We had read hundreds of horror stories when planning our trip.
If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time then that’s just bad luck but you can reduce your chances of becoming a target by following these simple guidelines.
Common sense bags
If you are carrying a huge, shiny new bright red backpack you are likely to stand out. Try and get a low key bag that doesn’t scream ‘look at me, I’m new to this travelling game’
Remove the airline baggage tags from your bag as soon as you are through customs, it’s a sure sign that you are fresh meat.
As we have mentioned elsewhere take a low key day bag with a cross body strap to keep any valuables or cameras in if you don’t feel safe. A branded camera bag might look nice on those photography trips to the Scottish Highlands but it’s just a big beacon crying ‘mug me’ in downtown Saigon.
Hold on to your bag, don’t have it slung over your back. Don’t make yourself an easy target.
If you feel safer enclosing your bag in a steel cage and attaching it to a pole on a train then go ahead. We feel that this just causes people to wonder what is so valuable that it needs to be caged?
Common sense people
If someone friendly and well dressed or uniformed approaches you and strikes up a conversation in English it can often be reassuring to hear a familiar language. We have encountered many very pleasant people who genuinely want to practice their English with you. However, there are some, the percentage seems higher in Asia, who will strike up a conversation in order to gain your trust and attempt to relieve you of some or all of your hard earned cash.
A very simple way to determine whether someone is genuine is when they ask how long you have been in the city tell them a couple of weeks and when they ask when you are leaving say you have transport booked and are leaving the following day.
If they think you have been in the city for a while it is likely you will have met a few scammers and will be wise to it. If they are trying to sell you a tour or trip you wouldn’t be interested because you are ‘leaving’ the following day.
If they continue to chat then it is likely they are just being friendly. We have found this tactic works very well and conversations that were started by chatty ‘teachers’, ‘lawyers’ or ‘security guards’ end quickly and pleasantly and we were wished well on our travels.
Common sense where to venture
This really depends on the individual and how comfortable they are in any place. One person might feel perfectly safe in a favella in Rio, another might feel terrified.
If you plan to go to an area that does have a reputation then try and recruit a local that you trust to take you there. We spent an amazing day in El Alto in Bolivia, exploring that vast markets which are reputedly dangerous places, we were with a local and felt perfectly safe.
If you do feel worried at any time go into a shop or cafe. Always have a mobile phone with you and make sure you know the telephone number for the local police, your hotel or guest house and if they exist, the tourist police. If you are by yourself ask if you can walk with other groups of travelers or tourists.
Groups of three or more people are unlikely to attract too much attention from any unsavory characters.
Even if you are lost, if you feel unsafe walk confidently until you can find somewhere to stop and look at a map.
Common sense booze and drugs
We aren’t tee-total by any stretch of the imagination, however we are careful about what we have to drink. In Cafe San Juan in Buenos Aries it would be rude not to share a bottle of wine with dinner. In places we have felt less safe we have maybe just had a beer or stuck to the soft stuff. You really don’t want to make yourself a target by being drunk.
If someone offers to buy you a drink be careful. The drug in a drink trick is everywhere. You meet a friendly person, they buy you a drink, you wake up hours later on the street with no belongings or worse at a cash point with a gun to your head. Don’t risk it.
You will be offered drugs everywhere as a traveler and whilst it might seem like a good opportunity to try the local herb in Bolivia or opium in Laos it really isn’t worth it. Many local cops have mates who sell drugs to tourists and then step from around a corner to arrest them. A hefty bribe is required for them to forget all about it and the drugs are confiscated to be used on the next chump.
When it comes to drugs, as the ad campaign goes ‘just say no’.
Common sense be aware
If someone tells you the Taj Mahal is closed when your guide book says it should be open (it is closed on Fridays), use your head. Of course it isn’t closed, it’s just a scam to get you into a tuc-tuc and to some low grade material or gem shops.
If you are approached by someone claiming to be a member of staff who wants paying for anything at an odd time don’t do it.
If anyone asks to be paid by any other means apart from ones you are comfortable with say no or ask if there is a way to pay them in a more conventional manner.
Quite simply, don’t be afraid to question what you are being asked to do at anytime. A genuine person will not mind being asked questions or bringing their superior to talk to you, someone doing something wrong will become irritated, or just leave you alone.
If something bad happens whilst you are away it will ruin your trip and potentially could have a wider impact on your life. Don’t take risks, be sensible, always be aware of what is happening around you. If you feel unsafe just walk away.
Getting the right balance of seeing more edgy places and just seeing the tourist sights is a challenge but that is all part of the excitement of travel and is very much down to the individual.