10 Surefire Ways to Get Mugged on Vacation
There's something about being on vacation that turns travelers into easy marks. No one wants to get mugged, but new surroundings, vacation giddiness, and a lack of caution can leave even savvy travelers vulnerable to opportunistic thieves.
I should know. Until I started thinking about this story, I didn't realize just how much personal experience I could draw from: In the last two decades, I've been on the receiving end of three attempted muggings in situations where I should have known better (and now do). With this wealth of experience, I offer you a list of surefire ways to get mugged on vacation, as well as tips for avoiding scenarios where your safety and belongings are at risk.
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Flash A Wad Of Cash
Flashing a wad of cash in public is like sending a gold-embossed invitation to would-be muggers. Not only are you telling them you'd be a profitable victim, you're also advertising where you're storing the goods. And in exhibiting a lack of street smarts, you're basically screaming, "I'm an easy target!" For a primer on good money-toting habits, check out our story on the Best Ways to Carry Money While Traveling.
Opt For Cheap Over Safe
Sure, there are times when you can be cheap and safe, but it pays to recognize that sometimes one comes at the expense of the other. Keep this in mind when you're deciding whether or not to gamble your own safety to save a few bucks. You might find yourself making the cheap-versus-safe calculation when deciding whether to stay at the budget hotel in the part of town that guidebooks warn is dangerous at night, or when debating whether to walk back to your hotel or spring for a cab after catching a show in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
Fall Asleep In A Public Place
Here's one direct from my personal playbook. Did I, as a college student backpacking around the U.K., fall asleep in an Oxford city park one summer afternoon after a particularly late night touring the bar scene? In fact I did. During my snooze, I had the vague notion that someone was rooting around in the purse I was using as a pillow, but I assumed it was my travel companion coming back to grab the camera after seeing—and wanting to capture for posterity—a man in hilariously short denim cut-off shorts. Turns out it was not my friend reaching into the purse but rather a stranger, who took the opportunity to relieve me of the Nikon SLR camera I was borrowing from my aunt. Lessons learned: I no longer sleep in public … or borrow cameras.
Carry Unsecured Valuables Into Large Crowds
Entering a big crowd with a purse or pockets full of unsecured valuables turns you into a human pinata: a little jostling and the goodies will come pouring out. In crowds, keep your belongings where you can see them. If you're wearing a backpack, move it to your front, and if you've got a purse or a bag, wear the strap across your body and keep a firm hand on the strap. Make sure zippers are closed and do an easy-access spot check before diving into the fray.
Walk Alone At Night
Many times, walking alone in a questionable neighborhood at night turns out fine. But sometimes it doesn't. Regardless of how independent you are at home, when you're somewhere new, it's always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your personal safety. Rather than taking on the dark streets solo, catch a cab to your destination or find a trustworthy buddy or group to latch onto, even if it's just for the walk back to your hotel.
Lose Awareness Of Your Surroundings
I know firsthand how poorly things can go if you don't adhere to this one. For me, years ago, traveling with a photographer boyfriend to Amsterdam in the dead of winter meant a lot of standing around on snowy bridges while he composed artsy black-and-white shots of frozen canals. Apparently nothing stands out like a man totally absorbed in his fancy camera, because he caught the eye of a passing thief who, as it turned out, was amenable to settling for all his cash instead of the camera.
If you're a serious photographer, you're unlikely to leave your cameras at home. But it definitely pays to remain aware of your surroundings. And if you're going to be traveling with expensive equipment, choose your day's gear wisely, depending on where you'll be going.
Ride In Empty Train Compartments
Here's another one from personal experience. Sometimes it happens gradually: You're on a long train journey, the car slowly empties, and suddenly you're the only one in the entire compartment. In my case, on a train ride to Cadiz in Spain, it was only the fast talking of my traveling companion, who pointed out to our prospective muggers that our shoes were far inferior to their own and therefore we couldn't possibly have anything worth taking—plus the fortuitously timed entrance of a large family into the train car—that allowed us to remain with our belongings. If you find yourself in an empty train car, move to a fuller compartment. Even if you have reservations for a specific seat, it's unlikely anyone will care unless the train fills up again.
Confidence is a powerful deterrent against theft. The worst thing you can do if you're lost is look confused or unfold a map and stare blankly at it, trying to regain your bearings. Instead, stride confidently into a hotel (best of all), restaurant (still pretty good, especially if they can call you a cab), or shop. There you can ask for directions without attracting unwanted attention from people scanning the streets for an easy mark.
Wear Your Wallet In A Back Pocket
Not only is putting your wallet in your back pocket a likely path to back pain (the sciatic nerve, which can cause pain through your back and legs, is located just beneath your back pockets), it's also an open call to anyone with malicious intent and a light touch. Unless you have superhuman peripheral vision, you can't keep an eye on your back pocket, and continually checking to make sure your valuables are still in place merely draws attention to the location of your cash and identification. Tuck your wallet into a front or inside pocket and you'll be better off.
Hang Out In Dark Alleys
Consider "hanging out in dark alleys" shorthand for doing dumb stuff while traveling. You know the sort of thing: wandering through rough neighborhoods and snapping pictures, accompanying new friends to buy hashish off the street, or talking loudly about the expensive jewelry you're wearing. Vacation-induced impaired judgment is a common travel malady, but it's one that can have trip-ruining consequences. Travel is a great chance to get out of your comfort zone, but try to find a safe balance by also trusting your gut and opting out of situations that simply don't feel right.
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