Having your luggage stolen, getting pickpocketed, and facing the uncertain behaviors of strangers are always possibilities when you travel. Whether you’re flying to a third world country or taking the train to see a friend five hours away in your state, you should follow current events and research your destination for crime statistics that could affect your safety. You’ll venture out with greater confidence if you know how to protect yourself and your belongings. Below we’ve outlined general strategies and safety tips for various modes of travel.
Do you carry a fake wallet (or a “mugger’s wallet”)? If not, you might start. Take an old wallet (or purse) and stuff it with expired credit cards and other “junk” cards (a good reason to keep your old Blockbuster video card). Also, include a small amount of cash in the wallet. If someone tries to rob you, hand over the phony wallet, and hopefully you’ll get rid of the person.
Tarriss RFID Blocking Neck Stash Wallet
Your actual wallet will be an RFID-anti-theft blocking money belt. Wear it underneath or over your clothes. The top zipper pocket has a mesh compartment to hold your passport. A second mesh pocket will hold your credit cards.
Another option is an RFID neck stash, which you can wear above or below the clothes, in front of your body or across your body, to protect your valuables.
Spread your money and valuables around.
You might stuff a few bills in a plastic bag and carry in your shoe (beneath the inner sole and to the front of the shoe, under the toes). This could be emergency cash in case you get mugged. Hide enough cash for a few cab rides, meals, and so on.
Also, hide bits of cash in every bag (even checked luggage should have a small amount of emergency cash hidden within).
Since so many governments all over the world are falling short in the area of public safety, consider taking matters into your own hands. Buy non-lethal products like pepper spray/Mace/tear gas. Get something you can spray from a distance to defend yourself in times when you’re out walking alone. Police batons, tasers, and stun guns are other possibilities. Learn to carry and use them safely. Make sure they’re legal wherever you are, or you risk legal trouble.
Another option is to learn Krav Maga (hand-to-hand combat) or another method of self-defense. Krav Maga does not take months or years to learn, unlike traditional methods.
The good news is that learning basic assertiveness skills can be your best defense. If you’re a woman or a vulnerable person, depending on your culture, you might be expected to react passively. Sometimes, you can disarm someone with a strong, loud, and brief assertion (e.g. Leave me alone, or I’ll call the police).
Use a money belt or neck stash at airports, where thieves hide in plain sight and exploit the crowds and the chaos. Don’t set down your phone or anything else that you can’t afford to lose.
Tarriss TSA Luggage Lock
Try not to pack or check any valuables when you travel. If you must travel with expensive items, pack them in your carry-on. If you are simply unable to carry on your valuables, consider a travel insurance policy or even ship valuables to your destination ahead of time.
All transition areas of an airport are favored spots for thieves, who can quietly catch you off guard and steal your stuff. Keep your bags within your field of vision—in front of you. Wear your valuables underneath clothing. No carrying at your side or over your shoulder.
If you’re traveling solo, who will mind your luggage during a nap or trip to the bathroom? Luggage locks can be a good deterrent. Consider a TSA luggage lock. If you’re alone, take any carry-ons with you to the bathroom.
Exhausted at the airport
When you arrive at your destination after a long flight, you’ll be exhausted and disoriented, which could make you more vulnerable to being targeted for theft.
Try to plan your trip so you arrive at your destination during daylight hours.
Use the hotel or hostel safe for your valuables since some outfits won’t take responsibility if your items are stolen. Call or email the property ahead of time and find out what their policy is for theft/loss.
You might buy a Kensington lock for your laptop and other mobile equipment. Fasten this cable-style into a slot in your laptop and then loop the cable around furniture or a fixture.
Since hostels are communal, don’t leave anything valuable unattended. Take your money belt or neck stash into the bathroom with you.
Try not to hail a cab from the street
Especially when alone and female, it is best not to hail a cab off the street since not all cabs are trustworthy. Order your ride directly from the cab company over the internet or phone. If the cab driver offers to load your luggage into the trunk, you might politely decline and keep your luggage with you in the cab.
Ridesharing companies invite more risk of theft or harm as drivers may not be properly vetted, and drivers use their own vehicles. Traditional cabs are at least marked with information inside and out, so you can at least verify their identity. If a driver makes you uneasy, text a friend or family member the license number and photo of the driver.
Whether you rent a vehicle or use your own, make it unappealing to thieves. Don’t leave anything of value (or assumed value) visible in the cabin. Don’t leave any bags in the vehicle (even if they’re full of garbage; a thief won’t know). Don’t leave out any CDs that could mean you have a good stereo (remove the CD player faceplate).
If you use a GPS with a suction cup that leaves a circle on your window, wipe the circle off the window glass. Don’t let gadgets stay plugged in/not plugged (it could signal a GPS or iPod hidden in the glove box).
Never give your car keys to a valet parker if the car keys are attached to other keys (especially your house keys).
If you rent a vehicle, be sure to inspect a rental car (in the presence of a car rental employee so you won’t get charged for damages you didn’t make). Take photos of the vehicle if you can.
From Rio de Janeiro to Rome, you may have read about swarming, which happens when a mob of brazen children or teens surround victims and rob them. Sometimes swarms can involve as many as 10 or 15 members and children as young as 8 years old.
Although swarming has happened in many parts of the world, it has especially become a growing concern in Western Europe for the past several years. Roma gangs from Eastern Europe have had an increasing presence in Western Europe. With Paris being the tourist destination it is, France has been struggling to deal with these crimes.
Swarms can get pretty aggressive and abusive, with thieves physically assaulting tourists without a second thought since there’s no consequence. That is, in Western Europe, police must simply release children under age 16 to their parents.
Since tourists tend to be targeted by swarms, carry your money in a money belt or neck stash and use decoys.
Don’t use outside cash machines if you can avoid them. Try to use ATMs inside banks during business hours when there are more people around.
If you’re dining out, don’t hang purses or bags on the backs of chairs. Wear them or hold them on your lap.
Be alert in touristy areas
Tourist areas and crowded places are pickpocket heaven. When strangers approach you in a touristy location, especially when they seem to be “too friendly,” there’s a chance that you’re being set up for a scam, so be alert. Another actor could pick your pocket while the first person is distracting you. Wear your valuables.
Travel by bus is an affordable way to travel for extended trips and while at your destination. You can control some factors to reduce your chances of theft and harm.
Bus terminals tend to be located in transient neighborhoods where crime rates are higher, although that’s not always true. Depending on your perceptions, terminals might range from excellent people-watching to mildly unpleasant to terrifying. Often the toilets are worse than anything else you’ll find but don’t dismiss the need to be aware.
Try to schedule your trip so that you don’t end up in a bus terminal in the middle of the night. Wear your valuables and carry self-defense products. Walk with purpose and be aware. Don’t talk on your phone while walking. Be low key, don’t flash possessions, and learn to project a flat affect and deadpan delivery if you find yourself a magnet for intrusions by strangers.
If you’re traveling alone on a bus and don’t want to talk to anyone, spread yourself over both seats so you can sit alone; this won’t work if the bus is packed to capacity. Try to sit as close to the bus driver as possible. On a double-decker bus, sit on the lower deck if you can. Take your valuables with you to the bathroom.
To secure a bag, wrap the bag straps around your legs or place your foot in the bag straps to feel safer. Use a luggage lock.
If you feel uneasy or if you’re a woman alone, try to get an aisle seat or sit next to a woman or an elderly person if you can. Bring a book to read to signal you want privacy (it doesn’t always work). If you are being harassed or feel unsafe, tell the bus driver, who, at least in theory, has the job of keeping you safe.
By the way, some bus drivers will actually leave you stranded at Burger King if you don’t make it back to the bus on time. Believe them when they give you the departure time after a rest stop. They mean it.
Not everyone has the means or the desire for a private vehicle or a cab, and the subway is an efficient way to get around in many cities. Protect your valuables with a neck stash or money belt. Carry self-defense products.
Avoid using subways late at night or in the wee hours of the morning if you can. If someone harasses you, be assertive. Statements you should learn to say (loudly, and with absolute authority):
“Grope me again, and I’ll call the cops.”
“I don’t feel like talking.”
“Leave me alone.”
Bullies who harass you usually don’t expect a strong response; if they get one, sometimes they’ll leave you alone.
The only way to become assertive is to practice in situations that don’t matter, which will help you become confident for situations that do.
Sometimes if you’ve got a headset on, you can ignore a person and pretend not to hear. Ignoring or giving short, curt answers can also get rid of people. Note: These methods could potentially anger some aggressive individuals; judge each situation on its own. Sometimes you can look to the behavior of the people around you (hopefully they will help, but don’t depend on it). Sometimes you need to get away as fast as you can.
Learn to accept being perceived as rude. Stop caring about what complete strangers think. You owe them nothing. Develop the stone urban armor of the indifferent who have places to go and things to do. If you’re a woman, some men will label you in all sorts of lovely ways and ask why you think you’re so high or mighty. Walk away, but stay aware of them.
Travel by train is one of the most relaxing ways to travel if you have the time. Trains come with a hypnotic hum and lovely views from the windows, which can lull you into daydreaming. Don’t lose awareness of your surroundings, though. Wear your valuables. If you’re alone and you need to use the bathroom, take your valuables with you. Get a TSA luggage lock.
Sleeping cars are a great perk if you can afford them. Some of these cars have double beds you can share with a partner, which is, of course, safer, or when alone you might sleep in an upper bunk for safety). Take precautions against theft while in a sleeping car and get a luggage lock. Keep self-defense products on your person.
When armed with street skills, an assertive demeanor, and the right travel gear, you can venture into the world with greater peace of mind, knowing that you have the wherewithal to reduce your chances of being targeted for crime.
Written by Katie Anton