You might have been hesitant of traveling to places, because you have heard from a friend who heard from a friend, that this and that place is dangerous and basically everybody who goes there dies. However, I know more people who’ve been robbed at gunpoint in London and we all know how even considerably safe modern cities like Paris can be a little dodgy. Yes, statistically, more can happen in central or South America, or even Asia for that matter. Generally spoken, as long as you don’t join the IS or any other gang, traffic drugs or organs, you’ll be absolutely fine. If you’d like to be on the safe side, bear the following tipps and tricks in mind (I am trying not to bore you with the classics like: keep a copy of your passport bla bla bla):
- Bring only what you really need
I can’t stress this point out too much: bring only what you really, really, really need. Put everything you think you need on a table and divide it in half. Throw half of it in your backpack, the other half goes right back where it came from. Assess and reassess the items you pack. Can you live without your fancy watch? I sure think so. The newest iPhone on a trip to Mexico? Maybe an old smartphone will do. Does it has to be the expensive DSLR camera, or could a point and click do? Electronics sure are a weak point and you will find yourself much more at ease, if you eradicate as much as you can from your packing list. Luxury goods have no place on a backpacking trip, and so do flashy kicks and stylish outfits. Which brings us straight to number 2…
- Don’t stand out (too much)
Yes, you might have fair hair and your bright skin screams “I am exposed to the sun a maximum average of 1.5 hours per months”, so asking you not to stand out in places like the Philippines is a little bit of a stretch. You could however try to be dressed as low profile as possible and adapt to the local lifestyle. Leave your Aldo shoes at home when you go out to a bar at night – dress appropriately. And please, if you don’t have to, don’t buy the touristy souvenir t-shirt and pants. They reveal your readiness to spend money on stupid items and definitely do one thing: make you stand out. Be aware though, that those with criminal energy, pick pocketing on a regular basis can spot a gringo from miles away, even with the best camouflaged cloths. This merely helps to reduce attention to a minumum.
- Signal awareness for potential risks
Sounds pretty straightforward, but: if you see locals wearing their backpack in the front, it’s probably a good idea to copy that. In a lot of countries, the sheer awareness of possible pick pockets is repelling them automatically. Why would they target a difficult pray, if they can get the easy one? Wearing your backpack in the front may look goofy, in fact it is one of the best subtle signals you can possibly send out: you know how to behave around here, you’re not likely to bring any valuables and you’re not a first-timer in this place. By the way, being aware also includes not bringing any magazines with your name and address on them. Generally, refrain from having any lose hanging name tags.
- Mind your wallet
Generally speaking, reaching for you wallet can actually cause unexpected repercussions: pickpockets often collaborate and you would be surprised how much time they have been spending on observing you, before they actually take your posessions with surgical precision. This obviously applies to any situation, in which you would grab your wallet. Reaching for your money not only helps them identifying the exact location, they can also assess how much cash you’re actually carrying and you wouldn’t even notice. If you feel the need to make a donation to the poor, make sure you have the amount in one of your empty pockets ready. If you’d like to buy something particular, prepare the amount of money you are willing to spend beforehand (this actually has other benefits too, when it comes to bargaining techinques). Ideally, you’re not wearing one main wallet at all, but you split the money you’re carying in two: keep little bills and change in your wallet, but credit cards and big bills in a hidden pouch, close to your body and hidden away.
- Travel in pairs (or groups)
Even on the off chance that this might sound sexist, but yes, being considered ‘the weak gender’ women are more prone to most types of assaults. Of course, traveling alone as a women is feasible and I have met many women who chose to do so and were absolutely fine and had a great time – but it’s more common for women to pair up (in fact, most backpackers are traveling female pairs). It seems obvious that you’ll tend to get less assaulted when travelling together, as chances for complications increase, the more people someone were to attack. Decrease this possibility with numbers. If a shark hunts in between a big school of fish, he’s most likely going to say, “Fuck it. Too. Many. Choices.”
- Be observant
Alright, so this sounds trivial, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get distracted by all those new impressions. Imagine you’re arriving in Bangkok and you’re completely emerged in a new world: the smog, the traffic, the buildings, the shops, the many, many people, trying to sell you shit. How could you possibly keep track of everything around you? The more time you spend in a different place, the more you’ll have adapted to it and the more you’ll get unattentive. It’s like driving a car very, very fast – after a while, you’ll get some sort of tunneled vision and everything’s a blur. Which can be dangerous at times. The point: don’t get a tunneled vision and always be aware of your surroundings.
- Walk with confidence
You know how wolves can actually smell it, if you’re scared. If you’re teacher had the smallest weakness, even as a kid, you would identify it and off would his souverenity go. We people can just feel those weaknesses, and especially for those who mean you harm, it’s important you’re standing tall, for instance in dodgy areas. Don’t be the little mouse, why not greet grim people when they pass by? However, don’t exaggerate and make too much eye contact.
- Know your way, get your intel
Every country has it’s dangerous areas, and as much as you would avoid walking the red light district of your home city (or wouldn’t), you should avoid the ones in your travel destination. Yeah okay, if you really don’t get around it, use your stupid Lonely Planet. Any travel guide will do though. Just make sure you don’t end up at the wrong spot (the wrong time).
- Move during the day
A lot of “stuff” happens at night. Since so many people are sleeping and you can barely see anything, night kind of naturally attracts the outlaws. So whenever you aren’t in a hurry, make sure you travel during the day. It’s quite awesome, too, since you can then see. Which is often so much better than not seeing anything. Especially if there’s a scenic route. Any you know what? Any route while traveling is kind of a scenic route.
- Don’t get (too) wasted
We all like to have fun and go out. Drink a beer or two. Or three… There’s nothing wrong with partying when traveling. However, the more you lose your senses, the more likely you’ll become a target. So do yourself a favour and keep a little control of your intoxication. And ideally, always have a designated driver or someone with you, who might actually not drive, but at least has some decency (or is much more slow paced than you). If you only knew the amount of people I know, who walked out of a bar with little dime and came home with… none.