For my money, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof is one of the best in the business. His dogged reporting on the atrocities in Darfur has brough much-needed attention to that region, and his yearly “Win a trip to Africa with Nick Kristof” contest inspires young people all over the world to consider visiting a part of the world they ordinarily wouldn’t.
So I was happy to see in Kristof’s most recent column a list of travel tips for, among other things, evading bandits, surviving bus rides, and holding on to your cash. Here’s a sample of a few:
- “Remember that the scariest people aren’t warlords, but drivers. In buses I sometimes use my pack as an airbag; after one crash I was the only passenger not hospitalized.”
- “If you’re a woman held up in an isolated area, stick out your stomach, pat it and signal that you’re pregnant. You might also invest in a cheap wedding band, for imaginary husbands deflect unwanted suitors.”
- “If you are held up by bandits with large guns, shake hands respectfully with each of your persecutors. It’s very important to be polite to people who might kill you. Surprisingly often, child soldiers and other bandits will reciprocate your fake friendliness and settle for some cash rather than everything you possess. I’ve even had thugs warmly exchange addresses with me, after robbing me.”
- “[D]on’t be so cautious that you miss the magic of escaping your comfort zone and mingling with local people and staying in their homes. The risks are minimal compared with the wonders of spending time in a small village. So take a gap year, or volunteer in a village or a slum. And even if everything goes wrong and you are robbed and catch malaria, shrug it off – those are precisely the kinds of authentic interactions with local cultures that, in retrospect, enrich a journey and life itself.”