Monday, June 9, 2014

Headed to the World Cup? Here's how to not get robbed in foreign cities.

Everyone’s seen the video in which a Brazilian woman being interviewed on live TV is rumbled by a thief who brazenly steals her gold necklace on-air.

Having experienced Sao Paulo, which admittedly is not a particularly safe city, I'd like to share a few tips to increase your odds of not getting robbed. Especially if you're headed there for the World Cup.

  • The general rule of thumb: don’t be stupid! You know all the usual stuff like never carrying your passport, always having ID, respecting laws and customs, not leaving a drink unattended, etc.
  • Constantly scan your environment. Know what/who is in front of/behind/next to you. Don’t walk so close to the street or doorways that you or your belongings can easily disappear. Narrow streets are a dream for thieves on motorcycles. Notice buildings, landmarks and small details: they help keep you safe and alert and could be important if it becomes a crime scene.
  • Separate your things. Put a ‘steal’ wallet in your pocket with stuff that you don’t really mind having lifted, including a modest amount of cash. Put your other money in your hidden pocket. If held up, offer the aggressor your fake wallet and your phone if you must.
  • Related to the above, take only one credit card with you at a time, leaving others in the safe. Use an ATM during the day, return directly to the hotel and put it in the safe. Ensure you’re not being followed. Get the bell captain or concierge to have an employee accompany you to your room if you're nervous.
  • In a taxi, it’s best to put your laptop bag in the trunk. Road-based thieves are often on motorcycles and just want you to open the window and hand over your wallet. They won’t take the time to examine the contents of the trunk.
  • Walk confidently and don’t look clumsy or foggy. Head high, good alert posture, purposeful gait. Thieves read body language.
  • Leave your bling home. Don’t look expensive. If you have a ‘more money than sense’ air about you, you’re an accident waiting to happen.
  • Don’t wear silly heels. Carry them in a bag if you must, but you’ll be thankful for comfortable flat shoes if you have to run.
  • Only take the public transportation known to be safe for visitors. In Sao Paulo, the metro is generally okay for anyone to take, but buses are never okay for tourists.
  • Malls are generally pretty safe – as long as they have security guards, nice stores and restaurants, video surveillance and families.
  • Study up on the place you’re going so you know the usual MO for thieves in that region (e.g., gypsy girls in Rome, young fit men preying upon middle-aged cruise passengers in the Baltics, tandem motorcycle riders in Sao Paulo, thieves who target the Metro in Paris).
  • Register with STEP – the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You’ll receive alerts about the countries/region(s) where you’re traveling, and can receive assistance more quickly from the State Department if you run into trouble.

This isn't a foolproof formula. But in a few decades of travel, I’ve never been robbed (thankfully!). Some of it is sheer luck; most of it is just being alert and practical. And I’ve been to some seriously dodgy places.

Don't let paranoia ruin your trip though - enjoy the travel, and don't be stoopid!

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