Travelling Safely: Urban Bright—City Safety Tips

| September 1, 2009 | 21 Comments
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Travelling Safely

This post is part of a series of articles focusing on travel safety for the long-term traveler; however, they should be of interest to travelers of any stripe! The series, entitled ‘Travelling Safely’ comprises Antidotes to FearBefore You Go,Urban Bright—City Safety TipsTips for a Safe Night’s Sleep, and Personal Safety Products. Have any tips that didn’t make the lists herein? Please contact us!

One of the most significant causes of fear in many cities today is crime and violence. Between 1990 and 2000, the UN revealed that incidents of violent crime per 100,000 persons increased to 8% from 6%.

saopaolo Travelling Safely: Urban Bright—City Safety Tips

Rich and poor in São Paulo. Image by Deputy Dog.

According to the UN’s website, recent studies show that over the past five years, 60% of all urban residents in the world have been victims of crime, with 70% in Latin America and the Caribbean. Clearly, crime, whether violent or not, is a growing and serious threat to urban safety all over the world.

Despite renewed government initiatives focused on controlling the growth in violence, incidents of crime continue to rise. At the same time, however, many places continue to feel safe, and the average backpacker’s statistical risk of being victimized is actually quite low. In fact, approximately 6% of independent travelers reported being robbed or a victim of personal crime, according to Ipsos MORI, a leading research company in the UK.

If you’ve been abroad—even for a short time—you have likely come to realize that larger cities tend to be less safe than their smaller counterparts. In fact, violent crime rates continue to rise in the world’s largest cities, where extremes of economic inequality, organized crime and, in some cities in the world, a history of political instability, contribute to the problem. Regardless, urban crime is a social problem of great complexity and of significant importance.

Consequently, all backpackers should exercise common sense precautions when travelling in large cities. While travelling, remain ever-vigilant, trust in your intuition and heed common sense—check out our recent article entitled ‘Antidotes to Fear’.

At the same time, backpackers are cautioned to make an effort to blend in visually (maybe it’s time to shake out the corn rows and get rid of the multi-coloured neon sarong—or at least stuff it in the bottom of your pack where it belongs!). You should adopt a somewhat healthy cynicism when approached by strangers; at the same time, however, one should not appear to be too unapproachable—recall that 90% of travel is meeting new people! Bottom line—use your best judgment about what sort of areas seem safe to walk around at different times of day. Accoring to one of the tips below, for example, city streets that include children and women suggest the area is safer for everyone.

This past week, Kathryn and I spent some time scouting the web for some tips to help minimize the chances of becoming a victim of crime in a large city.

Unsuspecting tourists make ripe targets for thieves because they are instantly recognizable, out of their element, and are generally carrying larger amounts of cash and valuables; so, try your hardest not to look like a tourist! You can reduce your risk of being mugged or robbed by taking a few simple precautions.

From Urban Blight to Urban Bright—The 12 Best City Safety Tips

Ask. “Ask your local guesthouse or hostel manager for advice on ‘safe’ vs ‘unsafe’ local areas. As a general rule, city streets that include children and women suggest the area is safer for everyone.”
Source: The Better Health Channel 

Blend into the background. “When you travel to foreign countries, avoid wearing loud T-shirts. Leave the flags, team jackets, and baseball caps with funny sayings at home. If you stand out from the crowd, you are more noticeable to thieves or anyone who might have a gripe against your country.”

Appear confident when walking around in public. “At night try to stay in well-lit densely populated areas. Travel in groups where possible—rather than by yourself.”

Keep to the middle. “If you are walking in quiet, dark streets, if possible stay in the middle of the road and watch for traffic. This gives you more reaction time to flee an attack or defend yourself if required. If someone is waiting to ambush you they have a greater distance to before an attack.”

Don’t look too obviously lost—even if you are. “You can always walk purposefully into a shop, bank or hotel to ask for directions or consult a map.”

Don’t be a pickpocket magnet. “Watch out for narrow aisles of trains and on city buses or subway—the trickiest time on bus and subway is when you are getting on or off with a crush of people. Pickpockets often stand in the crowd right by the door so they can hop off as soon as they make a hit.”
Source: World Nomads

ATMs. “Use a machine located inside a store/shop, or inside a gas/petrol station . This is a safer environment to use these machines and makes it more difficult for criminals to case/view people using the machine.”
Source: Be Careful Out There.

Carry a ‘dummy’ wallet. “Consider carrying a ‘dummy wallet’ holding a small amount of cash. If you are directly confronted by a mugger, you can hand over the dummy wallet and avoid further distress.”
Source: Better Health Channel

Be there with bells on. “Place Christmas type bells on your carry on, and when someone tries to move it, you will hear. Always, when standing around or sitting drinking coffee, keep your foot through the strap. If someone drops something, or something happens, look at your backpack. This may be a diversion to steal your pack.” Source:

Do not resist. “If a robber confronts you, co-operate. Don’t risk physical harm. Try to remain calm and alert. Tell the robber if you need to make any sudden moves. Tell the truth to all questions asked.”

Try to avoid hailing a cabs in the street. “Ask your hotel to call a cab for you—or a local restaurant or bar. They will take note of the number of the taxi and the driver’s name. At airports and bus stations there are official taxis that you should consider taking.”

Violence and crime are not new problems and have always attracted public scrutiny. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—that means educate yourself on each of your destinations before you go so that you may begin to know what to expect, what to avoid and what to savour during your round-the-world trip.

Further reading

  • The Scholar of Thievery—travel safety tips: An exhaustive resource. This site contains over 130 pages worth of travel safety tips that can be useful to any traveler. You will find tips involving luggage theft, avoiding pickpockets, laptop theft, and hotel burglary.
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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (21)

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  1. Gourmantic says:

    On the ‘Don’t look too obviously lost—even if you are’, that depends where you’re travelling. In Japan, when you look lost or having trouble navigating a map, locals approach you and offer to help. In fact, that was the advice we were given by an expat friend living there. We were even guided to the right platform on a train and shown how to get back.

    Mind you, in Japan, if you drop your wallet, someone would pick it up and hand it to you. Pity the rest of the world isn’t the same.

    • Daniel says:

      Yes — you’re quite correct. The tip isn’t universal. I lived in Korea for two years and was in a perpetual state of being lost to varying degrees. Without the help of some very kind Koreans, I never would have found my way around!

  2. Louis says:

    About blending i don’t know how far that goes as a foreigner people can literary smell you – your race could be different from the general population – so i might say better to standout if more eyes are on you it makes it difficult for someone to take advantage of you. Anyway been wrestling with that issue.

    • Daniel says:

      I know what you mean, Louis, as I’ve been there as well — there’s only so much ‘blending in’ one can do depending on where they are. I think the advice might be better phrased as “don’t draw too much attention to one’s self”, whether through one’s dress or one’s actions. But again, that’s only so possible!

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