Take precautions before you travel by preparing yourself for the worst. I like to do all of the worrying before my trip so that I can relax and have fun during the trip! An example of this is buying a money wallet that can be clipped onto the inside of your jeans or a belt with a hidden zip pocket on the inner side. Asking around about local scams and talking to locals about safety tips can also save you from bad situations before they happen.
This is about doing things while travelling on an everyday basis that you wouldn’t necessarily do at home. For example, always locking your valuables away in your locker, even when leaving the room for just a few minutes to take a shower or grab a beer. Another example is always making dedicated trips to the ATM during daytime and leaving your card straight back to the Hostel where it is safe.
It may sound a bit paranoid but I generally walk on the side of the footpath/sidewalk that is closer to the street rather than the side with buildings or walls, just so I don’t get cornered and I have an opportunity to run if I need to. I try not to let dodgy looking characters get too close to me, especially at night, and sometimes I’d rather cross the street than take the risk.
Also, when I’m approached by strangers on the street, I generally don’t show much interest and just say ‘thanks/gracias/obrigado’. This might seem a bit rude but unfortunately my pessimistic side tells me that if someone is approaching me, they want something and might have bad intentions. They might just be begging for money but they also might want to get you closer so that they can rob you. A lot of the time in South America, robbery is performed with a knife or a gun and I’ve heard a lot of cases of ‘stab first, ask second’. On the other hand, I might just be coming across as a very rude person but at the end of the day, safety first!
I’ve never been robbed during my near 2 years travelling solo in South America. Maybe I was lucky but I also believe that it’s because, most of the time, I use common sense and follow the rules:
♦ “No dar papaya!” This is a well known phrase from Colombia that translates to “Don’t give papaya!” Papaya is a common fruit in South America and the phrase means ‘don’t give anyone an opportunity’. So don’t walk around at night with your phone in your hand or don’t show off nice jewellery in public. The phrase is known as the ’11th Commandment’. The 12th Commandment is ‘take the papaya!’
♦ At night, always use Uber (the best option if it’s available in the city you are in) or a taxi, especially if you are alone in a big city.
♦ Try to know where you are going and don’t walk down small quiet streets. Stick to the big avenues that have people on them.
♦ Never leave any valuables or your backpack out of sight, even better, keep your backpack on the ground between your legs.
♦ If you are getting robbed, don’t try to fight back. You might get stabbed or shot.
Situational awareness is about being aware when you find yourself in a situation that may become dangerous. You might already feel that you are in some danger. Stay aware and try not to panic. This is where the ‘try not to drink too much’ rule can work in your favour because if you are drunk, you are completely vulnerable. I’ve done this more than I would have liked and once nearly got robbed in São Paulo, Brazil because I was walking alone on the street in the early hours of the morning but I was lucky that there were a lot of people around.
Anyway, don’t let all of this panic you! Just prepare, stay aware and have fun!