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Travel safety learned from shark week

By February 10, 2014 No Comments

Silently he watched, slowly getting into position. His target popped its head up, looked around and saw him. Deciding to move on to something easier, he waited, then saw the perfect target, oblivious to what was going on around them, blissfully entrenched in the sights and sounds of a new area. This was the one. He glanced to his left, verifying that his partners saw what he was seeing. Instinctively they moved to flank their prey.

This might sound like something off of the Discovery channel but it actually happened outside of a Parisian nightclub. We stood outside and chatted about what to do next, advertising with our loud English the fact that we were foreigners and more importantly, broadcasting where we were all going to anyone nearby who cared to listen. The group split, we took a taxi home and they walked. When we got back to the apartment the phone rang – they had been robbed at knife-point.  The thieves chose them as we were standing outside the club.

Especially in a crowded, touristy venue there are lots of targets for a criminal. Criminals, like predators will go for the easier target. The lesson here is one we know best from Shark Week:

I don’t have to swim faster than the shark – just faster than YOU.

The overwhelming majority of crimes committed against travelers overseas are crimes of opportunity (see Stats on Crime and Justice). These wrong place/wrong time misfortunes can be minimized with an ancient technique that is extremely easy to master:

Pay attention to your surroundings

The key to separating yourself from the pack is showing awareness. Be a difficult target. This one attribute can cause any random criminal to leave you alone and choose an easier target.

Look around you, know what’s going on. Literally stop and look around from time to time. Count the number of people on the street if you have to. Enjoy what’s going on, but don’t lose sight of your surroundings.

Five other time-tested rules to making yourself a hard target:

  • Don’t commit – to going outside:  Do not let the door close behind you before you know what’s out there, you could leave yourself stranded just mere feet from safety.  Before walking out any door (room, hotel, restaurant, car), look around to make sure you’re not walking into a dangerous situation.  Once that door closes, it’ll take time to unlock it and get back in.
  • Firm up plans with the group inside the club, away from potential watchers.  Don’t loiter around outside broadcasting your intentions.
  • Instead of walking, take a cab.  $10-$20 is much cheaper than replacing all your credit cards.
  • Stay in groups, ask someone you trust to escort you home.
  • Know where the safe-zones are, know which restaurants are open late at night in case you have to run there, stay in public, well-lit areas.

Staying aware and blending in will dramatically reduce your suitability as a target. Swim smarter, not harder.

Do you have a road-tested technique to avoid being singled out of a crowd?

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