Luke Armstrong | Mar 24, 2021
You see them everywhere you go. Gringos with big bandages over their faces. Gringos being hauled off by the police. Gringos eager to tell the next 20 people they meet the story of how they got all their things stolen. Gringos missing passports and legs. If I had 100 Baht for every Gringo I've seen scraped up from a motorbike accident, I could buy all the coconuts of Koh Samui!
Many so called safety articles (perspectives often paid by dollars tied to tourism) are quick to tell you when listing travel dangers that the types of things that hurt people on the road could just as likely have happened in one's hometown. That's malarkey. A rancher based outside of Bozeman simply will never be killed for napping beneath ripe and ready to fall coconuts. A minister from Missouri won't ever have to worry about contracting chagas for forgetting to fly his mosquito net. Sure, a dude from Jersey should be expected to know not to drink the water in Mexico, but does he deserve to drown for not knowing better than to swim when there's a red flag flying over the sand?
The fact is, as foreigners in a foreign land, we have to acknowledge that in a new place what we think of as common sense is strange custom. What you don't know is what's liable to get you killed, cut, robbed, sick, swindled, and camel kicked.In the very least, you'll be overcharged.
There's an innate ineptitude that's inescapable when traveling to place you've only read and heard about. So here are some of the best ways I’ve encounter to get killed, sick, burned, maimed, arrested, and robbed.
Go ahead, pet the street dogs. Dogs are adorable, so it doesn't matter where you are. Don't worry about the diseases they may have. Rabies vaccinations have advanced a lot in the last few decades. I know from my personal experience with a raccoon attack that instead of 12 shots to the belly as in days past, today it's a mere five shots to the arm. So go ahead, reach out and touch something furry and wild.
One of the best ways to get robbed, arrested, stabbed, killed, or taken advantage of on your trip is to look for, purchase, and consume illegal drugs.
The possibilities as to how this could compromise your safety are endless. Maybe the guy selling you the drugs will rip you off. Maybe (a true story that happened to a traveler in Guatemala) the "cocaine" is actually oxygenated battery acid scraped into a powder that will cause permanent damage. Maybe you'll lose your wits and wallet.
Perhaps the police will pick you up and you'll demand to talk to your embassy and your embassy will say, "Um, just because you're an American doesn't mean we can bail you out for breaking the law."
If you want to ensure your trip is wrought with danger that your insurance policy doesn't cover, illegal drugs are the way to go.
Look at the pretty butterfly. See how it dances upon the flower just like the Indian goddess Shakti dances around Shiva. Don't worry at all about the man behind you helping himself to your wallet from your unattended back pocket – look at the butterfly. It's so beautiful!
One of the most common types of petty crime in international tourist destinations is opportunistic pickpocketing. A pickpocket loves nothing more than a tourist with a raised camera. While the tourist takes the pic, the thief focuses on emptying his pockets or slashing his backpack.
Some pickpockets use a razor to slice open backpacks to make it rain your valuables.
Ignore advice to keep money in front shirt pockets. When in crowded places like the market, don't take my advice to change the position of your backpack to the front (after all, it’s called a “backpack!”)
Decide right now to blindly trust all children—all are adorable and innocent and none have been dispatched by their parents to swarm you and clean your pockets.
Just because you can't speak the language doesn't mean you can't speak the universal tongue of "one more round."
Don't just get tipsy, drink until you completely lose your judgment. Be that foreigner who thieves, muggers, pickpockets and human traffickers love to have around.
In an interview I did with a police officer for a story about the safety of my expat base of Antigua Guatemala, I was told "Too many tourists have made the grave error of walking around at night in a country they don’t know".
So if you want to harm yourself, if you're favorite kind of error is a grave one, do just that. According to the Antigua tourist police’s statistics of reported crime, most of the muggings in Antigua, Guatemala happen between the hours of 10pm-3am to people walking on the streets. My gut says this statistic applies to most places.
A: Awareness. Who is around you and how are they acting?
B: Buddy System. Who's got your back?
C: Communication. Let friends or roommates know of your whereabouts and plans so that you have someone who knows to be concerned if you have not turned up when you should have.
D: Distance. At night, if you are on lonely streets and someone crosses over to your side, cross to the other side. If they follow you, stay calm, but hightail it outta there.
E: Exit. Where and how will you get yourself out of a situation should one arise?
"Hey, would you like to see some dolphins?" says a shifty-eyed man in the port town you are vacationing in.
"Oh yes," you tell him, "I love dolphins. They are my favorite."
"Well," the man says, looking around him like he's a wanted man, "I got a boat. How about you give me $50 bucks and we go see some dolphins!"
"Hurray!" you say, because while you don't care a can of beans about your safety, you do love dolphins.
If you want to assure yourself endless opportunities to compromise your safety, just trust every one who comes your way. Don't use reputable tour companies, go with dudes on the street who approach you. Get into cars of people you don't know. Accept drinks from strangers. Even though you could be kidnapped, you might also get to see some dolphins!
One of the best ways to compromise your safety is to accept drinks from strangers and to leave your drink
unattended. Drugging drinks has become an international norm for those who want to steal your money and things or worse. It happens all the time and is serious business, so I'll take a break from the sarcastic tone of this article. Guard your drinks.
If you come back to an unattended drink, order a new one. It can happen to you and it's just not worth it. Unless you really, really want to get yourself robbed or worse—then leave your drink here, there, and everywhere.
Do you know what sunscreen makes you smell like? Sunscreen. And what's better than smelling like sunscreen? Getting burned. So ditch the sunscreen, head to the beach, and you'll get that blushing tomato painted red look.
Some countries (actually quite a few) refuse to administers emergency care without proof that you can pay for it. If you don't want to hedge any of your bets, if you want to compromise your safety, health, and finances, then take your trip without purchasing travel health insurance. It's one of the best ways I know of to serious jeopardize your life, health, and finances.
Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.