering, so a safer bet.
- Keep eyes open, hold kids hands
Terror aside, tourists from certain nations (read: India) are too callous and distracted to even take care of own kids. In most nations, a blink of an eye is enough for a kidnapping incident – the last time you get to see your kid daughter. So stay clear of crowded places with kids and hold their hands always.
- Maintain distance from crowds
If you really need to be at a crowded destination, instead of being immersed with the crowd always try to stay 30-50meters away. Stay more in the open. The more the crowd is spread out, lesser the casualties in case of an unfortunate event. When you are stuck with crowds, even a random panic run may make you victim of a stampede. If possible always try to stand, stay near police personnel.
- Avoid super crowded religious places
There is only one God and he lives within you. Save precious money by not donating it to places of worship. That too, after standing in a queue and jostling through the crowds for hours. It just isn’t worth it. Pray to God at home or any non-popular places of worship. As for money, share a meal with a needy. God lives everywhere. You needn’t expose yourself to terrorist threats by crowding at one place. Popular places of worship are the most vulnerable when it comes to terror attacks. Security may be high, but the jam-packed crowds pose multiple problems.
10. Avoid airlines belonging to troubled countries
Malaysia based airlines flying over Russian airspace; Pakistani or Afghanistan based airlines flying over each other’s airspace; Turkey or France based airlines flying over Syria, Iraq, Egypt or Russian airspace; Iraq, Syria, Egypt based airlines flying over each other airspace… I think you get the drift. To clarify any misunderstanding – Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Cathay, Singapore, Indian, American or most Europe and Asia based Airlines are relatively safer, for now.
11. Constantly re-iterate with family/friends about the importance of security
People stay casual till it hits them hard. Keep security top of agenda – while at home to turn off gas, switching off the iron switch, while at cliff to take a selfie, while swimming at a waterfall, leaning over your hotel balcony, taking a drink from a first time known person or while on crowded places of celebration – where even one rumour can lead to mass stampede. My wife, Trisha, never allows us to intermingle with heavy crowds the moment she realizes it’s not going to be an easy stroll. With kids, safety needs to be given double priority – in case you are unaware of kidnapping and trafficking menace! Safely keep your passport, identity, other travel documents, wallets and mobiles too. Any of them can fall into wrong hands … to be used for a terror act.