Popular travel urban legends include the hostel psycho, the Mexican mafia kidnapping, and the man who will rob you with a machete.
Sure they are all possible, but only one is a legitimate problem you should be prepared for, especially if you’re heading to Central or South America.
Stories like this, which we found on a Lonely Planet forum, illustrate our point:
These things happen. I have been extremely lucky and not personally lived this frightening event, although I have many friends who have. So here is some advice in advance, so you know what to do if someone runs up to you, shouts in an indecipherable language and holds a machete or gun to your head.
First of all, there are things you can do to avoid getting robbed at all.
- Listen to the locals and seriously do not walk anywhere they consider unsafe. I often shrug off a lot of comments when people say how unsafe it is for a woman to travel alone and love proving them wrong, but in certain situations, it’s not a sexist comment; it’s simply a fact that certain areas are more dangerous for tourists than for locals so heed warnings.
- Only take as little as necessary with you when walking between villages, waterfalls, etc.
Ok, so your camera is usually necessary, but consider keeping your memory card separate. That way, if someone does rob you, at least you have your memories and those are priceless. Also, bring only as much money as you need and do not carry your cards, passport, or other important things on you.
- Finally, no personal items that would be devastating if stolen.
Sure your journal has absolutely no financial value to someone robbing you, but they are going to take your whole bag and not pick through it before they snatch it. And then they will read everything you wrote and laugh whole heartedly at you. Ok, probably not, but I imagine you’d still rather have your journal in your possession than in theirs.
So if you do find yourself quickly and inexplicably in the scenario that someone is demanding your rucksack and threatening your life, what do you do?
Remain calm and unafraid. Then comply. Many robbers have no real intention of hurting you. They just know this is a quick and easy way to make money off of tourists and rarely do tourists fight back.
Don’t fight back; I’ve only known one person to fight back and he was an ultimate world fighter professionally trained to kick asses. (And yes, he did take down three guys with machetes, although the one without one grabbed his bag with passports and all cards and made off without a scratch.) The moral of the story: unless you are a professional, don’t retaliate. These youngsters may not be prepared to hurt you or know exactly what they’re doing, but that doesn’t mean they won’t freak out or harm you (un)intentionally.
Judge: Look them in the eyes and try to judge them, and your surroundings. There have been instances of people running away without giving up their bag but I wouldn’t recommend it. It completely depends on your situation and natural reaction. If you’re near a road with cars constantly coming by, you have a chance. If you’re wandering and a bit lost and far from your hostel, don’t even think about it. They may run after you, throw the machete, or even pull out a gun. In which case, learn to run in a zig zag pattern. But the main point is to accept your situation and join the “I’ve been robbed” club because there is not much else you can do.
Men and women, young and old; every traveler could be robbed with or without a weapon while traveling abroad. Whether on a chicken bus or alone in the jungle, just remember to stay calm and give them your bag. The sooner you realize that “things” are simply just things, the more free you will feel. And the better stories you’ll have to share. For example, “this one time, I got robbed by a guy with a machete…..”.