Don’t fear the people but yourself
Having travelled half of the globe I do not fear much when on the road. People are usually way more welcoming in any part of the world than you would think after watching TV news focusing more on the extremes.
But there is a second side: yourself. Traveling on roads and shooting in destinations which are frequented rarely even by locals you might feel safer when being able to reach out for help if being inattentive and having an accident.
Leaving your travel plans somewhere is essential anyway if heading out, including clear instructions when to send out SAR searching for you. But when traveling alone also consider a SOS backup device.
There are several options in the market. Each with advantages, but to me still there is a clear winner.
Mobile Phone Apps
Unfortunately the mobile phone network in most countries is best developed in settlement areas and sometimes even has no coverage at all in very remote countryside. Sometimes you cannot make regular calls but still calls for emergency – that would be sufficient. But when even this option breaks down while traveling alone you will rely on yourself only in need of urgent help.
Therefore when planning an outdoor shoot alone in very remote areas without anybody expected to come along the same route for days or weeks check coverage of the local mobile networks. If you discover big white gaps of no coverage in your favored spots to be, consider a second backup. The Apps nonetheless can be a good additional tool!
An emergency beacon usually is a satellite based little device capable to send a SOS emergency call to SAR, often connected to the global GEOS emergency respond which then will inform local rescue teams to locate you. A GPS transmitter in the beacon should speed up the rescuer’s search. Most prominent producers are ACR, DeLorme, and Spot.
First issue: reliability of connecting to a satellite and getting the emergency call through depends on the beacon producer. The closer you travel to the poles the less some of the beacons work. So make sure to read into the details!
Second, in a third world country authorities are not organized as clearly as in developed countries. The official (standard) rescue chain might not be sufficient.
Third, some beacons have one button only – pure SOS function. In case you have a problem but do not need army, navy, and air force head out for search altogether then one button restricts you in properly scaling the rescue efforts to your needs. For this reason some beacons also have a messenger feature on top.
On the pro side are the arguments of cost and portability, since good devices are lightweight and pretty reasonably priced.
Mobile Satellite Phone
The probably safest option is a mobile satellite phone but by far the most expensive. Again, when traveling closer to the poles make sure to rely on a provider with good coverage otherwise your phone might be of no use. Major providers are Iridium, Thuraya, Inmarsat, Globalstar and ACeS.
A satellite phone not only enables you to reach out for help wherever you are but on top it enables you to scale the level of help you need. You can trigger a large scale rescue operation if needed or also you can simply call for someone because your car let you down in the middle of the desert. Make sure to have all kind of phone numbers with you, also local ones for direct contact.
My personal choice
An Iridium satellite phone is my personal choice. The phone wins over the beacon for the ability of scaling alarms while having global coverage. I do not want to pay a huge rescue operation if I need help but not this kind. Neither the SAR team nor my wallet will be happy in the end. Nor do I want to miss help just because hesitating to trigger the single doomsday-help-button. In the beacon range unfortunately there was not a single tool meeting two major tasks at the same time: full global reliability and scaling emergency calls.
Also the Iridium network is much more reliable for all the travels I do since it is a real global network. Instead of stationary satellites Iridium has dozens of satellites constantly circling the globe. The latest model (Iridium 9575 Extreme) also has an SOS button for calling any phone number you like as well as having an integrated GPS transmitter for speeding up the rescuer’s search.
Tipp: Always carry your rescue device connected to your body. In a car accident it can fly through the window, out of reach. Or when stumbling in the mountains and falling deep you might have just taken off your backpack a minute earlier. The only place a rescue device has to be is: attached to you.
Summary Rescue Chain Preparation:
- Develop a strategy for leaving your daily travel data and rescue plan
- Check sufficiency of the mobile network coverage at your destination
- In case needed look into a satellite-based emergency call solution
In the end don’t decide by the price but by your needs. If ever you happen to be in a life-threatening situation you will be very happy to have set up a working rescue chain, no matter the costs. If you plan such extreme trips just once, devices can be rented. If doing this more often purchasing pays off quickly.
In old days we did not need such modern things, where is the adventure gone, you might think. Well, the only ones telling us this level of personal security was not needed past centuries are the ones who never needed and survived. The others we cannot ask anymore.