Category: Security

Is It Still Possible To Visit Socotra Island?

socotra dragon blood tree

The Socotra archipelago, particularly its main island, is one of the most neglected tourism destinations in the world. A big part of the reason, in addition to Socotra’s remote location in the Arabian Sea, is that it’s Yemeni territory. Despite being 380 kilometers (236 miles) off Yemen’s southern coast, visas, not to mention a precarious security situation on the mainland had kept most people away.

A frequent question I’m asked is whether or not it is still possible to visit Socotra, as Yemen’s civil war continues, bypassing the mainland altogether. The answer is technically yes; but you’re not going to like the details.

Flights To Socotra, Sounds Nice

I visited Socotra and the Yemeni mainland several months before war made it too dangerous for travel – obviously, a lot has changed since then. For a while, flights from Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates near Dubai on Felix Airways to Socotra’s capital Hadibu were infrequent, but flying occasionally. Those flights have stopped completely, despite the claims by a few tour operators in the UAE. I reached out to several of the tour operators in the UAE and Yemen, as well as some airlines who all floated the sentiment they were hopeful regular service would resume soon, despite there being no change for many months.

socotra island beach

Believe In Ferries

Some tour operators based out of the UAE sign people up to tours, claiming to arrange Socotra trips by ferry. Practically all are canceled, so be very weary before booking or giving money to any tour operator. All of the other options are fairly unofficial, such as traveler Johnny Ward coaxing his way on to a cement shipping boat, with a lot of local help.

“One whole week of phone calls, paperwork, cash, documents, visas etc. went by… to ensure my visa to Yemen wasn’t canceled… to ensure that immigration in Socotra would accept me via the cement boat.”

Clearly, not a travel plan possible, or desirable, by most of you.

Situation Determination

You really have to be persistent, determined, and adventurous to even attempt a trip to Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are substantial costs, not to mention risks, right now in doing so. Travel to Socotra is likely to be practically infeasible as the situation in mainland Yemen continues to deteriorate with more than 70% of the population – most of these peopleneeding humanitarian assistance.

Those of you still wondering why you might want to visit Yemen can take a look to what was and hopefully what may be again one day.

My Camera Was Stolen In Argentina 7 Years Ago, Now I Finally Have The Pictures

buenos aires casa rosada presidential palace

In 2010 I visited Argentina for the first time, taking countless photos of the tasty foods and scenic views of Buenos Aires. I left Argentina with all of those pictures but when I landed in Santiago, Chile, they were gone. Along with my camera. I wasn’t robbed in a dramatic way – no armed mugging or crafty pickpockets – but fell for a sly scam at the airport which taught me two important lessons for all the travels I’ve taken afterward.

Those pictures I missed because of a security mishap had been on my mind until finally, six years later, I returned to Buenos Aires to get those photographs. Here are some of those pictures, 6 years later, and the story, from six years prior.

Traveling back to a place after a long while is like visiting friends with children, you’re surprised by how much they’ve grown, but also how recognizable their characters have remained. Like looking at an iPhone 7 but not seeing a smartphone since the 4S, the contrast is more evident since you’re seeing two moments in time, not witnessing the evolution in between.

buenos aires colorful street

But cities often look back at you, showing it’s not just them, you’ve grown too.

buenos aires canal

Some tastes may have changed, you can like a place you once hated, and getting to know yourself better opens up more travel possibilities.

la boca art

These beans at Cumana were so good, even the small cockroach in the dish didn’t stop me from finishing the bowl.

cumana buenos aires

A second ride around town with La Bicicleta Naranja was as good, and recommendable, as the first time.

buenos aires la bicicleta naranja

Many touristic areas are popular for a reason, like the very photogenic La Boca neighborhood.

la boca selfie argentina

Although I don’t remember specifically, there was probably a guy doing just this the last time I visited La Bombonera, the Boca Juniors soccer team stadium.

la bombonera

I do though recall flipping through the photos on my camera at Ministro Pistarini International Airport in Buenos Aires, prior to checking in.

park lezama buenos aires

When I got to the check in counter of a small airline I won’t mention, I was told that all of the electronics in my carry-on would have to be put in checked luggage. It was going to be a short flight, so naively, I didn’t resist much.

buenos aires old man

After landing in Santiago, many of the electronics were gone, along with some clothes. It was apparent that someone had a short time to reach in and grab what they could. I’m convinced it was part of an organized routine happening between the check-in crew and bag handlers – mostly because of the insistence of checking the electronics – which was never actually required and the knowledge of exactly where in the bag to look.

plaza de mayo buenos aires

For a travel blogger not having pictures of a place limits how much I can share of a destination. They’re also memories which can be looked back on, gone. On the other hand, not having one can let you focus on what you can’t capture with a camera.

cumana buenos aires

The theft of my camera cultivated two habits I’ve done ever since, which I would recommend to any traveler:

  1. Backup Right Away – After a day of taking pictures or videos, when you’re back at your hotel, transfer the data over to a laptop. Doing so ensures you have copies of you photos in case something happens to your camera plus it lets you comfortably delete pictures from your SD card or phone, in case it fills up when you’re out and about. There are some automatic wireless backup options or you can go with an external hard drive if you don’t have space on your laptop. No laptop? No problem, the WD 2TB My Passport Pro has an SD card slot, USB ports, and is wireless too.
  2. Keep Your Valuables In Hand Luggage – Although it seems very obvious to me now, at the time I didn’t consider theft from checked bags to be a significant risk. (Or even a thing.) Theft from luggage is fairly common all over the world and it’s important to keep an eye on your stuff through security checks as well. With all this thievery going on, tracking your stuff digitally may be a good idea as well.

WD 2TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive  WD 2TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive

amazon buy from

In the end, not having the pictures from 6 years ago brought me back to a place that was both familiar as I remembered but not quite the same. Which had changed more, Buenos Aires, or me? I wasn’t quite sure I thought as I left town, adjusting my small carry-on backpack with camera securely tucked away – probably, a little of both.

How To Protect Your Phone And Privacy When Traveling Across International Borders

phone edinburgh

You are traveling in a world that’s getting smaller while at the same time carrying more information about yourself than at any time history. As international travel becomes easier, more and more travelers are confronting the legal reality that many rights you may have in a country don’t apply at the border. Earlier this year, Sidd Bikkannavar, an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (and a US citizen), was detained in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and his NASA-issue phone searched.

Such cases are more common than you may realize. In the United States in 2015, an estimated 4,444 phones were searched or seized at the border. It’s important to understand your digital rights as a traveler and protect your personal information from unwarranted searches and seizure.

What Are Your Rights At A Border?

Not all borders are the same but broadly speaking borders don’t have to be lines on a map either. Sea and airports are considered borders themselves, which is why you haven’t technically entered a country until you pass the immigration line. The United States Supreme Court, for example, has repeatedly ruled that the American 4th Amendment to the Constitution doesn’t quite apply at the border, even if you’re a U.S. citizen.

Your phone, all the social media accounts its logged into, photos, and other personal information can be searched, confiscated, or downloaded without probable cause in most countries. There are however, some measures you can take to protect yourself faster than you can say, “I have nothing to hide.”

Tactics From Simple To Drastic

First of all, know your rights depending on where you are going. Not bringing your phone with you is the first, most drastic option. Leaving your smartphone which serves as camera, GPS, fitness tracker, and more isn’t feasible for most people. Many companies (not to mention journalists and lawyers) whose employees travel with sensitive company information on their devices, opt for a less drastic maneuver. To protect their proprietary information, sources, etc. they back up their phones to a hard drive, cloud service, or somewhere else; then wipe their phones before traveling. Once they arrive at their destination, they simply restore their phones from the backups.

Other tactics include getting a “burner” phone, one you only use while traveling that’s not logged into your social media or email accounts. (Maybe a new Nokia 3310?) Obviously, you’re shifting your data elsewhere and inconveniencing yourself to varying degrees depending on how concerned about your privacy you are.

Digital Resistance Band

In many countries, it’s legally more difficult for border agents to compel you to give up a password, than a fingerprint. Some privacy advocacy groups recommend removing fingerprint unlocking capabilities from your phone; or turning the phone off so you can legally refuse to give up your passwords. (Be careful though, in Canada for example, this can get you charged with obstruction.) And in pretty much all cases, resisting is going to get you a lot of hassle.

Ultimately, this is an issue that will continue progress (or not) in the various legal systems around the world. In the meantime here’s how to boost the privacy of your iPhone, improve privacy settings on Android, and come up with your own personal travel security plan.

Is It Safe To Travel To Turkey? [Updated: Jan. 2017]

turkish airlines airplane wing

Around a year ago I originally wrote whether it was still safe to travel to Turkey, a question I get regularly in my inbox. A lot has changed over the past year – and not for the better – with more attacks, a coup attempt; many people have stopped bothering to ask altogether. It’s a dramatic shift in a country that was the 6th most visited in the world, back in 2015.

There are so many reasons to visit Turkey, from balloon rides over ancient volcanic rock formations, the impressive 1,480 year old Hagia Sophia, beautiful beaches, and of course all the food. Still, Turkey’s perception as a travel destination has changed, so has the reality.

Focused Fear

Most countries have rough parts, cities, and often those locations are far removed from the tourist experience. In other words, you have to look for trouble. In Turkey, a lot of the violence it faces from Kurdish terrorist groups, not to mention ISIS, was previously limited to the distant southeast. Recently, it has moved to Turkey’s travel capital, Istanbul.

istanbul from above

A goal of terrorism toward tourists is to invoke a disproportionate amount of fear from attacks designed to make you feel like, “I could have been there,” so that you decide not to go to the country at all. It is easy to dismiss one, even two attacks, but terrorism in places tourists are likely to frequent is no longer an anomaly. There are other unsettling events as well, coup attempts, assassinations, and arrests. Although the chance of something happening to any given person in a terror-related event are low, in Turkey, those events are becoming more common. Disruptions directly related to such events, Internet blackouts, flight delays or cancellations, or curfews, could potentially occur during your trip.

Istanbul, for now, might be a better plan for those who have a little bit of travel experience.

Experiencing The Numbers

A lot of experienced travelers will proclaim, “of course it’s safe, go!” Much like the crime in your own city never seems so bad, because you live the statistics. As you travel you begin to become familiar with what is normal in various regions around the world. You see the nuance. Turkey is a very large country. Multiple terror events, government upheavals, you realize, are very unlikely to affect you specifically. But it takes time for your experience to support what your logical mind can decipher based on numbers alone.

The Real Question

Yes, Turkey is safe. But you have to be prepared when you travel to Turkey, that something bad might happen during your stay there. Not to you specifically, but in a country where there were 16 attacks in 2016 – and maybe to a place you could have been. Internet access might be cut for a time, making it difficult when you need it most, to inform your loved ones you’re safe.

Millions of tourists a month are still visiting Turkey, having wonderful trips, and seeing a truly remarkable travel destination. The question isn’t whether Turkey is safe, but whether or not traveling there makes you comfortable. Everyone has a different level of risk acceptance, and in Istanbul particularly, the risks, although rare, might for the time being exceed your personal limit.

WiFox, The Map Of Current Airport Wireless Passwords Worldwide, Is Now Available On Android

wifox app

WiFox is a map of airport wifi and lounge passwords from around the world that’s updated in real-time with information verified from other travelers, pilots, and reliable sources. Last month I released WiFox for iOS, starting today it’s available for Android devices on Google Play.

wifox google play

How WiFox Works

WiFox is based on my popular map of wireless passwords from around the world, letting users around the world add password information from airports as they travel. Passwords are then verified and added to the map, which is updated in real-time when you have an Internet connection. All of the hotspots are shown on a Google map, which you can download for offline use, as well as in a searchable list view.

wifox android app

  • Hotspot Information Includes – Airport, location in the airport or lounge, network name, password, plus any other details that might help you get online (e.g. “sit next to gate 47 for the strongest signal”).

All of the information is verified before being approved to the map – plus you can submit password changes as you discover them. WiFox also has a simple feedback system that let’s you vouch for working passwords or let me know one might need updating.

Unlock Airport Time Restrictions

WiFox currently has the access information for over 80 airports worldwide. Additionally, WiFox shows you airports with free wireless so you can better plan a trip. Many free wifi connections in airport often have time limits, so not only does WiFox tell you what they are but it also has information showing you how to turn limited into unlimited Internet.

Available On Google Play Now

WiFox is available for Android on Google Play as well as Amazon for $1.99. There are no in-app purchases or ads and airport wireless updates are free, for life. As I have for the iOS version, I’ll keep adding new features to WiFox, hotspots, plus other updates regularly based on your reviews. My goal is to help you travel smarter and get online in airports you might not otherwise be able to (or in airports that want to email you a password – before they let you online, ugh).

wifox google play android     wifox ios app store    wifox app amazon
Feel free to let me know if you have any questions about WiFox in the comments below and if you’re happy with the app, I would appreciate your a 5-star reviews on Google Play!

How To Plan A Safe And Entertaining Trip To Tunisia

tunis port de france

Travelers thinking about Tunisia are often wondering if it’s safe to visit while others might not even know why they would want to visit in the first place. In between those two questions is Tunisia, the north African nation where the Arab Spring began, Luke Skywalker was born, and the Romans built one of the largest bath complexes in the ancient world.

Safety First

Although you might be enticed to travel to Tunisia, finding out if it’s safe to go at all probably comes first to mind. There have been a few high-profile terror attacks targeting tourists but consider nearly four times have been killed in Belgium, for example, over the past 18 months. In other words, attacks are about as rare as plane crashes.

tunis bardo musuem

Tunisia is an Arab Spring success story, the only one really, with strong institutions unifying the nation as it continues to develop.

Where To Stay, Starting In Tunis

Direct flights from a number of European cities, including Istanbul, to the Tunisian capital Tunis are plentiful. I suggest staying in the Medina, or Old City, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

tunis tunisia door

  • Dar Ya Hotel – Located in the white-walled medina, the Moorish architecture, excellent service, plus very reasonable rates make you feel you’re not quite paying enough for this accommodation.

It’s easiest to arrange a ride from Tunis–Carthage Airport with your hotel prior to your arrival, if possible. Taxis leaving the airport will tell you they have a fixed rate (that varies depending on your bargaining ability) although they should be using a meter. Before leaving the airport however, head to the bright red Ooredoo kiosk just beyond customs. You’ll be able to get a prepaid SIM card with plenty of talk time and Internet for around $15.

Tunis Sights To Seek Out

Start by wandering around the medina – if you do end up staying at Dar Ya Hotel, as you head toward the heart of market in the tiny square about a 2 minute walk from the hotel, look to the right for a white sign on the path. Between the hours of roughly 10am and 4pm, there’s a very small kitchen in the basement floor, where a single cook prepares Tunisian stuffed flat dough. (I’m unable to find the name from my rough Arabic translation.) The greasy snack is closest to a mix between Turkish borek and gozleme.

tunisian food

  • Best Places To Spend Time In The MedinaEl Abed for excellent grilled lamb, and Mhirsi Cafe Alta, a local coffee spot with plenty of shisha plus people watching. It’s also worth noting that shop owners in the medina are very laid back (compared to those in Marrakesh, for example) so you can stroll with hardly any hassle.

A lot of Tunis’ major touristic attractions are within walking or metro distance, in fact, you’ll probably not need a taxi at all in town. Architecture enthusiasts don’t miss Zitouna Mosque (hidden in the medina) and Cathedral of Saint Vincent de Paul.

zitouna mosque tunis

Day Trip To Carthage

Home to one of the biggest Roman bath sites ever built (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) Carthage is a 45 minute train ride from Tunis. You’ll take the first station of the Metro Leger de Tunis (TGM), a 15 minute walk from the medina. Head toward the Clock Tower and keep going until you hit water. Trains are frequent – usually once or twice an hour – and tickets are less than a few dollars for first class; an upgrade worth paying for. The stop most convenient for travelers is Carthage-Hannibal.

tunis clock tower

Carthage is a walking city, there are Phoenician and Roman ruins spread everywhere. From the train station, walk up the conspicuous hill away from the water and follow the signs to see the Roman Amphitheater. There are some other Roman sites from there (i.e. the villas) most will probably find dull. Instead, trace your steps back to the train station, then follow the signs to the Roman baths. Exploration of lovely coastal views, optional, free, and irresistible.

roman baths tunisia carthage

Food is rather scarce in Carthage around these sites so pack some snacks or see if you can find Pizza Phone. Forgive them for a poor choice in name that does not at all describe they quality or variety of their menu.

  • Roman Coins Trick – You’ll have people coming up to you offering to sell Roman coins. They may be real but the prices aren’t realistic; avoid them and instead purchase from one of the authorized gift shops if you really want a Roman coin.

tunisia mediterranian coast

Oasis In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Even if the some of the Star Wars movie set locations weren’t near Tozeur, it would still be worth visiting the city built on the edge of a desert oasis. You can rent a bike or ATV (nearly all hotels in the small town offer this) and ride around in the vast palm trees for hours. Try to get to the outer edge on the fast side to see right where the oasis hits the desert for interesting photo opportunities.

tozeur oasis

sunset mos espa tunisia

Tozeur is a small town so you end up relying on your hotel to make arrangements more than you would a sizeable city. The Residence Tozeur Almadina‘s owner Tayeb is a big help, not to mention the hotel is a nice place to stay too. He’ll also be able to make recommendations for other parts of Tunisia plus put you in touch with local establishments that might be on your travel path.

tozeur tunisia

  • Best Ways To Get To Tozeur – Budget travelers who like the long road, there’s train from Tunis to Tozeur. It takes roughly 8 hours and you’ll probably be sharing your seat with a few cockroaches. The views are impressive though; however if insects aren’t your thing, budget Tunisian airlines fly from Tunis to Tozeur, a 40 minute flight.

Still Asking About Safety?

I’ve not mentioned it much because in terms of personal safety, Tunisia is very accessible to foreign travelers. Tourists who blend in reasonably and practice good travel security common sense should be able to avoid the most routine threat: pick-pocketing. Many though won’t be convinced, keeping prices low for travelers who do decide to visit Tunisia in the near future.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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