Thursday, September 6, 2012

Safety for travelers Part 6

Travel Safety Rules
by Randy Johnson.
First, here are some elementary rules to keep you safe. They make up a good portion of my personal rules to travel by. When you have internalized them, you will notice every time you are about to break one. Then you can make a conscious decision, and accept the consequences if you decide to break it.
  • Don't look wealthy; don't flaunt your valuables.
  • Keep both hands free.
  • Keep your money, passport, and credit cards next to your skin. Keep them in front of you. Take them to the shower with you. Sleep on top of them.
  • Stay in physical contact with your bags unless they are locked in your room or stowed safely (preferably in your view) on transport.
  • Every time you stand up, look back to see what you have left behind.
  • Carry your luggage onto the bus, train, truck, or taxi with you.
  • When you buy a ticket, GET a ticket.
  • Don't rent a room that is not secure; lock it every time you leave.
  • Be aware of everyone around you. Not "beware", just be aware.
  • Don't do anything you think is possibly dangerous, just to avoid being rude.
Most thieves in the Third World are sneak thieves. You will not see them, even after they have stolen your goods. The simplest ones will try to steal from your hotel room when you are not there. The most sophisticated can nick your rucksack right out from under your nose. They are counting on you being off your guard, trusting, acting like you would at home, and being ignorant of the ways in which they work. If you take precautions, they will avoid you; there are plenty of other tourists out there who are much easier to rob than you are!
Because you do not see them, you may assume that thieves are not there. Perhaps when you are at home, you lock your door every night before going to bed. What would happen if, one night, you left the door unlocked? Is there, in fact, someone who comes around every night trying all the doors in the neighborhood? Depending on your neighborhood, probably not. But you really don't know, do you? And you won't find out until you leave your door unlocked.
In some countries there are dozens of people waiting around for you to make just such a silly mistake. In other places, you are only tempting the local people into becoming thieves by leaving yourself and your belongings unguarded. But if you travel very long and in very many places, you will meet (or never see at all) just enough people who will take advantage of your lack of precaution to rob you of everything you have.
Don't Invite Thieves
Don't show off your wealth. Traveling on the cheap is often your best protection from theft! I have spent over eight months traveling in Mexico and I have never been robbed there. As in all countries, most Mexican people are not thieves. Mostly I have traveled by public transport, stayed in regular lodging, and carried only a small and worn rucksack. Even the thieves are not interested in robbing me. I have stayed in huts with no locks and occasionally left all of my gear in the open, guarded only by my hammock, when that was the local norm. It was a risk, but I got away with it because there were no real thieves in these rural communities.
However, I know exactly what to do if I want to be robbed in Mexico. Instead of traveling by bus with my rucksack, I would bring or rent a nice camping van and camp on isolated beaches which are popular with tourists. If you ask around, travelers will tell you of lovely isolated beaches where you can camp for free. There are some wonderful spots and many of them are pretty safe. But if tourists have been doing this for a long time, the local criminal types may visit these famous spots to hold up campers at gun or machete point. They know that tourists carry valuable cameras, stereos, stoves, and all.
Sleeping in regular lodging places (even beach bungalows) and carrying a small amount of luggage makes you less of a target, and usually no target at all. It's when you look so different from everybody else -- traveling around in your own car, doubtless loaded with lots of expensive goodies, camping out, brandishing video cameras -- that you advertise yourself as a target. I feel safe on the bus, surrounded by local people.
Few people who have had the wonderful adventure of backpacking up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru have been neglected by the robbers who regularly hold up tent sites along the trail. That's the way things are in a few countries, and that's why I'm surprised to see travelers who have come to South America to go camping in the mountains. They bring a thousand dollars worth of high-tech camping gear only to find that there are few organized places to camp, and that wilderness camping is often an invitation to robbery. This isn't Kansas anymore; that's not the way it is done here. They discover that most travelers just take a bus up to the high mountain towns, check into a cheap hotel and hang out for a week or two, taking day hikes into the mountains, and returning to eat in cafes at night. This is not what they had in mind at all.
Note [March, 2000] that with the recent increase in tourism, the Peruvian government has stepped up security along the Inca Trail. You can now arrange for "Sherpas" to carry your gear for you and have your tent camp set up for you each afternoon when you arrive! There is now even a "hostal" at the last stop on the Inca Trail, complete with bunk-beds, toilets, food, and probably a bar.
Unfortunately, this is a good reason not to go too far off of the beaten path in some countries. Away from the town and the hotel, in the anonymity of the woods or hills, people who have very little to lose may be happy to relieve you of your belongings. Seldom is any violence actually done, but it is not a nice experience. Many countries are completely safe in this regard. Ask other travelers and the local people in your hotel. When they warn you not to go walking in the countryside, there really may be robbers lying in wait for tourists. It is one reason to stay in hotels instead of camping out, in questionable areas.

Security for travelers Part 5

Security for Women Travelers

By Randy Johnson

The problem is sexual harassment of women by local men. In some countries the barrage of comments, hissing, whistling, chirping, leering stares, lecherous grins, and blatant sexual advances can just about destroy your enjoyment of the country. When it gets to physical touching and groping, it can become quite frightening.

In other places, the constant harassment on the street is pleasantly missing. But you still need to be cautious of men making sexual advances to you when an opportunity arises, such as sitting or standing next to you on a bus, or catching you in a situation away from other people. The more conservative the local social and religious standards, the more your very presence provokes this outrageous behavior in the local men. The local women may also be scandalized by your presence, not to mention your dress and behavior.

This is a completely different environment from what you are used to. Since you cannot change the cultural mores of entire populations, you must learn to deal with the situation as it exists. You may need to wear clothing that you don't care for, stay off the streets at night, or avoid contacts with local men. It won't always be fun or easy, but there are a number of things you can do which can significantly reduce the problems and allow you to continue enjoying the country as best you can. If it becomes too much for you, move on to another country where things are not so difficult.

You have probably heard most of the explanations and rationalizations for this sexist behavior in Third World men. All Western women are seriously believed to be sexually promiscuous, and so on. Still, it is hard to believe that you could cause such reactions just by being there.

The simple fact that you are a "modern" foreign woman makes you just as provocative in some conservative countries as if you had walked into your workplace in your underwear! Add to that the fact that you are out traveling the world, perhaps even (incredibly) on your own. On top of that, you do things that no local woman would ever do; you travel around without your husband and children, eat in restaurants, and stay away from the "house", even after dark!

Not only do you fail to fit the pattern of proper local women, but you seem to fall into the category of the wanton western women they have perhaps seen in films. You are already a provocation to Third World men just by being there! Now if your dress and behavior are less than the demure standards for local women and girls, that only strikes the match that sets off their male egos and libidos. Yes, these poor guys! You can really get to hate, and even fear them. Now, how do you deal with them? Here are three reminders to minimize (but not eliminate) harassment on the street in countries where it is bothersome: Go around with other travelers, dress conservatively, and don't be too friendly to strangers.

Be Aware

Be aware of the local standards of dress and behavior. The simplest way is just to observe how the local women and girls dress and behave. Preferably, you should get some information about the local customs before you arrive, from other women travelers who have already been there. If you do a little reading before you leave home, you should at least be able to determine the types of clothing you may want to bring.

Have Company

Make friends of travelers and take them with you wherever you go. This is your best protection. The more friends, the better; take two or three along -- safety in numbers. A woman traveling alone is much more of a target for harassment than two women together. You can really do a lot to help, protect, and support each other in areas where it is a problem. Being "sisters" is generally safer than revealing that you hardly know each other; create some imaginative relationships.

Learn something from how the local women protect themselves. In most Third World countries, women commonly walk arm in arm, or holding hands; couples may not, since public displays of affection are improper in many places. Watch how the local girls avoid the attentions of men. They walk arm in arm, with their heads together, constantly laughing and deep in conversation with each other. This is not just their adolescent personalities, it is their protection from the intrusions of men. If a strange man says something to them, they ignore him; if he approaches, they only look down in disgust and move on. When young women and girls in Latin America go to "promenade" in the park on Sundays, it is a different story. They walk near their girlfriends but they don't talk very much; this allows young men to approach them for a stroll around the park, if they are agreeable. It is a social institution.

Sure, walk arm in arm with your female companions; get really close and show that you don't want any intrusions. Do the same with your male companions, but don't offend local public decency with overt shows of affection.

Having a male companion will not make you immune to harassment, but it can be a stronger deterrent than a female companion, especially if it seems clear that you "belong" to him (even if you do not). Grab a guy you can trust, or already love, and stick to him. Or travel with a couple and be his "sister"; you can all walk arm in arm. These relationships appear stronger than 'just hanging out' with a few men, which can occasionally give entirely the wrong impression, especially if no particular man appears to be watching out for you. Still, it should be comforting to have a few male travelers around to keep the flies off of you.

A couple hitching in Mexico was picked up by a carload of men. The man was asked if the woman was his wife. "No", he said, truthfully. "Is she your sister?" "No." Whereupon the man sitting next to her began groping all over her body! Marriage and family still get some respect, while "living in sin" does not.

Dress Appropriately

If you dress and behave just as the local women do, it will greatly reduce the amount of attention and harassment you receive. Of course in a few places this would require you to conceal yourself in a berka and stay off the streets! But the more you conform, the fewer problems you will have. Try to go at least half way.

Dressing conservatively is the easiest precaution to take. Many women, and men too, just wear whatever they feel comfortable wearing at home, and the hell with the local standards; "it's their problem, not mine!" The choice is yours, but why invite more harassment on yourself than you already have? Your dress can make a significant difference in the way you are treated, especially for women. In many countries you can easily see the difference from one day to the next, if you wear different styles of clothing. You can buy relatively light, typical women's clothing quite cheaply wherever you go. If you wear this and cover your head with a local scarf, you may be unrecognizable as a foreigner when walking down the street!

As much as you can stand it, wear clothing that covers you almost as much as the local women do. In some countries, grown women do not wear their hair loose in public -- not respectable women, anyway. Just covering your long hair with a scarf could make a dramatic difference in the amount of attention you get. In many places, you only need to cover your legs and shoulders to be conservatively dressed. It doesn't matter if it's just jeans and a T-shirt, although a blouse could be more appropriate. In more conservative countries, both men and women may be improperly dressed if their arms are bare. You should carry a light long-sleeve blouse, which is good in any case to protect your arms from sun and mosquitoes. Only in conservative Moslem countries will you have trouble for wearing trousers, but a long skirt will be considered more respectable in many places and it's also cooler.

A petite woman with dark hair attracts less attention and has fewer hassles than a woman with long blonde hair and a full figure. You may have little control over these factors, but that's the way it is. In all countries, avoid tight or low-cut garments, or anything else that tends to show off or draw attention to your figure. At home they may be considered more "attractive", meaning to attract attention -- this will not be your concern when traveling! Camouflage your figure in loose garments. Clothing two sizes too large may not yet be fashionable in your country, but it can avoid unwanted attention, as well as being cool and comfortable. Eye makeup is used in some countries, but lots of makeup just makes you look more like those western women in the films. Blonde hair can act like a banner in many places; cover or tie it up for a day or two and see if it makes any difference.

These dress guidelines need not be horribly uncomfortable or unreasonable. No one is asking you to strictly observe purdah (the Muslim law of properly secluding women). But if you dress more like the locals, you will be more accepted, avoid hassles, and get closer to their way of life. You will be more accepted by the local women, as well, and find it easier to approach and befriend them. In conservative countries I always wear long trousers and often light, long-sleeve shirts. I don't have to worry much about harassment, but I feel more comfortable and certainly more accepted when I dress to the local standards. Many travelers do not.

Behave Appropriately

I think you can figure out for yourself that acting wild and crazy, drinking, or even smoking in public, may give men the impression that you are a libertine for whom, perhaps, anything goes. The behavior I'm talking about is what you do when men approach you. Basically, I will advise you not to be too friendly. Western women can have the engaging habit of walking around with their heads up, smiling, being cheerful, friendly, and open. I love it. So do the Third World men. This kind of behavior is the antithesis of how Third World women act in order to discourage approaches by men.

The men are so used to being rebuked, rebuffed, ignored, and snubbed (the poor guys, it only makes them try harder!) that when you look them in the eye and smile, they are sure you are in love with them! Or at least lust. Even when you shout insults at them, they are encouraged. There is no stopping them! So the best policy is to ignore them. Nothing infuriates a man so much (and you will really look forward to infuriating them) as being completely ignored. Wearing those anti-social mirrored sunglasses can make your interactions much more impersonal.

In general, women should be more cautious about giving any response to men who speak to them on the street. In many countries, local women spoken to by strangers, even by shopkeepers or vendors, will completely ignore them unless they are interested in buying something. Unfortunately, this is a behavior traveling women should cultivate in more conservative countries. Many men will speak to a woman just to elicit any response whatsoever. Even a shake of your head, eye contact, or a smiling "no thank you" is at least a triumph for them, if not proof of their irresistibility. If they are rude enough to make you visibly angry, it is a victory; if you yell and scream at them, it is a conquest! If you must say something, try to learn some commonly used defensive replies ("leave me alone", "get lost") in the local language.

Third World women avoid eye contact with strange men by keeping their heads, or at least their eyes cast down to the ground. Of course, this will not be very convenient for sightseeing. They can also look pretty grim most of the time. Frankly, it's not very inviting. Get the picture? When things get tough, tuck your chin in, wipe that smile off your face, and don't make eye contact. At least try it for a day and see if it makes any difference. Speaking of local women, whenever you can find them, use them as sources of information instead of having to ask men for directions. They probably won't approach you, but if you make the first move, they can be quite receptive.

When you do have a casual conversation with a man on a bus, in a shop, or on the street, resist smiling or making eye contact too much. I'm sorry, but some of these men haven't seen a smile for months! It can literally drive them crazy. If you speak in a matter of fact voice, look down, and manage only a few small smiles, you will have more ordinary conversations that do not end in sexual advances. You will only be acting a bit more like local women are expected to act. Pretend it's your father.

Other Techniques

In places where I am constantly being approached by street touts, I make it a practice to always keep moving. As long as I am in motion I can usually just ignore anyone who comes by or walks beside me. But as soon as I stop to read my map, look in a window, or sit on a park bench, someone takes the opportunity to come up and hustle me. Women travelers can adopt the same strategy; it doesn't stop the comments, but you feel less threatened when you are already walking away.

Wearing a wedding ring can occasionally put men off, or at least give you a good story to tell about your husband, who will be meeting you soon. You may choose to reinforce this with a few photos of your husband and children. If you are traveling with a male friend, pretending to be married makes you much more respectable. In some parts of Asia, the ring is worn on the right hand; just look around and see. A simple gold (or gold-plated) band can be bought relatively cheaply in many places.

I met a woman traveler on a bus in Mexico who had bought a ticket only part way to her destination. She explained that if she were having trouble with men on the bus, she would just get off and wait for the next bus. She also confided that she carried a good-sized hat pin which she had used liberally on several hands that she had found on her leg. One time she borrowed a man's cigarette only to crush it out on his errant hand! I was only slightly flattered when she stayed on and bought a new ticket. I kept my hands to myself!

The good news is that there are many countries where overt harassment of women is minimal, where dress standards are reasonably open, and you can relax and be yourself. But even these countries will have some lecherous men to plague your path. Although you won't need to follow all of the onerous guidelines I've mentioned for more conservative countries, learning them will help you to deal with these situations if they do arise.

Meeting Local Men

In some countries, unfortunately, you may end up avoiding men altogether. But you will meet local men in other countries with whom you will enjoy talking, laughing, and joking. What's the fun if you can't enjoy the company of local people? Just be very much aware that it is quite easy for these men to believe that you are "leading them on". You may have to deal with the consequences later. Just because you are traveling with your husband or boyfriend does not mean that local men will keep their distance; they think they know all about how promiscuous western women are.

Don't talk with just any man who approached you on the street. The men or boys who work in your hotel, cafe, or local shops may (or may not) be the safest, especially if their wives are there. Talk to men in controlled situations, with other friends of yours around; make it a group conversation. Cut off the conversation when it becomes too personal, or degenerates to him continually asking you to do something with him. Men will ask you (and me, too) questions so personal that they would never, ever ask them of any person from their own country; it would be incredibly rude! Don't tolerate it if you don't like it! They will push your limits to see what you will accept.

Similarly, avoid casual touching. It really angers me to see local Lotharios casually laying their hands on the shoulders of friendly female travelers. They would never be so rude as to do this with local women! If they did, they would certainly get their faces slapped! When you let them touch you, you only invite more advances.

Flirting with Disaster

Ron and I were on a beach in Mexico where there were several travelers and local Mexicans. One night, at a real campfire, we met two teen-age American women who were just a week or two away from home. One was very attractive, very blonde, and was being very friendly with the young Mexican guys. I would have called it teen-age flirting at home; here in Mexico it was flirting with disaster. She let one of the men come to their hut with them for more talk, and ended up sending him away when he tried to kiss her.

Later, in the middle of the night, the two women ran screaming into our hut. The same young man had burst into their hut in a screaming rage, drawn his machete, and chopped down their hammocks. Fortunately, he was not murderously violent, just extremely frustrated and angry. The women were petrified with fear. "How could this have happened?" If they knew anything at all about Third World men, they could have predicted (or hopefully avoided) his behavior, "led on" by their flirtations.

Meeting Local Women

No, this is not dangerous, but I insert it here for some pleasant relief. One of the few advantages that women travelers have is their accessibility to local women. In exactly the same countries where you have more hassles because of the strict treatment of women, you may also have the exclusive opportunity to visit these women in the privacy of their homes. As a male traveler, I am sometimes proscribed from even looking at local women, let alone talking to them. And I will never get beyond the front door, where the home is the sanctum of the women of the family.

But behind that door, the women of these traditional countries literally let their hair down, remove their veils, and sometimes behave in very modern and open ways. The public bath, (hammam in Moslem countries), is one public but exclusively female place to meet local women. Even in less conservative countries, you are still more welcome into the homes, activities, and conversations of local women than are male travelers.

Male Travelers

If you are reasonably lucky, you will meet friendly male travelers in your hotel or elsewhere, who will be happy to spend some time sightseeing and sharing meals with you, allowing you to avoid some of the hassles that await lone women in some countries. Just ask them, and make sure they know exactly what your motives are. In general, most male travelers who have any experience at all will be sensitive to the problems of women travelers, and will avoid adding to the burden by making their own blatant sexual advances.

For you male travelers who are reading this, take note and wise up! Be aware that women travelers can be very sensitive to sexual advances because they are sick and tired of dealing with them out on the street. They need friends more than suitors. Make friends with people you like, and enjoy their company. If someone has a special interest in you, she will let you know in her own way. If you just can't resist, let her know in a non-confrontational way and preferably not alone in her room. Learn to take "No" for an answer, the first time. Traveling women suffer through more humiliating bullshit from men than you or I could ever imagine. Give them the respect they deserve.


While it does happen, rape of tourists is not a major threat and you need not be paranoid about it. But you should be aware that the possibility of attack can exist in many situations, and avoid those where the opportunity is greatest. The few rapes that have occurred usually take place in isolated rural areas, or in the woman's hotel room. The best way to avoid even the small possibility of being raped is to avoid walking off into isolated areas, especially by yourself. You are much less likely to be attacked anywhere if you stay with a group of people, especially if some of them are men. Making friends makes good sense.

The next major precaution is to always make sure you have a secure hotel room and keep it locked at all times, including the windows, all night. An open window can seem like an open invitation to lecherous locals. Don't put too much trust in hotel staff, and don't open your door at night to any man, including those from your hotel. You can feel very vulnerable, even locked in your room, if a man is trying to get in. You might consider carrying a small can of mace (tear gas); you probably won't have to use it, but it can make you feel less vulnerable, and it does stop attacks if sprayed in the face. A very loud alarm is another alternative. Clearly, a woman staying alone is more of a target than one staying with a man, or with other women.

I think you already know the general precautions against going off with strange men, or letting them into your room. Don't be too trusting; the rules can be quite different out there. In many cultures, being alone together, touching, and kissing are only allowed by women who want to have sex! In such cultures, a woman would never be alone with a man without expecting to be attacked. And conversely, no self-respecting man would pass up such an opportunity to attack her.


At this writing, there are not many books specifically for women travelers available, but not because they have not been written. "Women Travel", edited by Natania Jansz and Miranda Davies is one you can still find in bookstores. It is a collection of women's living and travel experiences from individual countries around the globe. Among other sources you may (or may not) find in the library are: "Seven League" Boots, Wendy Meyers' story of hitch-hiking around the world; "Ms Adventures -- Worldwide Travelguide for Independent Women", by Gail Rubin Bereny, interesting for upscale travelers; and "The Traveling Woman", by Dena Kaye.

from Randy Johnson's "Footloose and Fancy-Free in the Third World" Used with permission.

All text Copyright © 1992-2004, Randy R. Johnson.

Security fro travelers Part 4

Protecting Your Belongings

Your belongings are important to you. On the Road you live out of your rucksack; it is your home, it is all you own. Yet people have had their entire rucksacks stolen, and continued with their trip. After the initial shock, they found they could buy whatever necessities they needed, and sometimes even felt some relief to get rid of that heavy pack. People have lost their passports and all their travelers checks, and continued with their trip after the inconveniences of replacing them. It is not the end of the world, or even the end of the trip. But it is not going to happen to you, because you are going to be prepared and know how to protect your belongings.

Also consider that the less you have, and the less you show off to others, the fewer problems you will have with theft. Even backpack travelers may be assumed to carry interesting goods far beyond the economic reach of most local people; but a smart thief will definitely choose targets that appear more lucrative for him. Given a choice, he will go into the rooms of people he has seen carrying big cameras, electronic gear, and expensive camping equipment which he may hope to sell quickly. You can still be robbed, but the chances are only increased when you show off such items of apparent value.

Copies -- Just In Case

There is almost no paper -- except cash -- that cannot be replaced, eventually, if you keep a copy or a record of it. Before you leave home, copy your passport photo page, vaccination certificate, travelers check receipts, air ticket, driver's license, student card, YHA card, etc. Leave a copy at home and carry a couple of copies in various places in your luggage. Take a copy of your birth certificate to help you get a new passport. Keep a list in your notebook or address book of the numbers of your insurance policies, bank accounts, social security or national identity number, credit card numbers, and the serial number on your camera. Leave your main address book at home and take a smaller one for traveling. As you pick up the addresses of new friends along the way, add them to the end of the letters you send home.

Now, along the way, make copies of any air tickets you buy and write down the ticket numbers. Some people even copy important visas they get. At least write the visa numbers down. Being in a country without a visa can be as much trouble as not having a passport. Your embassy can do nothing about replacing your visas or entry stamps.

If you buy new travelers checks along the way, not only save the receipts (separate from the checks), but keep a separate note of all the check numbers and when you spend them. Having exact information about which checks are lost will greatly help in getting them replaced. You will probably not lose any of these items. But if you do, you will be able to get them replaced with the least amount of trouble.

Money Pouch

Keep your money, your passport, credit cards, and other valuable documents next to your skin. Keep them in front of you. Take them to the shower with you. Sleep on top of them.

Keep your money and other paper documents organized in a single plastic folding case similar to what you get with your travelers checks. One with a fold-over flap is better for protecting them. Put this, your passport, credit cards, and any other valuables that will fit (spare key, a few passport photos), into a flat pouch that you can wear next to your skin. I will call this a "money pouch". Various types of money pouches you might use are discussed below.

I use a money belt because I feel it is safest. This is not a real belt, but a thin pouch that straps around your waist. Wear it inside your trousers or skirt, under your belt, and in the front, not the back. Wearing it on the outside of your clothing may be more comfortable, but it defeats the purpose. The most popular alternative is a "passport bag" that you wear around your neck. They are more obvious and easier to steal. People have had theirs stolen on crowded trains without even being aware of it. If you use one, run a strong length of wire entirely through the neck strap, to prevent it from being cut.

You might consider stashing a small amount of cash and a traveler's check in one or two extra places, just in case you ever lose your money pouch. For example, in your rucksack with your passport copy, or in a separate, secret pocket or pouch on your body.

Whenever I have to dig into my money pouch in a public place, like a station or airport, I immediately move on to another location instead of staying among the same group of people. Watch to see if anyone follows you. In fact, even if a thief sees that your money is kept next to your skin, he will know that it is too difficult to rob you of.

'Walking Around' Money

Keep the amount of money you expect to use during the day in a wallet, money clip, or small purse in a front pocket — not a back pocket where it can more easily be lifted or slashed free with a razor blade. I sometimes add a snap or velcro closure to this pocket to make it more difficult for pickpockets. When things get really close, lay your hand casually over this pocket if you can. If you wear a skirt without pockets, sew a little pocket inside the waist where you can get at it easily. Do not carry anything else of value -- irreplaceable phone numbers, travelers check receipts, or photos of your family -- in this money holder. I have only been pick-pocketed once, on a very crowded local bus. It was an infuriating experience, but I only lost a few dollars worth of cash, and the wallet. Keep coins separate, so that you do not have to pull out your wallet on a crowded bus.

A woman's handbag or shoulder purse is not as safe as a day pack because the strap is easier to break or cut, unless you reinforce it with wire. If you do take a small purse, keep it inside of your day pack so you have only one thing to carry, and don't leave your passport of travelers checks in it. A waist pack is a good alternative, and even more difficult to steal or lose.

If you misjudge the amount of money you will need for the day, you will have to dig into your money pouch. Do not do so in public places if you can at all avoid it, least of all on a crowded public bus. If there are too many prying eyes, just say you will have to go to the bank or hotel to get more money, and come back later. Then find a more private place.

Day Pack Security?

You will still keep some things in a day pack -- but not your really valuables, like passport, money, and (hopefully small) camera. In some countries (the list is growing), bag slashers will come up behind you, slit your day pack (or rear trouser pocket) with a razor blade and follow along behind you, waiting for the goodies to drop out. For this reason, it is a good idea in more theft-prone areas to place a bulky item such as a sweater (jumper) or wind-jacket or (hey! a hotel) towel in the bottom of your day bag first. In really close situations -- on a packed bus or marketplace -- wear your day pack "backwards", on your chest!

Protecting Camera Equipment

The main valuable you will not be able to carry in your money pouch is your camera equipment. You should carry it with you at all times. Your hotel room is not a safe place to leave cameras, but you will end up doing this on occasion. When you must, lock the camera equipment inside of your rucksack where it cannot be seen or easily stolen.

If you have much camera equipment, you will need to keep it in a day pack and carry it with you everywhere. (See Day Pack Security, just above). In any questionable situation, wear it in front of you! This includes crowded buses, in queues at the station, or even walking down the street in theft-prone cities.

Unfortunately, when you want to take a photo, you may end up setting the pack on the ground to pull out the camera. Do not leave the bag there while using the camera, put it back on your shoulder. It is much better if you have a day pack which you can swing under your armpit, open, and remove the camera without taking the pack off of your shoulder. Practice this at home, or before buying a new bag for this purpose.

You can buy (at home) waist packs specifically made to carry camera equipment. A bag secured around your waist is less vulnerable to theft (and forgetfulness) than a day pack. Wear it in front of you or on your side where you can rest a hand on it, not in back! You may find this alternative uncomfortable if your equipment is very bulky.

A compact camera is much easier to protect. You can fit it into a trousers pocket if it is all you are carrying. Don't use shirt pockets unless they can be secured with a button or snap; things are always falling out of shirt pockets. I usually carry my compact camera in my small waist pack, which can also hold film, notebooks, and dozens of other small items. It becomes my valuables bag, leaving my hands free. I never leave it behind because it is secured around my waist. I wear it on the side, with one hand casually resting on it, or it can be shifted easily in front of me in tight situations. Make sure the zipper is closed toward the front side; for this reason a double zipper is preferable.

If your camera has a wrist or neck strap, use it! It not only prevents theft, it will save your camera on the one or two occasions during a trip when you accidentally drop it. You could also be bumped by someone 'accidentally', causing you to 'drop' your camera right into the hands of his passing accomplice.

Again, if you follow these precautions, no one will even try to steal your gear. If you do not, probably no one will try. But for that one time in a hundred...

Security for travelers Part 3

Security -- Isn't it dangerous out there?

by Randy Johnson.

Some people are put off from independent travel by the apparent risks. Not only can you get sick, or killed in a bus wreck, but there may be people trying to rob you, cheat you, rape you, drug your drink, or maybe even put a knife in your ribs.

I wish I could tell you that all of this is rubbish. Unfortunately, these things do happen to travelers. What I can tell you, however, is that in most countries I have traveled, I feel as safe or safer than I do at home. You will hear many horror stories on the Road, and some of them really make you want to catch the next flight home. There are tales of travelers contracting incurable diseases you have never even heard of, being thrown in jail after the police planted drugs in their room, being robbed of all they own and left in the wilderness, or being knifed on the street by robbers. One reason I tell you these stories is so you will not panic when you inevitably hear them recited by other travelers. "My God! No one ever told us about that!"

This is a long discussion, during which you will hear about dozens of ways you can lose your belongings to thieves, and a few ways that you may be physically harmed. It can be discouraging just reading about it. Don't worry, in the process I will tell you exactly what you can do to make the chances of your becoming a victim very small. In many countries the dangers are few and can be avoided with basic precautions.

People often use the word dangerous to describe the danger of theft, not bodily harm; do not confuse theft-prone with physically dangerous. In some of the most dangerous countries and cities in the Third World, there is very little risk of being physically attacked. You can read of innocent people being shot down by mass-murderers in the USA, and terrorist bombings in Europe. Personally, I am far more frightened by these random acts of violence at home than by the methodical workings of criminals in the Third World, who are only after your money. Learn how they work, and you will be safe.

Out on the Road, you enter a new way of life. There are different rules out there, and more precautions to be learned. The local people already know the rules. The sooner you learn them, the more problems you will avoid. When you take precautions, you will be safe. When you feel safe, you can enjoy your trip.

from Randy Johnson's "Footloose and Fancy-Free in the Third World" Used with Permission

All text Copyright © 1992-2004, Randy R. Johnson.

Security for travelers visiting Peru Part 2

Anti-Imperialism/ Anti-Americanism

By Randy Johnson

Many Americans are afraid of encountering dangerous anti-American sentiments abroad. Other nationalities can have similar fears, also derived from publicized incidents of terrorism. I have heard many of the stories and some first-hand accounts of close calls, but frankly, it has never been a problem for me.

Maybe this is just a difference in perception. Sure, I have had dozens, maybe hundreds of people say negative things to me about my country and about Americans. Some of them were western travelers. But this is not a big deal, and I don't take it personally. Often I can appreciate their complaints and the fact that they are often the result of national priorities or biased information. In fact, it is normal; I have plenty of negative things to say about my country, too. In short, I hardly notice it. I don't get into arguments, nor do I vehemently agree with criticisms; I avoid discussions on the topic.

I am an American; it's my home. But on the Road, I feel no particular need to defend its government or people. I had one taxi driver in Pakistan berate me loudly during most of a short trip. "America! What's wrong with you Americans?" The real problem was, "Why won't the American Embassy give me a visa?" My only reply was "I don't know." Smile, shrug your shoulders, be nice, and you can avoid most belligerent situations.

But this is quite different from feeling that your personal safety is in jeopardy because of your nationality. It does happen, and I have heard a few personal accounts of altercations. I have witnessed a couple of anti-imperialist demonstrations, felt nervous, and kept my distance. Maybe I'm incredibly lucky, but I have never yet felt physically threatened or intimidated by it. People are always asking me, "Didn't you have any trouble being an American in Syria, Nicaragua, China, Laos, South America, etc.?" I'm sorry, but the answer is "no".

Sometimes it is surprising. In Nicaragua, during the Contra conflicts, I fully expected to hide behind some other identity. But in my first days, I was brave. A local man on a bus turned and asked me if I were Cuban; there were many Cuban advisers and teachers in Nicaragua. No, I said, I was a Norte Americano (American). "Ahh," he said, "We do not like your government at all! But the Americans are good people. Welcome to Free Nicaragua!" I was flabbergasted! Not only was I not in for big trouble, but this simple Third World man had shown a cultural sensitivity that most Americans are lacking -- the ability to separate the actions of a distant country's government from the nature of its individual citizens. The bus did not descend on me en mass. The word got around and some people smiled and greeted me. Perhaps a few others spat and muttered -- I don't know, but I was in no danger.

The British are another favorite target of bad feelings, and encounter more visa restrictions than Americans do. But Israelis are perhaps the most officially discriminated against; there are precious few countries where they are even allowed to enter, and often with restrictions.

If you are seriously frightened by the prospect of anti-Americanism, anti-Colonialism, or anti-Your Country sentiment causing a serious problem for you, just go out and get yourself a Canadian flag or lapel pin, (just ask any Canadian traveler, they have dozens!) and pretend to be someone else. Be aware, but don't worry about it unnecessarily. In my opinion, you attract more risks by the way you act, dress, and the gear you carry, than by your nationality.