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.

No comments: