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Photo: Abe Novy

10 tried and tested tips on not falling prey in places where other travelers have.
1. Don’t be drunk.

Large, flesh-eating predators on planet Earth have always had a natural instinct to sniff out sick, injured, and weak prey. Nocturnal human predators are no different — and there’s no weaker animal on the Serengeti of nightlife than a wasted foreigner.

This one’s obvious, but is also probably the most common slip.

2. Don’t look rich.

This one goes out to Brazil, where literally every horror story I’ve heard from friends (including one who survived a double gunshot wound in the stomach and the murder of his companion) starts with a display of wealth.

Don’t get me wrong — you can be doing nothing flashy and still get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, in Brazil or anywhere. But you dramatically increase your chances of getting robbed if you look like you might have a lot in your pockets or backpack…or if you’re driving a nice car.

You don’t have to strive to look destitute, but you should strive to look like you’re not carrying much on you at the moment.

3. The kids don’t play.

This rule applies in countries with serious income disparities (like Brazil or Kenya), and especially in urban areas.

Very few children — regardless of where in the world you are — will approach you with malicious intent, but poor kids in big cities are different. They may have been hardened early by the street life or acquired very bad role models (usually their accomplice). And in cities like Rio and Nairobi, they’re the most dangerous people on the street simply (and sadly) because they have very little to lose.

In Brazil, if a group of adolescent kids (for age, think Ciudad de Dios) approaches me at night, I feel it’s a scheme to pick my pocket, best case. Worst case, they’re either about to rob me with a gun or set me up for someone older to rob me with a gun. I cover my pockets, ignore them completely, and walk quickly to a well-lit and highly populated area as fast as I can.

If you stop in the shadows to try to figure out what they’re asking, you’re about to get got.

4. Watch the people watching you.

Ever seen a Discovery Channel lion spot an unsuspecting heard of gazelle through the tall grass? They get very low to the ground, put their ears back, and stare with intent.

Drug addicts are no different, and the majority of people who make bold robbery attempts — whether violent or not — are some sort of drug addict. The good news is addicts aren’t even close to as smooth as lions.

If you’re watching the people who are watching you, they’ll eventually break that stare at your video camera and make eye contact with you. It can be a pretty intense moment, but in the end, they’ll realize you’re not the low-hanging fruit they were hoping for.

Which brings me to the next rule…

5. Don’t be the low-hanging fruit; be the lion.

People who rob people are desperate. They’re willing to take risks, but they also calculate those risks because they know the stakes are high.

Suppose you’re walking around Madrid, carrying a DSLR camera that’s attracting a lot of attention. The minute the schemer shifts his gaze from your camera to your eyes, there’s an instant evaluation. Either you’re low-hanging fruit, or you’re not. If you’ve ignored rule #1, you’re already getting followed and it’s just a matter of time before they make their move.

If, on the other hand, you appear sober, aware, and confident, they’re probably going to pass and wait for something easier. Say you’re observing rule #3 and notice you’ve caught the attention of three kids on the sidewalk ahead of you. Look them right in the eye, make fists, puff out your chest, and confidently walk on by. If you know how to say “how it’s going” in their language, even better.

You never want anyone to look at you like the low-hanging fruit; you want them to look and think, “there’s a decent chance this one would be the wrong one to fuck with. I’ll just wait for the sicker, weaker, more injured tourist.”

6. Root for the home team.

I lived in San Telmo, Buenos Aires for 8 months in 2005. It was extremely safe and I never had a problem.

The barrio next door was La Boca, home to La Bombonera — a massive stadium where the beloved Boca Juniors fútbol club plays. To get the full effect of the Boca games, I’d sit in the “public section,” notorious for fights and in-stadium stabbings, beatings, and robberies.

I made sure never to bring a camera, wallet, watch, or anything else that made it seem like I had something of value on me. I also dressed in Boca colors. Sure, I had authentic love for Boca, but whatever my fan affiliation, you couldn’t have paid me to walk into that section wearing anything but home team gear.

7. Put expensive stuff where they won’t expect.

No, I’m not saying to keep your iPod under your nuts. This is about the stuff you can’t take out at night.

Most people who rob hotel rooms are freaked out — scared as hell they might get caught — and as a result, they’re usually in a huge hurry. Some are probably high. They run in with flashlights and take all the big bags and stuff near the outlets.

Don’t make it easy for them to find your most expensive, irreplaceable items. Store your laptop under a chair or bed when you go out at night. It’s not an FBI search…many rocks will be left unturned.

If you leave all your electronics on the desk, you’ll be left with nothing. If you stash them in random places, you’ll be short a few beach towels. Worth doing for peace of mind alone.

8. Listen to the locals.

I’ve never crossed over to “the wrong side of the tracks” and suddenly gotten robbed. But I have been walking between neighborhoods and been told sternly that it’s crazy to let my little sister keep her DSLR out to take pictures.

Locals can be overprotective (with kind intentions), but whenever someone sticks their neck out to explain that the street you just turned onto ain’t the best for tourists, rules #1-5 should be observed with increased diligence. And it’s usually a good idea to heed the advice.

9. Be smart about cabs.

The safest thing to do is call and order every cab you take, but when you’re out at a bar in a country where you don’t speak the language, finding someone to call you a cab isn’t always realistic.

The second best option is flagging down a cab that’s driving by. If you get in a cab that’s just been sitting there “lying in wait,” you’re increasing the chances of getting yourself into trouble.

The guys who offer you cabs inside the airport are always super shady, and it’s never smart to go with them. Always best to go straight to the professional and hopefully regulated “cab line” at any foreign (or domestic) airport.

Getting in unmarked cabs and cabs that have another dude in the passenger seat is also always a bad idea.

10. Recognize when a bad situation is developing and gtfo of there.

Not all crime is skillfully premeditated and executed — oftentimes it’s improvised.

Some local punks take note of the fact you’re alone or vulnerable and you have something they want. If you’re observing rule #4 and you see people talking about you and looking over at you, there’s no reason to hang out and see if it’s just your imagination.

Always err on the side of caution and get out of there fast as you can, preferably to a well-lit place with lots of people. Nine times out of ten they’ll realize the opportunity has passed and carry on with whatever they were doing before they noticed you.

Community Connection

What rules do you observe when traveling in ‘dangerous’ countries? Are they any different than what you do at home? Tell us in the comments.

Travel Safety

 

About The Author

Ross Borden

Ross Borden is one of the founding members of Matador. He has lived in Spain, Kenya, and Argentina and currently resides in his native San Francisco.

  • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

    Ross, these are sweet and practical tips. That’s such good advice about the low-hanging fruit. This is kind of a joke, but is applicable…when you’re hiking and come across a bear or cougar…you always want to be faster than the slowest runner ;)

    re #8…yes, from my experience, locals are usually overprotective and have a distorted perception of the danger in their own country. i think usually because they don’t travel it themselves but read about things in the papers/news. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to convince locals that their country is actually a lot safer than they think (e.g. Russia). But your advice should be heeded, and is related to #10, always err on the side of caution.

  • Jason Wire

    When I arrived in Gibraltar, everyone said “don’t hang out by the Chinese restaurants at night.” I passed on the word to my friends. The two that didn’t listen got mugged within a week.

    Also, one last piece of advice–and perhaps the most effective at deterring crime–don’t roam alone at night!

  • David Miller

    such solid advice. speaks to years of traveling in every kind of condition.

  • http://onceatraveler.com Turner

    I like the fruit and lion analogy. Sometimes all it takes is piercing eyes.

  • Matt

    Great advice. It always pays to be cautious where ever you are traveling and these are excellent tips. Thanks

  • http://abbiemood.com Abbie

    Definitely great tips. I travel solo a lot, and as a solo woman traveler, I’ve found that being aware and at least acting like you are confident goes a long way.

  • http://expatheather.com Heather

    Solid tips. I’ve found #9 especially important as a female traveler. It’s always good to have some sort of record of who you’ve gone off in a cab or other vehicle with. In Pakistan and India, it often costs a bit more to take a ‘radio cab’ (one that is part of a company and you call in for or you register for a train stations/airports), but the added safety is worth it.

    Like how ‘dangerous’ is in scare quotes, as sadly many entire countries labeled ‘dangerous’ get a bad rap for tourists/expats when it’s only specific areas of the country that have higher crime rates/greater risk.

  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

    #1 certainly bears repeating, and remarking that a light buzz is enough to do you in. Only trouble I’ve had while traveling came after 2 beers — that buzz kept me from following the other rules.

  • http://www.worldcurioustraveler.wordpress.com Mary R

    This is all great advice, especially #5.

    I know from my own experience, it’s important to be highly alert to your surroundings, especially if someone approaches in a friendly way perhaps to distract you while another pickpockets. This happened to me once and I turned and confronted the thief, who dropped my wallet. I think making eye contact and saying something shows that you can’t be taken off guard.

  • Robert Cooper

    What a wonderful article. You’ve generalized so many cities & countries in one post.
    The kids don’t play? All kids in Rio de Janeiro have been hardened early by the street life or acquired very bad role models? All kids, or just the favelas? What are you doing walking around favelas at night? Ciudad de Dios (or Cidade de Deus – since Brazilians speak Portuguese) is actually one of the safest favelas, or places in all of Rio de Janeiro. It’s one of the favelas that have been pacified. Heck, Obama was in Cidade de Deus this week (20th of March). Secondally, if you think someone is about to rob you – don’t put you’re hands over your pockets, you just made yourself obvious. Now they know your hiding/protecting something!
    9. Be smart about cabs. The second best option is flagging down a cab that’s driving by. That’s one of the most dangerous things you could do in a city such as Mexico City ( which still has one of the highest reports of taxi kidnappings) or even in Rio de Janeiro. Call a taxi. Any hotel can do it. Hostel. If you’re leaving a club, restaurant, or someplace at night, whatever you are leaving from can assist in calling a cab rank, or direct you to the nearest rank. Cusco I would take at night, many cities in Europe. But to generalize and suggest that a good option is flagging down any cab that’s driving by?! Is incredibly irresponsible! Much of this advice is very antiquated or irrelevant. Can’t compare apples to oranges. To generalize cities in this way, is incredibly disrespectful and small-minded. There is no such thing as a right or wrong culture – just different cultures.

    • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

      Hi Robert, as always, appreciate all points of view here, but I think you misquoted Ross. He didn’t say “All kids in Rio de Janeiro have been hardened early by the street life or acquired very bad role models.” What he did say is that the most dangerous people on the streets in Rio and Nairobi, as far as robberies go, are the kids. And he also said the poor kids may have been hardened by…

      Now, I guess it could be debatable if these poor kids in big cities are, in fact, the most dangerous people on the streets. But at least address the proper claim.

      Also, his reference to ciudad de dios was only mentioned to give an idea of the age of the kids. I didn’t read he was claiming it’s dangerous. As for the pockets thing, I’ll go out on a limb and assume he means to avoid getting pickpocketed, which is a pretty standard tactic anywhere in the world that has a high pickpocket risk (stick your hands in your pockets).

      And to end your comment with “there is no such thing as a right or wrong culture” implies that he was making a statement that there is a right or wrong culture. From what I read, I didn’t pick that up.

      I’m curious though, aside from the cab tip, what other tips here do you think are antiquated or irrelevant? And in what way(s)?

      • Robert Cooper

        Send me a DM. I’d be more than happy to send you a complete analysis of this post and the in-factual reporting. I’m not going to leave another huge comment here.

  • http://djiboutidan.blogspot.com Dan

    “there’s a decent chance this one would be the wrong one to fuck with”

    Those are words to to live by when traveling. i try to appear confident and unhappy so people will think “there’s a decent chance this one would be the wrong one to fuck with.” It keeps away salesmen, beggars, and would be thieves, most of the time.

    • Yuki

      Dan, that sounds like a terrible way to travel! Confident, yes, but unhappy-looking and borderline rude? Why travel at all then?

      Great article! I like the tip about looking confident and also saying “What’s up” in the local language/dialect. I think that’s a smart approach for those of us who don’t want to be douches, but who worry “nice = potential victim.” As a woman and coming from a culture where we prefer not to maintain extended eye contact, I find this idea very useful–thanks!

      • Robert Cooper

        I agree with you Yuki.
        Words to to live – “there’s a decent chance this one would be the wrong one to fuck with”??
        What a wonderful way to travel the world, experience new cultures, open you life to new realities.
        Yes, why do you even travel at all?
        I’m embarrassed to be a foreigner in some countries when some people behave this way as a tourist.

  • http://Caminochile.blogspot.com Coleen

    As a newcomer to traveling in slightly more dodgey areas, I had a couple of experiences that could have turned horrible within my first two weeks in Chile. In Santiago de Chile I had my purse snatched in a park. A man stood up for me and got it back, but not before both he and the purse snatcher had pulled out knives.

    The instinct to GTFO of a situation that could turn bad is something that I noticed a couple of my traveling companions seemed not to understand. We went out at night to find the source of some music, and ended up in a small plaza in Barrio Brasil, Satiago de Chile. Several people were either very drunk or obviously strung out, and a drug deal went down right behind us. I wanted to leave, but couldn’t force myself to walk alone at night in that neighborhood.

    My two companions were talking with the guys and drawing more and more attention to the three Gringos, when some of the men started to aggressively offer me and the other girl drinks. They were basically shoving the cups into our faces, and had obviously drugged them (they walked away and thought they were being secretive about it, but I saw the whole thing).

    A guy we had been talking to saw my utter discomfort and whispered to us, “It’s fine now, but I will tell you when something is about to go down.” ….And that’s my cue. I got up and said goodnight to everyone, saying I was tired. My companions seemed affronted that I wanted to leave, and slowly got up to follow. They accused me of over-reacting and being inhospitable.

    It is often hard to balance being nice to people and making new friends in a ‘dangerous’ country and allowing oneself to be taken advantage of. I prefer to err on the side of caution.

  • http://beatnomad.wordpress.com Jessie

    Seriously good advice, Ross, and well-written too. Up until this point, one of the most useful tips I ever heard about traveling in dodgy areas is “always make it look like you know what you’re doing there,” but I’m sure one of these 10 will be popping up alongside it at some point or another.

    Cheers!

  • http://toorudemag.blogspot.com Erin

    This is a great article. I was wondering if you could post more tips (or preferably, a full article on Matador) on how to specifically keep DSLR cameras safe in developing nations. I purchased a DSLR not only to document my local life, but I especially purchased it for travel shots of amazing landscapes and unique people. Thanks.

    toorudemag.blogspot.com

    • JT Norris

      Tip #1 carry it in something other than a camera bag. I use a old army surplus medic bag.

      • Erin

        My friend used an Altoids tin for his. He left it in his jacket pocket on the backs of random doors, and had cash and other items stolen, but never his “mints.”

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Good call, Erin. I’ve passed the idea on to the team.

    • http://www.thetravelchica.com Stephanie

      I am 5 months into my first long-term travel adventure through Latin America. And I got robbed my first day. I have learned that #1 is the most important thing. Since I’m staying in hostels, the younger “party travelers” think it’s weird that I don’t go out drinking with them and when I do go out with them, I don’t drink much. It’s just not worth the risks, especially as a woman traveling alone.

      I also try my best to never arrive in a new destination after dark, especially if traveling by bus. Since you are in a new location, you’re not sure which taxis you can trust. If I absolutely have to arrive at night, I research where I will stay and try to get a transfer from the bus station or at least explicit instructions from the hostel about how to get there and how much it should cost.

      I continue to struggle with my desire to take great photos and my desire to not have my DSLR stolen. Definitely keeping it in a different bag when carrying it is important, but then when you need to take it out to capture a photo, that’s when I struggle. The paranoia often makes me rush the photo or not concentrate enough on getting the right angle, the right settings, the right light.

      • http://www.andrisbjornson.com Andris

        I’ve been there with the struggle between having the camera out and protecting it. However, at the end of the day I think a good part of taking good pictures is the dedication to get your camera to the difficult spots it has to be to take them.

        Insure your gear, which can be done cheaply. The camera’s a tool…if it doesn’t get beat up, wet, and run the risk of being stolen it’s not doing it’s job. I try to always go home without regrets of missed shots. If I find myself walking past a photograph I know I’m going to wish I’d taken…I try to force myself to circle back and take it.

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström

      Hi Erin,

      Here’s a general piece on how to keep gadgets safe while traveling – http://matadornetwork.com/goods/how-to-keep-your-gadgets-safe/

      We probably need to write one specifically for concealing cameras.

  • Antoinette

    One little tip too-
    In SE Asia (and elsewhere, I’m sure) a very popular way to snatch things is via motorbike. I was incredibly careful and kept my bag strung across me, away from the road, but was the victim of a snatching that actually happened THROUGH the semi-open window of a cab in Hanoi. It was Halloween night, my companions were drunk, and I was using one of their iPhones to look up our hostel’s address. Someone came running by, stuck their hand in through the window, snatched it, took of running and immediately hopped onto the back of a waiting motorbike. Clearly, a set up.

    I’ll from now on always roll up the window all the way.

    While I was over there, I heard a harrowing story as well about a girl who was dragged to her death because a motorbike thief grabbed her bag and she couldn’t get out of it and he dragged her along into traffic where she was killed. Ok, this is turning into a huge downer, but people should really be aware of where they are walking, even in daylight and down the street.

    Cheers,
    Antoinette

  • JT Norris

    #11 Always look as though you live there.

    Even if I’m lost I maintain a confident pace that at least looks as though I know where I am going. When ever I need to refer to a map, I always duck into a store, never on the street.

    The added benefit I’ve had throughout my travels are the friendly store clerks that offer directions.

    • Barbara

      “#11 Always look as though you live there.”

      In my experience, this is very difficult for American people. I’m not American and I lived in different cities across the world, and locals could ALWAYS identify Americans because of their clothing. Especially the “official” US-tourist-outift: tucked-in t-shirt+cargo/khaki shorts/parts+birkenstock sandals (and sometimes even fanny packs!).

      In France, I’ve seen it lead to mocking and bad service. In Spain and South America, I’ve seen it lead to robbery. So, if you want to look like you live anywhere outside the US, I advise you to watch how the locals dress and try to blend in.

      • Mom/warning rambling!

        When my son went to Europe w/3 buddies for the summer after high school (this was 12 years ago!), they did the typical rail pass, youth hostels, camping, some hotels & just figuring options out on the way, as well as visiting some friends & relatives, he sewed a Canadian patch (maple leaf) on his back pack (only luggage was his back pack & sleeping bag & camping necessities)! My mother was from New Zealand so he could manage a bit of a “Canadianish” accent from being around that side of the family.

        My father was from Suomi Finland & my son looks like a typical Finn, but his Finnish language skills are about the level of a 5-year-old & hardly anyone speaks Finnish outside of Finns anyway!

        He also used a “money belt” that you strap w/velcro (light-weight fabric that is not bulky & is comfortable); it goes around your body to keep your passport & money & credit card & passes in.

        My daughter studied in Grenoble, France for a year during her junior year of college (about 14 years ago; yeah, I AM OLD!! 56-years old). She majored in French (& Econ) so when she & her husband spent a few weeks in Paris last year she helped “dress” her husband to look the part of a “local.” She always has dressed in a cosmopolitan & chic fashion (probably got it from the influence of my sister who was an international model; I was a hippie in Berkeley, Calif. & still don’t know how to put on make-up, much less fold a scarf in an attractive manner around my neck)!

        She also did all the speaking in Paris & they had a wonderful time. Her husband did say it took some “getting used to” to have his wife be the leader in everything (be the “boss”) as he couldn’t converse w/anyone, read signs or directions, etc. They did have a wonderful time & are going back again this year & will go to other areas as well.

        Several years ago my husband had an international conference at Foz do Iguazu, Brazil & I accompanied him. It was definitely “different” than a hotel in the U.S.A. The hotel was large enough to have the conference (several hundred participants & their spouses/guests) & provide breakfasts & lunches & have rooms for lectures & posters, but the quality was definitely 3rd-world.

        The ceiling in the bathroom was leaking water (I was hoping it was when the person in the room above was taking a shower rather than using the toilet); the “fitness equipment” in the glossy brochure sent out beforehand was a rusty swing set & an algae-filled pool; there was only ONE hair dryer for the whole hotel that you had to try to “check out” from the front desk… Good luck w/that!

        The walls around the hotel were like a prison compound. The walls were high & were topped w/broken bottles (jagged glass) glued to the top to prevent people from scaling the walls. There was a large grassy area & I ended up walking around the “compound”, circling it around over & over again walking close to the wall while my husband was in lectures & I wasn’t able to find someone to “go out with.” I did attend my husband’s lecture, but since this was a scientific conference most of the content of the lectures were way over my head.

        We (the women spouses/guests) were advised to go w/a “guide” when venturing very far from the hotel. 4 of us did hire a guide to take us into Paraguay. I speak medium-level Spanish so could understand the basic Portuguese, but the guide was very helpful in getting us across the border; told us how to hold our purses close to the front of our bodies as he assured us we would be jostled & robbed w/out our realizing it in a minute if not careful; helped us barter for goods & explain the really interesting tea “cups” made out of hollowed gourds w/”straws” w/intricate silver tips & silver stands to hold the gourd in. He also wrote the recipe for the tea for me. Every shop had rows of these tea-filled “cups” on the counter that the employees sipped all day long. It is an acquired taste!!

        Our van included women from 4 different countries, but we were able to “converse” in this manner: I spoke English (from U.S.A.); the woman from Germany spoke French & English (& German, of course); the woman from France spoke Spanish as a 2nd language; & the 4th woman was from Spain & spoke French, as well, & could understand the guide’s Portuguese & start the “telephone” from her to the lady from France to the German to lastly–me! I was thinking of that children’s game called “telephone” & wondering how close to the original I got as the last person in the chain.

        Sorry about the ramble here. Major problem of mine!!

  • http://www.hopenardini.com HKNunzio

    #3 reminded me of a girl who studied abroad in Chile and went jogging alone. A group of three adolescent boys ganged up on her but didn’t have any weapons. One of them jumped on her back while she kicked the other two in the crotch. The kid on her back got so scared, he peed on her and then they all ran away crying. It really happened!

  • john

    keep a knife handy and don’t be afraid to use it

    • Julie

      John,
      “you know what happens to people with knives don’t you?…..They get shot”

  • Ursa

    I carried Pepper Spray with me as well!

    In Leon Spain, I admit I was a stupid drunk study abroad but whenever the drugs were brought out I left AS FAST AS I COULD! The drugs and the mix of American students and locals weren’t the best and the drug use made all the drama increase so I got out of any club or disco right away. Also When in Morocco, I would give the advice of showing up during the day and not the night when I did!

  • http://www.beforeiam35.com Tobias

    Regarding #8. This only applies IN the stadium, i would like to add. Don’t flag you’re a fan in the city. In some places this can get you into a LOT of trouble.

  • http://www.thesiracusas.com Emanuele

    ‘Ciudad de dios’ is cidade de deus ;)

  • Matt Huntington

    Good advice, Ross! These are great rules to remember no matter where you are, traveling or at home, and I think you applied your past experiences well. Viva la Bombonera! And watch out for those cops on horseback…

  • Required

    For as much as I would like to feel offended, being brazilian as I am, I am not: this is a dangerous country to be a tourist. And, honestly, there ain’t much to be seen: people usually come here for all the wrong reasons (Brazil-party-y-yeah!) and therefore they usually had it coming – they fall on your first advice.

    An there is another danger, here: a picture like that, with the hand of a black child aiming a wallet, would probably get you in a lawsuit.

  • Walt

    When riding a subway in Prague, don’t stand near the doors. Pickpockets work the tourists standing there so they can make a quick exit.

  • Bystander

    There is always the element of luck in these situations and you should not be too hard on yourself if you do get robbed. All the tips are good, but if you had to choose just one of them then choose #1. Each drink you have is like a higher number on the Richter scale as far as risk goes. Don’t think that being with others makes it much safer either. If you have been drinking, get someone to phone for a taxi to get you back to your lodging.

    All I would add to the list is: if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your instincts. To keep your instincts sharp see #1.

  • Stephen

    I never carry more cash at night then I need to have a good evening.
    For keeping my cash safe in a room which doesn’t have a safe I carry a shampoo bottle which has been cut open on three sides thus making it “closeable” in the back, stash the cash there in a zip-lock bag and put the bottle in the bathroom together with my other toiletries. Not advisable in places with maid service.
    Make sure you have all credit card information – including emergency numbers – recorded in a safe place.

  • http://www.landcruising.nl Karin-Marijke

    Enjoyed the article, like the comparison with wildlife and weak prey.

    A lot comes down to using common sense and listening to your inner voice, isn’t it?

    The one time we got robbed – yep, Salvador da Bahia in Brazil – was the one time we didn’t listen to that inner voice that said, “Get out of here, now!” We didn’t – long story – and paid for it with an expensive camera [although not on display but in an inconspicuous bag, but still there was a bag to be robbed and the guy took it].

  • Raoul

    Good advice. But it can happen anywhere in the world. Once I had to catch an early train out of Gent Belgium. When the taxi dropped me off at the station there was a gang of young immigrant men who followed me in.
    Because I was aware of my surroundings, I turned toward the ticket windows rather than head for my isolated platform. The windows were closed, but I engaged in a short conversation with a rail employee coming my way. When I turned my head, the gang had disappeared.
    A close call, but because I was alert, I avoided being mugged.

  • http://parkrideflyusa.com/blog Sharon Hurley Hall

    One of my best buys ever was a beat up grey jacket with internal pockets where I could hide all my stuff. Combined with some old jeans, the effect was of someone not worth robbing – and I went to many crime ridden locations without incident!

  • http://www.mojavedesertexcursions.com kevin wong

    A Mexican “dicho” (saying): “No hay camino mas seguro que el que acabar de robar” – which translates: The safest road is the one that just got robbed.

  • http://kateanbrian.com Kate

    Excellent tips. I would add that I always keep at least a small amount of cash on me in a small pocket pinned into the waist of my clothing. If a bad situation develops and you can’t get out of it, at least you have something to hand over. On top of that I keep some money in my bra for cab/bus/whatever fare to get out Dodge in an emergency.

    I have crossed to the wrong side of the tracks and been robbed, trying to find my way out after a stern warning by exasperated locals to do precisely that. The perp was a kid in beach shorts and flip-flops (and, yes, it was in Brazil). Fortunately, I only lost a credit card, but it was a scary experience (and trying to cancel a credit card internationally is a major pain).

    Based upon this experience, I would add another tip: do your research, and know that in certain cities you should not venture off the beaten path (and don’t think that being in a group of two or even three will save you). If it’s tourist season, and there are no tourists around, there is usually a reason why.

  • http://skychitravels.blogspot.com Skychi

    It amazes me that women travel through airports and on planes with large fashiomable handbags that cost hundreds of dollars. That makes tje, a,ark for sure. I recommemd packing handbags in small carryon bags, a backpack, or a large camvas bag with a jacket on top. Ladies walking around with a purse is an advertisement of where your money is stored.

  • napier

    I travel with a roll of double-sided tape, and ziploc bags. I put my valuables in the and stick them under a shelf, or drawer where they won’t be seen by someone who’s in a hurry.

  • Sue

    My husband & a business colleague were recently robbed after an early dinner out in Barcelona while attending a business conference. Walking back to the hotel (2 blocks away) they were confronted by 2 men. One handed a leaflet to them to distract them & my husband felt instinctively that it was not good, but he didn’t want to be “rude” so he took the leaflet, as did the other fellow.

    It happened so fast that they hardly knew they had been robbed. Luckily, my husband did not carry his bulky wallet but was using a money belt. His colleague, unfortunately, had a passport holder that was bulky so the robbers quickly felt it while patting them down & got his passport. He had his credit card & money in a pocket, not a wallet so they didn’t feel it while doing their quick “pat down.” He was a native of India on a work permit for the U.S.A. so getting him a new passport was a hassle.

    I (at home in the U.S.A.) researched all the requirements (photo sizes differed, as well as what needed to be notarized) & emailed that info. w/all the forms to their hotel so they could set out the next day to get him a new passport having all the necessary documents already completed, photos taken, notarized items done, copy of police report, etc. as they needed to book a flight to get to the Embassy & try to do everything within 24 hours in order to catch their flight back to the States.

    Our 25-year-old son & his girlfriend were on an extended trip around South America & got robbed on a beach in Chile. EVERYTHING was taken as they had their passports, debit & credit cards on them & all their cash…

    So trying to wire money to someone by Western Union is difficult when that person has no I.D. I.D. is required for the person to receive the money transfer. We wired it to the woman employee at Western Union in Chile hoping she would hand it over to our son (1st attempt we had misspelled her name so it didn’t work & had to do it again). She thankfully did hand the money over to our son & we gave our credit card # to him so he & his girlfriend set out for Santiago on something like a 14-hour bus ride in order to get new passports.

    Surprisingly, they got the passports very quickly as they too had all their paperwork completed & had a copy of the police report &, apparently, it is such a common occurrence that they received their new passports within 8 hours.

    What was a little scary was the hotel in Santiago accepted our credit card # from him easily when they stayed the 1st night & neither had any I.D. & he just gave the # & our name. I had called our credit card company to authorize charges in Chile, Argentina, & other countries they would be visiting as I quickly canceled all their cards.

    Amazingly, we never had any charges that were fraudulent from South America on our card! We have a couple times in the U.S. had our card used illegally & have had to cancel it!

    Nowadays, I don’t think you need to be in a “bad” part of town to be a target (as in the case of my husband). With the economy the way it is people are getting more desperate everywhere.

    When we lived in San Francisco & had our house on the market, we put my husband’s antique rifle in the trunk of our car instead of having it in the house when people were coming in for showings. Well, sure enough our car was broken into in the parking garage while we were at the S.F. Ballet! It was in the trunk–not visible at all & the car was a Honda!! Not exactly “rich” looking.

  • http://www.travelofftheradar.com Tania

    Always try to take a direct bus (skip the local bus that makes random stops and picks up any person waving the bus down), if you have no other option – try to sit in the back of the bus where you are able to see people coming in and out of the bus – although if they have guns, that probably won’t change the situation much…

    Have your money ready to pay the cobrador (avoid taking money out of your wallet) and try to keep your passport and money hidden somewhere on you

    Had the joy of learning this in Honduras a few weeks ago…

  • http://lonelygirltravels.com Lauren Quinn

    Sadly, this sounds like all the same stuff I do at home in Oakland.

  • Critical

    Or, how about staying away from places that make you so paranoid? Travelling should be enjoyable, not an exercise in fear and risk avoidance.
    And regarding the title: I suppose one could argue that the colon has prevented the splitting of the infinitive, but it would be a weak argument. How about “How to: Avoid Being Robbed…”? It’s getting so people who are paid to write can’t even do it.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Hi Critical, I’ll let Chicago Manual of Style respond for me: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/CMS_FAQ/SplitInfinitives/SplitInfinitives01.html

      Highlight: “In this day and age, it seems, an injunction against splitting infinitives is one of those shibboleths whose only reason for survival is to give increased meaning to the lives of those who can both identify by name a discrete grammatical, syntactic, or orthographic entity and notice when that entity has been somehow besmirched.”

      • David Miller

        sweet quote / usage of ‘shibboleths’, hal.

        stoke.

    • Penn

      Yes, but that would mean staying away from the USA and I’d really like to visit there one day. 

  • http://www.expatkindle.com Expat Woman

    Yes, most surely you must act like you know where and what you are doing. It’s just a bit of acting but it’s important.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504154598 Sabrina Gledhill

    These are also good rules for living in dangerous countries!

  • dutchess550

    I traveled alone all the time but it was a long time ago, when the world was a different place. But, I never put myself in danger by cutting through dark alleys and I never stayed in hostels. Some iffy hotels, maybe. I drove myself through eastern and southern Africa which would be impossible to do safely now. And I never got sick in India, but I did in Egypt. 

  • Ola

    I only travel to Greek Islands… No crime (?)….

  • Wandering Through

    Good tips, particularly the one about noticing and catching the eye of the people watching you. My boyfriend is a Mexican federal police officer, and so I’ve traveled to the most dangerous parts of Mexico over the last few years. One night when the bf and I went to a taco stand, he told me that he had spotted some guys lurking about and watching us. He was sure they were either narcos or thieves. As we were leaving the place, the guys strolled a little ahead of us, then stopped by a wall to let us pass by. I walked directly over to the one who looked like the leader, looked him straight in the eye, smiled, and asked him the time. He was very obviously taken aback — sacado de onda, as they say in Spanish — as was my bf who nearly crapped his pants. But as we went on our way, those guys turned around and went back in the other direction. Were they up to no good? Who knows, but our instincts told us they were. 

  • Watching My Back

    On traveling with a backpack – after nearly having something stolen out of my backpack in Spain by a gypsy child, I learned to sling my backpack over one shoulder and keep it in front of me when I was admiring scenery or in a packed place. Also, when sitting, our group kept the straps of the backpack around our ankles, since the gypsies were rumored to just grab a bag and run. Anything valuable that’s at your back is a target. Including wallets.

  • Mikeaox

    Why a black hand in the picture, I wonder. 

    • NewEyes

      The point was a child’s hand i believe…..?

  • Ellen

    I have a huge DSLR and obviously want to take pictures of the places I go, but this seems like too much of an ostentatious display of wealth. What can I do?

    • Vinizan

      Forget the DSLR and use a discrete portable camera… is the best option. The second choice is hide it in your bagpack e use it only in safe places, but i still prefer the first choice.

  • BR

    I think the tip #5 can be very dangerous specially in my country, Brazil. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person you’re staring at beging to walk to you asking “what’s going on?”. Specially kids and drug addicts.
     Just walk fast and try to get closer to other “normal” people. And never look back again, but pay attention on their movements.

  • StockShooterSoBe

    As to DSLR, pre-trip, make it look beat up & well worn,
    e.g., place pieces of painter’s tape over various non-critical areas.

    Same with anything else you don’t want stolen — make it look worthless.

  • Pamela Kennedy

    Yeah, Number One: Don’t BE female and travel alone in most foreign countries these days. Not even “merrie ol’ England.”

  • Jasmine Graham LePancakes

    Wow, I’ve never even thought of the taxi cab thing before… freaky. My mother and I got into a taxi at an airport in Mexico. Thankfully nothing bad happened, but damn. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of the guy being a fraud.

  • Nancy Walsh

    Great Advice!

  • Martin Ng

    read the local paper if travelling alone on public transport – makes you appear local. NEVER ever read your “lonely planet” book in public. Use Android phone to download local map via wifi onto your phone so that you are never lost. if you need to ask for directions, go into a shop – not approach strangers on the street.

    • Euddie Lim

      Good advises.

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