Almost Fearless

Common Sense Safety While Traveling: Day 21 of 30w30d

This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.


30 ways in 30 days, travel advice, common sense, dangers,

Many people are concerned for me, when I tell them that I travel.  Even family and friends living in Boston have concerns about me getting raped/murdered/robbed even though those things are more likely to happen to me in Boston than they are while traveling.  In the last three years, there were 387 homicides of US citizens overseas.  In 2008 alone there were over 14,000 in the US.  In fact, when I’m traveling, I’m more likely to die from a car accident and I’m almost equally likely to drown or commit suicide than being a target of a violent crime.

I will admit that I occasionally harbor some of those irrational fears too.  Sometimes, when a  local is overly nice to me I wonder what they want.  Other times, I become paranoid and imagine someone is following me, and for a flash I imagine an unlikely scenario: them grabbing me in broad daylight in a busy street and robbing me at gun point.  However it’s important to still travel with confidence.  These fears keep us sharp, but they aren’t meant to keep us locked up in our rooms at night or fearing the smile of every stranger.  We can’t control the outcome by being afraid.

Also, there’s no accounting for plain dumb luck.

Minimizing your losses in case of being robbed

  • Keep your money, passport and credit cards somewhere safe, like an interior pocket, a money belt or locked up in your hotel room.
  • You’re always supposed to have a passport on you, but if I’m going out for an evening, I’ll bring a photocopy of my passport, so that I can’t possibly have mine stolen.
  • Never put anything you don’t want to lose in a pocket, backpack or purse, especially if the zippers face away from your body.
  • Only carry as much cash as you need, stash the rest away.

Avoiding getting robbed

Ha.  There is no way to completely avoid it.  Everyone gets robbed, eventually, if you travel enough– so stop blaming the victim.  Besides, it’s just money.  You can try these:

Don’t look like a tourist: too late you already do, even your trying looks like a tourist.  Listen, I can tell if someone is from Revere, MA vs Leominster, MA– don’t you think there are subtle cues that are going to be screaming “Hey this guy is not from around here”.  So yes, maybe not wearing a t-shirt with the country’s name on it might help, but I kind of doubt that pickpockets are that discriminating.  You are a foreigner and foreigners have money.  Even the stinky hippie backpacker ones.

Don’t leave your stuff unattended:  Yeah, this works great until you start traveling.  If you’re going anywhere, that means taking a flight, a bus or a train.  Three perfectly good reasons to be separated from your luggage and three great times for the other travelers and/or the staff to rifle through your stuff.  You will have to trust and hope.  Keep the most valuable things physically on you and if you go to sleep, sit on them.  Most of the time they won’t lift you up to steal your stuff, but don’t be surprised if they do that too.

Don’t wear fancy clothes or otherwise look affluent. Yes, this makes sense if you’re wearing diamond studded tiaras, but for the most part this falls under the same rule as looking like a tourist.  So sure, leave the suit made out of 100 dollar bills at home, but otherwise don’t worry about it.  Affluence is affluence and trying to send socio-economic signals saying that you’re not upper middle class, but more like used-car-Target-shopping lower middle class to people who make $400 a year is kind of a waste of time.

Scams, Hot Girls, and Dumb Things We Do

If you want to worry about something, there are some common ways to separate tourists from their money.

Someone at your hostel got robbed!  Or an American approaches you on the street they “have been robbed and just need some money to get back home”. Or they are having money Western Unioned to them but it won’t get here until tomorrow… can you loan them a few dollars?  Probably they are lying.  Help them if you want, but do they look like a regular traveler or are they a little rough around the edges?  Maybe living on the street, doing drugs?  Just saying.

An incredibly hot girl wants to talk to you (you’re a guy).  She is smoking hot and just wants to hang out and get drunk.  You wake up the next morning with a bad headache and empty wallet.  Did she drug you?  Maybe.  Probably she just got you drunk then cleaned out your cash.

Professional Con Artists. I met one of these in Cancun on my way to Cuba.  He kept telling us stories of him as a musician, saying he opened for Bjork, but then later it was Red Hot Chile Peppers.  Hmm.  Then he invited us out for drinks and bought us all a round.  Oops, his wallet was missing.  Could we cover him?  I left after a bit, but my friend got completely hosed on a huge drink bill and some other not-so-nice-stuff.  We saw him around the rest of the week working his circuit.

As For Everything Else

You already have the common sense you need, so don’t buy a safety whistle or pepper spray just yet.  If you’re traveling with kids, keep them close in crowds.  If you’re going out drinking, take a cab home instead of walking the streets late at night.  You know, common sense stuff you’d probably do anyway.  Sometimes it might feel like everyone just wants your money, but mostly they’re willing to just overcharge you on knickknacks for it.  World poverty is a serious issue but for the most part the people you meet will be more helpful and kind than you could possibly deserve.  It will hurt and make you mad to have something stolen, but only for a bit.  You’ll get better at reading people.  You’ll sense when someone is trying to sell you, even when there is no product on the table.  You’ll spend more time fending off vendors than watching out for criminals.  After a bit you’ll feel just as safe as you do at home.

pic: xava du

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • This article reminded me when I told people I was going to the Middle East. Everybody, with no exception, was really concerned about the same things you said… raping/kidnaping/etc. What can I tell about Syria, for example? I felt (and probably I was) much safer than any other big city I’ve lived/been in the past years.

    Actually these countries showed me something completely different than I our media tell us. The crime rates are incredibly low and some places like Jordan really cares about their touristic reputation.

    So, yeah.. we need to avoid certain things.. but, it’s more likely to happen something to you in your own city than while traveling.

    Good article!
    .-= Guillermo Guerini´s last blog ..Heating up by the warm syrians and the chaotic Aleppo =-.

  • My family also worries about me facing crime in Europe. It’s true that Brussels is much larger than my home in Halifax, Canada was and yes, having your pockets picked here is probably more likely. I see the scammers often in the touristy areas… oh you just happened to find a diamond ring on the ground? Move along… Violent crime however is MUCH less. I take the same precautions here that I would anywhere else – I don’t walk alone at night, I avoid certain areas if I am alone, I am aware of my purse and camera gear at all times and I don’t leave my bags unattended.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Expat News Flash and Contest =-.

  • Ironically, the only time we’ve been robbed during our journey (2.5+ years) was by airport security personnel in Bangkok, Thailand! They took money out of my husband’s moneybelt as it went through the x-ray machine. Fortunately, we caught it and were able to use the CCTV to prove the theft. It just goes to show that it’s when you let your guard down and your tired that things happen.

    Another suggestion re: passport. Make a small photocopy of the front page about the size of your driver’s license/credit card and laminate it. It’s more durable than a photocopy and fits easily in a pocket/wallet.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Travelers =-.

  • Love these tips! I would also recommend that you be careful where you look at a map. Standing in the middle of the street examining a map will make you look very obvious as a tourist; it is wiser to step into a shop or be less obvious.

    Also, it’s wise to keep a photocopy of your credit card (both sides) in a separate and safe location. That way if your cards are stolen, you will have the phone number of your credit card company (it’s on the back of the card) and the card numbers so you can tell them which ones to cancel.

  • God love you Americans, you are always so sweet about travel security! America is one of the most violent places in the WORLD!

  • “So sure, leave the suit made out of 100 dollar bills at home, but otherwise don’t worry about it. Affluence is affluence and trying to send socio-economic signals saying that you’re not upper middle class, but more like used-car-Target-shopping lower middle class to people who make $400 a year is kind of a waste of time.”

    love it! so true. like when I was living in Colombia – I think my pale white complexion, accentuated by my bald head, and blue eyes broadcast my *perceived* affluence a mile away.
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..Travel Video: Eurotrip Robot Fight =-.

  • The first thing I have to say is that your picture is HILARIOUS!!! Whoever took this is a genius. I totally agree with your advice here. It’s funny how much you learn about your own culture when you’re travelling. My husband and I had been backpacking in Europe for a couple months, so we were used to the road and not attracting attention to ourselves, etc. However, we met up with my parents in Rome for a few days and they were the complete opposite. Really loud….always asked waiters for special accomodations at outdoor restaraunts….always stopped in the middle of a sidewalk to take picures and pull out maps, etc.

    I truly believe that American tourists have the potential to be some of the worst kinds.
    .-= Lindsey Stetson´s last blog ..The Infamous Travelbug =-.

  • A scam I witnessed multiple times in Paris this weekend involved a person picking up a “gold” ring off the ground and going up to people asking if they had dropped it. I’m guessing the next step involves someone grabbing your purse/wallet while you are distracted, or when you take the ring, they ask you for money. Happened both times near the Seine.
    .-= Tanya´s last blog ..La Nuit Blanche =-.

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