By Lark Gould
I have been lucky enough to escape the reaper more times than my fingers will let me count during my many years of traveling as a journalist. As a woman, usually traveling alone, I probably took more than my fair share of chances and I would not recommend that readers follow my lead.
Although I avoided several rape attempts, an armed hostage taking, and more than a few runs for my wallet, that I found myself in many of these precarious situations is something I own. Still, there were some significant take-aways from these scenes that could come in handy for anyone who travels to hot spots – or just travels.*
1. Double your documents. That means keeping copies of your passport on one of your digital portables as well as with a trusted person at home. Memorize the numbers so you don’t have to pull out your passport every time you fill out a visa or hotel form. Keep it separate from your wallet, although you can carry a copy in your wallet. Similarly, keep hard copies of your airline e-tickets with record locator and any official agendas you have going. The possibilities of an airline not having your proper record or an operator not having your agenda or meet and greet information are stronger than you think.
2. Stay invisible. In many countries this will be nearly impossible due to your physical looks or the style of your clothes. But wherever possible try not to draw attention your way. It does not take much to become someone’s mark for whatever game they have in mind. If you do not stand out, you have less of a chance of becoming a victim. That includes getting drunk in public or doing nefarious deals with strangers.
3. Look tough. If you are female, and even if you are not, try to avoid making eye contact with odd, roving strangers and if you do — look mean. No con artist wants trouble.
4. Get mad. If you are female and get approached by boys in search of a good time or other otherwise would-be con artists, do not be afraid to be mean, raise your voice, toss out a threat and shoo them away. Walk away and don’t look back. These people can be charming, cute and cunning – even irresistible. And they know it.
5. Get crazy. If you are actually attacked by a would-be raper (and you do not see a weapon), or if you are in the process of being taken hostage, act sick, act crazy. No one wants to catch what you have and in many countries crazy is considered a communicable disease. This show could be as bizarre as twirling around and shouting crazy things while you bop yourself on the head or as sane as gunning out jokes one after the other in a motormouth performance, whatever it takes, it will save your life (trust me, this works!).
6. Don’t go out late at night. This is pretty standard no matter what the country or culture. If you must, stick to heavily trafficked streets.
7. Watch out for the gypsy throwing her baby. If you approach a crowd and someone speaks to you to get your attention, immediately pay attention to your body, your person, your bags, and move away and out of reach. A gypsy does not have to throw her baby at you (usually a bundle of papers wrapped in a blanket) for you to know that you are being mugged by a group that is trying to distract you while making a mad grab for your things.
8. Make a friend. In situations that merit legitimate interactions (talking with hotel and transportation staff, wait and restaurant staff, or people at an event you are attending) don’t be afraid to learn some cool local phrases, find out about some of the local issues and even talk about the weather. You may gain some important insights about the location and possibly get some advice that you will need. You may even make a real friend and have some memorable experiences.
9. Leave valuables at home. If you want to look married, get a cheapo wedding band instead. Watches are a dime a dozen, literally, in some countries and will usually work well enough through the duration of the trip. Mini-skirts, short shorts, skimpy tank tops and four-inch heals are verboten for women, unless becoming a target is the goal. Comfortable shoes are a must and make a big difference if you find you have been taken to a wrong location and have to walk your way out of it.
10. Find a formal way to give. Think about this if the poverty and begging become too much to bear. By giving alms to beggars and money, candy and pens to kids you are inviting more misery on yourself while risking being mobbed or attacked for more goods. Kids, used to getting pens, pennies and the cavity-boring candy from visiting westerners may start fighting over the scarce booty and come after you for more. Beggars often have families and others taking care of them, and do this as a way of life.
*Using common sense, tuning into a sixth sense, and reading the situation you are in with a calm and neutral focus will be enough to manage most aberrant situations and avoid dangerous ones.
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