Avoiding Kidnap and Surviving Mum: Lloyd Figgins
"I found the lion – which then tried to attack me."
Written by international security expert Lloyd Figgins, using his experience of having worked in over 80 countries, ‘The Travel Survival Guide’ is a unique new travel book and essential reading for anyone planning an overseas trip, whether on business, as a tourist or gap-year traveller.
We spoke to Lloyd to find out more…
You’ve travelled extensively – what’s the scariest place you’ve been to?
Well, when we talk about scary places, it’s always time-relevant. The time I was in Columbia, for example, there was a civil war going on. Thankfully, now, that civil war is finished and Columbia is seeing lots of travellers going there – and apparently they’re having a good time. But when I was there it was an exceptionally dangerous place. A friend and I came face-to-face with armed militia in the jungle, and I’m under no doubt whatsoever that they had made the decision to kidnap us.
But, interestingly, by getting to know them, talking to them round the fire (drinking some of the most awful rum I’d ever had in my life), we actually turned them. We started getting information about them and their struggles, and about what the situation in Columbia was like at the time. After a few hours of this they actually faded back into the jungle and didn’t take us with them. I’m absolutely convinced now, because I work with experts in kidnapping, that the reason they didn’t take us was because we humanised ourselves to them, and they saw us as human beings rather than some sort of commodity they could trade.
You’re a former police officer and soldier – which one of those jobs was hardest?
Both have their own challenges. With both, you sign up to risk, to danger – so you shouldn’t be too surprised when adversity comes your way. The great thing about both organisations is that they train you to such a high level that you’re capable of dealing with pretty much anything. For me, the grounding in risk management – from the police and the military – is what’s allowed me to do some of the more adventurous things I’ve done since leaving government service.
It’s one thing to know the ins and outs of survival, but it’s quite another to teach them to others, as you do in your public speaking. How did you get good at imparting your wisdom?
Well, travel safety is a pretty dry subject. You have to intersperse it with personal anecdotes and talk about some of the humorous things that have happened – that could have gone wrong but didn’t go wrong (that event in Columbia I mentioned was one of those). But it’s really important that you don’t just talk about things that your audience are never going to experience, but also about the things we experience in everyday life. What aircraft are you going to get on, and which seat are you going to choose on that aircraft? Those small things can make a huge difference to your survivability if something goes wrong.
How was writing ‘The Travel Survival Guide’?
It was a phenomenal project, I loved working on it. It gave me an opportunity to share some of the stories that I often share around the campfire, but also to share the safety tips – whether that’s aircraft safety or how to avoid a terrorist attack. One of the funnier things was when I gave a copy to my mum, and she read it and didn’t realise I’d done half of the things in it; she got pretty angry with me because I hadn’t told her where I was going and what I was doing.
You’ve got to learn how to survive your mum, haven’t you?
Is it not the case that, for your average person, you can read, prepare, and know what to do in an emergency – but when something actually happens, you just panic and don’t apply any of it?
If you read [about survival], what happens is – and psychologists have proved this time and time again – it goes into your mindset. If you start adopting that mindset in more or less everything you do, and have that situational awareness, and are always asking that question – “If something were to happen, what would I do?” – it just becomes a way of life.
Have you got any other projects?
We’re looking at another book coming out in about a year’s time, and that will look at the more advanced travel safety techniques you can employ, and will cover some of my more extreme adventures. It will cover some of the things I did in places that you definitely wouldn’t go to on holiday. It will show people that the methodologies used when operating in remote and hostile areas can also be used for their own individual travel.
Can you give us any teasers as to which anecdotes will be included in that book?
There’s the time I had to evacuate a high net worth individual from a coup in Madagascar. And there’s the time I investigated a lion attack in Kenya and found the lion – which then tried to attack me.
What did you do when the lion went for you?
I stayed very firmly in my vehicle. It’s a good story and one of my favourite anecdotes, because there’s a nice twist to the tale – no pun intended.
‘The Travel Survival Guide’ publishes 5 April. pavilionbooks.com
Related Articles: Greenland: In Search of the Narwhal