That’s right, I said MALE safety tips!
What, did you women think that you were the only ones at risk when you are travelling the world? Did you think being a solo female backpacker somehow automatically made you more at risk of becoming the victim of a crime or falling foul of some unexpected disaster? Did you think it was somehow easier and safer for men to travel solely because of that magical appendage between our legs? Sorry ladies, it doesn’t work that way. So with that in mind, I give you:
The title solo MALE backpacker sounds strange, I grant you, because generally men do not need to create a gender specific identity in order to make ourselves feel empowered or inspirational, but that does not mean men are exempt from the worry or fear of something happening on the road, and men are certainly not automatically safe.
In fact the opposite is often true.
It is certainly true that men in general terms have a much more muted fear of anything negative happening to them. That is probably a by product of a lifetime of macho, testosterone fuelled socialisation, but contrary to popular belief men do not have some sort of hidden copyright on safety. In fact statistically it is men who are far more likely to become the victims of most types of violent crime despite having a far lesser fear of it, and there are even gender specific risks associated with being a man too.
So for all you men about to set off on your round the world adventure, here are a few tips to keep you safe.
Act like you are invincible.
Exuding confidence is one of the key weapons you have to deter any trouble. Even if you don’t feel confident, never let that show. A quiet confidence that tells everyone around you not to mess with you or they’ll be in trouble if they did is often more than enough to make any would be attacker think twice. Most potential attackers instinctively target a weaker opponent, so if everything about you from your demeanor to your body language screams ‘I am in my element and can look after myself,’ your chances of being targeted will drop dramatically.
But don’t be cocky.
Being confident doesn’t mean you have to act like a complete cock. Never mistake confidence for arrogance. You don’t need to be brash or loud, you don’t need to puff up your chest or start getting all gobby if something or someone annoys you or touts get a little too pushy. That is far more likely to get you INTO trouble than keep you out of it! Especially since you are a man, as men are statistically much more likely to use violence on another man if you escalate a situation to that point through your own behaviour. Wind your neck in and calm down. Practice exuding a quiet self confidence instead, that is what will keep you safe.
Get your face out of that smartphone screen and take those damn earphones out! Paying attention? Good! If you don’t pay attention to your surroundings or the people around you, or if you don’t keep an eye on your belongings then you are simply asking for trouble. If you aren’t paying attention you run a much higher chance of having your stuff nicked or of being robbed or scammed. You don’t need to be overly paranoid here, and that is an essential point, just be aware of what is happening around you and keep your eye on your stuff.
Spot the backpacker?
No that garish Hawaiian shirt or that Tiger Beer singlet is not the height of fashion, so put them away! I don’t care what that tout told you when he chased you down the street shouting ‘sir, sir, suit for you!’ You don’t look like god’s gift wearing that god awful T Shirt.
Sound harsh? Maybe. There’s nothing wrong with the odd beer branded vest top and shorts when you are relaxing on a tropical island somewhere, but wherever you go you should be mindful of the way you dress so as not to stand out and draw even more attention to yourself than you are already getting.
One of the best ways to stay safe is not to make yourself a target in the first place, and if you look like a typical tourist or backpacker and you stand out like a sore thumb, then you are going to have a huge tout target on your back whether you realise it or not. If – like me – you are 6”2, broad shouldered and Caucasian, then you are going to stand out in certain parts of the world no matter what you wear, but there are ways to minimize that problem and at least try to look like less of a target to all the touts, scams artists and criminals out there.
You don’t have to swan about dressed in full local dress regalia of course, you’ll look even more out of place than those inappropriately dressed, bum bag wearing tourists straight off the cruise ship, but you should make an attempt not to look like a tourist. Dress comfortably, but dress in a manner that makes locals think you may be an ex pat living in their country rather than just another tourist. (This works best when combined with a good dose of self confidence and a few phrases of the local language). Trust me, you’ll thank me when the hordes of touts rush past you and head straight for the fresh faced couple with vest tops, cargo shorts, brand labelled laptop or camera bags and overstuffed backpacks on their shoulders.
Another common mistake many men make is by offending people without even realising it by having a T shirt emblazoned with a logo that will offend local religion, culture or sensitivities. Did you see that episode of Top Gear where they drove to the deep south of America and declared that Jesus was of a particular sexual orientation on the side of the car? That was for entertainment, but you get my drift. Your favourite T Shirt with a ‘sex, drugs and whatever’ logo or a picture of a half naked woman plastered over the front of it may look amazing and be quite common back home (but if it does I really don’t want to see your home town), it may even be fine in the more touristy parts of wherever you are visiting, but it isn’t the best idea to wear it in a conservative Muslim country that may be offended by the message you are displaying on your chest, is it? Why draw the attention – and possible hassle – to yourself? Simple, plain clothing with no potentially offensive slogans is all that is needed.
Don’t fight back.
Not an appropriate response to a pushy tout!
I don’t care how many Jackie Chan Films you have seen or how many times you have seen Out For Justice or Kickboxer, you are not Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme! You cannot fend off twenty armed assailants with a few deft moves! Are you listening Tackleberry? (Extra points for getting that reference!)
If the worst does happen and you are mugged or robbed, then don’t be a hero and do not fight back. Especially if you’re assailants are armed.
I understand the instinct to fight back, believe me, I do. It’s natural. When testosterone mixes with the traditional fight or flight response it can be a powerful brew regardless of what choice you make. It is only natural you will want to fight back, and if you don’t, it is only natural that you will replay that scene over and over in your head imagining what you could have done differently.
The truth is it really doesn’t matter, as long as you get out of the situation safe and alive, then that is the main thing. I understand that you will have to run the gauntlet of anger, humiliation and shame, but your pride is not worth getting killed over. It goes without saying that your life is far more important than your wallet.
The one exception to this rule is when being submissive and giving your mugger or assailant what they want will still result in you being harmed or worse, if for example your assailant is out to hurt you rather than simply take a bit of money. In that instance, the fight response is the right one, do anything you can to defend yourself and get out of there at the first available opportunity.
Swallow your pride.
There may be times on the road where something gets to you. Scratch that, there will be times. It’s inevitable. Even Gandhi got annoyed from time to time. You will get annoyed by the incessant touts, you will get fed up of the taxi or tuk tuk drivers constantly trying to rip you off, you may even get into an argument. The best thing to do is to deescalate the situation as quickly as possible and get out of there. Just smile, say you are sorry and try to walk away at the earliest opportunity. Do not let the situation escalate to the point where an argument or even violence becomes a possibility. Your pride is not worth putting yourself in a dangerous situation.
That goes for having a sensible approach to risk assessment too. I know, you are very manly and full of testosterone filled goodness, but if jumping off that cliff or going tubing after one too many whisky buckets looks too dangerous for you to handle, then it probably is. Just don’t do it, I don’t care how many of your mates are daring you.
Independent travel should be fun, it should have an element of risk, but there is a limit so just try and be a little sensible about it and don’t let your masculine pride put you in avoidable danger!
Don’t get too drunk.
By all means have a drink or three, have a great time. This is a holiday after all and should be enjoyed as such. You should never deny yourself a good time. But as always, there is a limit. When you are so drunk you have no control over your actions you are as much a danger to yourself than anything else may be. Remember when you are drunk you not only lose your inhibitions and ability to make rational choices, but you leave yourself vulnerable to all sorts of dangers, from the various scams and touts trying to rip you off, to being unable to moderate your own behaviour, which could get you into a certain amount of trouble. Have a drink, enjoy yourself by all means. Just stay in control.
Research the local scams.
There are plenty of scams, cons and tricks out there, most of which are simply designed to part you from a little bit of cash, and it is always worth researching as much as you can and being aware of them so that you can recognise them before they happen to you. As a man however, there are certain scams and even downright crimes where you will be specifically targeted for your gender. The bar tab scam, the ‘buy me drink’ overcharge, the date rape drug robbery … there are a lot of them. Many involve a young pretty woman using her looks to either distract you or massage your ego, so if you are in a bar and are approached, remember that you are not Brad Pitt (or any of the other vacuous film stars or singers that happen to be considered good looking at the moment!) and just be on your guard. There is absolutely no need to be too paranoid, odds are she may even just want to chat to you, but there is always that small chance you are about to get scammed. Have a great time, be friendly, always be polite, just be on your guard.
So there you go guys, just a few basic tips and tricks to keep you safe on the road. Okay, so apart from the odd gender specific exception, these tips can be applied to women too, in fact general safety tips are almost universally the same for men as they would be for women, but that doesn’t mean men don’t need to take a sensible view on their own personal safety and security.
Last week I wrote a post on solo female backpacker safety in response to the almost overwhelmingly female dominated emails and questions I get about travel safety. The fact of the matter is it is safe for ANYONE to travel the world independently, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever whether you are a man or a woman. Of course there are some gender specific problems that women will face that men won’t and vice versa too, but on the whole one gender is not inherently safer when travelling than the other. You just have to do some research on the places you are visiting, have the right knowledge and information, use your common sense, and apply some reasonable and sensible safety precautions to your behaviour without going over the top and letting them ruin your trip.
If you want to prepare yourself as much as possible, you can do some more reading on how you can avoid dangerous situations and keep yourself safe here. But don’t let fear ruin your trip. Do your research, apply your common sense and enjoy yourself! Backpacking around the world will be one of the best things you will ever do, you will have an absolute blast, and by listening to these tips and doing your research you will come back safe and sound too.
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If you want to gain a more in depth knowledge and understanding about how to keep yourself safe on the road as well as research and understand some of the risks and dangers that you may face out there, then you should get hold of a copy of Gap Year Safety. The book that is here to reassure, support and encourage you to follow your dreams of travelling the world and give you the tools and knowledge on how to stay safe in the process.
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