Review

Travel Wise
How to Be Safe, Savvy and Secure Abroad

by Ray Leki (Nepal 1979–81; staff: Nepal 1988–90, Pakistan 1990)
Intercultural Press
June 2008
224 pages
$22.95

Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965–67)

    EARLY IN Travel Wise, Ray Leki’s astute guide to navigating the increasing complexities of international travel, he quotes advice he received from the American Embassy when he was a Volunteer in Nepal, counsel that would rank high on any list of the worst advice ever offered to a PCV. It was 1980, Russia had just invaded Afghanistan, fifty diplomats were being held hostage in Iran, and political instability in Nepal inspired our embassy to send Leki, a PCV in the far northeastern corner of Nepal, “a helpful note” that should things get rough he “should consider ‘walking due north into China (Tibet) and requesting political protection from the nearest border security personnel.’” Even at 23 Leki knew that trying to cross Himalayan passes above 17,000 feet on foot “and then stumbling into some . . . Chinese border guards and asking for help in his non-existent Mandarin” was not reasonable or safe. However, the memo did motivate him take stock of his situation and he realized that his biggest resource was “the loyalty and affection of [the] remarkable group of people living” in his village. They would protect him.
         That “helpful note” and his experience with Peace Corps training ignited an interest and career in cross-cultural training and preparation and ultimately in this highly practical book subtitled “How to Be Save, Savvy, and Secure Abroad.”
         Taking stock is key to Levi’s method. In Chapter 2 he provides a helpful inventory that guides the traveler in asking the right questions, focusing both on one’s own personal characteristics and comfort level with risk and also evaluating the destination in terms of potential hazards. This risk assessment process is the heart of the book. Subsequent chapters deconstruct each aspect of the assessment: personal and interpersonal skills, cross-cultural skills, crisis management, site-specific assessment, even motivation. The penultimate chapter “Organizational Security” is particularly valuable for the international business traveler. Levi provides an excellent model for analyzing the organization’s goals and mission abroad as well as highlighting potential threats or impediments. The final chapter presents two real-life situations and four case studies which amplify the effectiveness of his method.
         The Travel Wise Personal Inventory is useful to anybody traveling abroad and the book as a whole would be especially effective in a corporate training program to prepare employees with a diverse range of travel experiences to work and travel abroad. Through years of experience as a trainer himself Levy has developed a functional system for evaluating risk, potential problems and increasing the comfort and effectiveness of the international traveler. No organization informed by Travel Wise would advise employees to scale the Himalayas should things get dicey at their work site!
         Reading as an RPCV who has frequently traveled in remote areas including returning to my country of service, I felt that his explication of the inventory and potential hazards a bit too obvious. He is correct that things have changed in the intervening years, but one of the gifts of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is that you develop good instincts about your own comfort level and know to expect the unexpected. The best application for this very practical book is for the first-time traveler and the traveler or organization doing business abroad. Levi’s Travel Wise Model is clear, systematic, and hits all the right notes.

    Kathleen Coskran is a writer and teacher. Her collection of short stories, The High Price of Everything, won a Minnesota Book Award as did Tanzania on Tuesday: Writing by American Women Abroad which she co-edited. She is the recipient of numerous artists' fellowships and residencies including an NEA Fellowship, a Bush Artist's Fellowship, and two grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Since her retirement as head of Lake Country School, a large, nationally known Montessori school that serves children through age 15, she and her husband Chuck, (Ethiopia 1965-67, Kenya staff, 1968-70) walked the thousand-mile pilgrimage from Le Puy en Velay, France, to Santiago, Spain and the following year taught at Zhejiang College of Media and Communications in Hangzhou, China. In May of 2008 she traveled to Nepal to work in a children’s home and develop curriculum for Volunteer Service in Nepal (VSN).