Crime & Hassles
Where ever you travel in the world from Europe to South America it is a sad fact that you have to be on your guard against crime. Obviously in some parts of the world and certain areas of countries you are more likely to become a victim than others. However you should try and use the same precautions everywhere.
When you're moving from one place to another and you have all your possessions with you the potential to lose everything is obviously greater.
- Keep your money, passport and tickets under your clothing next to your skin.
- When travelling on buses take a daysack on board with your valuables.
- Always watch your luggage being stowed and keep an eye on it until the bus leaves.
- When sleeping on trains at night place every thing in your rucksack and then ideally lock it to the luggage rack above where you are sleeping with a cable lock. This will prevent someone from simply grabbing it and running away. It is also a good idea to lock your luggage to something even during the day time.
- Be aware of any one befriending you and offering you a drink there have been cases of the drinks being spiked. You may wake up and find everything gone.
- Remember to take at least half your money in travellers cheques.
- Split money up, place some hidden in your rucksack. A good place is to tape it in an envelope to the internal frame so it is hidden. If you have an older style tube frame stick it in the frame. These are also good places when you want to take money into a country without declaring it.
- If the bus stops get out and check that no one walks off with your luggage.
- When arriving in a country it usually makes sense to get a taxi direct to where you plan to stay. Make sure you find the taxi rather than being found one by a local tout.
- When flying, baggage is rarely tampered with but obviously there is no guarantee. Any valuables that you are not carrying on you, bury in the bottom of you ruck sack in the dirty washing bag is usually good option! Gear in the outside pockets is the most vulnerable.
- Using cable ties on zips is a good way to prevent tampering with the pockets.
- Ruck sack 'safes' are now available these are an expandable wire net that you place around your rucksack and any attached gear and offer good protection.
- If your travelling in bush taxis or local buses try and get hold of a local grain sack and place your pack in it this will protect it from the elements and also make its potential value to a thief less obvious.
Staying in One Place
When your in staying in accommodation then there are different factors you need to take in to account. In many cases its more difficult to keep your eye on your stuff as you'll want to leave it behind at your accommodation.
- If you don't want to carry all your cash then first find out if there is any safe facility. Remember to deal with employees of the hotel in this case the owner or manager should be consulted and obtain a receipt on headed paper if possible.
- Split money up carry some with you leave the rest in your luggage under the wardrobe etc. Often if there is a foam cushion with a zip cover you can slice a slit into the foam and leave some of your valuables here.
- When you go out place any 'valuables' (clocks, watches, radio etc) in a draw so that there is less evidence of your 'wealth'.
- When you first go into your room check that the windows can be fastened securely.
- Lock your door and windows (usually in hot countries there will be shutters that still let air in) at night and leave the key half turned in the lock.
- If your going out at night then in a lot of countries it is necessary to take a taxi to your destination. This is especially the case if you are female even if travelling in groups.
- Pick pockets tend to frequent busy places, markets, railway stations etc. so you need to be particularly aware here. Never carry any thing in you back pockets and only carry enough money for you day in other pockets. You should never take cash out of a money belt hidden under your clothing in public. If you are running low on funds then find a toilet or go back to your accommodation and transfer your money in privacy.
- Avoid wearing even the cheapest jewelry or watch. Carry an old digital watch in your pocket.
- Bum bags should not be worn.
This section looks at some of the hassles you might get when out and about and ways to help reduce the problem.
Don't be a Tourist
The simplest way to avoid unwanted attention is to look like you live locally. Related to this section is the Travellers Responsibilities page.
- Don't use a guide book when out and about. Read up on where you want to visit the night before. Make some notes and draw out a rough map or get one photocopied.
- If you must carry a camera then try and disguise it.
- Try and avoid carrying anything daysacks are a give away. Bottles of water even more so. Stop at street stalls and buy tea or coke a cola you'll put money into local hands and it looks more natural.
- No designer clothes or labels.
- Dress down avoid white and bright colours.
- If the locals wear long trousers around town then so should you.
- Keep well covered especially women in Muslim countries.
- Wear shoes or boots not sandals.
- Don't wear sun glasses.
- Learn a few phrases 'No, thank you, yes etc' this helps to put people off.
- If someone asks you are you on holiday say you are either working in the country or you are visiting a friend who lives there. Remember you need to know where your friend 'lives' just in case the ask. In most countries aid agencies are a good option to be working for.
- Never stand and stare not only is it rude but it shows you are not local.
- Always look like you know where you are heading. Even if you are lost keep walking!
- If you need directions then go to a shop or ask a business man or older person as they are less likely to give you and trouble.
Putting off the Hustlers
In a lot of countries you will find hustlers who will usually try and drag you off to there brothers shop or show you some sight. This is a real problem in tourist areas but you may well come across the problem else where.
The first thing is 'Don't be a tourist'. Even if you have done all the above you will probably still stand out from the locals and be targeted. The usual way for them to pick you up is simply by calling out 'Hello!'. If you turn or show any sign of acknowledgment then they have hooked you. Therefore the first thing is to learn to keep on walking and not to give anything away when some is called out to you (not as easy as you may think). Especially in tourist areas you will find that they may run through different languages and try funny phrases to get you to show some recognition.
Often they will come up and walk beside you trying to get you to talk, maybe offer to show you the market or something. Be firm say you know where you are going, you do not need a guide and keep walking. If they persist cross the road the busier the better and walk in the opposite way to where they are trying to take you. You could go into a shop or restaurant and if you are followed make it clear to the owner that the person is not with you and is preventing you from buying something. Usually by avoiding getting into a conversation, keeping walking and using some of the ploys mentioned above you will find they lose interest. If you let them walk beside you they will automatically stay there and even if they don't show you anything will usually demand payment for their services. It is important to be polite and not to swear at them. Although this may sound easy it takes a few years of practise to avoid 99% of the hustlers. A final warning if you are using the disappear across a busy road ploy remember to watch the traffic.
Don't Shun the Locals
Not everyone who comes up to talk to you is a hustler some will be locals simply interested in what you are doing there, they may offer to let you stay or show you their house. The difficulty is knowing where you stand. In general if you are away from tourist areas then you are less likely to be hustled. If some one talks to you on a bus or train then the chances are they are genuine. But try and note whether you sat next to them or they sat next to you if its the later then be cautious.
If you make the first approach for example ask which bus to get on and then they start talking the chances are its genuine. The are no hard and fast rules but with experience you will find you can usually tell the genuine article. Remember though if someone came up to you in your home town and offered to show you something or take you some where would you go with them?
If you are mugged then give them what they want if you have followed the above advice it'll probably amount to nothing much.
In some countries don't go yelling after a thief. In parts of Africa the locals will probably catch him and kill him in the street I have heard a couple of instances of this happening even in cities.
Don't be put off by the above or warnings in guide books play it cool and be sensible.
© K.Vans-Colina 1992-2002