Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
WORKING ABROAD / OCT. 03, 2014
version 4, draft 5

How to Stay Safe in a Foreign Country

Street smarts transcend national boundaries. They’re basic rules of the playground everyone learns in school coupled with some practical advice about your belongings. Whether you’re a resident, an immigrant, or a tourist, here are some helpful tips to stay safe in a foreign country.

It’s Your Fifth Time Here

Friendly, honest interaction with taxi cab drivers, waiters, and shop keeps in tourist areas are all well and good. They’re great ways to get to know people, figure out the lay of the land, and get great suggestions. But you should always take a note of caution. Questions like “Is this your first time here?” aren’t just friendly queries. They’re also ways to qualify you as a mark. People want to see how easily they can quote inflated prices or take you somewhere dark and quietly mug you. So when those questions come up, just smile, look them dead in the eye, and calmly state that you have been to this part of the world, not once, not twice, not even three times, but FIVE. Why five? Well, first, take note that anything is better than saying “It’s my first time!”. That virginal gusto will lead to some bumps and bruises. But no one sees everything with just one go, so not everyone will back off with the pronouncement of ‘second’. And then, you can’t stop at three because third times the charm applies to con artists too. When you get to four times you’re a veteran and a cynic but Five Times makes you Wise. No one messes with Five Times Jack. You practically live there. This guy trying to con you could be your cousin.

Look People in the Eye

When most people are in unknown areas with lots of people around they tend to stare at the ground, hunch their shoulders, and scuttle through the street. You just want to get out of there right? Wrong. When you’re walking down the street, make eye contact with everyone who walks by you. Make eye contact with people on the other side of the street. Make eye contact with people sitting or begging on the corner. Don’t even spare the dogs and pigeons. Take it all in. There’s two effects to this and it applies to everyone, from the smallest woman to the biggest dude in the room: people will be unnerved and you’ll know exactly what’s going on around you. Most people don’t make eye contact regularly. Prolonged stares into another person’s eyes as they simply walk past you will communicate one thing: I am unusual, very alert, and quite possibly crazy. This combination will make most keep a healthy and safe distance.

Don’t Do Passport Deposits

You know how sometimes you’ll hear in the news that some people were traveling on stolen passports? Ever wonder how exactly that came about? Well, a good deal of hostels, rental companies, tourist agencies, and ‘adventure companies’ will ask for your passport as a deposit. Then when you get back, whoops, Mr. Passport has been ‘misplaced’. This is a huge bummer and will require you to get a replacement passport before traveling home, which can be a lengthy process. Avoid this hassle by demanding a deposit of money. Your passport is worth at least 10 grand on the black market (which, if you’re ever stuck somewhere without money, can be a nice insurance policy, though I’m not endorsing a thing) so part with money first before you lose your line back home. 

Keep Your Valuables on You

You should probably always have your passport on you. Get a little bag that you carry with you everywhere you go and stick it in there. Put your wallet in it as well, rather than carrying it in your back pocket. Also, make a few photocopies or a scan of your passport so that you always have a reference. Do the same with your credit cards (and make photocopies of the front and back of them too) and insurance. Put the photocopies in different places, like one in your traveling bag, your luggage, and in one other place.

Take Extra Care at Night

When you’re wandering around at night, have a clear plan of what you want to do, at least until you get a good feel for the lay of the land. Walk confidently and don’t forget to make eye contact no matter what. When it comes to drinking and ‘fun’, it’s a tough decision. You want to adventure, but you want to be safe. A good thing to do: never drink to get drunk and become Three Beer Johnny/Jessica. For most people, drink 3 is the point that you’ll get intoxicated to the point of comfort and ease, and maybe a missed step here or there. But you’ll be aware enough that you can still function and make good enough decisions. Also, don’t have blonde hair. Blonde hair is a walking lamp post in the dark and people will be drawn to you. Don’t wander around alone at 5 am on secluded beaches or through dark alleyways either. If you really must be outside at that time, have at least three other people with you that you can outrun.

Don’t Be Flashy

I dress like a bum. The good part of this is that no one really wants to try and rob me because I’m probably homeless. So if you’re wandering around at night put that iPhone away. Stash the glittering diamonds. Channel your inner hobo and radiate a downtrodden poverty. People will sneer at you, but at least you’re not being threatened.

Chester, Your Large Friend, Is Always Around the Corner

If someone stops you in the twilight hours, puts a hand in their pocket, and says, “Hey, where are you off to?” what do you do? You say that you’re meeting your friend, Chester, who is most definitely right there. And then just point off into the distance and keep walking. At the very least this will tell people that you’re not alone and that someone is nearby to help you in case of attack. Plus no one wants to mess with a Chester. Every guy in the world whose name is Chester is a giant and everyone knows this too.

The World is a Big Friendly Place

We live in a world filled with hysteria: the stranger is always a rapist, paedophile, mugger, murderer, or beggar. The nightly news lets us know that right outside our door, there are innumerable horrors and tragedies, all committed by that one person you just didn’t know. We’re all afraid now and we shut ourselves up in little boxes for relief, whether they be our locked homes, or cars, or blaring headphones (I have headphones in now as I write this). Kids can’t play outside anymore, they’ll get killed. You can’t walk outside at night. You’ll get killed. You can’t travel alone. You’ll get killed.

But for the most part people are nice and friendly and easy to get along with. Remember that and you’ll have more fun. And then, as you become more open to signs of friendliness it’ll become easier to recognize, and, through that, you’ll learn to see the signs of true danger.

Image Credit: rodrigoferrari at flicker.com

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