Written by: Greg Ellifritz
In last weeks’ article, I talked about the common guns I see carried all around the world. As a traveler, since you aren’t likely to be able to legally acquire firearms overseas, this continuation of last week’s theme covers some of the weapons you ARE able to carry.
When I’m at home, I carry a gun for protection because it is both legal for me to do so and it is the most effective weapon in my arsenal. Overseas, with very few exceptions, the average traveler will not be able to legally acquire or carry a firearm. Although widely available on the black market in almost every country, the penalties for getting caught with a firearm are so severe that it is in most travelers’ best interests to avoid acquiring one. The increased protection one may receive isn’t worth the cost of doing time in a third world prison in the event you are discovered carrying an illegal pistol by police.
Since guns are not recommended, the most effective weapon for most travelers is a knife. Knives can be legally brought into almost every third world country in checked luggage. Unless the knife is massive in size or the traveler has dozens of them in his luggage, customs officials rarely look twice if they see a knife when searching your bags.
Even though it’s rare that carrying a knife into a country would be questioned, the traveler should still have a believable “justification” for the presence of the knife in the event that customs or law enforcement officers ask you why you are carrying a blade. “Self-defense” is never a good justification to use with corrupt third world officials. Remember, most people in foreign countries don’t have the same “right” to self-protection as they do here in the USA. It’s best to have a more innocuous reason for carrying the knife.
I generally carry a Spyderco “Salt” folder when I travel. The knife is made of a special type of stainless steel that does a phenomenal job resisting salt water. Thus, I have a handy justification for my blade; it’s my “diving knife.” That excuse has worked for me no matter where I have traveled. “Dive knives” are commonplace and cause no additional scrutiny. You could even get by with a larger fixed blade knife so long as it looked like it had marine applications. Other “justifications” could be that you are going “camping in the jungle” or that the knife is your “cooking knife.” No matter what justification you choose, have a ready answer for when the cops ask you about the blade. “Cutting throats” is not generally recommended.
If you want to avoid the hassle completely, you can purchase a knife when you arrive in country. Hardware stores or outdoor/camping stores will have the largest selection. You may also be able to acquire a knife at a local market as well. If you buy a knife locally, keep the receipt. If you do get caught carrying it, you can tell the officer that you just bought it as a souvenir to take home with you. Playing the role of the clueless tourist with this excuse might keep you out of jail.
If you can’t find a hardware or outdoor store, don’t forget that you can buy cooking knives at almost any grocery store. A small paring knife won’t cost more than a couple dollars. Use a discarded piece of cardboard (from the inside of a roll of toilet paper) and some duct tape to create a makeshift sheath for safe carry.
If all else fails, stealing a steak knife from a restaurant table is a valid option as well. That may be the best option for cruise ship passengers who have to go through a metal detector every time they get back on the ship. Take a sharp knife from the dinner table and carry it around with you on your land excursion. Dispose of the blade on land before your re-board the ship. Grab another knife at dinner to repeat this process for the following day.
In addition to carrying my Spyderco Salt folder, I also carry a Talonz brand ceramic fixed blade knife. I carry this one because it contains absolutely no metal. While not quite as sharp or durable as a metal blade, the ceramic knife isn’t detected by metal detectors.
Even though it makes it through metal detectors; x-ray or pat-down physical searches will find the blade. If you try to smuggle it into the passenger cabin of a commercial airplane, there is a very good chance you will get caught and go to jail. Spending time in a Federal Penitentiary will ruin your vacation.
I honestly don’t know the laws regarding knife carry for most of the countries I visit…and I really don’t care. I recognize that I may be breaking local laws by carrying a blade, but my personal protection is very important to me. I’ll risk an arrest or fine in exchange for being able to save my own life if I am attacked. You’ll have to make a decision for yourself with regard to what you are willing to risk. It’s “Big Boy Rules.” If you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime.
With that said, the chance of getting caught and/or arrested when carrying a knife in a third world country is next to zero. If you are smart about carrying the blade, you won’t get caught. If you do get caught, you’ll usually be able to pay off the cop who catches you to avoid going to jail. I’ve only been caught with a knife one time in all of my travels when I had to go through a metal detector unexpectedly in Peru. I gave the knife to the cop. He pocketed it and that was the end of the issue.
To avoid being caught, you have to be smart. Don’t carry your blade clipped to your pocket like you may in the USA. No one carries knives like this in other countries. It’s a huge red flag that cops and security guards will notice very quickly. If you have a folding knife with a clip, carry it down in your pocket or clip it inside your waistband with an untucked shirt. It will be harder to access this way, but you won’t get shaken down by the cops.
Be careful of metal detectors. In third world countries, you will encounter metal detectors in places where you might not expect them to be. Depending on the country and the area, you are likely to find metal detectors in hotel lobbies, train stations, bus stations, government buildings, and museums. If you are sightseeing in those locations, carry the ceramic blade.
I carry my ceramic blade in what’s called a “slip sheath.” I attach the cord on the sheath to my belt or belt loop and then position the blade in my waistband. When I draw the knife, the sheath falls off as soon as it reaches the end of the cord. If I need to have a lower profile, I will shove the knife completely down the front of my pants. The only thing visible is the cord attached to the belt. If you use paracord that is the same color as your belt or your pants, the cord will be barely noticeable. Even if you do get searched by the police, there’s a good chance that they will miss the knife. Male cops don’t tend to check other men’s genital region in a thorough manner.
If you are carrying a metal blade and stumble into a location with searches or metal detectors, you may still be able to get through the security checkpoint without being arrested. Often, police and security guards use metal detecting wands instead of using walk-through metal detectors. The cops get lazy and grow tired of bending over. They regularly won’t sweep body parts that are low to the ground with their metal detector wands. Sticking a knife in your sock or shoe will often allow it to make it through security undetected.
If the shoe isn’t an option, clip the knife to the front of your underwear right behind your pants zipper. That area won’t likely be searched well. If the metal detector does go off, you can blame it on your metal zipper, belt buckle, or pants button.
One other technique that is regularly used by criminals here at home is to allow their female companions to carry the weapons. Women aren’t viewed as being “suspicious” enough to warrant a search in lots of situations. If they are searched, male security guards and cops will avoid searching the breast area or genitals of females. These practices are even more evident in foreign countries than they are here. Clip your knife to the front of your wife or girlfriend’s panties or to her bra strap and she will probably get the blade past security.
In addition to the two blades I mentioned above, I also carry the knife that I designed, the Ka-Bar Last Ditch Knife. I designed it specifically to be a last ditch weapon or escape tool that could be hidden anywhere on your body and would likely be missed by a cursory pat down search. I made the blade smaller than a credit card so that it can be hidden in a wallet. The sheath has multiple attachment points so that it can be taped or safety pinned anywhere inside your clothing. You can even lace the knife up in your shoelaces.
When I travel to countries where kidnapping is a probability, I safety pin the knife inside my pants below the belt line in the small of my back. In that position, it isn’t likely to be found on a search. Again, most men don’t want to spend time feeling another dude’s ass. That position also makes the knife easily accessible if my hands are tied or taped behind my back. The knife is just the right size to cut my way out of a lot of problems. I’ve seen some folks tape it to the inside of their belts, carry it on a cord around their necks, or pin it under a lapel. It’s truly a versatile knife that you can carry anywhere.
Those three blades have traveled around the world with me for many years. No one ever gives them a second glance, but in a pinch, they’ll work well as defensive weapons. I carry other weapons as well, but this article is already over 2000 words and I don’t want to bore you. If you are interested in the pepper sprays, hidden impact weapons, and improvised weapons I carry with me on my foreign travels, check out my upcoming third world travel safety book. In the book I describe all the weapons I carry and how I avoid getting arrested for carrying them. It’s worth a read for any of you who travel in “non permissive environments” whether those places are in third world countries or right here in the USA.
* Some of the above links are affiliate links. That means that if you purchase these items, I get a small percentage of the selling price.