How to manage travel during a lockdown
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
What do you do if you find yourself in the middle of a curfew, and yet you are outdoors or you have to move, to obtain food or other supplies, to attend meetings, or to leave the region or country you are in?
Curfews usually take place during civil conflict, but now they are widespread with the spread of dangerous disease. Sometimes it is inevitable that a traveller must defy a curfew. But how does he or she do that while staying safe?
Curfews are typically enforced by two sorts of people: regular police, who will stand at the intersections of main roads; and informal vigilantes or militias. This latter group will station themselves near valuable assets, hoping to interact with wealthy people. Their goal may either be property protection (if paid) or extortion using violence (if unpaid) or both. These things may also be true of the official Police.
Beware of local intelligence. This runs contrary to the usual rules of remaining safe in an alien environment. But during a curfew, remember that the vast majority of people are not going outside and therefore their views or experiences of safe movement during curfews may not be first-hand. By all means listen to local intelligence, but test it thoroughly before relying upon it.
Ideally, use public transport and dress indistinguishably from other users. If there is none, use a trusted taxi driver and agree a cover story with him. If it's not safe, he won't go. Do not use a taxi driver you don't know; the variety of catastrophic situations that may arise as a result of doing so are virtually unlimited. Most likely, you will be on foot. Do not drive yourself. The odds of being stopped when driving a vehicle in a curfew are extremely high; and if the authority figure has a different idea from you of what it means to stop promptly, you may be shot at. Driving yourself, you will be lucky if you are just permanently separated from your car.
Irrespective of your mode of transport you need a map, not larger than A4, preferably laminated, that can be folded and put away if an authority figure approaches you (unless you think that playing the foolish tourist is plausible - more realistic in Bangkok than Al-Raqqa). Plan your route, using backstreets - but never far from main roads - and avoiding places where authority figures may be congregating. Be prepared for violent assault, or at least intimidation, by the indigent or idle criminals. These groups can be anywhere, and are more likely to be aggressive in back streets than in main ones. Depending upon the nature of your mission, decide whether gangs or authority figures are more likely to be a danger, and weigh the risks.
Consider what weapons you can carry that may have a deterrent effect against casual threats of violence from the indigent. Typically a display of mild force is all that is necessary to move those people on; and if you pick your route carefully they are likely to be 90% of your problems. Beware of carrying illegal weapons, although provided you do not have a threatening demeanour (warning: people with substantial military or law enforcement training often do have a threatening demeanour that their training makes it impossible to shake off) you are unlikely to be searched if you are caught out in a curfew. More likely results are a quick beating; payment of a bribe; or simply being sent home. Stay cool in interactions with all authority figures. They react more viscerally to people who act erratically or who appear nervous.
Ensure you have good mobile telephone service: both regular calls (to the Police or friends, stored to dial easily in your telephone) and data connectivity (so if you get lost, you can slip into a nook or cranny and use the internet to find out where you are).
Avoid travelling in groups of more than two. Any group larger than this is inherently suspicious. Travel alone if at all possible. In a group of two, one of you may wish to look sick or injured; going to hospital is the best pretext there can be for breaking a curfew. Be sure you know the name of the hospital you are (not) going to and a plausible reason why you are not taking the most direct route. If there is a group of more than two that needs to travel, move alone at agreed intervals and with way-posts such that each person in the team can see the other.
Finally, make sure that when you reach your destination it is open and whatever you want from that destination will be available. There is nothing worse than defying a curfew to find a shuttered building where you thought there would be a place of refuge. Plan your retreat or further moves in the event that this occurs.