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13 Tips for Safer Travel in Tough Times

Travel Safety
by William Moss Wilson Oct 9, 2008
When times are tough, travelers make easy targets for criminals. These precautions will help keep you and your belongings safe.
Keep your possessions in view

When you must keep important things on you, stash cash and vital documents in front pockets. Make sure you can see your bags when on the bus or train. When stowing bags in overhead compartments, place them across the aisle and a row or two in front of your seat so that they are within a comfortable sightline.

Distribute your valuables

The more you can spread out your valuables both on your person and in your luggage, the less likely it is you’ll lose everything in the event of a theft.

The Go wallet

Consider carrying an extra wallet filled with a couple notes in the local currency. If you get mugged, you can hand over the decoy. Your assailant is likely to be in a hurry and might run off with this first offering. If successful, this strategy will spare you the loss of your bankcard and other hard to replace documents.

Don’t sleep on the job

Though it might be tempting to party all night and sleep it off on the ride to your next destination, you might wake up relieved of your belongings. Unless you are in a compartment that you can safely lock yourself into, avoid sleeping on public transportation. If you must sleep on the road, travel in a group and take turns staying awake to guard one another’s bags.

Photo by numberjuan2.

Put the map in your head

Even in a new place, it’s a good idea to at least appear like you know where you are going. Stopping on the sidewalk right outside the station to thumb through your Lonely Planet guide might draw unnecessary attention.

Take the time on the bus or train on the approach into town to study a map of your destination. If possible, figure out the street names on your route and the number of blocks to your hostel so you can make your way from the terminal with confidence.

Use the hostel safe

Accommodations that meet Hostelling International standards are required to have lockers or a safe for your valuables. Use them.

Booze wisely

Many travel horror stories begin with a protagonist who had one too many drinks before stumbling along unfamiliar city streets onto the scene of a robbery. If possible, save your heavy drinking for the safer confines of your hotel or hostel.

Place a bill under your shoe pad

This tip comes from a veteran traveler who experienced a humbling end to a late night of club going in Havana. He was drunk, on foot, and a bit lost. His assailants blindsided him on a dark street and stripped off his jeans. They did not bother taking his old shoes. If stripped of everything else, with a few bucks under your sock you’ll at least have the cash to get a room while you sort out your next move.

Don’t walk at night

A cab ride back from the late-night spot might save you money in the long run. Most big city hostels and hotels will provide you with an address card you can hand to your driver at the end of the evening.

Beware of crowds

If the nightmare mugging takes place in a dark alley or deserted street, you are more likely to lose your money in a crowded place and it might take you hours to realize something is missing. Pickpockets are rife in crowded urban markets, at street festivals, and on packed buses and trains because all the jostling and commotion aids the thief’s sleight of hand. Become extra alert when someone knocks into you, and try to keep your hands over your pockets in crowded areas.

Be suspicious of new best friends

One of the pleasures of travel is meeting the locals. Unfortunately, the world is full of false guides who prey on your desire for authentic experience. If approached out of the blue, be on guard for hidden agendas.

Take wide turns

You never know who might be waiting for you on the other side of a corner. In a similar vein, use peripheral vision to keep track of what’s going on around you.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide

The same cardinal rule to interstellar travel applies just as well to pedestrian globe trotting—Don’t panic. Easier said than done, of course. One strategy to help maintain composure involves periodically running through a worst-case scenario in your mind, the more detail the better.

Imagine getting mugged at knifepoint, how you calmly surrender that decoy wallet, giving your assailant every opportunity for an easy escape.

Community Connection!

Matador member Jon Brandt recently experienced a nightmare robbery on a bus in Ecuador. Read his eloquent and riveting account of the event here: The Great Bus Heist.

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