Especially in a foreign country where you’re pretty much on your own, personal safety is a concern. Not something everyone thinks about but it’s on my mind regularly. And given that I almost got mugged a few weeks ago I gave that some more thought and figured I should share some of those thoughts.
The Philippines has a whole bunch of dangers and being aware of them or them being a possibility goes a long way to increase your personal safety. The realisation that my phone equals a months salary, or that my empty backpack alone is worth more than the average persons whole wardrobe may put things into perspective about opportunistic crime.
There is opportunity, and I’m a target. Simple as that.
That’s not to say I’m afraid to move around in the Philippines. Not at all. I feel fairly comfortable most of the time. And that is partly because I keep an eye on the situation around me. Taking a few simple precautions is just common sense I think. It may save your life!
This article is about avoiding (or minimising) opportunistic crime like a mugging or robbery. Don’t give them the opportunity and avoid looking like you are an opportunity. Though being caucasian pretty much means I am a target at all times. But knowing that also means I can counter it, a little.
To me personal safety has everything to do with being aware. Being aware what’s going on around you and be confident about where you’re going and what you are doing.
Confident in the sense that you do not look lost or uncertain. That you totally belong there, whatever you’re doing. This borders arrogance, but try not to overstep that line.
If you know what’s going on and how to recognise (potential) bad situations you’re a lot safer already. If you’re smart enough to avoid such situations, even better. You don’t even have to carry a weapon of some sort to achieve that sense of safety. A lot of the times all you need is common sense and your wits.
That said, I do carry a knife most of the time. You know, to cut strings and open wrappers. In the evenings I usually carry a flashlight, too. In a country where streetlights are not a given and dark streets can be dangerous in a number of ways I like to be able to see where I’m going.
Here are some ways to appear as a non-target. From my experience in the Philippines.
Don’t show your stuff
I rarely take out my phone on the streets, unless I’m comfortable doing so. And even then I hold it in a way that it’s (I think) hard to snatch it. I don’t flash wads of cash to anyone. I have a wallet and flip through bills without taking out anything. I usually don’t show any expensive stuff in public. Even if someone who sees you and doesn’t think to rob you, the person they tell about it might.
That’s for flashing your stuff, but also don’t tell anyone you have your laptop or tablet in your bag (or whatever else expensive you may have). Don’t tell anyone that you have millions of pesos in the bank, either. Keep to yourself and don’t paint that bulls-eye on your back. It’s nobody’s business how rich you are or what gear you carry around.
Bring a map
When you’re going into a new area or a city you’re not familiar with. Bring a street map and know how to read that map. If you look lost, you attract attention. Randomly exploring a city will have you undoubtedly end up in a wrong street or neighbourhood from time to time. That map will lead you to safety.
I usually bring a street map and use it the first few days when I arrive in a new city or area. For me that really helps. I’ve spent hours searching for maps of the areas I’m going to. Knowing where you are in a city, safe or not, is just super useful.
Of-course on a map you can’t see which areas are bad. I’ve walked through a few neighbourhoods I’d rather avoid next time. But hey, a bit of adventure is fun too. Just be aware of what you’re doing. Google Maps you say? Yea, you’re in a bad area, show everyone you’re a worthy target…
Don’t limit yourself to eye-sight only. You can listen for, and smell danger too. For example, listen for footsteps. Detect a potential assailant without looking over your shoulder. If you have good hearing you may spoil their surprise when they try to grab you.
Situational awareness is a big thing in protecting yourself.
If there are scruffy looking dudes in your vicinity make sure you (somewhat) follow their movements. Don’t let them sneak up on you or surround you. When you see a van parked with the sliding door open near a narrow alley way. Don’t walk in front of that door and avoid the alleyway too. If you don’t like the looks of a certain street, take a different route.
Act like you know
The world is yours, so act like it. Just like looking lost, insecurity and uncertainty attracts attention. If you beam out a sense of confidence there is no need to approach you, or that’s how they will perceive you.
If however, you do need help, try to get it on a busy street corner or visible place. You can also ask personnel from a nearby business, a shop or hotel or something similar.
Posture and appearance go a long way, but sometimes it’s not enough. If you decide to carry a weapon of sorts, know how it works. Know the dangers of doing so. And know where you keep it. If the situation turns bad and you have to look for your stun-gun… That’s 2 seconds you don’t have. If you reach for your knife and it comes out the wrong way, you may cut yourself or prevent yourself from opening it. Again, precious seconds lost.
If you’re like me, your stuff is in the same pockets all the time. Phone goes left, wallet right. Keys are under the wallet, and so on. That means your means of defence also has to have its own spot. Know where your stuff is.
Equally important is to know a little about local laws for carrying weapons and what is considered a weapon and what isn’t.
Don’t be a target if you don’t have to!
Note: I do not encourage anyone to carry a weapon or use violence. Nor is this article meant to encourage the use of weapons or violent self defence. Always be smart and sensible in your actions and avoid unnecessary harm.