How Not to Get Robbed on the Street in a Foreign Country

1 March 2013
How Not to Get Robbed on the Street in a Foreign Country
How not to get robbed on the street

The fact of the matter is that you’re just as likely to get robbed at home as when you’re traveling in a foreign country but the difference is that your guard is down when you’re on vacation.

Not all crime is skillfully managed and implemented. Street crime is very often improvised based on the conditions of the moment. Don’t look like a target and you won’t be one – they’ll go after that other guy with a fat fanny pack on his waist or the woman lazily swinging her bag at the end of her fingertips.

Here are some tips to help you not get robbed in a foreign country.

1. Walk like an Egyptian – at least in Egypt

Many travelers take a laissez-faire attitude with them into a foreign country, but the first and best thing to do to avoid getting robbed is to pay attention to the locals:

  • Do they clutch their backpacks in front of them with criss-crossed arms or do they casually sling them over one shoulder?
  • Are they comfortable leaving their small electronics on the table or do they immediately store things away and zip them up tightly?
  • Do they seem relaxed as they stroll down the street or are they taking extra precautions that seem a little unusual?

Anytime you arrive in a new city, spend a little time noticing things as you walk around and do like the locals do. They’re always the ones that know best. Remember that the environment can shift when you head into different neighborhoods, so pay attention regularly and adjust as necessary. Do this regularly and it will become second nature and it has a secondary benefit: you’ll look a little more like a local too!

2. Keep your goodies to yourself

Nothing stands out like a brand new smartphone with tons of sparkly stuff stuck all over it in a crowded plaza in mid-day when everyone can see you.

Showing off your goodies when you don’t have to is a sure way to catch the attention of a thief or pickpocket who is only too ready to separate you from your goodies. You should always leave flashy jewelry and designer or expensive anything at home. Not looking rich means you’re not a target. You don’t have to strive to look destitute – that will bring a whole other kind of attention to yourself – but you should at least look like you’re not carrying anything too valuable.

3. Apply your electronics wisely

If you’re traveling with expensive electronics, don’t pull them out in public unless you need to. A laptop doesn’t need to be on the cafe table in front of you unless you’re securely ensconced in a booth and tucked safely inside, for example.

To use your camera safely, have it on a long strap that’s worn across your body and preferably under a jacket or vest – this way the strap is hidden and can’t be cut or pulled easily over your head and you can still use the camera.

4. Tune into your sixth sense

We’ve all had a moment in our lives when we’ve felt that something wasn’t quite right. With luck, it was way before anything awful happened and you had time to get out of there, but tuning into that sixth sense can help you a lot when you’re traveling.

Again, it comes down to being aware of your surroundings and paying attention, but when you get a feeling that something’s not right – it usually is, so protect yourself.

5. Learn that something for ‘free’ never really is free

If someone stops you to offer you something free, smile politely and back away. That person may be a con artist looking to distract you and pick your pocket, for example. There are plenty of ways to get hustled or tricked when you’re a foreigner in a strange country, and this is one of them.

6. Safety in numbers

Try not to go out alone, if you can help it. Traveling with another person or a group makes you look bigger and less a target than you do when you are alone. When you’ve got a travel buddy, it’s easier for you to keep an eye that other person’s pockets, purse, etc.

Don’t think this is difficult when you’re traveling solo either. Make an effort to meet others and tag along with them, or discretely hang back and look like you’re with a group even if you’re not. Travelers are always willing to meet other travelers, so you can also use services like Couchsurfing to find like-minded individuals – locals too – who are willing to get out and hang with a solo traveler.

7. Be the lion or lioness and not the wimp

If you do go out alone, do it with confidence. Thieves don’t want to mess with someone who looks strong and confident and walking like you know where you’re going (even if you don’t) makes a big difference. Keep your head up, look around you often, smile and not to people like you belong, and exude confidence.

8. Keep your stuff where you can see it

The back pocket of a man’s pants is called the ‘sucker pocket’ by experienced thieves for a reason – it’s the easiest to empty.

  • Keep your wallet in your front pants pocket – wrapped in a rubber band for extra stickiness and you’re more likely to keep it.
  • Cross-body bags are better than purses that go over one shoulder only.
  • Backpacks should be worn in front if you can or watched closely and all the pockets on everything should be zipped up tightly.
  • Carry critical stuff in a money belt worn appropriately under your clothing and don’t go digging in there in public.

When you sit down to rest or eat a meal, put your bags where you can see them – in between your feet is a great place to keep them out of reach, especially if you hook your leg through one of the straps (just be careful when you stand up!).

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.