Tip: Bring a dressy outfit.
Why: Whether you’re going to Paris or the jungle, pack a tie and proper shoes. Formal attire shows respect to people whose patronage you need—and you never know who will invite you to dinner.
War Reporter Testimony: Alan Chin, who was twice nominated by the New York Times for the Pulitzer, adds that cleaning up can boost morale: “In 2003, I spent three months covering the invasion of Iraq. I got dust into areas of my body that I didn’t know existed.” Finally, he took a vacation in Jordan with his girlfriend. “I can’t describe how good it felt when we went out to dinner—to be clean, wearing a crisp white dress shirt, and looking and behaving like a normal person instead of a war-and-death-obsessed madman.”
Courtesy of Globalstar, Inc.
Tip: Bring a cell phone with GPS.
Why: With a GPS, you’ll never look like a tourist fumbling with a map in the middle of the street again; it can show you the location of cash machines, landmarks, and hotels. Most important, if you’re in trouble, you can give rescuers your exact location.
War Reporter Testimony: Angela Cumberbirch has spent the past 10 years documenting the aftermath of Peru’s internal armed conflict. She recommends renting a Blue Cosmo Globalstar GSP-1700 portable satellite phone: “There’s a tracer available to track positions in remote zones,” she says, “and many search and rescue teams have GPS satellite tracing equipment.”
Tip: Bring condoms—for your camera.
Why: Camera lenses are prone to scratching and unexpected water damage. Condoms are the ultimate lightweight protection.
War Reporter Testimony: Elizabeth Pisani has worked for Reuters and the Economist in Hong Kong, New Delhi, and Jakarta, but she’s best known for her controversial book, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS. A condom, she advises, is the essential travel accessory. “Not only do condoms protect you from nasty diseases and make a fantastic first aid tool (insert into bullet wound and inflate to stanch the bleeding), but they’re great for keeping sand and water out of lenses and other equipment.”
Tip: Scan your documents and e-mail them to yourself.
Why: Scan your passport, telephone numbers, and credit card information and then e-mail them to yourself before you travel. This way, you’ll be able to get copies wherever there’s Internet access.
War Reporter Testimony: While rushing to catch a plane to Azerbaijan, photojournalist David Gross accidentally grabbed his expired passport instead of his valid one. He ended up a hostage of the suspicious authorities in the arrival hall—just like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. “Without copies of your documents,” he says, “you’re yet another illegal in transit.”
Tip: Make sure health insurance covers you abroad.
Why: It’s a must in Fallujah. But even Cancun can get hairy. When you’re embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, you need the peace of mind only medical evacuation insurance can bring—but frankly, you need heath coverage anywhere you might get ill or be injured, which is everywhere, and your policy at home might not apply overseas.
War Reporter Testimony: Phil Zabriskie, who covered the battle of Fallujah for Time magazine, says “health insurance and safety abroad is a big issue, and you’ll get a better deal if you promise to stay out of war zones.”
Tip: Pack tape.
Why: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—but if it is, this stuff is magic. Use duct or gaffer's tape to seal air mattresses, splice headphones, fashion a rain cover for your camera, even as a coffee cozy.
War Reporter Testimony: Former Army Times photographer James J. Lee has clung to lampposts in hurricanes, waded through the mud of the Asian tsunami, and been blown off his feet by suicide bombers in Iraq—but he’s held it together with gaffer’s tape. “I’ve used it to hang flashes, seal out light and dust from windows, tape up self-inflicted wounds, the list goes on.”
Tip: Know how to steer clear of trouble.
Why: If you’re a typical vacation traveler, chances are you want to fly away from storms and war zones, not toward them. But either way, you need to know where trouble lies—right now.
War Reporter Testimony: Countless foreign correspondents rely on Hot Spots, a free daily intelligence report issued by ASI Group’s Global Risk Management Services, to find good stories—or steer well clear of them. It keeps travelers advised of global threats such as terrorist attacks and disease outbreaks, but also of protest marches, strikes, and tropical storms.
Tip: Smile. Meet people.
Why: Guidebooks can’t substitute for meeting locals abroad. If you can make friends with one person, you’re in with all their friends. If it works on the Tajik-Afghan border, it will work for you.
War Reporter Testimony: Daria Vaisman has tracked a swine flu epidemic in Georgia, chased opium traders in Afghanistan, and toured an anthrax factory in a secret city in Kazakhstan—making new friends everywhere she went. “Follow the same rules as any pickup,” she advises. “Sit at a café. Walk around looking confused. Ask for directions. I’ve been taken to people’s villages this way, fed, and feted by their mothers.”
Tip: Wear the “magic cloak of innocence.”
Why: You know you’re not a spy. But do they? Play it safe in crowds and avoid drawing attention to yourself and unsuspecting trouble by following this easy rule.
War Reporter Testimony: Hugh Pope recently wrote Dining with al-Qaeda, a memoir of three decades covering the Middle East. “I know I’m not threatening, but in my line of work I have often had to meet people who assume otherwise. I have therefore learned to project a conviction of my own benevolence—open-eyed and forthright, not weakly ingratiating. I believe it has saved me many times, from navigating crowds to the night in Saudi Arabia when I had to talk an al-Qaeda missionary out of killing me.”