Before traveling alone for the first time I had a lot of pre-trip anxiety. Thousands of situations ran through my head. All the things that might happen or could go wrong. The thought of getting mugged was right up there at the top.
I could picture the scene vividly in my head. A dark night in a foreign city, all alone. I’m lost, wandering down a black, silent alley. Suddenly a faceless figure jumps out, I see a shine of light as a knife flicks towards me. “Gimme your money!”
It all seemed inevitable in my head. It wasn’t a matter of whether I’d get mugged, rather when.
I considered carrying around two wallets so that I could trick the mugger with an empty one. The possibility of taking up kickboxing or long distance running reared its head. Anything to escape a mugging.
Going to a new place by yourself is scary, but it’s important to have the correct expectations. I’m of the belief that no matter where you go in the world that places are much alike when it comes to safety. There are exceptions of course, but in most places you won’t get mugged walking down the street unless you forget to use your common sense.
When I’m traveling if I see a dark, scary alley I try to avoid it unless there’s lots of people around or I’m with a friend. You would do the same in your hometown, so why would the rules change while you’re in another city? Just as it is back home, your safety is never compromised unless you allow it to be.
I can count the times I’ve felt unsafe while traveling on both of my hands. The majority of the time it was avoidable. Usually it’s because I’m acting cocky and decide to take a short-cut.
Once in Bangkok, Jamie and I decided to take a short-cut in order to get from one mall to another. The malls are effectively beside each other but separated by a long canal. A busy road goes over the canal, so the majority of people cross over at this road. The road is filled with people and tourists. Safe in other words.
However, I was sure there was a quicker way. So instead of walking to the main road, we decided to take a direct route to our destination. Little did I know the short-cut took us through a shanty town of sorts. We hesitated before going through, would it be safe? We could see our destination rising up in front of us, so we pushed on.
We walked down a narrow alley, small huts pressed in on each side of us. Immediately I started to feel uncomfortable. This was a place where tourists clearly barely stepped foot and we had no idea where we were going. Families stared at us with wide eyes as we walked by, my discomfort grew.
Soon we came to a dead end. The narrow alleys all looked the same and we had no idea how to get out. We were more than lost, we were trapped. Starting to get scared.
It sounds ridiculous looking back. It was broad daylight, there were people everywhere. However it’s easy to fall into a negative mindset fed by prejudices and fear while you’re abroad. When you’re in a foreign place it’s hard to consider for a moment that the majority of people all around the world are good human beings. Instead you focus on the scary part of the situation, how everything is unknown around you.
Eventually we followed a young woman, assuming she was heading to a mall too. She probably thought we were going to mug her the way we were sneaking around! However our assumptions were correct and she led us out much to our relief.
This was a situation we should never have gotten into. If we had just followed the other tourists there would have been almost no chance of a problem. The short-cut had worked, but it wasn’t worth the stress. We’d saved 10 minutes of walking in return for a hell of a lot of anxiety.
That time we’d gotten away with it, but another time we could have just as easily decided to take a short-cut and ended in the wrong place at the wrong time. If we had just used our common sense we wouldn’t have had any problems. For a moment though we decided “Eh, it’s fine, we’ll just walk into the mazey shanty town, it’ll only take us a minute.”
When you’re a traveler you’re automatically vulnerable because you don’t know about your surroundings. You should be aware at all times of where you’re going. Getting lost isn’t a bad thing, I’ve had some great experiences getting lost. But there’s a difference between getting lost in a safe environment, with plenty of people around you and walking down dark alleys where you have no reason to be.
Just use common sense. Ask yourself, if I was back home would I go down here? If the answer is “no” you probably shouldn’t do it.
As I’ve said, there are exceptions. You don’t avoid the dark alleys of Morocco, they’re part of the experience. But in any situation you should use your smarts or you may lose more than just your wallet!