Eyes in the Back of Your Head: How to Travel Safely

16 September 2009 By Kelly Sanford

Petty crime and muggings can happen anywhere; however, one becomes particularly vulnerable when traveling outside one’s country – as yachties constantly are doing.

For petty criminals, tourists and other transients are almost irresistible targets. They usually carry cash and fancy electronic devices; they wear expensive clothing and jewelry and easily catch the attention of the “have-nots” – especially if they appear to be isolated or intoxicated. Traveling safely is mostly about using common sense and realizing when a situation is potentially dangerous.

With the current world economic downturn, many tourist areas are hurting, which has lead to rising unemployment and an increase in petty crime. Places that have been very safe historically may gradually have become more dangerous since your last visit.

Tim Davey with Global Marine Travel says, “Captains really should make a point [to brief their] crew about potentially dangerous places. The U.S. State Department has a good website for monitoring this kind of information.” (Visit and click the “International Travel” tab.)

Davey encourages captains to implement a policy requiring crew to let others on board know where they are going and how long they plan to be gone. When it is called for, he also suggests implementing curfews so overdue crew don’t go unnoticed. No one should go out drinking alone. “The guys should remember their manners and never let the ladies walk home alone, or with a stranger for that matter, especially if they have been drinking,”
Davey adds.

Be wary of scam artists or strangers who approach you with unsolicited offers. Often, pickpockets have an accomplice who will make some sort of distraction in order to divert your attention long enough for you to be victimized. If you’re going to go exploring in remote areas outside of well-traveled tourist spots, consider hiring a reputable guide to escort you and help you avoid unsavory places.

If you are somewhere you don’t speak the local language, be sure to learn how (at minimum) to ask for help. Sometimes it helps to write a few phrases down. Make a note of the marina’s (or your hotel’s) address and keep it in your pocket. You should have a cell phone with you and everyone should have an ICE (in case of emergency) contact in the phone’s contact list.

“Avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself,” Davey says. “A lot of people like to be flashy when they travel and carry their Gucci bag and wear the Rolex watch, but you are better off leaving those things at home and using good common sense.”

For example, avoid taking shortcuts and walking down poorly lit streets. Try to keep a low profile and avoid confrontations. Do not seek out illegal substances. Do not discuss travel plans or personal details with strangers. And perhaps most important, if you are targeted, don’t fight back – your valuables can be replaced; it’s not worth risking your life to save them.

Finally, if you are victimized, report the crime to the authorities. “I had been out at the bars in St. Thomas. I was drunk and I went to the car and fell asleep. When I woke up, the door was wide open and my cell phone and wallet were gone,” says crewmember TW (name was changed).

TW admitts that he felt partially responsible for being easily victimized and did not report the crime. However, one savvy yachtie in Antibes noted on the recent “More Muggings in Antibes” forum, “We have started to report all the crime as the police can only work on statistics to apply for more police officers in the area. So, more reports equals more police. If they don’t know, they can’t get more police in.”

Have you seen an increase in petty crime in your travels this year?