Safety tips for travellers
In over ten years of living abroad and traveling I have never been robbed. Once somebody tried, but trust me: I have learned from that experience. I´m not saying if you follow these safety tips for travellers, I can guarantee nothing will ever happen to you. What I am saying, this is what I do and what makes me feel safe abroad.
Don´t make yourself a victim
Did you know that 90% of all cyber-attacks are not caused by ingenious hackers who break the code but by foolish people who do something their own IT department told them not to do? There is a real world translation of clicking on links in phishing emails. We all know pickpockets are out there, and so are hackers. If you don´t do your part to stay safe, you will become a victim. Do your part. In cyber space that means change your passwords regularly, don´t open attachments you didn´t expect and only download authorized software. When traveling I have the following advice:
Be aware of your surroundings
When you are out in nature and you can see 360 degrees around you and nobody is there, your chances of getting robbed are small. The more people around you, the higher the chances one of them is a criminal. Beware of crowds. Keep a safe distance from strangers, an arm’s length if possible. If you can´t reach them, they can´t reach you. Notice how fast they walk, how close they get, where they look. Think ahead, around the next corner, through the next bottle neck. Thieves love crowded places, because they can get close without being noticed. Notice them.
Know where your stuff is
If you have valuables on you, make sure you know where they are at all times. This means either you should be able to see them or touch them. I stay away from backpacks, because I can´t see behind me. If I carry a purse, I make sure nobody could grab into it without me noticing. Steve* put his things down in the middle of the busy touristy street to take a picture. They were stolen by a passing thief. Don´t be like Steve. Don´t give them that opportunity.
Take as little as possible
And leave the rest locked in the room. If you are going to a destination where you need to bring cash, don´t bring it all every day. Do you need your passport while walking around and sightseeing? Do you need your tablet? Your phone? Only take them if you do. Do not ever keep all your credit cards in the same place. Do not ever put all your valuables in the same suitcase/carry-on/handbag/purse/backpack. I like pockets of jeans, inside pockets of jackets I KEEP ON. I´ve had money in bras and IDs in boots just so I wouldn´t have to carry a bag that can be stolen.
Don´t leave your belongings unattended
Every airport tells you this. And yet, I see people like Steve every day. Remember Murphy´s law. Don´t give bad people the opportunity. Don´t leave your stuff where you can´t see it. Not even for a minute. Not even once. Especially on the beach, on public transportation or airports, train stations, touristy areas, in queues, in lobbies, restaurants, bars, nowhere where strangers have access.
Don´t lose control
In order to be safe, you must be in control of yourself and the situation. Criminals are like predators, they chose easy victims first. Don´t be an easy victim. Don´t be walking down the street drunk, especially without anybody sober next to you. Or under any other influence for that matter. A group of drunks is not safer than one drunk alone. Especially if you are not familiar with the area, you must be alert and be able to trust your senses. You have to notice steps behind you long before they get within reach. The more you can rely on your senses the safer you are.
I encourage anyone to take a self-defence class, especially when you are easily scared. Not only will you know what to do if it comes to it, but you´ll feel and look more confident which makes you less of an easy victim. If you don´t want to take a class, watch a video on YouTube. Read a few things. Whatever you need to do to be confident. If you look scared, you appear weak, you appear like an easy victim.
A word on high heels
If you have to, can you run in heels? And secondly: Do they make you look like you are rich enough to be worth robbing? When I lived in the hood, I blended in. No good comes from flashing jewelry and bling-bling shoes that tell everybody you have money.
A word on bags
I put no valuables where I can´t see or touch them. I keep my hands free. And I don´t show off brands. I don´t buy purses that anybody behind me on the bus could reach into. If possible, I avoid bags all together and use pockets. That´s also better for posture in the long run 😉
Don´t. Get. Lost. Know where you are. Know how you´ll get home. I like google maps, where it works. Otherwise I will have looked at a map before I even left the house and know the most important street names. Make transportation arrangements. I was raised to believe that successes are planned. As enticing as spontaneity sounds, I stick to the rule of not following strangers to places I don´t know, on a whim.
If you do get lost, or you made some other mistake that makes you vulnerable, stay calm. Don´t panic. Remember it´s about not being an easy victim. Do your breathing exercises from yoga class and get out of the situation.
How I handle strangers talking to me
Particularly in Barcelona I´ve been approached by countless men on the street at night asking my name, where I am from, how I am doing, where I live etc. I don´t believe in ignoring people – in case they feel encouraged to come closer or become more aggressive to be noticed. But, I don´t answer strangers´ personal questions either.
I acknowledge the shady figure with a very brief, determined look the likes of “I see you. Don´t mess with me” (showing confidence and alertness). Sometimes I add a head-shake. Then I look away and keep walking. I am a fast walker naturally and thanks to my height I have long legs that carry me fast without running. I´m not saying this is psychologically fail-safe, but this is what has worked for me.
*actually, I have no idea if his name is Steve. I saw him on La Rambla in Barcelona and when he put the backpack down and took an obviously touristy picture several yards away I face palmed in reflex. But I was too far away to warn him.
Have you ever witnessed somebody else having something stolen? What could that person have done to prevent the situation?