” No place on the planet is completely free from safety risks, including your own home.” – the first lines on ”Stay Safe” on wikitravel.
And that’s true. You might feel that the world out there is more dangerous and unsafe than at home, but in fact you are more likely to have problems at home then out traveling. In my very safe home country Sweden I’ve got robbed of two cameras and one iphone over the past years. During this year of backpacking in central and South America I’ve yet had no problems at all. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but maybe it’s because I’m more alert and “follow” a few common sense-rules.
Here are a few safety tips about how to avoid getting robbed:
Be aware – I know you think you always are, but you’re probably not while sightseeing. Look around and trust your instinct. Be aware if someone is following you. Have you seen that man before today? Also, get familiarized with the common picket pocket tricks.
Don’t show off your values – don’t have your wallet in the back pocket, don’t walk around with your phone in the hand etc
Don’t have your backpack on the back in subways or crowded buses (if they aren’t locked). Hold it tight in your lap or on your belly.
Lock your backpacks – Don’t make it easy. I have a small padlock on my daily backpack when I travel and I have an adjustable cable lock from Pacsafe on my big backpack.
Blend in – try not to look like a foreigner. It’s of course difficult if you are a white and blond girl in Kenya, but try not to look like a typical tourist with the hat and the camera around your neck. Don’t look like you have money. Try to look like you know your way around there. Avoid looking lost, even if you are. Don’t fold out a map when you are on the street. Ask a police officer, or walk into a store and ask for directions.
Keep a low profile – don’t draw unnecessary attention to you. Don’t wear jewelry, try not to talk louder than necessary in public – you probably have enough attention as it is just by being a foreigner.
Separate your sources of money – don’t have it all on you or in the same bag. If they steal something from you, don’t let them take everything. I actually have three different moneybelts when I travel with all my stuff (one around my neck with passport etc, one hanging from the belt inside my pants with money, and then what looks like a regular belt but has a small pocket inside where I keep safety money in case they rob me of everything (but my clothes, hopefully). Also, have a wallet with enough “daily” money to make robbers satisfied so they don’t come looking for more. When I’m out for the day I of course don’t bring all the money with me, I keep it in different pockets/places/bags at my accommodation.
Don’t walk alone at night – especially in narrow alleys, dark parks or poorly lit streets. Stick to public and well-lit areas.
Do not accept food or drinks from strangers – it can be spiced with drugs. Keep an eye on your own drinks and food aswell, never leave it unattended!
Know the area you’re traveling to – ask a local (hostel worker, host, friend etc) if there are certain neighborhoods notorious for crime.
Do not hail taxis from the street – call one in advance. If you have to hail in a taxi, choose wisely – only take taxis clearly identified with official markings and go with older drivers – they are more experienced, more reliable and less tempted to get quick money then the younger ones. Also, do not ride with the windows rolled down, and don’t show off your values there either! And always ask for the price before getting in to the taxi if they don’t use a taximeter.
Don’t leave your belongings unattended in public areas. Sometimes you might need to go to the toilet while waiting to board your bus, you could ask another backpacker to guard your backpack for you while you are gone. I also lock my backpack with the adjustable cable lock in the benches at the bus station if I have to go.
Don’t leave your belongings unattended in hostels. I’ve heard plenty of hostel stories. Never happened to me, but I try to be careful. Don’t leave any values like your iphone, mp3, passport etc out in the open. And if you leave your clothes there, don’t miss them when they’re gone. It’s often the moment that makes a thief. I always lock my backpack with a padlock, even during night when I’m sleeping just beside. If there are lockers in the hostel where you can store your backpack, do it. If there are smaller lockers for valuables, keep them there. I had one padlock on the locker and one on my daily backpack inside the locker, where I kept my usb memories, computer, passport etc.
Last one – If threatened – don’t resist. Better safe then sorry. No item is more important than your own life. Just let go. (I know I would probably need to bite my tongue of to not to start arguing against them… I hope I never come to that)