We recently went to a really helpful security and safety training with our World Renew colleagues. We learned a lot on various issues ranging from cyber security, to personal safety, to what to do in times of instability in a country. But I want to share with you just one thing, and that is what we learned about preparing for long road trips in Africa. This was not completely new to us. We knew and practiced most of these things already, but it was a good refresher.
I thought it would be interesting for you to learn all of the things we have to think about, do, and pack when we travel somewhere. You’ll be able to see how tiring it is to be a person who travels a lot here. And hopefully some of you will worry about us less knowing how well prepared we are for trips.
But it’s important to point out that the checklists below would apply mainly to traveling to far away remote areas, not normal trips like driving to Nairobi for a meeting. We were preparing to do trainings in Turkana, Kenya this July, and we would have had to follow this checklist below. But because of the elections coming up in Kenya, people are busy and it was not the best time for people to come to a training.
So here is a checklist of things to do:
- While planning the trip, check media, news, and security organizations for information on the present situation of the place. Call the people in the place you are going to visit to find out the situation there.
- Get permission from the organization’s security team before making final plans. Be prepared that the situation could change abruptly and you might have to cancel the trip.
- Get the vehicle serviced and tires pumped up with air before the journey.
- Make sure you have your phones and computers backed up completely a day or two before the journey.
- Make sure the program Prey is installed on phones and computers in case they get stolen.
- Book hotels in advance or find out if there is a safe place to stay. Make sure there is a place for secure parking of your vehicle.
- Notify colleagues and family of the journey. But don’t post it on social media because you don’t want everyone to know where you are, and that you are not home.
- Leave 2-3 hours earlier than is necessary, so in case of delays you still don’t have to drive at night. Plan to arrive at your destination by 4:00 or 5:00. This ensures you arrive before dark which is around 6:30pm.
- Dress in a culturally appropriate way. Sara and I have found it helps to wear semi-traditional African attire as it seems to make police officers and other officials happy and friendly. We also plan to have me wear a clerical collar while traveling as many people respect pastors a lot.
- Arrange for police escort if going through an insecure area. We've only had to do that once.
- Make sure you can get along with all the people going on the trip in the vehicle. You need to work together as a team in some potentially tough situations. Make sure to also agree on the agenda so that you don’t have too many stops or delays, but enough stops to rest.
- If at all possible, always take someone in the vehicle who knows the route and the local area.
- Appoint a leader in the vehicle. This person will make any tough decisions. This person will be the spokesperson for police checks and other stops on the road.
- As the travel progresses, monitor the radio and call people regularly on the phone to make sure the security situation isn’t changing in the place you are going to.
- Rotate drivers because of fatigue.
- On rest breaks in safe areas, stop and inspect the vehicle periodically, especially the tires.
- One person has to be on alert for awareness, someone who is not already driving. This person watches the surroundings carefully and will be aware of any changing or unsafe situation. The driver has to remain focused on the potholes and goats in the road and crazy taxi drivers. The person who is alert should not be on their smartphone, but only watching the surroundings.
- Make sure you have short simple answers for all of the police checks about who you are and what you will be doing.
- During the journey, don’t pick up random people you don’t know. This one is hard for me because I think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but it is safer not to take that risk.
- Have a plan B for travel, in case you have to change routes, or the road is impassible, or there were many delays.
- If there are delays or changes, be willing to drop your original plans. Don’t be “too busy to be safe.” If you have to spend another night somewhere, do so.
- Communicate to your colleagues by phone as the journey progresses, and finally notify them of arrival. Make sure to notify of arrival a couple minutes before stopping the vehicle. That way you can enjoy the people welcoming you and are not rudely talking on the phone while they are trying to greet you.
Checklist of things to pack (besides the normal things):
- Extra food, non-perishables, like biscuits, crackers, etc.
- Enough drinking water for the entire trip for all the passengers, but also a couple other people to be safe. We also bring our Sawyer water bottles with internal filters.
- Spare tire, and if going to a far away place with bad roads, also a second spare tire.
- The law requires traffic triangles and a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit in the vehicle.
- A jerry can of water, in case you need it to clean the windscreen or if the engine overheats.
- Additional cell phone that is not a smartphone, one with a long lasting battery. If you are really serious you can also have an additional type of communication device like a VHF radio.
- Print a paper map in case your phones die or get stolen.
- For hotel rooms, take a big tough suitcase that you can lock to keep valuables in, when you are not in the room. But better not to bring valuables in the first place.
- Flashlights (we use hand crank rechargeable ones).
- Phone numbers for police, insurance, other contacts.
- Extra mosquito net in case where you are going doesn’t have one.
- Battery packs that can recharge phones and computers, etc.
- Steering wheel lock.
- Portable electric pump for car tires.
- Photocopies of passport and licenses (best not to hand the original to the police during checks) but take licenses and passports with you in case they are necessary.
- Malaria test kits, malaria medications, and antibiotics in case you get sick.
- Jack for the vehicle.
- We also take a GPS that works quite well in East Africa, though all the rural roads are not necessarily on it.
- Extra emergency money, both in local currency, and in US dollars.
- Pack a quick run bag – in case you need to get away quickly, packed with the essential items.