Travel protection: safety whistles, Swiss Army knives, and pepper spray

ASP's Palm Defender

When I first started traveling, a friend bought me a cheap three-dollar safety whistle from REI.  “For your protection,” she said. For years afterwards, I dutifully took it on trips, even though I never quite figured out how it would come in handy. But I knew that if I threw it away, I’d end up in a situation where that little safety whistle would mean the difference between life and death. And so that whistle traveled with me across many continents until, to my relief, it finally got lost, somewhere in the lava fields of Iceland.

There is something about travel, about entering the unfamiliar, that makes me want to pack protection.  While some unknowns (say, a plush hotel in a European capital) may be patently safe, the kind of quirky or offbeat unknowns that I gravitate towards generally come with risks.

I’ve always traveled with a Swiss army knife, and years ago a friend gave me a large pocket knife, the kind that opens with a flick of the wrist.  I had to use it for protection once—to frighten off a man who was following me on a hike in a remote part of Turkey—and I’ve kept it handy ever since.

Pepper spray is the newest addition to my personal protection kit.  I’ve been meaning to buy one of those keychain sprays for years, but wasn’t able to do so because I was living in Massachusetts, where you need a firearms license to legally purchase the stuff. But now that I’m no longer living in the state, I went on and purchased the highest-rated keychain pepper spray available: the “Palm Defender” made by ASP, a well known weapons manufacturing company.  It’s a sleek tube, with the weight and feel of a keychain flashlight. I hope to never have to use it, but as I plan my next trip—a two-week solo bicycle tour —I already feel safer.

What kind of protection do you take on the road?


Posted by | Comments (9)  | March 23, 2012
Category: General

9 Responses to “Travel protection: safety whistles, Swiss Army knives, and pepper spray”

  1. Anna Wexler Says:

    Sorry for the delay in response here!

    Regarding the knife, it has saved me once. I was trekking alone on the Lycian Way, in a remote part of a Turkey, and had a guy follow me through the forest for some time. About 30 minutes along the trail he started repeatedly demanding sex. I yelled, I blew my whistle, I waved my trekking sticks, I screamed, but we were in the middle of the forest, and no one could hear me — and he knew it. Nothing worked until I got out the knife and wielded it threateningly. I’ve had to brandish it another time as well, to ward off a suspicious-looking guy who refused to leave the tent where my friend and I were camped (this after pleasant requests, less-pleasant requests, yelling, screaming, and calls to the police). Thankfully, in ten years of travel, that’s been it–although there have been a few other occasions where I was glad that I was carrying a knife.

    @DEK, thanks for the language clarification. I’ve taken classes in self-defense and jiu jitsu for these very purposes, and and generally try to keep my wits about me. But personally I like having the knife, even if only to brandish it as a threat in certain situations.

    @Chris, I always check my bags.

    I should also clarify–and my mistake for not making this clear in the post above–that a large part of the motivation behind carrying pepper spray on a cycling trip is for use against dogs. On a previous solo cycling trip in Mexico I had some frightening encounters with extremely vicious ones. On that same trip I met a guy who had been cycling around the world for several years, and he couldn’t believe that I didn’t have pepper spray on me as protection against the dogs–he said that Mexico and Pakistan had some of the most vicious dogs that he had ever encountered.

    Obviously extreme caution is necessary when using pepper spray or a knife, and I should have underscored that a bit further. It’s certainly to be used only in emergency situations. But those situations, although rare, do come up–and it’s those times that I’m thankful I have more than a whistle.