There is nothing better than basking in the glow of the setting sun in paradise, even though paradise is crawling with thieves. Risking a stranger groping around your delicates for that extra churro money is totally worth it to relax. You know, get away. But it sure would be nice to eat those churros yourself, and not that strangely attractive one-toothed hobo on the train whose hand you didn’t slap away because you didn’t want to be rude. Now she has all the churros, and all you have is the stupid, churro-less sun. Also, she has your passport.
If you want to keep them both, take some advice:
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Look Confident No Matter What
I can not overstate the importance of this. Looking confident is your greatest single line of defense in foreign travel. Thieves thrive on disorientation. They specifically target the least threatening and most confused of tourists. Why? Because as scary as they are thieves are humans just like you, and are usually trying to survive in impossible conditions. They don’t want violence any more than you do. That one-toothed hobo is actually a mother of three, her strange attractiveness is working for her more than you think, and her tooth is gold.
Even if you are wandering the streets blindly lost, screaming in your mind, “I’m going to die! I’m going to die!” maintain a steely gaze of utter confidence. You will cut down your chances of being robbed drastically. If someone asks where you are going, point ahead and say, “That way, some friends are waiting for me,” and keep walking.
Front Pocket is Only Slightly Better
For some reason newbie tourists everywhere believe that if they merely shift their wallet from the back pocket to the front, it becomes kryptonite to the thieving hand. They imagine that once the thieves see their flat butt pockets, and a square bulge in the front, they will immediately fall to their knees, fists raised, screaming to the heavens, “How did they figure it out! Foiled again!”
Having lived sixteen years overseas at the time of writing this, many people have tried to rob me. Only a single time has it been successful, and that one time my belongings were in my front pocket. While placing your lootables in your front pocket does slightly raise the difficulty for them, thieves steal the same way a street magician removes your watch from your wrist without you noticing. He can even do it while standing right in front of you. It isn’t magic, its sensory distraction. Thieves, like magicians, will touch you in multiple locations on your body because while your brain is firing off signals that you are being touched, so many places are being stimulated, you don’t notice a grungy hand sliding into your pants and removing your whole life. It’s like getting tackled in football. You feel the whole tackle, not each individual point on your body.
The most common way of pick-pocketing someone, as shown in so many movies and tv shows, is to purposefully run into them and have quick hands. If anyone ever randomly runs into you, or if you are trying to board a bus or train and someone is shoving you from behind, chances are good they aren’t just being rude.
Pat the Nothing
I once heard a story of a notorious tourist town where signs dotted the streets warning people of a high number of thieves in the area. When tourists saw these signs, they would immediately pat the place where their wallet was hidden, and within minutes it was gone. The thieves themselves planted those signs, and let the tourists do the work for them by pointing out where the goods were.
Next time you are somewhere and you get that strange itch of eyes gazing at you from behind. Pat the area where you have nothing at all. A few minutes later when someone jostles you at the urinal, you’ll get some coveted human contact without losing your loot!
Sometimes things get ramped up to violent proportions. You can be gazing upon the beautiful statue of the man in a gloriously violent battle against a pack of babies in Oslo, Norway’s Frogner Park, when someone on a motorcycle rides up and sticks a Beretta in your face, demanding your Benjamins. Instead of being caught off guard and giving up all your money, a tried and true method is simple and effective.
When traveling abroad maintain a dummy wallet on you. Fill it with useless cards, maybe a picture or two of non-family members (enemies?) for realism, and top it off with a stack of ones to make it look full. You don’t want to put blank paper inside, because if the thief opens it and finds nothing but paper he will shoot you in the face. But if it is full of ones, and maybe a five, you can shrug and tell him it’s all you have. For your real wallet, I suggest something thin and easily hide-able like the Radix One Slim Wallet or similar.
Never Get in the Car
Do you know how many people get kidnapped every year overseas? A lot. That’s exactly how many. Do you know what happens when a guy drives up with that Beretta from before and tells you to get into his carpeted minivan, and you do it? Nobody ever hears from you again. If they do it is after you have been living in a jungle cage eating banana leaves and neon caterpillars for seven years while your family tries to raise the ransom money. You know what’s better than doing that? Running away from the guy with the Beretta! If they don’t shoot at you when they roll down the window, they don’t want you dead, they want money. The chances of them actually shooting at you are statistically slim because they don’t want to call attention to themselves. Even if they do shoot at you, even if the bullet hits you, I promise it’s better than what awaits you in that van, no matter how soft the carpet is.
Don’t Be Uppity
This may come as a shock, but other cultures are different from yours. People from developed nations tend to be colder, more independent, while people from developing nations would rather get buried in volcano ash than leave their families. They place the ultimate value of life on who is family or friend and who is not. Thieves in these nations don’t steal from family and friends, they steal from strangers, people they don’t care about.
If you come into a nation and are an uppity jerk because these people don’t have any manners. They didn’t serve you as fast as they do at your fancy Red Lobster, or didn’t smile at you at the cash register. Guess what? You just became a target. If you want to avoid being robbed, be nice, always. Even when they are rude to you, and discriminate against you because you are white (yes, it happens all the time), you smile, make a joke, cheer them up, make them feel like you care about them, like you are family. Families in developing nations are mafiaesque, meaning news travels fast and they all stick together. If dad thinks you are awesome, his twelve kids and their seventy grand kids will all think the same, and it multiplies to your benefit. The opposite is also true.
If you use these tips we hope you can always avoid being robbed as you enjoy your stay overseas.