Here are some of my tips from being an experienced world traveler. I’ve been in some of the more relatively ‘dangerous’ parts of the world; Indonesia, Colombia, Brasil. My tips here are geared more towards men. The main thing is to actually ‘know you belong.’ You don’t want to stand out like a ‘tourist.’ The energy you project is one of the most important things.
If you have a strong, self-assured, independent, ‘minding your own business vibe’ like I always carry, you are FAR less likely to be seen as a potential victim of mugging or drama. Even a bit of ‘don’t mess with me – stay away’ vibe can work to your advantage as well. Another thing is to stay away from obviously dangerous areas like impoverished areas, favelas or barrios unless you’re with a group (and in daylight). You don’t want to really ‘stand out’ either. Because I look so international, I guess that often works to my advantage to blend in.
I could actually pass as South American in many parts (and have), but if you are pasty white and really stand out, you may really have to be more conscious of things, not look like a super-tourist gringo. It really helps to know some of the languages to get around anyways and look like you belong. Give people respect and don’t try to attract trouble. It’s not best to wear flashy jewelry and the like when you’re going out at night in some cities.
Talk with assurance to any cab drivers and know where you’re headed. In some countries where they are more forthcoming and aggressive, you almost want to ‘match’ that vibe in communicating with them – you don’t want anyone mistaking you for a ‘weak’ tourist that they can prey upon but that you know how to handle yourself and know the area (or assuredly expect them to do their job).
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In Indonesia, I read ahead of time and avoided the freelance cabbies. Stick with the government or city regulated cabs whenever possible. Try and memorize or be conscious of the cab number and look like you are taking account of it. Keep your belongings or any valuables DISCREET and out of sight. I like using more plain and unassuming luggage.
People recommend traveling with a buddy, but I don’t always do that. I’ve walked along with Avenida Atlantica in Rio de Janeiro several times alone without any issue. A physical presence and awareness can really help you out. If you appear like a victim or are ‘afraid’ to be in certain areas, that will come across, and you’re going to stand out more as a potential victim. Take some self-defense classes and work on your physical energy.
I have avoided a lot of trouble by not looking for trouble and being more muscular and direct in communicating with people I’m not sure about or who seem sketchy. Some people ‘attract trouble.’ You don’t want to be that guy. Some guys in the Army just always drew concern or who would have trigger hair tempers. Negative energy can attract other troublesome people.
Some guys will keep attracting trouble. Instead, you want that self-confident ‘staying out of other people’s business’ vibe. This has got me through Indonesia, Brasil, and other dangerous areas at the wrong time and place. My military background has helped with the confidence part. People ask if I’m ever afraid to travel to certain places, and my answer is ‘no.’ Dogs sense fear. I’m going to stay independent and assertive, minding my own business and respecting other’s spaces.
A best friend was fighting the war in Iraq, which was far more dangerous than traveling semi-incognito as a civilian in Indonesia. So do your best not to attract trouble, being boisterous or arousing suspicion. Be sensible and mindful at all times. If you’ve been able to lead an argument or get your point across, that should come through when dealing with certain types of people, but only use it in a preventative manner (i.e., A cabbie who might be trying to rip you off).
Again, it’s recommended to travel with discreet luggage. Use luggage locks and ALWAYS carry a laptop wire lock if you use a laptop…out of sight, out of mind. Even in hostels or hotel rooms, I’m locking my laptop up – not out of fear but just as a proactive safety measure. On a Colombian overnight bus, I just kept the carry-on bag underneath me latched around my legs, and made sure no one could access it from behind. It’s just about being mindful, and having a ‘presence’ over your stuff will avoid most trouble. Always keep your bag with you.
It’s untested because it’s all preventative but looking other alpha male’s in the eye shortly out of respect yet independent strength (if they’re looking at you) and giving a faint nod while going back to your own space can be ok.
As long as your energy is intense that YOU don’t steal and have good karmic energy, you should be fair most of the time. I never steal, and I even returned a wallet by biking across Madison to get it back to her..that has helped me out. There are laptop thieves in some countries who will come by on bikes or grab things real fast, so don’t hold items out in the open. Watch your camera around you if you’re using it. Watch out for free beer bottles. In some places, they can ‘put something’ like a pill into your drink. This happened to me once, but I was still okay because my hotel was close, and I just fell asleep fast.
Get a local map and have an idea of where you are. Generally, it’s not smart at all to be walking around at night in sketchy areas. If so, do it with forwarding confidence and look like you know where you’re going. If you see potential trouble down a particular side street, even if it’s on your route, avoid it. Stay in well-lit, public areas whenever possible. When some over-talkative Indonesian man on a bus wanted my U.S. address to ‘send me things,’ I politely yet confidently refused. I was the first American many of those people ever had seen in Pacitan, Indonesia. Know some locals if at all possible. I had a tour guide with Plan International, a local, and informed me of some local advice.
You may find lower-class people who want to help you out with directions with the expectation of something in exchange. This exists in the U.S. in places as well. Be forward and confident with them so as things don’t go too far. I usually politely yet confidently refuse. If they follow you and give you good advice, then give them something fair but modest in exchange and then wave them off as you confidently move on. It’s better to ask for directions from more legitimate places like stores or uniformed officers.
When I searched for apartments in Rodadero, some sketchy Peli Grosso guys wanted to help me out. My main thing was that I didn’t want to keep being pestered by them the whole month I was going to live there, so I looked at some apartments, and it was really my assertiveness in knowing what I liked and what I didn’t like and just how I dealt with them.
After I booked something, I was also ‘in’ with the hotel owner where I rented a room for a month, which also had ‘clout’ in that area – and they had a secure ‘buzz in’ gate. I was sure to get something ‘secure’ anyway for peace of mind, and it was on the 14th floor. After I came back down, I knew they wanted something in return (or things could get really pressured), so I had them order some sodas and bread, and I just paid for everything. That was absolutely fair anyways, and I’m all about an exchange of value.
They wanted to pressure me into other things later, but I said, “not interested…I’m fine, thanks,” and kept walking towards my destination. Eventually, they got the idea. Real confidence is the best prevention. Try to blend in and be like a local…know your way around. Don’t carry your wallet in your front OR back pockets in certain countries..instead, use a travel pouch* underneath your clothing to secure the basics. I started relaxing and thought I was okay because generally, people don’t mess with me, but in Las Ramblas, there were 2 incidents.
One where a group of ugly yahoos came up touching me, and they had lifted my wallet until I started creating some strong drama as a friend said to ‘check my pockets’ and they had left it on the ledge. I leveraged getting the police over here, which is something you can use in their language and be REALLY ASSERTIVE in a situation like that. I can bring the heat and create some big drama. Doing this with congruency can be really useful in some cases.
Another time, we were out late, and I didn’t even know it had been lifted…there are real pro’s at pick-pocketing who work around Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and they stole my wallet without me even noticing for 2 hours (AND my back pocket was a tight fit). I later got the wallet returned via Facebook (another story and it was all there except they took the cash) because of good karma. If you have a room safe, use it. I usually only carry 1 or 2 good ATM cards on me and SOME local currency – not a whole lot.
REALLY be protective if you’re going to Barcelona..everyone has a story or knows someone who has things stolen. I had to lend cash to a friend who had 500 Euro stolen, which he had withdrawn because of a scheme involving a woman and her lifting partner. So anyway, there’s some practical and experienced advice for ‘staying safe’ in some of the more sketchy areas of the world. Try and room in a higher class part of town if possible or near a tourist district. I love Brasil and other places, so I have a really positive yet still independent vibe about things when I’m going around alone. Having real respect for the culture helps as well. It’s just riskier in some places of certain areas or cities, so this is a lot of preventative stuff.
Research ahead online to see what kind of crime there is…often it’s just petty theft or muggings. When someone broke into a neighbor’s apartment late at night (I stay up late), I came out with a thunderous, aggressive voice as they were scuffling, and then that helped him to take off. From that point, I kept a frying pan (and NOT afraid to use it, and I enjoyed visualizing how I would use it with physical energy) right near the glass window and door to get an idea of what would be in store for them. If you’ve got a Marine sticker, that can work as well as a deterrent. Oh, and if you go to a country with civil war (or like that outbreak in BKK), stay away from the fighting as best you can. During riots, I was there, and you stay away..it’s not all as bad ‘everywhere’ like the news makes it seem.