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How to Survive a Kidnapping – Top 10 Tips

1. Make sure your wardrobe is up to it. If you happen to be nabbed in the Sahara, for example, think silk and linen to combat those sun-baked temperatures and impress your captors. Get the crumpled look going early on. Chances are you aren’t going to be changing your clothes much over the next few weeks anyway. As far as sensible footwear is concerned, I find carpincho loafers work well in North Africa. Crocodile loafers are likely to chafe with all that sand. A panama in the desert is a bit Little Englander. Go native with a pristine white shish, which can double up as scarf, handkerchief and sheet (see 2 below). Cold-weather kidnappings can pose more of a challenge sartorially. If you’re heading into freezing climes, pack some fur. It doesn’t hurt to cut a dash.

2. Don’t expect too much in the way of decent bed-linens. It’s unlikely your new hosts will be able to offer you vintage metis linen sheets, rinsed in lavender water, from Provence. Although this can be a cruel blow, lower your expectations and you may be pleasantly surprised. The damp quilt I had the good fortune to be lent during my recent, all too brief stay with the Touareg tribesmen of southern Libya did the job admirably. I took pleasure in the homemade patchwork and wayward stitching.

3. Be polite but firm. By all means suck up to your captors – but only up to a point. No one likes a toady. You don’t want to let the miserable people who have dared to capture you know that you are worth squillions – and therefore a stupendously large ransom. Nor, however, should you be so self-effacing that you come across as a feeble little nothingburger. They may just slit your throat and be done with it.

4. Travel light. Although I rarely like to be separated from my Globetrotter suitcase, life is a lot simpler if you don’t have too much on you when the hijackers jump into the road waving AK-47s in your face. They’re only going to steal it anyway.

5. Think about an escape. Initially I felt rather pathetic not taking my captors on, mowing them all down with a machine-gun and hightailing it back to Tripoli for a restorative cup of tea and apple-flavoured shisha. A growling Sir Wilfred Thesiger would surely disapprove of such inaction, I thought. Then I thought about it again. Sixteen armed young men with Kalashnikovs, who knew the desert like the back of their hands versus one Brit and his fortysomething Libyan friend, accompanied by wife and two-year-old son, who hadn’t got a clue where they were. The conclusion led to 6 below.

6. Enjoy the hospitality. Some people would pay extremely good money for an adventure like this. You’re getting all this for free. Soak it all in. Remember that unrepeatable sunset in the sand-dunes, that image of a crescent moon swinging into a star-filled sky. Join your new friends around the campfire, swap a few war stories and tell a few jokes to lighten the atmosphere. This could be your only kidnapping. Treat it as though it’s your last.

7. Ask your kidnappers if you can take notes – insist on it – and make sure you have a decent pen and writing paper to hand. A Moleskine notebook will do the trick. Fountain pens are preferable but will require a decent supply of ink that may not be forthcoming. Turn the whole thing into an extended interview. Think experience of a lifetime. Think life-enhancing adventure. Think book deal, talk shows and shameless publicity.

8. Get a good agent. See 7 above.

9. Learn some Horace. If you can reel off a few stanzas in Latin, you’ll bamboozle your captors and/or impress them beyond reason. Remember that lovely moment on 26 April, 1944 when the great warrior-writer Major Patrick Leigh Fermor kidnapped the German General Heinrich Kreipe on Crete. During the 18-day manhunt that followed, the general started murmuring his way through an ode by Horace. Paddy cut in and reeled off the remaining stanzas – in Latin. “We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.” Quite so.

10. Take a tip from Islam and come to terms with the fact that you are no longer master of your own destiny, if you ever were. It’s a liberating discovery. Your life is now in the hands of almighty Allah. He may let you off. He may not. You may be returned to your loved ones before you can say, “Call that a kidnapping? Is that it?” Equally, you may be for the cosh, in which case if you are male 72 doe-eyed virgins will soon be consoling you for your loss of life. It could be worse.

Justin Marozzi was briefly hosted by the Touareg in southern Libya. He is the author of South from Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara. His most recent book is The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus. He is writing a history of Baghdad for Penguin.; Follow him @justinmarozzi