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General & Harsh Crime

I & few have ever experienced!!

Table of Contents (TOC)

quick links to main Travel Safety posts

1) Safety: Introduction & Risks

2) Tourist Appearance factors

3) Tourist Behavior factors

4) Crime - General & Harsh
     I. General Risks:
    II. International Tourist Murders:
   III. Robbery: 'hold-up'
   IV. Kidnapping: ransom/Credit card baances:
    V. Rape:
   VI. Prostitution:

5) Soft Crime & Scams

6) Trans: airport > Hostel

7) Trans: in-town & country

Crime: General & Harsh


I deeply care that once you have mustered the courage to travel abroad, thast you DO NOT UN-NECESSARILY be endangered. So consider, how valuable your time is spent researching these issues my blog and others articles & blogs raise.

OSAC’s (Overseas Security Advisory Council) website ( that.....     OSAC’s Safe Practices: 

OSAC ( makes several excellent safety suggestions which I hope you will pursue on their website. In any event, I will include all of them in my safety blogs.

“A most common threat to US citizens abroad comes from criminal activity. …. Research your host destination’s crime trends & patterns in advance of travel.  Common-sense, crime-avoidance strategies are the same everywhere:’



◀︎◀︎◀︎   Scroll UP ▲ to return here to TOC


When OSAC says’ “most common threat”:    that does NOT mean 1) all crimes are the same magnitude of risk, nor 2) that most travelers will experience crimes. Neither is remotely true!

In fact, most travelers experience NO crimes while traveling &, if so, they are largely soft crimes costing minor annoyance & a pittance of money, We all drive cars knowing we could have an accident—-, but, we seldom do. 

So, think of travel crime generally as you prudently think of crime avoidance at home EXCEPT that you are in an unfamiliar foreign culture

Confused & distracted by everything around you: your guide’s chatter, the funny money, magnificent sites, & even tour companions? 

You may be in a tour group bunched together in a busy market, jammed on a rush-hour metro train, or negotiating a bus or train station.

You are an ‘obvious tourist’; a visible target for criminals. 

It is hard to imagine that even the most cavalier or naïve traveler would not make a minimal effort to explore the danger level of any country or city they are traveling to. 

Particularly when once aware of U S Department of State’s (USSD) Travel Advisories AND

AND, your host country’s similar resources.      EXAMPLE:

 and other Internet sources you are better protected.

Again, most tourists & I have never experienced these more serious crimes.

I hope to teach you about criminal travel risks & how to avoid & protect yourself from them.

Harsh crimes: 

I have seldom experienced, nor met anyone who has!

Unethical ‘mainstream media’ (MSM) are rumor mongers who will happily frighten you with any story that might scare you & generate more MSM revenue. In 2019 approx 91 million Americans traveled abroad, yet internet research indicates few harsh or severe crimes.

OTOH, Tourists potentially could be confronted with any form of violent crime including rape, kidnapping, murder, abuse, or terrorism. 

However, once you know, understand, and can anticipate harsh & soft crime the more likely you will recognize & avoid all criminal activities, continuing to happily enjoy your travels. My goal is to make your travels safer.

I repeat, neither I nor most tourists have experienced serious crime.

II. Intentional Tourist murder:

    Intentional tourist MURDER is extremely rare. 

My quick Google search seemed focused mainly on Mexico and South American countries’ drug-related ‘caught in Cartel cross fire’ tourist deaths e.g 4 kidnapped (2 killed) medical tourists mistaken by Mexican cartel for Haitian drug competitors. Cartel “Apology letter found after US citizens killed in Mexico”:

The article below perhaps best reflects, IMO, what the rational, prudent tourist’s level of concern and wariness should be. 


NYTimes’ Elisabeth Malkin's article “Along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Tourists, Drugs and Violence”  Cancun/Tulum, Mexico drug-related deaths: 

“Feb. 25, 2022: “It’s all like drug-related violence so it doesn’t affect us,” said Elizabeth Sedgemore, 50, of Seattle, who was walking in Puerto Morelos one recent noon looking for a restaurant with her husband, Gregory, 59. He added: “We just don’t put ourselves in situations where we’re going to be in trouble. We don’t do drugs, we don’t deal drugs, we don’t stay out late — so we feel very safe.”


Unrealistically naïve?   I don’t think so.

                        Tourist murders are extremely rare.

III. Robbery: classic ‘hold up’:

TOURIST ROBBERY is the “unlawful taking” (theft) of personal property from a person (tourist) by force (weapon) or threat of force.

“Threat of force” may include a displayed weapon (knife, gun, stick) by 1 or more persons who in your opinion are capable of inflicting great harm on you.

BUT ….   RULE#1: Never resist. Everything you own is replaceable. You are NOT.

ANECDOTEs: Robbery               

        never resist .....

Anecdote 1: Puno, Peru:

Puno, Peru is a black market town for illegal trade with Brazil, so dangerous my hostel owner would not let me walk a few blocks to dinner. He insisted I take a cab to a downtown restaurant, promising that I take one directly back without walking the busy night street.

I did. Local knowledge in all things is often a great asset. 

While in Puno I spoke with a large, powerful young man who was robbed in Puno by several men in broad daylight of his expensive, giant lens camera which apparently he could not or did not hide, but I gather, rather brandished it about naively as a display of American wealth & photographic prowess.  He did NOT fight back.

 He bought it back the next day at the city’s open market. Irony.

Sometimes you advertise your vulnerability. 


Anecdote 2: Lima, Peru: Robbery by assault (threat)

 I met 2 young women at my hostel who said they were robbed in broad daylight in Lima’s main square by 2 young men.   Robbery by threat.













robbery, but NEVER resist ...


Whatever they demand - money, camera, cell— quickly “hand it over!”  It is NEVER as valuable as your well-being & life.  Everything is replaceable.

Unless you are currently trained & practiced in self-defense, don’t even ‘think of resisting!’ 

Probably not their 1st rodeo. Rather, such thieves are probably well-street-trained, experienced & confident in their ability to anticipate & react decisively & violently to any attempted self-defense resistance you might foolishly offer.

My practicing old coward’s advice: act scared, sniffle, if you can (because you are scared & they expect it) while you immediately “hand over the goods.” with tears & fear in your eyes. 

2. ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings particularly in known dicey neighborhoods & places. Each of us develops our own standard of ‘dicey’ based on our life & travel experience & advice of others, particularly locals. 

CAVEAT: Often I have been ‘necessarily’ placed in an iffy setting waiting for an early morning bus or train (India)  or trundling my rolling bag thru Cairo’s eerie Arab Spring Revolution-torn early morning streets to a nearly deserted train station.

While seemingly hypocritical of the advice I give others (you), my in-country or in-city experience apparently increases my confidence in assessing dangers that would otherwise be quite scary.

Ironically, these moments often produce very positive insights (Cairo’s tight dark street & chats with Muslim men. [ytlk: Cairo street (to come)] 

3. Try to be sensitive to people moving about you

Listen for footsteps. Look at reflections in shop window you pass for someone getting too close behind you. If suspicious, quickly duck inside a shop & asses the danger. 

4. Always ask police or hostel desk clerk about your safety concerns.    Don’t be embarrassed.

 You won’t be the 1st to ask. Just smart. 

5. DO NOT carry unnecessary valuables (passports, expensive watches, handbags, cameras, etc) 

6. Hide your camera under clothing.



IV. Kidnapping for Ransom or CC/DC balances:

Smart Traveller’s excellent & seemingly thorough article: “Reducing the risk of kidnapping”:

….. in most basic kidnapping cases, motivations are ransom (money) or concessions, by capturing & detaining victim and then, demanding money.

They take & detain victim, and then contact loved ones or employers to negotiate the victim's release.     

IMO, kidnapping, other than murder is the most insidious crime against tourists. Unfortunately, kidnapping is the foundation of two specific schemes:

    1) kidnapping for ransom (money) and,

    2) kidnapping for credit card debit card balances.  Both are often facilitated by Rogue Taxi or bus drivers and their accomplices.

A. Kidnapping for ransom

Kidnapping for ransom is often initiated by criminal Rogue Taxis & their accomplices. They hold you indefinitely while demanding money usually from parents or employer etc. 

Very similar to phone ‘ransom’ scams except these ‘phone’ criminals have not actually captured you.

B. “Express kidnapping” for DC/CC balances.

Kidnapping for DC/CC balances may also be initiated by criminal Rogue Taxis & their accomplices as well as organized criminal gangs commonly in Central & South American countries, especially Mexico & Colombia, but also other countries.

Victim is captured & their bank pin numbers for ATM card and corporate credit card are demanded. Then you are driven to ATM machines until you have emptied your DC / CC limits. 

Kidnapping for credit card/debit card balances may be less dangerous because criminals only want card balances you actually have access to. 

Normally, I believe, when card balances or limits are exhausted you are quickly usually dumped in some unfamiliar place with no money, useless DC/CC, or cell phone to rely on a Good Samaritan.

Frightening, but apparently usually survivable. (says the man it has never happened to. 😀) 

NOTE: If you rely solely on CC & DCs, you may have no immediate access to money. Hidden cash can be a godsend. 

ANECDOTE: bus kidnapping

Anecdote 1: "lighting" bus kidnapping for CC balances

I discovered (did not experience) this scam while researching my 2008 Peru trip, but can find no Google reference now. 

In sum, a bus driver, in collusion with others, abandons his bus & passengers in a dark or remote area at the mercy of kidnappers who immediately arrive to ‘capture’ stranded passengers, take them to a secure location, & extract the max from their ATM & credit cards. 


Unfortunately, the possibility of continuing south from Puno, Peru into Brazil on the exact bus route where these crimes were being committed prompted me to cancel all Brazilian plans. Too paranoid???      You decide.

Google Search indicates several such incidents recently principally in South America. 


Anecdote 2: Brazil’s, the 'Gang of 5 Blondes

In Brazils, the 'Gang of 5 Blondes' kidnapped wealthy people & emptied their bank accounts:


CAUTION: A credit card's high balance may flatter you, even if no intent to use, but a kidnapper may force you to use that high credit limit. Whereas your debit card is limited to the $ amount you put on it. Same for your ‘prepaid’ travel card.         Investigate.

Further CAUTION: your ability to instantly transfer money from 1 account to 2nd may give skilled thieves access to other accounts, so, investigate with your bank and create a safe strategy.










1. CAUTION: DO NOT resist   Sometimes victims have been killed resisting.

2. Use ATMs located inside banks, hotels & shopping centers during daylight hours.

3. DO NOT use unlicensed, 'rogue' taxis' that might hold you hostage. Always use licensed taxi services.

4. Your ability to instantaneously transfer money from one account to another may give skilled thieves access to even more funds.  Investigate with your bank.



3. “Express kidnapping”

Chicago’s FBI Warns Public About Virtual Kidnapping Scams.

“ …. the widespread use of social media has created a fertile environment for virtual kidnapping scams. (that) …. scour the Internet for targets by searching for social media posts by international travelers. Scammers then contact target’s loved ones claiming …..

.... (demanding) ransom quickly .… In reality, the target (your traveling son or daughter) was never in physical danger.”  

Telltale clues of a virtual kidnapping include:

  • Calls may not come from kidnapped loved one’s phone.
  • Callers keep scam victims (your parents) on phone.
  • Callers CANNOT answer simple questions about loved ones e.g.; hair color, tall/short, etc.
  • Thieves accept ransom money only via wire transfer service.
  • Ransom funds must be wired to multiple people in several small amounts so that don’t trigger bank or US Government agency scrutiny.


phone is usual hint of fraud

1.Never post specific upcoming travel dates & locations on social media.

2. PRIOR to any travel, give a responsible friend/loved one a ‘personal location tracking’ phone app (Find360, Glympse, etc) AND this “Virtual Kidnapping” section of my blog.

3. Create a secret “password” that family members can ask for to confirm that kidnappers physically have you under their control.              PS: I never thought of this clever idea.

4. ALWAYS be wary of giving personal/financial info to strangers.

5. If carrying CC/DC, develop a strategy to minimize thieves' access to your card’s funds. But remember ... your ability to transfer funds immediately from one account to another could make all of your bank accounts prey.

NOTE: I have NEVER experienced or met anyone who has experienced such harsh kidnapping crimes.

Nor will I unrealistically elevate your fears by citing the media’s exploitation of these rare ‘harsh crime’ occurrences.   OTOH, if you like being proactively frightened by Stephen King, then Google Search. 😇




IV. Rape: 

(This advice can apply to men also)

Surrounded by women in hostels I have often wondered how they anticipate & cope with the possibility of rape; an attack on the very 'essence of being a woman.’

Particularly those single women traveling alone.

During my 65 year American man’s life in medium to large cities, I was never overly concerned about violent physical attacks. Of course, as a practicing coward living his birth’s culture, I almost inherently avoided dangerous places, situations & people. yet, naïvely, I felt virile, powerful & intrinsically safe.        Fantasy, of course.

However, traveling abroad thru my 60 & 70’s — closing in on my 80s, I became keenly aware that my macho days were well over. Tho I might walk with a certain John Wayne gait that I thought reflected masculinity, I had become more knowledgeable & highly vigilant. I developed strategies & tactics that protected me & my valuables. 

I hope these strategies & tactics discussed below will now protect you. 

OTOH, I don't know where solo women traveler’s confidence, or courage comes from, but I have seen/met dozens of single women of all ages traveling everywhere. 

I suspect their travel courage is buttressed with research, thoughtful vigilance, prudence & a passionate travel desire.

They refuse to be thwarted. 

Ironically, such women may be better prepared than the average male because, I assume, women grow up conscious of the ‘stronger male’s, rape potential.

But IMHO, women travelers, particularly single travelers, may be at even greater risk, particularly in culturally male-dominated, female-subservient, unenlightened 
countries (India’s lowest caste gutter sweepers).

The world media in its lust for the most provocative “worst’ stories exploits any instance of rape anywhere, yet, most foreign women travel safely apparently because they have become more knowledgeable, more aware & more vigilant.  

I want you to be that woman!!!





20+ years ago in a New Zealand hostel I saw a gorgeous ~18 yr old woman. The kind of girl that prompts the male’s protective instincts. 

I wondered how/why her family let her travel, particularly alone. (Sexist? Maybe.). I don’t know, but they apparently did because she definitely was. 

She remains my iconic symbol of a courageous, intelligent, yet presumably prudent female foreign traveler. 

Top 10 safest countries we recommend for solo female travel :

NOTE: NZ is one of the safest countries because a criminal’s only escape is by private plane or boat. Kiwis are some of the world’s nicest people;  Iceland too.


party wisely, not like drunken amateurs 😀

I have no intention of advising women how to protect themselves against rape any more than I would presume to tell women how to cope with childbirth, menopause, or the male personality. 

I would suggesthowever ……

A. Do your Research:

    a. Reading this blog & my hyperlinked sub-posts for all travel-related Safe Practices, not just criminal, etc. 

    b. Solo traveling women’s research of ‘travel safely’ websites,
articles, blogs & travel forums, etc,  (see below) because, I presume, solo women travelers are even more careful, informed & vigilant than those traveling in packs.

    c. Beware the cute & bouncy ponytail hairstyle which offers an attacker a 'control handle."  

    d. Proactively seek advice of hostel staff, locals, police & fellow travelers.

        ANECDOTE: group up; never alone

My guidebook warned against early visits to a popular site because of criminal activity, so I waited until the tour buses arrived.

B. Drinking / Partying:

  1. Stay sober & in control, leave early & never alone or with a ‘new’ acquaintance. Stay sober —- seriously.

CAUTION:  At this 'romantic' moment, this bar & its surrounding neighborhoods are "your handsome, glib new "true love's" familiar hunting grounds.

He has played this game over & over again. This is 'your' hunter's territory.


     1. I quit smoking & drinking when I was 28. Afterward, I actually had more fun & got more done next day. 😇.

    2. If romance does truly blossom, meet ‘him’ for coffee NEXT day at someplace very public where you still have controlNOT tonight.

mini-Anecdote: my date

Several years ago I invited a 'tourist' date to have dinner at Jackson Lake Lodge, in Teton National Park with myself and a prominent local attorney & his wife. 1st thing she did when we arrived was to call a friend to let her know where we had taken her.        At the time she seemed paranoid, but looking back now -- very smart. 

ANECDOTE: Guatemalan disco bar incident

In a smaller Guatemalan town on a mini-van tour, a mixed group of us left a disco bar at a reasonable evening time. Looking back I noticed a couple of men following us. Being a Bruce Willis wanna-be, I boldly turned around to confront them. 

Fortunately (for me 😅), they then turned around & went back to the bar. My action was quasi-noble, but stupid as hell, yet it exposes the multiple risks of the foreign bar scene.

Be confidant, not cocky. Confidence reflects sober strength, while cocky reflects hidden fear.

C. Travel in packs or pairs

Stay together at night &/or in bars, look out for your companions. 

While this 'pack mentality' defeats my greatest travel pleasure experience -- “solo walkabouts’,  there are places & times when it is ALWAYS prudent.

 Anecdote Puno Peru:

A dangerous Peruvian town near the Brazilian border that is a hotspot for smuggling between the two countries and inherently dangerous even to locals. My hostel owner insisted I take a taxi to and from dinner restaurant. I did.

     Safe Practice: applies to men & women

1. If you see a 'situation' developing intervene or ask management to do so. Again, look out for your friends.

2. Beware what lurks in the shadows. Night’s 'dark' is the criminal Harry Potter's invisible cloak.      If concerned, take a taxi from bar's front door to hostel's safety.

D. Use different routes to & from:

 Anecdote: Agua Prieta dentist

My dentist is in Agua Prieta, across Mexican border from Douglas, AZ.

Walking to his office a few years ago I saw a speeding vehicle being chased by speeding police vehicles.               Drug cartel chase.

       Safe Practice:  

Ever since I purposely walk to & from his office using a different street route. After dark, my dentist’s personnel drive me back to border.

E. Avoid 'hustling' strangers.

  ....  buying you, perhaps, a drugged drink in collusion with their buddy the bartender?

F. Don’t leave with “new friend” ...

 … regardless of how romantic the moment seems, you have few, if any local connections to fall back on if your spontaneous romance falls apart later that night.

G. Ask hostel or police advice:

Important Note:  Always ask police, hostel clerks, doctors medical, etc about everything: crime areas, scams, cultural issues etc.

You are not their first rodeo.

H. Dress Like a Local:

Depending on the country, I argue that local cultural dress differences are too subtle for the foreign traveler to easily copy, particularly in advance. Please re-read the earlier blogs on Tourist Appearance  &  Tourist Behavior Factors

NOTE: Wearing an Ecuadorian-made hat does make you Ecuadorian, but may make you stand out as a tourist. 

Read Liz Carlson’s excellent summary article, “10 TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE AS A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER”

I. Whistle/Personal Safety Alarm:

Initially, I attached a whistle and later a "Keychain Personal Alarm" to my daypack as an emergency alarm.

 "TOODOO 130DB Personal Alarm, 5 Pack Safe Sound Personal Security Alarm Keychain with LED Lights, Emergency Safety Alarm (Amazon: not available : 8/4/23)

Pull that lanyard on left side & 'all hell" breaks loose - LOUD.

J. Know Where You ARE & GOING to:

…and act like it!

K. Contact 'your' embassy:

a. report a crime, b. replace stolen/lost passport, c. contact family & friends, d. understand local criminal justice processes, &.... e.  connect victims of crime with available resources. 

However, Embassies do not have the legal authority to conduct a criminal investigation or prosecute crimes.









Safety Resources for Women Traveling Abroad

This is a collection of websites in no particular order that I researched for my blog that may interest you. It is a melange of “Travel Tips”

It is a melange of “Travel Tips”

a. (Source, Monica Houghton, Forbes: Safety Tips for solo female travelers.

b. (Source, SmallBizTrends: Travel safety tips for women:    Kayak whistle

c. (Source, Nomadic Matt: Female Travel Safety

d. (Source, Adventurous Kate: 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women:

e. US Travel.State.Gov

      Before you go:

f. Safe Travel Resource Guide for Women (highlights): very thoughtful article

Safety Travel Tips for Women

g. Orford Academic ’s Journal of Travel Medicine: an academic & perhaps overly cautious view —-


h. Travel Forums: just 1 example

5 Best Travel Forums:


I deeply care that once you have mustered the courage to travel abroad, that you DO NOT UN-NECESSARILY be endangered doing so. So consider, how valuable your time is spent researching these issues my blog and articles/blogs I have linked to raise?

I hesitate to wallow in this harsh crime realm much more for fear of frightening you with relatively rare Anecdotes.

Rather let's focus on more normal, less dangerous, yet annoyingly petty "soft crimes”  — pickpockets, taxi drivers, and scammers — that you might ACTUALLY encounter.

While petty criminal activity is somewhat frequent it is usually harmless; lose a few dollars to a skilled pickpocket, cheated by an overcharging taxi driver  —- annoying, but usually not physically threatening or trip killing.

SO, let’s move on to ‘softer crime”.

Again, most tourists & I have never experienced these more serious crimes.

V. Prostitution: Male issue





         an unforeseeable calamity ...

Bar scene & Friendly Locals

When a 24-year-old traveling salesman (OK, here we go…) in Butte, Montana sitting in a bar one night, I was approached by a woman who offered to introduce me to a young woman. So off we went. 

However, as we walked down the seedy hotel’s 2nd-floor hallway, it ‘dawned on me’. what was happening?     Suddenly feeling uncomfortable & in danger (Duh), I did an abrupt about-face & left.   55 years later such dangers to you are even greater (AIDs, etc)

While tempted by offers of prostitution all over the world I have never fallen prey.   Whew!!!






    beware the prostitute or underaged girl trap.

1. Do NOT leave your friends or get drunk. 

2. Beware of ‘new friend’ you have just met that evening …. who seems to have magically fallen in love with you (or knows someone who will) and wants to take you somewhere else. DO NOT GO. 

Instead, meet next day for lunch in a public place? Fine. Even if the romance were legit & mutual, do you really intend to uproot your life to live there or take them home with you?

2) Pay for your own drinks & meals, so, …. you don’t get stuck with a large tab when your great new friend “bolts’ leaving you, or worse, drugged or robbed.

3) Party when back home where you know your territory’s suspicious clues. When you travel you are trying to apply your sharpest instincts to a new culture, not to self-anesthetize & endanger yourself.

 I suspect I need not fear for the person reading this. You are probably wise.

4) If an unusually forward new acquaintance is even offering to show you around in the morning, it may be a red flag. Why you? Don’t they have anything important to do .. like work?

5)  If your unbridled lust includes under-aged girls in foreign countries     -  BEWARE: US law prohibits with embarrassing & serious consequences

For additional information on federal laws related to crimes against minors overseas, please see the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.





Travel Safety 4: Crime: General & Harsh... END

Travel safety knowledge equals confidant, prudent travel anywhere!

OK, so having navigated Travel Appearance, Behavior and Harsh Crimes against tourists,  let's dial it down and investigate "Soft Tourist  Risks.

Again,my goal is to alert you to areas you must “prepare for” & hope you do ....  so you won't suffer the consequences which you will sometimes suffer anyway -- to some degree therein lies the excitement, challenge & satisfaction of solo international travel.

So, what’s next??? ….

      1st, we’ll discuss  “Soft Crime & Scams" against Tourists…

      2nd, we’ll look closely at transporation-related scams between airport & city AND within cities AND long distance in & around a country. 

      3rd, finally, totally shift our focus to health safety issues.

 SELECT "5)Soft Crimes & Scams"  in Table of Contents (TOC) at left.


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