How to avoid being killed: a traveller's guide

If you plan to join a riot, carry a motorcycle helmet.

If you're kidnapped treat your captors with respect, being aggressive won't help you.

If you need to keep fingers and feet sterilised for a short period of time use condoms.

Author Rosie Garthwaite has picked up some handy hints over the years working as a journalist in the Middle East.

She's sharing them in her new book, How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone: The Essential Survival Guide for Dangerous Places.

"I made a lot of mistakes when I started at the age of 22. I not only put myself in danger, but put a lot of people around me in danger.

"What would happen is I would do something life-threatening and then go to a bar several weeks later and someone would say, `of course everyone knows that's a sure-fire way to get yourself killed'.

"How do you find out about this stuff? There is so much wisdom out there but there was no central repository for it."

Garthwaite, who began her career as a reporter for The Baghdad Bulletin, the first English-language newspaper in post-invasion Iraq, before becoming a freelance reporter for Reuters, The Times and the BBC, spoke to 150 people when writing the book.

"I interviewed NGOs (non-government organisations), doctors, journalists, security guards, a Somali pirate ... it was a group effort."

While the survival guide has some essential, potentially life-saving advice for those bound for a war zone, it's also relevant to the traveller preparing for an "easy" holiday.

And with the recent natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan, riots in Egypt, Thailand and Canada and the threat of terrorist attacks worldwide, the book could be relevant to just about anyone.

"I had friends on holiday in Syria and they got caught up in all the chaos that is happening now.

"Also other friends who were stuck in the (Japan) tsunami, so the book is rather relevant."

Garthwaite's forthright style makes even the more extreme chapters - coping with gunfire, bombings and missiles, feeding yourself under fire - an entertaining read.

A section on feeding yourself, for instance, has a diagram showing how to skin a wild animal and is accompanied by information such as: "Remove the testicles and scent glands. These are around the bum on cats and dogs and most small wild animals. Deer have them on their rear legs."

The section on sex says: "Flirting is fantastic, in all sorts of ways, not least for getting things you might not otherwise have had access to. It might even get you the occasional free drink. But it can also lead to problems ... it can shout `I am here for the taking' to the wrong sort of man."

Meanwhile, Garthwaite says one of the most important chapters is on trauma.

"This chapter sits in with the preparation chapter.

"If you make the right preparations you're going to be able to leave without it being too much of a heavy adjustment.

"It's all about being honest with your family and not hiding what you're doing.

"I know so many people who pretend to their family that everything is all right but that means you're putting up a barrier between yourself and your loved ones, who can be your greatest support."

Garthwaite, who is only 30, says she tries to follow her own advice but sometimes forgets.

"I got robbed in South Africa last year because I ignored my own advice.

"We had so much stuff in the car there was nowhere to put my handbag out of sight. Normally you should lock it in the boot because guys in South Africa will take any opportunity to smash and steal your stuff.

"I was just 50 metres from my car and these guys came past and smashed the window and took the handbag and it had everything in it - wallet, passport, the lot.

"My book was right and I was wrong."

How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone: The Essential Survival Guide for Dangerous Places by Rosie Garthwaite is published by Bloomsbury, RRP $25.