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How Do Travelers Not Get Killed?

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The following is a question from a reader named Eva about how perpetual travelers can move through the world and stay alive too.

hi! so i have many dreams of travelling but a question keeps popping up in my mind. how does a traveller not get killed ? i mean since you are on the road -either by staying in a tent or by just walking on a deserted road- someone somewhere will just have to try to murder/rape/rob you. do you have to carry a knife or something or avoid deserted roads( especially those big ones with fast moving cars.brr)? i know a may be paranoid 😛 thanks in advance!

Contrary to what may be shown in the media, people are generally not on the lookout to indiscriminately murder strangers. The world is almost incredibly safe for people traveling, and I’d make a wager that it there is a statistically better chance of someone being killed in their hometown, where they have many social/ emotional ties and can lead to potentially violent outcomes, than on the road, where he/ she doesn’t know or have no responsibility to anybody. Outside of a few politically sensitive regions, international travelers are pretty much too insignificant and socially distant from the communities we travel through to be in much danger. Really, we’re nobodies out here.

To put this in context, most long term travelers that I know have been in actual life or death violent situations less times than they have fingers on one hand. I’ve been in one only once.

Only one time in 14+ years of world travel through 52 countries have I been the recipient of violence.

(And it wasn’t even that bad.)

So I don’t believe the odds of being violently attacked increase with international travel.

Places are rarely dangerous, but behaviors can be.

I’m talking about things such as refusing to pay a boom boom girl, trying to prevent a robbery, having a drug deal go bad, disrespecting locals, trying to force the locals to respect you, trying to get justice, getting drunk and disorderly, improperly engaging in sexual relationships, leading dudes on, refusing to adapt the social signals you give off, thinking that all cultures are no different than your own and expecting the people to act the same as they do in your country, resisting robbery, offending religions, talking politics, flaunting money, trusting/ resisting/ interacting with the police, muddling in political protests, doing/ buying/ selling drugs, hitting on another dude’s girlfriend/ wive, getting involved in community/ family issues that you have no place in, not observing and obeying obvious danger signs etc . . .

Simply going out to remote areas and traveling is often not enough in and of itself to invite violence. It is often the particular situations that people put themselves in when traveling that prove dangerous, not the places they go or the act of travel in and of itself.

So avoiding these potentially bad situations that can result from poor choices and errant behavior is a better course of action than planning self-defense strategies for when you do find yourself at the wrong end of a gun, so to speak.

More often than not, on those rare occasions that you’re engage violently the person wants something other than to kill you — mostly money or, if you’re a woman, sex. Knowing the signs of these situations and staying away from them is key to traveling safer.

Traveling safe means no fear mongering.

Guidelines for staying safe when traveling

These are guidelines, not hard set rules, and every traveler must find the balance between curating their own security and enjoying their travels. That said, all of us break and bend these guidelines regularly, but knowing when you’re entering a potentially bad situation is key navigating it and mitigating the risks.

Don’t talk politics, especially when drinking

This is a classic way to piss people off anywhere. It’s alright to ask questions, but keep your opinions to yourself. Realize that you don’t know shit about politics, your opinions don’t matter, and your vision of political utopia is just as crap as the next person’s.

(It is unbelievable how many fewer arguments I’ve had since realizing this.)

The last think you want when traveling is to offend the tribe you’re living in.

Stay out of religion

It’s one thing to be the “Other” when traveling abroad, it’s another to be the enemy. In most cases, your nationality or native religion is not enough to make you an enemy — people are generally smarter than this — but going abroad and engaging in religious actives or talking religion is an excellent way to invite problems.

Also, it is easy to get in over your head when dealing with some religions. They seem simple, good, and gracious at first, but then you start to see what’s really going on and you could end up in a very grave situation. Religions have ways of sucking people in, and they are often not what they seem at first.

I once knew a woman who was held captive by Hare Krishnas when on a mission to Africa because she discovered that the organization she was apart of was embezzling funds. The organization didn’t want this information to get out, so they locked her up and refused to let her leave. That’s dangerous.

I have another friend who got a little to deep into Islam in India. It started off with prayers, robes, and eyeliner, and ended with an arranged marriage. He got sucked in and had to get out fast. This could have been dangerous.

Although these are just two anecdotal examples which, in and of themselves, don’t carry much weight, be aware of the fact that religions are rarely just spiritual groups, and there’s a complex social, political, and economic web that comes along with the prayers. Don’t get tangled up in this.

Don’t lead men on (for women)

A) Don’t bank on the fact that your male friends abroad will be as happy to remain “just friends” as they are in the USA/ Canada. This is very relative to culture, of course, but in many places the hetero though asexual “male/ female” friendship isn’t very common — especially when a foreign woman is involved. Be aware of how men relate to, think of, and engage single women and adapt your behavior to get your desired outcomes.

B) As a general rule, learn what the local signs of courtship are and only show them to the men that you truly want to engage in this manner. In some cultures, the leeway that you have with men is far more than it is in the USA, while in others, if you merely look at a dude the wrong way you’re going to have to peel him off your leg. Be aware that the signs and signals that communicate sexual interest vary in each culture, so learn them and use this knowledge to your advantage. The best way to learn this is to talk with the local women, and do what they do.

C) Be very clear and consistent with the messages you send. If you have a boyfriend/ husband — or are lying and saying that you do — don’t engage other men one on one or send signals that could be interpreted as flirtatious, or at least more than friendly.

D) Be aware that in some cultures you come with the ready made reputation of being a slut, so even the slightest cues can be misconstrued as sexual signals. This sucks, but it’s the way it is.

E) Leading men on is an incredibly dangerous thing to do, whether you intend to or not. Doing this can easily mix the emotion of anger with the drive for sex, and you don’t want to be anywhere near this combination.

Adapt to cultures, don’t try to change them

Some cultures seem screwed up. Some societies don’t treat other people/ you as you feel they should. For the traveler, right or wrong, should be or shouldn’t be are irrelevant constructs. Learn the way things ARE, accept them, and adapt.

You’re not going to change anybody, and trying to force people to adapt to your cultural values is asking for problems.

Be aware of your situation when in bars

Saying “stay out of bars” here would be very silly advice. Bars are places where people meet, socialize, and engage each other. To avoid them is to miss a big part of the travel experience in many cultures. But always be aware that bars can be the most dangerous places.

There is far to much advice to give on this matter than can be publish in the response, so I’ll keep it simple.

If you’re a dude:

  • Don’t act tough, you’re not.
  • Don’t try to right wrongs.
  • Realize that you have no face abroad, there is no reason for anyone to respect you.
  • Know that there could be more to the situation when hitting on local women.
  • Be aware that working girls sometimes go out disguised as non-working girls. Don’t get trapped.
  • If you go in for working girls, learn how to do so the right way.
  • Try to learn the lay of the land from other foreigners who’ve been there longer than you.
  • Be aware that schemes to entrap foreign men using pretty women as bait are multitudinous. Realize that if a situation seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you have a problem with someone, leave. Don’t stand your ground. Don’t just go to the other side of the bar. Leave.
  • Know that every local probably has a group of friends somewhere nearby.
  • The concept of a fair fight is always open to cultural interpretation. If you fight one dude be prepared to fight all of his friends.
  • The locals are on home turf and are going to defend it virulently.
  • Fistfights escalate, there is probably just as much chance of a local coming back with a knife or gun than admitting defeat to a foreigner.
  • The cops are in the corner of the locals.
  • If you have any problem at all, apologize, show proper respect, then leave — even if you’re right.
  • Be careful exiting bars, especially late at night. Try to do so with friends.

For women:

  • Be aware of how local women who are not working girls act in bars. Do they go out alone? Are they talking to random men? What are they wearing? Copy them.
  • Don’t lead dudes on. If you have no interest in someone make it clear from the start. Yes, that means not accepting their drinks or invitations to sit with them.
  • If alone, make female friends fast.
  • People go to bars in search of sex partners. If it has a penis there is a good chance it’s keen on using it.
  • Don’t jump from dude to dude if you’re on the prowl. You’re just going to make the bastards compete and fight. This is Mammal 101 behavior.

Don’t get involved in illegal activities

This goes without explaining. Know the consequences, evaluate the risks, make your own choices.

Know when to walk away, know when to run

If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Getting out and moving on is a better bet than waiting to see if a situation goes bad. Trust your instincts, and NEVER EVER worry about offending someone if you get the urge to get out of a situation.

Self Defense

Weapons?

Unless you’re going into a truly dangerous area where everybody is carrying weapons, don’t bother. Carrying recognized lethal implements — such as knives and guns — will often put you in more trouble than they get you out of. Now I always carry some kind of knife with me, but I don’t view it as a self defense implement, and I wouldn’t actually pull it on someone — even if I had to.

To be clear, I don’t want to take the chance of killing someone, even if they’re trying to kill me. If I’m in a violent situation, what I want to do is injure the attacker bad enough that they are temporarily incapacitated so I can get away. If you use a knife on someone there is always the chance that you could hit something vital and they’ll bleed out, leaving you in a very precarious legal situation.

No, I never recommend using recognized weapons for self defense.

But just about anything can be used as a weapon, and I keep myself stocked with some normal, everyday items that could be used to temporarily incapacitate an attacker with pain if the need be.

An excellent tutorial on using everyday weapons for self defense when traveling:

Hand to hand combat

I’m formally trained in Muay Thai, but I will never use it in an actual violent situation. In point, there is no way that I am going to fight someone unless it is a actual life or death situation, and if I ever am in such a situation I’m definitely not going to box. The same goes for all other martial arts: they are sports, you do them for fitness and fun, not self defense. In point, US Marines are not going around throwing right hooks and roundhouses in combat.

One of the most valuable lessons I ever received in my life came from a US Marine. He taught me how to do three things:

1) Rip an ear off.
2) Gouge eyeballs out.
3) Remove a nut sack from a body.

If you rip a body part off of someone, the fight’s over. Punto. You’ve increase your chances for survival.

The methods that the marine showed me were so incredibly simple and easy that a weakling could do them after a half hour of training. “It only takes seven pounds of pressure to rip off a human ear,” he said.

This is what I was taught:

The other two moves are pretty self explanatory.

Now, I’ve never once been close to being in a situation where I even thought about ripping body parts off, and hopefully I never will be. If I’m engaged by someone violently the first thing I’m going to do is try to kick/ knee him or her in the genitals. Only after that will I consider taking more damaging action.

Conclusion

Learn culture, learn signs of danger, learn how to take evasive action, then stop worrying and have fun.

Life or death violent situations happen rarely for travelers who are proactive about avoiding them. Most problems in travel result from a string of bad decisions and social miscues. If you know what a bad situation looks and feels like they are often not too difficult to subvert and keep traveling in the clear.

If anything, world travel has become too safe. A part of the thrill is lost when you start to realize just how safe this world really is. But you should go out into the world with a sense of fear, you should look at all situations and evaluate them for danger, you shouldn’t trust people when you first meet them, and know that even the safest seeming places and situations can flip to the opposite extreme at any time.

Fear is good, it’s what keeps you safe, but it shouldn’t keep you at home.

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Filed under: Travel Help, Travel Safe, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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