This guidebook is a short analysis on the safety in Latin America. Big parts of this material are universal for travelling to the other parts of the world as well. The idea is to raise the tourist knowledge and warn about the most common, potentially dangerous situations.
- First part is about safety in Latin America: here are the facts and typical crimes on tourists.
- Second part (the one you read now) is about habits that every safe backpacker should have. It also tells some example stories of those who paid for their mistakes.
- Third part (in progress) will be about staying healthy during your travels.
BASICS OF SAFE TRAVELS
The more factors from this list you’ll fulfil the better.
Having somebody you can rely on is one of the safest way to travel, especially if you are a woman. When it’s getting hot there is always somebody with a better idea. Additionally, a pair of tourists is a lot harder to exploit than a single person. It’s not always possible to have a travel companion, also you might actually prefer to travel alone but you need to know, that you’ll be meeting other travellers all the time.
Also I met so many single travellers so far, including women. Often they are leaving their country and look for a temporary travel companion at their destination.
The best thing to do is educate yourself, pay attention to your surroundings and just trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right then don’t do it. Most common mistakes are:
- Exploring dark alleys after dark.
- Flashing your valuables on the streets.
- Going to the party alone somewhere on weekends night in Peru.
- Putting your valuables on a top shelf during a ride in a night bus.
- Poor neighbourhoods, now matter how fascinating, might not be the best places to explore.
- Money and passport management
Here’s little bit about prevention as well some ideas to have “Plan B”.
- You’d be quite protected if you’ll have two bank accounts and two separate credit cards. Then you’ll need to hide them in different places. In case of a theft you’ll still have the second credit card and will access your money easily. Just remember to set your payout limits accordingly as well!
- Carrying money and documents in a money belt, the one you hide in your pants is a good idea. During a visit in a big city it is advisable to leave your valuables safely locked in a hostel.
- Some stores sell special money belts that are actually a regular belts but with some hidden pockets inside.
- A quite interesting solution is to travel with two wallets, the one you hide, and the other with small amount of money, “theftable” one – in case of theft or robbery you’ll not loose that much.
- It’s good to make copies of important documents and hide them in different places. In case of a theft you’ll have one problem less.
Knowing the language
A possibility to communicate will let you getting tips from locals or talk you out of a harder situation, i.e. from an extortion attempt. Knowing the language will also increase your confidence and lower the feeling of alienation.
Doing your homework
You’ll need to learn about the place you are travelling to. If you are planning to arrive to big city then it might be wise to do that during a day (trying to get into a hostel in the middle of the night somewhere in a spooky city is not fun) or just make sure you’ll get from the station to the hostel (i.e. you’ll catch a trustable taxi or the station and the hostel are close to each other and in safe area) and somebody working there will open the doors for you.
It’s good to know hot spots – places where it’s not advisable to go or hang out after dark. Such info can be found in guidebooks.
- Positive thinking and confidence
Criminals calculate their risks and acts when chances are high. When they see a tourist that feel lost and lacks confidence, they just see an easy target.
Also lack of confidence and indecisiveness are often a self fulfilling prophecy. In an uncertain situation we might start having doubts about our surrounding which sometimes makes us feel less secure, paranoid and eventually may lead to bad decisions. Jim Morrison from The Doors cleared that out:
“People are strange when you’re stranger
faces look ugly, when you alone.”
In other words, the world we perceive is a mirror. Positive attitude will turn the seemingly bad situation into just a bad thought.
Confidence is a trait that can be learned and the first step to gain it is to educate yourself and then getting the real experience. Being aware of typical risky situations as well as having a “Plan B” (like money management) will boost your confidence right away and eventually make your travels less stressful and better.
BAD THINGS THAT ALMOST HAPPENED TO ME
Enough of theory, here are few bad situations that happened to me during my 9 month trip across Latin America.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
While having a walk outside of the touristic La Boca district I became fascinated with poor and little bit dangerous area. I was taking loads of pictures and eventually got little bit lost, which scared me a little. In the meantime a woman with a baby warned me about the robberies that happens here. I couldn’t understand what she was all about – there was nobody in the neighbourhood and as I understood it later I also had luck that day – the streets were empty because of the siesta. The day after I heard a story from a German friend: he was robbed in the same area by two guys on the scooter.
- Cochabamba, Bolivia
I was walking on quite busy street and saw a Bolivian boy who was running towards me. All of a sudden he changed the direction I guess he wanted to reach the guitar I had on my shoulder. I faced him immediately and seeing that he gave up and ran away.
- Cochabamba, Bolivia (again)
I was sitting on a park bench and reading an e-book and at some point I saw a Bolivian guy who was just about to approach me. As soon as I noticed him and looked at his face he changed the direction and walked away. I was so occupied with my book that he apparently thought he will just take it from me. When he realised I won’t be an easy target he changed his mind.
BAD THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO OTHERS
- A theft in front of the hostel, Sucre, Bolivia
I heard a story about a girl who lost an iPad. She wanted to get back to the hostel after the party but the doors were already closed. Being drunk she wanted to contact somebody from the inside using her tablet, in the meantime a group of Bolivian teenagers took it and ran away.
- Drugged friend, Ecuador
A friend who was having a good time in Ecuador met a 40 year old man that bought him a drink. The story ended in waking up with terrible hangover, missing money and a camera.
- Breaking in to the hostel locker, Brazil
A story about a backpacker who travelled all across South America for 6 months and had his things stollen (including passport) on the final night, just before his flight home.
- Bread theft, Buenos Aires, Argentina
A story of a German friend that I actually mentioned before. He was stopped by two teenagers, one of them held his hands and the other was searching friends pockets for valuables. They stole some change and a sandwich, thankfully they didn’t have time to go over all the pockets, including the one with the camera.
- A half of a cellphone stolen every year, Argentina
A friend from Buenos Aires had her phone stolen 3 times over 5 year period already.
- Puerto Escondido, Mexico
I stayed in a hostel by the beach and some of my friends were camping there. During one evening somebody sneaked in through the hole in the fence, ripped the tent and stole everything that they could take, mainly clothes. Thankfully all the valuables were safely stored at the reception.
WHAT DIDN’T HAPPENED BUT COULD
- Tarija, Bolivia
I had a terrific and safe stay in a hostel there. I didn’t lost anything and the hostel didn’t have lockers. The hostel was decent and properly protected and the city is quite safe as well. Notice that it was in Bolivia, theoretically quite unsafe country.
- A bus from Guyaramerin to Riberalta, Bolivia
While reading an e-book I fell asleep and the device fell on the floor. During my nap it started to slide on the floor and when I woke up I was quite sure it’s gone. Surprisingly some Bolivian guy noticed that and helped me tofind it.