How to Hit the Ground Running

Techniques you can apply before and during a trip to ensure that you hit the ground fully prepared and in the right frame of mind.

4 min read · Written by Grant Rayner on 23 Oct 2023

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This essay was originally published in Dangerous Travels on 23 Oct 2023 and was updated on 13 Feb 2024

Travelling to higher-risk locations can be a bit unnerving, even for those of us who are frequent travellers.

As I’ve noted in my books, you’re particularly vulnerable to threats in the first few days while you’re adjusting to your new environment. You’ll therefore need to make deliberate efforts to minimise your vulnerabilities during this process of adaptation and orientation.

You may also be anxious during your first few days, particularly if you’re travelling to a new location or if you’re travelling to a location in crisis. If you feel unprepared, that will add to your anxiety.

In this article, I’ll explore a few simple techniques you can apply before and during a trip to ensure that you hit the ground fully prepared and in the right frame of mind.

The focus here is on travel to higher-risk locations. That said, the same principles can be applied to any trip to make your life a little easier.

Pack light

There are a lot of advantages to packing light. You avoid spending time at the baggage carousel on arrival, denying people an opportunity to observe and assess you while you wait for your bags. You’re able to move quickly, and because you’re carrying fewer things, you’ll have fewer things to worry about. Overall, travelling light gives you a significant amount of speed and flexibility.

The penalty for forgetting something is rarely significant. In most cases, you’ll be able to purchase items locally.

Book accommodation for the first few nights

Even if you’re not entirely sure where you want to stay, always book accommodation for the first few nights. If you arrive and decide that your accommodation isn’t sufficiently secure or is in the wrong part of town, you can always look for other options.

Plan to arrive at a reasonable hour

When booking flights, do your best to arrive at your destination during business hours. That way, if you run into any difficulties, you’ll be able to call for assistance.

You’re also more likely to blend in during periods when the airport is busy, and you’re less likely to experience problems with officials during times when managers are on duty.

Have a plan to get from the airport to your accommodation

Anticipate arriving at your destination tired from your flight. Perhaps even a little hangry. Also anticipate a degree of culture shock at the airport, especially in the arrivals area.

You want the entire airport experience to be as painless as possible. In addition, you want to avoid introducing unknown risks by trying to select the right transport option at the airport.

The simplest approach is to arrange in advance for someone to be in the arrivals area to meet you when you arrive. Agree on a specific meeting location and the set the protocols for linking up (e.g., signage, messaging etc). Have the person’s name and number available, and ensure you know what to do if they’re not where they should be when you arrive.

Check the news

Always check the news the day before you depart and just before you head to the airport. The situation in many higher-risk locations can be unpredictable, and it’s good to be aware of emerging situations in advance so you can prepare.

Consider contingencies

Always consider contingencies at each stage of your travel.

  • What if your flight is delayed?
  • What if the person isn’t there to meet you at the airport?
  • What if the roads are blocked and you’re unable to get from the airport to your planned accommodation?
  • What if you arrive at your accommodation only to find out it’s not suitable?
  • What if there are protests during your stay and your movement around town is limited?

Have fallback options for each of these contingencies. Developing these fallback options will increase your confidence, in that you’ll know you’re fully prepared for almost anything that might happen during your trip.

Arrive at the airport early

The departure airport is a physical and mental transition point. A positive experience getting to the airport and at the airport will set you up nicely for a positive start to your trip.

Therefore, give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport so that you’re not rushed. If you feel rushed and stressed, that will make other aspects of your travel feel less organised. You may become anxious, which can have an adverse impact on your performance.

Arriving early will give you time to change money, review your plans for your assignment, and perhaps even buy a few gifts for people you know at your destination.

Set up roaming

Effective communications are essential when travelling to higher-risk locations.

The day before you travel, set up roaming for your destination with your phone provider.

If you’re unable to set up roaming, have a plan to purchase a SIM card on arrival at the destination airport. By doing so, you’ll be able to communicate before you leave the relative safety of the airport.

If you’re using a mobile router, ensure you properly secure your router before travel. Many mobile routers have significant security vulnerabilities and need to be correctly set up before use.

If you’re carrying a satellite phone or satellite communicator, ensure your subscription plan is activated and test the device before you leave. I recommend doing this at least three days before you depart to provide time to address any issues.

Change some currency

Even if you plan to exchange money at your destination, it’s good practice to change some money before you depart. A few hundred dollars equivalent in local currency should be enough for most requirements in your first few days at your destination. You can then change money or withdraw cash from ATMs as needed. If you’re going to a country where it’s difficult to exchange currency outside of the country, carry USD or Euros as a backup.

Rest on the plane

Once you’re on the aircraft, take the opportunity to rest. Sleep if you can.

Avoid alcohol if possible. You want to arrive at your destination alert and coherent.

Orientate to your hotel

Once you arrive at your hotel, take time to orientate yourself to the property. As you move about the public areas of the hotel, assess security. If you assess the security to be unsatisfactory, change to a more secure location at your earliest convenience.

I’ve written about hotel security at length in other articles, and in The Field Guide to Accommodation Security.

Orientate to the immediate area

Lastly, if it’s safe to do so, take a walk around your hotel. Consider where you might go if there’s a major incident at your hotel, and how you might get there.

Wrap up

Taking the steps outlined in this article will help ensure you hit the ground fully prepared and in the right frame of mind.

Don’t underestimate the impact anxiety may have on your performance. Being anxious and nervous often results in unforced errors that could be easily avoided if you’re well prepared and well rested. If you’re distracted, you’re also an easy target.

Thanks for reading.

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