Rather topical, given this week's headlines, regarding "shithole countries" (and let's face it, people, we ALL know exactly what Mr Trump means), but over the past year or so, a number of people have messaged me, or enquired on the boards, as to what 'the trick' is to coming back from these places unscathed...
Without further ado, here are my own personal top tips to getting out of some of the world's dumps and dives without losing blood, skin or property.
1. Always Do Your Research. These days, there really is no excuse for not doing your homework before you go. It's inevitably time well spent, and prepares you for what you might find.
2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings. Don't wander around looking only at the sights, keep in mind who is around you, and particularly anybody who seems to be taking an undue interest in you, and what you are doing. Don't look at a map on the street, go into a shop and ask directions.
3. Don't Stay in Shit Accommodation. This is an elementary level trap to fall into, and yet people still do it. It really isn't worth it. If it's cheap, it's usually because it's crap, in a bad area of town, or it's insecure (or any combination of the above). Do yourself a favour, reach further into your pocket, and stay somewhere with a reasonable reputation.
4. Don't Be a Martyr to Political Correctness. Do not feel obliged to speak to somebody who approaches you, if you don't like the look of them, and don't be afraid to create a scene if they won't leave you alone, when asked to do so.
5. Take Local Advice. A book or a website is rarely an adequate substitute for local knowledge, and it's seldom a waste of time to speak to the hotel concierge or a taxi driver about which areas of town are worth avoiding and when.
6. Don't Wander Around On Your Own at Night. This kind of goes without saying, but people continue to ignore it, with predictable consequences.
7. Trust your Gut. At the end of the day, most people who are up to no good are pretty obvious. It's the ones who aren't that you particularly need to worry about, but if somebody seems shifty, don't give him the benefit of the doubt.
8. Don't Look Like a Victim. You might not be able to look like a local. But don't look like the type that can be preyed on, either. I don't look Italian or Latin American, but I seem to be able to pass off as some kind of eastern European to Italian and Latin American ne'er-do-wells, who have probably never given Eastern Europe very much thought in course of their lives. But it introduces an element of confusion, because they seem to think that you might not be worth robbing, and / or might fight back hard if they try.
9. Establish a Complete Communications Barrier. How often, when you are at home, does a stranger approach you, with a broad smile, saying "Hello, my friend" or something similar? Only when he's trying to sell you something, which you probably don't need or want. Best way to deal with this, when abroad is to be unable to speak any common language with this type of person. Watch them try, fail, and then they'll give up and fuck off.
10. Choose Your Battles. It's always worth handing something over, if the alternative is getting stabbed or set on by a gang. I have a cheap wallet containing cards and banknotes to hand over in the event of a demand at knifepoint. The cards are expired, from cancelled bank accounts, and the majority of the notes are obsolete Polish currency. They're authentic, but worthless. A mugger will almost never wait around to check his loot, but will usually take off with it, and realise his mistake later.