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Self-Defense Skills for Every Traveler

Vulnerability is part of travel. Exploring new places means pushing personal boundaries, and the most successful travelers balance that spirit of adventure with a sense of personal safety. Part of staying safe is paying attention to your surroundings and the people around you, but it also has to do with you—how you carry yourself, speak, and, if the situation requires it, fight back.

For expert advice about self-defense while traveling, I teamed up with IMPACT Bay Area, an organization that teaches personal safety and self-defense skills. IMPACT is known for its padded mock-assailant instructors, an unusual feature that allows students to learn to fight through the “freeze response” that often happens in an attack and to experience what it feels like to fight full-force. IMPACT has been training people of all ages, body types, and fitness levels to defend themselves for nearly three decades.

Since reading about these techniques is not half as effective as watching them, we’ve included two short videos so you can watch common scenarios play out and see some of the best ways to respond.

Non-Physical Self-Defense Techniques

In travel (and in life), your best self-defense skills are using your intuition, being aware of your surroundings, using good body language, and using a strong voice. In the following segment, executive director Lisa Scheff and IMPACT instructors Amanda Wagner and Rudy Trejo demonstrate ways to set physical boundaries, establish verbal boundaries, and use your voice as a self-defense tool.

Physical Self-Defense Techniques

Ideally, you’ll never find yourself in a situation that escalates to a physical confrontation. But if it does, there are a few basic physical techniques you can use. The following video demonstrates the heel-palm and knee-to-groin techniques. If you want to try these at home, practice in the air and go all out so your body gets used to the amount of energy you’d use in a real confrontation. And be sure to practice using your voice with every strike. It increases the power of your strikes and helps manage your adrenaline.

These are just a few of the many ways you can keep yourself safe while traveling. If you’re interested in learning more, take a class. There are other organizations teaching IMPACT self-defense around the U.S. as well as other types of self-defense courses. When you’re considering any class, make sure it teaches verbal de-escalation skills in addition to physical skills, helps you learn to work with adrenaline, and doesn’t rely on a fear-based curriculum.

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