Over the years, many people have been fascinated by my travel, especially the travel I've done without children or spouse. It's quite common to find myself being probed about safety concerns and fears or being told an awful story regarding generic "Bad Guys" in a generic foreign place. Some of those concerns are valid, many are based in exaggerated misinformation and virtually all reflect a belief that places outside our community are not as safe as home and that the world is full of dangers for (female) travellers. Am I aware of and prepared for potential problems when travelling? Yes. Am I worried about my physical safety when travelling? Not particularly. Evidence and experience shows that travellers are not more likely to become crime victims. I try to use common sense, preventative strategies, and a couple of very low key security devices. I don't behave a lot different when I'm travelling than I do when I'm in downtown Vancouver. So far, it's working. (knock on wood....)
First, let's bring some actual facts to the conversation. Many might assume that the USA would be considered a safe destination, but in reality, it is quite low on the list. If you feel safe travelling in the USA, you should feel safe in most other countries. The Global Peace Index ranks the safest countries in the world according to a criteria of 23 indicators. If you are really concerned about safety, you might want to limit your selection to one of 2020's Top 10 Safest Countries in the World:
Canada (YaY for us!)
I hope you don't limit your selection of countries. Authors of a 2018 study in Crime Science Journal "tentatively conclude that the risk of criminal victimization is not higher during travel than during most other activities". It appears that travel has no statistical influence on a person's likelihood of being victimized. So now that those pesky facts are out of the way, let's carry on.
In all the years and over all the kilometers I have travelled, I've rarely been the victim of crime. Twice in over 40 years, as a matter of fact. Once I was pickpocketed in Venice while surrounded by a group of students, and many years earlier I had a camera cut from the shoulder straps when walking through a market in London. Much more often I have been the beneficiary of kindness and assistance. This is true for every traveller I have met. The overwhelming number of humans are good and kind people who are parents, friends, lovers, and children, living very normal lives consisting of work, family, and socializing.
There are areas of the world where crime and violence are more common (or are of a different type of crime) than at home, wherever that may be for you. Horrid crimes do happen to travellers in foreign lands (and at home, too). Yet, ordinary people safely live, work, play, and raise families in those places. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees of safety anywhere in this world and I refuse to limit my world due to fear. Vigilance should be practiced but common sense must prevail.
Kids going to school. Manu Park, Peru.
Take a hint from the locals around you. Do the women hide their handbags/purses? Is money pulled from hidden pockets? Where do the locals eat and congregate? Do you see obvious school kids walking on the streets/taking public transportation without adults? Are parents pushing babies in prams? Are people holding their phones in their hands while walking? Do you see expensive devices being carried openly? Are regular homes behind tall, locked walls or are there open lawns? Follow their lead, they know how to keep themselves safe in their area. Chat with some of the people working in tourism around you. They'll send you to safe places, and sometimes, you'll make a genuine connection and a new friend.
Aziz, manager of our Riad, treated us to delicious fresh
juice at his friend's stand in the Marrakech medina.
I trust my instincts. If a situation doesn't feel right, I get out of the situation. This has happened multiple times in very different locations. I may have overreacted to absolutely nothing. On the other hand, maybe I saved myself from something serious? There have been a couple of occasions that cost me a lot of money to follow my gut but I know that each time I've done this, it felt right and I had a sense of relief. I have zero regrets and urge every traveller to do the same. Never allow your gut to be overruled.
Assume that you can't blend in, no matter how hard you try. There will be multiple things that make it clear to locals that you are from "away". It will be in your style of movement, speech, or clothing. It will be broadcast by the devices you use and how you carry them. It will be obvious by some of the activities you are participating in or the places you are visiting. We travellers are a privileged lot. In some destinations, we carry more value in our pockets than some locals earn in a year. Even in wealthy countries, many of the people who support our travels are not well paid and depend upon tips to survive. As individuals, we may have all sorts of financial stresses but we are incredibly wealthy in the eyes of much of the world. Being as discreet as possible with our gadgets and wealth makes sense.
Totally blending in like a local...
Most crimes against travellers are non-violent crimes of opportunity involving theft through snatch & grab crimes or pickpocketing. It's a good idea to look like a more challenging target with less value than other travellers. Snatch & Grab Bad Guys aren't known for their incredible work ethic. They will choose the easiest target every time. When I took teenagers on trips to notorious pickpocket centers, I would tell them their bags didn't need to be impenetrable, just a pain-in-the-arse. Ironically, I was the only person of all those trips who became a pickpocket victim when I didn't follow my own advice!
Use packs with hidden zippers. Use the zippers. Hide away devices. Important documents and the bulk of your money should be buried, whether in a safe at your hotel, in a neck pouch, a trendy waist pouch, or deep in the bottom of your bag. Use the zippers. Loop your foot through a bag handle when seated and the bag is put down. Use the zippers. Don't hang your bag on the back of a chair. Put a suitcase lock on the pocket with your valuables. Use your wrap to drape over your bag. Use the zippers. Put anti-theft straps on your camera, put it away while walking. Don't use non-bank/no security guard ATMs in high traffic tourist areas without extreme caution. Be wary of those who offer to assist with heavy luggage. Use your zippers. Never use an ATM after dark. Use a bike lock to secure your bag to train or bus luggage racks. Oh, you should always use the zippers on your bags and pockets. Seriously, use your zippers. (Can you guess how I made things easy for the pickpocket?)
Be aware of your surroundings and ask locals about areas that should be avoided and precautions that should be taken. Follow the same rules about trusting strangers that you would at home. Let people know your plans: via text or message, share GPS tracking with a trusted loved one. Tell the front desk or camp host if heading out to meet someone. Be very obvious and take a photo of the license plate, Uber driver, or private guide. Keep your luggage inside the vehicle with you. Don't reveal too much information to strangers. Be vague when asked if you're travelling alone.
When I'm travelling in Wanda, I park facing the exit. I lock the doors and set the alarm when inside for the night. I keep my electronics, camera gear, and instruments in locked compartments. I have deep tinting on the side window and have a black-out insert/shade for privacy.
I have a few devices that add another layer of security from Bad Guys. I do not have weapons. I will never have weapons. My philosophy is to be less of a target by being more of a pain-in-the-arse to a criminal than those around me.
I have a simple door wedge that lives in one of my pre-packed travel cube. I bought it at a dollar store approximately a hundred years ago. It goes under the entry door of any rented room after I've secured the provided locks. There are many battery operated portable alarms for doors available but I've never thought I needed an alarm. Some hang on door knobs, some are the classic wedge design, others slip between the door and the frame. When meandering with Wanda, I'm most likely going to be in a campsite or a hosted site, so locking the doors and setting the alarm should be enough. I'm not big enough or strong enough to fight off a Bad Guy, so I would need to be able to summon help or create escape opportunities. If I'm overlanding I will have a couple of bright motion-detected lights magnetically mounted to the exterior aimed to turn on if the perimeter is crossed. I also have an air horn to act as an alarm and a hefty can of bear spray. Those were bought with critters in mind but should be just as useful against Bad Guys, I think.
There are more Good Guys than Bad Guys, I promise.
I promise to write a post on Good Guys met on the road. From the one-armed young man who insisted on navigating us around "the hurtin' street", to the very old woman in Marrakesh who gleefully grabbed our hands and pulled us across the street when we couldn't figure out how to dodge traffic. The stories of The Hero of Naples and An Afternoon in the Carpet Shop need to be told, amongst so many others that will eventually unfold here.
Just be smart and don't be a target. Don't flaunt expensive items, Take normal precautions. Understand that your perception regarding travel safety may be skewed by misinformation and propaganda. It's wise to check travel advisories and to take government warnings to heart but a crime-free travel destination doesn't exist. If you want to begin travelling, start small and build confidence. You'll discover that the scary world of travel is not so scary.
Share and comment to let me know you are enjoying the content. Become a member to receive notifications of new content, a monthly newsletter, and access to our member's-only forum.