Tuesday afternoon I found out that Greg Ellifritz’ travel book, Choose Adventure: Safe Travel in Dangerous Places, had just been released on Amazon. I dropped what I was doing, rushed to my computer, and purchased a copy. Most of whatever else I was going to do Tuesday got set aside as I dove into one of the best travel guides I’ve ever read.
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Now is as good a time as any to let you know that I am not and cannot be a completely unbiased reviewer. I have taken two of Greg’s in-person training classes (one on snubnose revolvers, one on tactical/collapse medicine). I have read his blog for a long time and have a very hard time finding much to disagree about. And Greg has helped me out immensely by sharing dozens of my articles in his famed Weekend Knowledge Dump, the impact of which has been so significant I can’t neglect mentioning it here. That said, I purchased my copy for full price and this review has not been coordinated with him in any way.
There are a couple of clues that indicate how truly excited I am about this book. First, I am reviewing it a mere three days after it came out. I didn’t plan to drop everything else I was reading to jump into Choose Adventure; after the first few pages it chose me. I simply couldn’t put it down. Second, I already had content slated for today but wanted to get this review out as quickly as I possibly could. Finally, as those of you who read my digital security content know, I am not a fan of installing applications. Despite that I was willing to install the Kindle application on my computer (temporarily) rather than wait on the hard copy to become available.
I may not be 100% unbiased, but I will be 100% honest.
Choose Adventure: Safe Travel in Dangerous Places
I certainly haven’t traveled as much – or as adventurously – as Greg. I’ve traveled to about half as many countries and a little over half as many continents (I’m still missing Australia, Antarctica, and South America). I am still traveled enough to consider myself a “traveler” so I come at this from the viewpoint of someone fairly experienced. Some of my travel has been to somewhat typical American tourist destinations, and some of it has veered well off the beaten track, and some of it has been in straight-up war zones. I tell you this simply so you have an idea how I approached this book.
As a fairly experienced traveler two things jumped out at me pretty much immediately. First, the organization of Choose Adventure immediately made a crazy amount of sense to me. The first chapter covers trip planning, and things like ensuring your passport is valid, valid for long enough, and not damaged. This seems like simple stuff, but it is stuff that is easy to overlook. So many pitfalls – some of which I have witnessed in person – are covered, like showing up without a visa, or with a damaged passport.
The book proceeded in such a logical order I wondered why I hadn’t though of it: what to pack for your trip, navigating and staying safe in the airport (and some very cool ‘tricks’ for gaining access to airport lounges), navigating customs and immigration, dealing with hotels, and on and on. The more I read the more I recognized the voice – and value – of experience.
The second major factor that jumped out at me is the approachable style of the book. Choose Adventure takes on an almost conversational tone without being (as Greg cautions against when considering clothing and footwear in foreign countries) too casual. I found even the “boring” stuff – like passports and visas and staying healthy while flying – extremely compelling.
Not only is the style good; the content is fantastic. I began the book with a 4×6 card to take notes of things I found interesting or valuable. I very quickly graduated up to a notebook. I found Choose Adventure to be loaded with actionable advice that will permanently influence the way I travel.
Greg illustrates a lot his concepts through personal anecdotes. He does so in a way that I really appreciate; anecdotes are not too frequent or too drawn out. They are not superfluous and aren’t intended to use this book as a vehicle for story-telling. Every related anecdote has directly-related value.
Since most of you are probably very interested in the security information I won’t steal too much thunder here – go read the book! Despite being an experienced traveler, and teaching a physical and digital security for a living for over a decade, I learned quite a bit from Choose Adventure. I’m confident you will, too. I will share just a few teasers here.
Choose Adventure is packed with sound travel security advice. Lodging security is covered in great detail, from choosing an area of the city down to choosing the exact room you stay in, securing that room, and best practices for booking rooms (short story: never prepay). The book covers protecting yourself from a huge variety of threats from wildlife (look under the toilet seat…if there is a toilet seat) to pickpockets to food poisoning to kidnappings. Greg talks about dealing with larger-scale emergencies like natural disasters, civil unrest, bombings and terrorist attacks.
Maybe the most entertaining security “thing” – and one that popped up all over the book – was the explanations of how various scams and schemes work. I have experienced a lot of these low-level scams on some level, from getting completely ripped off on taxi rides to ignoring pushy beggars and streetwalkers. Greg goes into great detail about the incredibly interesting and enterprising ways some people will use to pick your pocket, talk you out of some cash, or straight-up rob you. Though I have always sought out advice on how to avoid getting into trouble abroad, I have never bothered to actually look into how most of these scams work.
Greg addresses the mundane, as well. Nothing was more thorough than modes of travel including planes, trains, buses, taxis, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, subways, boats, and hitchhiking. He discusses common pitfalls to avoid and how various regions’ transit systems work. Another thing that I really appreciated was the principle-driven approach to various travel problems. For example, if a bus driver doesn’t take your money, fares are probably collected collected when you leave.
There were also countless little things in Choosing Adventure that I will personally implement. Maybe the most important of these is carrying a couple binder clips with me. In the future I will never spend another night in a hotel without some binder clips. One thing I hate about hotels is curtains that don’t quite close. This is so common it seems to be an intentional design feature in most hotels. Diffuse, outdoor light becomes annoying, focused beams of light when the curtains are almost closed and the room is otherwise dark. I thought I had tried everything, from carefully arranging the curtains to propping ironing boards up against the window, to keep curtains closed. Turns out, a couple binder clips take just seconds to apply and will keep the curtains firmly closed all night. After a couple thousand nights in hotels I finally have a solution!
I am also glad to see some things covered that aren’t addressed quite so openly in many travel guides: things like handling police and government interactions and dealing with bribes (sometimes they’re the least bad option). Greg talks openly and frankly about the safest possible way to acquire and use drugs, if using recreational drugs is on your agenda. He even talks about discrete weapons you can bring, purchase, improvise or – if shit goes sideways – steal or purchase on the black market. Where else are you going to get content like that? No punches are pulled in Choose Adventure.
I don’t have a whole lot to complain about, but I did promise my honest opinion. Greg covers a ton of ground in this book. From how to stay safe on a third-world boat ride to booking inexpensive airfare to the signs and symptoms of Dengue fever. I’m sure experts in a lot of these areas will have very small nitpicks. I am no different, and my job is as an instructor of digital security tradecraft. Naturally I have some strong opinions in this arena.
Overall I thought Greg did a fantastic job with the “Technology” chapter. There was one piece of advice that I did not feel was an absolute best practice. I don’t mean to overemphasize this, but I also wouldn’t feel right ignoring it. Never, ever login to your email account from an internet cafe in a third-world country. If an emergency dictates that you absolutely must, make sure you already have two-factor authentication on the account so that if your password is stolen (and the odds are good it will be) there is still a strong barrier to entry into your email account.
I don’t mean to overemphasize this. I promised complete honesty, though, and I wouldn’t have felt right remaining silent. I also feel like it’s worth pointing this out because…it’s the one, single, tiny thing I can find fault with out of hundreds of pages. It is the exception that proves the rule.
If you’re a traveler, I think you will have a very hard time finding a better adventure travel guide. Choose Adventure: Safe Travel in Dangerous Places is destined to be one of the great travel guides; it is entertaining and absolutely LOADED with actionable information to keep you safe, healthy, and comfortable as you collect those passport stamps.
A quote that I believe I originally coined is, “live vicariously through yourself!” I am a firm believer in that mantra. Get out! Travel! See the world! Stop talking about it and DO IT! However, even if you can’t or won’t, Choose Adventure is still a fantastic read. It is certain to fuel your travel fantasies. And who knows, maybe it will nudge you to get out there and see the world!
Currently Choose Adventure: Safe Travel in Dangerous Places is only available on Kindle. A paper copy will be available within the next ten days or so, also through Amazon. Once the print version is up and running, autographed copies can be ordered directly through Greg. Digital copies will be available on iBooks, Google Play, and Barnes and Noble soon.