I learnt this particular “skill” the hard way. At 6’3″ and with dazzlingly white skin (which at best becomes pink in the sun) I doubt I ever truly blend in, but I give it my best shot. I try to not look like a traveller.
What is definite is that there are certain behaviours that which unwanted attention in unfamiliar cities. Here are some of my mistakes that you might learn from.
Maps and Guidebooks
I am an accomplished map reader. But I also have the memory of a goldfish. So I have to continually look at my map as I navigate my way between locations.
Nothing screams opportunity more than a tourist looking at his map with a slightly confused look on his face. Or thumbing through a copy of The Lonely Planet. If you do this you will receive offers of help at best. At worst you will be relieved of your wallet.
My advice? If you are lost, step into a shop and ask for directions. Or use the relative safety of the shop to examine your map. The good thing about asking shopkeepers is that they can’t leave their store, so they aren’t going to take you on a confusing dash and expect payment in return.
Which leads me nicely on to wallets and ATMs (cashpoints to us Brits). If you flash your cash in any big city you will be spotted and marked as a target.
When I use an ATM abroad I make sure nobody is watching and very quickly slip the cash into a money belt. I retain only a small amount of cash for my wallet, which I stow in a pocket on the front of my shorts or trousers. That way I can keep a hand on it without looking like I am protecting something worth taking.
Also, when I travel to cities that concern me (some have a reputation – Barcelona for instance) I will take a decoy wallet. In this wallet I place an old expired credit card and a small amount of cash. I put this in a more obvious place. That way if I am targeted by thieves they will waste their time and I get to keep my money.
I also stash emergency money in a really unusual place. Either my shoe or my hat. Just so I have enough money to get me back to my hotel in an emergency.
These are like wallets. If you aren’t careful a talented thief will become the new owner around 20 seconds before you realise it has happened.
I cringe when I see a tourist strutting around a major city, often in a poor country, with a huge DSLR hanging around their neck, or in a very obvious camera bag. Thieves will use knives to cut the straps on these in order to take them,
I favour a small camera, which lives in a secure pocket in my trousers or shorts. If needed I can quickly take a shot or two and have it packed away in seconds.
My advice? Be careful. Undoubtedly a DSLR takes superb shots (unless I’m using it) so be aware that you will be a target. Carry the bag carefully and keep a hand on the bag at all times. Don’t leave it on the ground at restaurants and if you don’t plan to use it for a while stash it in your day bag.
Brightly coloured clothing draws the attention of chancers and scammers. I know this because I have experimented. I now buy my travelling clothes in dark green, beige and grey.
Try to blend in. That way the pickpockets and “guides” will go after the American in the basketball shirt and the Australian in no shirt before they even notice you.
I am by no means an expert. But in the last 250 days of travel the only things I have had stolen are a bottle of milkshake and a t shirt which I no longer wanted (which I wasn’t wearing at the time!)
Do you have any tips? Have you been the victim of pickpockets or scammers? What is the worst city you have visited for crime?
Let me know, and don’t forget to follow the blog.