Traveling has been essential for many of us and being secure of your surroundings, of your valuables or just the feeling of safety is utmost important to every traveler.
Here are some tips that mostly applies to destinations that are considered sketchy by the travel community, but could be valuable across all countries:
- Don’t carry a wallet – Having a wallet tucked in your pants are pickpocketer’s magnet. Put your money and ID in your pocket. You don’t need to carry your driver’s license with you if you don’t plant to drive. If you’re carrying your big backpack, put all your valuables hidden deep in the pack, and just have enough cash money in your pocket. I always carry a day-pack while walking around, that has a snap-lock securing it from being snatched away.
- Don’t bring anything to bars you’re unwilling to lose – If you are going out to bars or clubs at night, don’t bring anything that you’re unwilling to lose – hats, wallets, watches, etc. Just bring whatever cash you’ll need, put it in your pocket and make sure to be vigilant of it. Stepping out for some air or for a smoke, then make sure not to use your phone while outside. I’ve had my phone grabbed out of my hand by someone on a motorbike!
- Cover your drink in bars – Always cover the rim of your drink with your hand and always have it in your field of vision when you’re standing in a bar or club. Bad actors will roofie the drinks of both men and women in a crowded place by surreptitiously reaching around when you’re not looking or your drink is to the side somewhere. They’re (usually) not trying to rape you, but rather to rob you, man or woman. You become much more pliable to suggestions when you’re under the influence of roofies, and/or you won’t remember who or what happened the night before. Know how much your body can handle alcohol and control those incoming drinks.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers – Don’t accept drinks from strangers, even the nice person who’s been flirting with you for a few hours. Or at least watch very carefully as they get it. I’ve heard that bartenders will work with lady hustlers and split the earnings (the bartender roofies the drink behind the bar). If you’re with someone you just met, and they insist on going to get more drinks, simply decline or go with them and get your own drinks!
- Secure your bag – While sitting at a restaurant, cafe, etc. make sure to “lock” your bag/purse/daypack by strapping it around your leg or some part of your body. It’s the easiest thing: You’re having a coffee at a cafe, someone walks by, reaches over the wall, and grabs your pack/bag/purse and keeps walking. The stricter version of this rule is keep your bag on your lap: In some places, little kids will crawl on the ground and either quietly grab your bag, or will slice into it with a razor.
On public transport, I strap my daypack along my chest and keep a hand on the zippers preventing it from being opened. Extra vigilance always helps while getting on or off the transport.
- Hide your passport in your hotel room – Traveling the world may bring your to sketchy places that may not have the more secure ho(s)tels. Although I carry my passport with me all the time when outside the hotel for the fear of getting stolen, even from the safe rooms, you may store it in the room safe if there’s one. Carrying duct tape and ziplock bags with you is the James Bond way of hiding stuff in the hotel rooms. You can put the passport in the ziplock bag and tape it to the under-side of the toilet tank lid; or behind a painting, or pull out a dresser drawer and tape it on the inside of the back panel. I do this with cash/cards too: either hide them James Bond-style, and/or split up your valuables and hide them in different places in your luggage hoping that if they find one stash, they might just walk away and not look for other stashes.
- Grab business card of hotel – Always take a business card of the hotel you’re staying at. If you get lost, you can jump into a taxi and show them the address which is mostly written in the local language. If they don’t have a card, go to a nearby professional business and get a card.
- Have a backup money cache – Assume your will lose you wallet at some point, you travel long enough it will happen. I like to keep a mini flashlight in my dayback or on my belt loop with some emergency money. Make a rule to have enough to get a taxi back to the hotel
There are some criminal techniques you may witness in your travels. Here are a few examples:
- The “Ketchup” Technique: Someone surreptitiously squirts ketchup or some other thick sauce on your shirt. Someone else, usually a kind-looking old woman, comes up to you: “Oh, pobrecito! You have some stuff on your shirt. Let me clean it up for you.” As your attention is focused on the woman cleaning your stain, the other fella is able to lift your wallet easily. Avoid this by following Rule #1 above.
- The “Show Me Your ID” Technique: Someone who vaguely resembles an authority figure asks to see your ID. So you pull your wallet out, hold it in front of you to get out the ID, and the person just grabs it and runs.
- Express Kidnapping: You get in a cab… it seems sketchy… maybe he’s going a weird route. He stops at a light and someone jumps in the back seat with a weapon. “We’re going to an ATM and you’re going to withdrawal as much money as possible.” Avoid this by following Rule #1. Always take authorized taxis from the airport to your hotel or any destination. Be vigilant of your belongings.
- Various Taxi Scams:
- Turn on meter: Most common one is simply not turning on the meter and you “agree” to a price which is way higher than it should be, and which they usually increase at the end. Never agree to a ride without the meter on.
- Going the long way, which is hard to avoid unless you live there and you know what’s up. Download offline maps and have the route planned out in advance to avoid unnecessary detours. Ride in a taxi’s passenger seat and open maps to pretend you’re following the route so that they don’t take the long way around.
- Meter-hacking: Either the meter has been messed-with, or the driver actively messes with it during the ride. Do your research (or ask the locals) on the costs involved from one place to other and watch out for the meters for overages.
- Let driver exit first: Don’t exit a taxi first if you have luggage in the trunk. Wait for the driver to exit and pull out the bags or just wait there with the trunk open. If you get out first, he could just drive off with your stuff.
- Fake price bar scams: See this story about bar scams in Tokyo: “They’re lured into an establishment by a street tout (kyaku-biki) and charged exorbitant prices by the operators, usually under the threat of physical violence if they refuse to cough up the cash… forcing them to sign credit card bills that can amount to tens of thousands of yen without even having to make the trip to an ATM.” Whether it involves roofies or not, there’s a more mundane version which is: You get a fake menu, order a bunch of drinks, and then they charge you from the real menu. Or there are hidden charges like, “You paid for the drinks, but you also need to pay for the table, son!”
If you have any tips on traveling securely or any scams then please let us know in comments below.