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EXPAT SURVIVAL: How to “Arm-Up” When Traveling in the 3rd World

When traveling in the 3rd world one of your only weapon options may be an edged weapon – hopefully it will work out better for you than it did for this guy

Disclaimer: The following article is for academic and entertainment uses only – do not follow the information below.

Over the past 10 years I have spent about 90% of my time outside of the U.S. ether for work, traveling to a gig or just exploring. Most of the countries I visit or pass through are relatively safe outside of random crime or getting hit by a taxi.

But many times I am traveling in countries that have a small minority who dislikes westerners – dislikes as in: “hates my guts and would love to kidnap and kill me over the internet” dislike. In most of these countries I am passing through on my way to a gig so I am only carrying what is allowed in a carry-on bag so flying with any type of “weapon” is not even an option.

Even when I am staying somewhere long enough where I can grab my checked luggage I don’t like to pack knives, impact weapons or anything resembling military or police equipment because it can draw unwanted attention when going through customs (I once spent 2 hours in Kuwait arguing with customs over a Ka-Bar in my checked luggage).

Not to mention I don’t want an expensive knife or flashlight “borrowed” from my bag (ask anyone who has flown through Amman about missing knives, lights and GPS’s).

So my only other option is to locally source “defensive tools” from whatever semi-legitimate store, souk or even the grocery store.

Some of the main things I consider when looking for these items are:

– They are legal to purchase in the open, even if they may not be technically legal to own in that country but stores still sell them openly (sort of like brass knuckles at flea markets in the US).

So if I get caught carrying one the worst thing that would happen is the cop would just take it, shake me down for some bread or I would have to go downtown and pay a fine.  Also if I bought it at a store or market I could show the receipt and play the dumb tourist.

– I do not have to buy the item from my taxi drivers’ cousin in an alley behind a shawarma stand. Basically anything that is straight-up illegal to own (like firearms) and if you got caught with one you would end up spending 4 years getting man-raped in a shitty 3rd world prison is not considered.

– It has to be cheap, like under 50 bucks cheap because I will have to toss it in a garbage can on the way back to the airport.

– These items would not fall under the category of “Improvised weapons” like bug spray or water bottle filled with sand. They would be actual weapons.

“Weapons” that I have easily found in just about every country I have been to:


Just head down to any outdoor market in the 3rd world and you will find stores and stands filled with folding tactical looking knives (many are copies of name brand knives) for under 30 bucks. You can also ask your taxi driver to take you to a store or area that sells folding knives. Another alternative is going to the grocery store and buying some steak or kitchen knives.

The last time I was in Turkey I wanted to walk around and see the local markets (the ones the tourists don’t go to) at night so I bought a big ass butcher knife and then just carried it around with me in the shopping bag from the store along with the receipt.

I have one friend that goes to Latin America on 2 day trips business trips where he only brings a carry-on bag who always buys a machete and keeps it in his hotel room (which is a clever idea or serial killer behavior, I haven’t decided yet).

Impact Weapons

Just like knives you can find cheap fake ASP style expanding batons and Kubotan key chains at local markets and stores, depending where you are you may find other impact weapons like brass knuckles.

One of the oddest impact weapons I keep seeing in grocery stores in the Middle East are Nunchucks, usually right beside the mops.

Chemical Weapons

I have been able to buy pepper or SC spray in the Middle East, but not many times, if you are in Southeast Asia you can usually find chemical sprays easier.


Over the past 4 or so years I have been seeing a lot of tactical style lights (mostly cheap surefire knock-offs) in the 3rd world. Some are pretty cool and have strike bezels on the heads or tail-cap that seem tough enough to take a pounding without falling apart.

You can also get a cheap 3 or 4 D cell aluminum flashlight that makes for a great club (ask any old school cop).

Stun Guns

You see these for sale in night markets in just about every city in Southeast Asia and occasionally in the Middle East (but rarely). I am not really convinced that handheld stun guns are worth a shit at all as a defensive or offensive weapon.

Back a number of years ago all of the guys on my team (contractors) bought 100K volt stun guns for the single purpose of zapping each other because it is funny. While being zapped you can’t move for the first second but after you can pull away and be pretty much fully recovered.

So after being zapped like 90 times I have to say they really don’t incapacitate people unless you can constantly hold the zap on them = Useless.

In Conclusion…

The weapons in this article are the most likely ones you will find in the 3rd and developing world outside of buying an AK-47 in a back alley. I have seen other things like slingshots, ninja swords, PR-24 batons, bows and arrows and spear-guns but they are not practical to carry around.

For any of you thinking about buying or carrying any of the above weapons in this article please think again and decide if the risk of getting shook down for every penny in your pocket or jailed is really worth it.

Unless you have a specific threat that you are concerned about due to your occupation or physical appearance then you are better off spending that 50 bucks on a local guide that will keep you out of trouble.

It also goes without saying that if you do not know how to effectively fight with a knife, impact device or whatever other weapon you choose – you should not carry it.


~James G
Founder – Editor in Chief

James G is a Veteran Civilian Contractor who has worked in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for way too long; he has traveled to over 50 countries chasing fortune and glory. He spends his off time in Indonesia and Virginia getting drunk, shooting guns, writing poorly written articles and stun-gunning Bubba M. while he is driving


  1. Yea, I wish I had known that about Amman before going through there. They took everything. My gladius, a couple knives an asp and a GPS. Greedy basterds. I tend to travel with a Worden Travel wrench (impact karambit) or five. I like them, if you have trained with a karambit it is the same type of thing, works also as a pair of knucks, and you can use it for trapping and nerve strikes. And the great thing I have found is that most customs guys in any country can’t figure out what the hell it is. I usually tell them it is a wrench for golf shoes that I just keep in my luggage. And they are only 5 buck a pop, so losing one or bring a few in case customs guy wants one is no big deal.

    Also I would suggest, various climbing gear. I have several carabiners that I attach to my pack and hook to water bottles or whatever. They are an easy substitute for a pair of knucks and are fairly innocuous.

    Other than that, I have used a sturdy book, Cricket bat, and really your imagination is the limit. If you think you can use it, use it. And don’t forget paracord, learn how to make a monkey fist. Or a heavy leash with a sharpened key.

    Great info James. The local guide is a good idea. Also a couple hundred in your shoe isn’t bad either.

  2. few snap links and some 550 cord. or fishing line

  3. Hey james, What do you think of the newer “tactical” pens? Some are pretty decent, and some are pretty inexpensive. The only problem that I see is some of them come to a serious point. Might not make through customs but might if they are buried in with a bunch of other pens.

  4. The problem with Tactical Pens is they look like Tactical Pens

    And if anyone would know what a Tactical Pen is it would be a Customs guy or Cop (even in the 3rd world), plus if they didn’t know what one was all they would have to do is hold it to realize it was a weapon or “odd” = a 90 Dollar tactical Pen now owned by a customs guy or traffic cop in Istanbul.

    If you are going to go that far just buy a 10 dollar kitchen knife locally and carry it in a paper bag and save yourself the chance you loose a nice tac pen.

    ~James G

  5. James… Marcus Wynne said exactly the same thing on another website about 12 years ago… kitchen knife in a bag… you dudes are scary… same wavelengths…

    As for the tactical pens… You can find a good sturdy pen for the same application. I have a freebie from an investment bank and a very nice stainless Zippl ($18) that are as sturdy / robust as any of those $100+ “tacti-cool” pens.

    Most 3rd world countries i’ve been to you can buy a Spyderco knockoff at a street vendor for $2-$5 US. Even right in the airport.

    And don’t discount a generic wooden cane / walking stick.

  6. James and others I recently made something that is extremely sublime yet highly effective and its legal to fly with ( when placed in your carry on it looks like a comb in the xray machine because its a comb) I have sold many of these to some guys in 3 letter agencies, contractors, military and just normal people. It passes airport security, places like Disney world and any club you may want to enter etc etc. You can thrash a person with this comb, thin skin over bony areas are your best bet. I demonstrate this by cutting deep groves in plywood across the grain with no damage what so ever to the tines.

    .080×1″x4″ 6LA4V MIL-SPEC Titanium


    James I hope its allright to post this?

    • .
      It’s alright bro, but you have to give me one as a tax – lol

      Looks nice man, as does the rest of the stuff on your site, you are very talented

      Only one plug per article young man

      ~James G.

  7. Send me your address “Old man”

    • how do is send it ? don’t you have my e mail?

  8. +1 on the monkeys fist,if you tie it around something like a golf ball or small ball baring they are hard as nails and still light enough to be used as a key see a lot of the old timers running boats on the river with a small monkeys fist hanging out of their pocket or attached to their belt loop with keys and a clip. heres another hint use a good cotton rope and dip the monkey fist itself in some paint it gets even harder but wont weigh you down,,really can knock some teeth out with this thing.

  9. Best thing I’ve found are waiter’s (or sommeliers) tools. They have a corkscrew at one end, usually a nice large handle, and a 1-2.5″ knife blade at the other end. Available in a lot of places, and Oh, I was on my way to wedding where I’m giving a toast over (champagne, ouzo, whatever). Look for the “Waiter’s Tool”, or “Waiter’s Friend”, or variants thereof. I’ve seen them run 2-50 bucks USD.

  10. Amman, Jordan:

    That’s how they outfit their Customs guys’ Kit.

    They take them from Contractors or Army folks.

    You ‘lose’ a bag for 24 hours (more or less), when you get it back you are now missing your poncho liner, survival blankets, compass and ‘cut down’ VS-17 panel, tourniquets, 3 flashlights, with six ‘drive on’ rags and three blowout bandages ALSO missing. TRY and put in a Request for Reimbursement through the airline.

    [MWAH, ha, ha, Hah!] Sorry, lost my ex-military ‘bearings’ for a second…..

    [Qatar, too] Flight 103 or 102 on United or Delta airlines coming out of England or going to England. We used to brief everyone on our contract: “ONLY take what you are willing to LOSE!”

    MAIL it to your next duty station with a ‘Please Hold’ on the label.

    JUST my .000625 Iraqi Dinars

    Rich J.


  11. I do a lot of domestic traveling. I like pens and #2 pencils. If a prison gang can use a #2 pencil to shank someone and it be effective, so can I. My laptop case doubles as a shield might not stop a bullet, but there is nary an edged weapon that it cant block. Screw the company laptop inside too, if it come back with a “knife wound”, better it than me. I carry a small folder with me pretty much at all times except on the plane (I have come scarily close to using it on several occasions). Having said that most everywhere I go, I open up my garment bag and it has the little card that say it has been searched by your friendly neighborhood TSA Man. They (The TSA) “appropriate” things too. Like what you ask (or didnt)? Flashlights, tools, knives etc. I used to keep my knife in one of the cool zippered pockets of my garment bag. But now, I just chuck it in the bottom. Have not had one stolen since I’ve been doing that. Godspeed to all who travel cuz it sucks to not have your pillow. Boo fricken hoo. – M

  12. James, great article. I sum it up like this. Anything you can pick up is an impact weapon or and edged weapon, even a bullet is a hybrid going really, really fast. If I hit you with it and it cuts you then it is an edged weapon. If it don’t cut then it is an impact weapon.

    Those Sky Mall magazines on the planes are great, rolled up tight, with a few rubber bands around them.

    Spencer, those combs are bad ass bro. Well done Brother- George

  13. As far as Improvised Weapons go I could write a 500 page article about it, but I was trying to focus on “real” non-firearm weapons while traveling in the 3rd world. But when you want an edged weapon nothing beats an actual knife in your hand

    After I am done with my cheap knives I usually just give it to my taxi driver – so if you ever get stabbed by a taxi driver in Istanbul – my bad

    Thanks for the great comments guys

    ~James G

  14. I think the one thing that you all missed here.

    Everyone has it 24 hours, 7 days a week. (well most everyone).

    It’s your brain. Keep your eyes open, stay aware, make sure you know where the exits are, where you are and keep an eye on what’s going on around you.

    Also, as you’re walking along the road, stop under a tree and grab a decent 4 or 5 inch piece of branch, I’m sure you can find a ton of these out there just about anywhere. They make great kubaton’s.

    Water bottles (both full and empty) are great impact, pressure point weapons as well.

    But overall, I think the next best thing to having a weapon is your brain. Just my two cents worth.

    Good article James, thanks for the tips.

  15. By the way, a hooker works well as a guide and you will almost never get messed with (outside the US) if you have one showing you around. Generally they know the places to eat and not to eat as well as the areas to stay away from.
    Also, this is and old one but divide up your cash stash in at least four different wads and hide them in several places on (or in) your body. When getting shaken down by the local 3rd world cop, you can pull out one of your wads and tell him its all the money you have.
    Lastly, if it looks like a kidnapping is imminent, quickly shit your pants and rub it on all over your body. I don’t know if it works but it sounds pretty cool!

  16. No.
    It sounds like shit to me.

  17. I like the Black Cat keychain or Brutus the dog. I can put my keys on them and use them to punch a person. I will not trigger any metal detectors as they are a hard plastic. However, they are NOT allowed in checked luggage and must be carried only in carry-on. TSA will go nutty and relieve you of them if they are found in carry-on since they are a weapon similar to brass knuckles with the addition of two pointy ears that look very scary.

    I am unable to find a stun gun that plugs into the wall for a charge and has an internal voltage converter so all it needs is a power adapter. Do you know of one?

    I am trying to be prepared this time out. Last time I lived in Asia I was kidnapped twice, had a home invasion and was nearly sold to slave traders, but for my jumping from the car and being hit by oncoming traffic. I am trying to take steps to protect myself this time out. Suggestions????

  18. By the way, a hooker works well as a guide and you will almost never get messed with (outside the US) if you have one showing you around.Generally they know the places to eat and not to eat as well as the areas to stay away from.
    Also, this is and old one but divide up your cash stash in at least four different wads and hide them in several places on (or in) your body.When getting shaken down by the local 3rd world cop, you can pull out one of your wads and tell him its all the money you have.
    Lastly, if it looks like a kidnapping is imminent, quickly shit your pants and rub it on all over your body.I don’t know if it works but it sounds pretty cool!

    The kidnapping tip will not work. They will simply take you and clean you up….or not. No big deal. If you are worth a LOT of money? You think smell, dirtiness or shit will stop them? Hell no! They will take you anyway. It is after all their business. They are in the business of kidnapping foreigners and that person represents CASH to them! They are not about to allow cash to walk away. As a person who had two kidnapping attempts committed against them I can tell you this. ALL they cared about is that I stayed alive for them to make money off of me. That what their sole concern. Nothing else. I was damaged leaping from the car as I tried to escape, but so what? They came after me anyway. A car hit me and I was throw into the air. So what? I was still alive. The home invader leader instructed his crew, “Don’t let her near a window. I don’t want her jumping.” If I jumped that was money out the window. ALL they care about is MONEY! Shit doesn’t mean a thing to them. They do NOT care. You think a poor person will not want to put up with unpleasantness? Think again.

    Think about what their life is already like and how unpleasant it is without your money. Now think about how much they stand to gain by kidnapping you and ransoming you back or in my case selling me to the highest bidder as a sex slave. Females have it worse, much worse.

    It is PURE PROFIT to kidnap and ransom people or sell them to sex traffickers as a sex slave. Pure profit. It costs you $0 to obtain a human. You stand to gain a LOT of money when you sell them. Do you honestly think they will let you go? You are wrong. You are worth far too much money to ever be let go so easily. You underestimate your value to the kidnapper. Don’t make that mistake again. Your mistake can prove fatal.

  19. Thank you so much for this arlceti, it saved me time!

  20. Just pick up scissors

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