Playing It Safe

On the Scene

While tourist districts may feel comforting, they also attract hucksters and scam artists like bees to honey. After all, tourists here are usually only passing through; if a traveler shells out too much for a souvenir, gets scammed on "low-cost" gems, or loses that wad of cash in her pocket, she might not do anything about it before the next bus out of town. A small town off the beaten path—or even a neighborhood filled with locals—doesn't have the same "pickpocket economy," Potts says.

When you do hit bustling streets, "you don't have to make yourself pickpocket-proof," says Lansky. "You just need to make yourself less of a target= than the next guy." Skip flashy jewelry, clothes, or anything that calls attention to yourself. You can even camouflage your bags with nondescript covers, especially when carrying expensive camera equipment. When traveling in South America, Lansky used rice sacks to cover his backpack.

Observe what locals are wearing; if you're a six-foot blond, you won't "blend in" in Southeast Asia, but you can be respectful of local custom—and appear as a street-savvy ex-pat—by wearing appropriate clothing. Lanksy recommends checking out the western-style clothing that locals wear; Whitman has traveled to India with just the clothes on her back, buying a kurta or a scarf for her travels when she arrives. Added incentive? On-the-ground apparel is usually marginally less expensive in developing countries than it is in the States, and you blend in more with the locals.

For women-specific advice, check out Journeywoman, which posts advice from travelers and locals on what to wear, where. Women can ask for additional advice from local women through HERmail.Net—more than 10,000 women from 35 countries have signed up.

Underneath those clothes, tuck a money belt with the things you don't want to lose—passport, traveler's checks, credit cards. "You might carry a wallet, but the wallet only has one day's spending money," Hewitt says. That way, you also don't have to dig through your clothes when you want to buy a gelato—and getting hit by a pickpocket will only be an inconvenience, not a potential trip-damper.

Published: 10 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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