“I WILL F**KING RUIN YOU!”, I furiously shout at 3 men that attacked me today in Barcelona. It did the trick, and they scurried off into the streets, probably waiting for the next sucker to walk down that road. Then again, I screamed it pretty damn viciously, they may just take the rest of the afternoon off.
A little context: Today, I’m walking down the street in Barcelona’s Poble Sec neighborhood, and a friendly guy approaches me and asks if I’m French? I tell him no, then he says “American?” I say yeah, and he and two friends proceed to dance with me. If it sounds a bit off, it’s because it is. But it’s playful and joyous enough, kind of skipping through the streets of Barcelona together to a beat no one can hear. I can honestly say I’ve done weirder dances with strangers on various streets around the world. We’re dancing for only a short time, maybe 5-10 seconds. I’m laughing and they’re laughing when, in an instant, I feel my watch clasp snap open at the same time I feel a hand reach down my back pocket. HEY! I’m getting legit mugged! The back pocket is empty; a pickpocket on the Paris metro 15 years ago made sure my wallet would rarely be there in crowded areas anymore. As for the watch? One guy nearly gets it off my arm until I baaaarely grab it, just like Thanos in that Avengers movie where everyone dies. Oh please, if that’s a spoiler alert, you weren’t gonna see the movie anyway. Right about now is when I push wallet-dude and watch-dude off of me, stare them straight in the eye, point at them like TechnoViking and shout my movie script-worthy line. It’s one of the few times I’ve walked away from a stressful situation and thought, “yeah, I wouldn’t change a word”.
Wait, Brad, aren’t you working as the face of an airline right now? Why would you tell me you almost got mugged in Europe? I’m bringing this up because my friend reached out to me earlier today asking for helpful advice I could give a scared traveler. And I think that addressing the situation is a lot better than pretending destinations are perfect in every way. I didn’t actually think I had any great tips to offer her, but as a professional traveler with 100,000 miles under my belt last year alone, I think most of my best tips have been internalized, and they actually are worth sharing. Case in point, if I’m traveling in any place with a lot of crowded people, like markets or concerts, my wallet reflexively heads to my backpack or at least my front pocket. Same with the phone. Don’t think for a second that pocket button is doing you any favors; they can undo those faster than a bra on prom night. Well, someone else’s prom night: I had a nice evening with friends and was home at a sensible hour.
I follow a basic rule when I’m traveling. I don’t usually bring stuff I’m not willing to lose. My phone was less than $200, my camera’s pretty cheap too. The watch they almost got away with? It cost me about $60, and I’m sure the would-be newfound owners would be disappointed to find out it displays 5:23 at all times. I don’t wear nice clothes, and if it’s late I keep my head on a swivel. If a street gives you the willies, trust your gut and move on. If every street gives you the willies, it’s probably just you though. Keep your wits about you, don’t get too drunk, and keep your money separated. If you have cash, keep some in your wallet, some in the backpack, some in your suitcase, and some in the safe. And there ain’t no shame in those little money belts you tuck into your pants. I haven’t used one in a while, but I do remember when I was starting out traveling professionally, it made me feel better knowing I was making it very tough to become a victim. Finally, if all else fails, travel insurance is your friend, and probably cheaper than you’d expect.
But most importantly, don’t let the fear of something like this prevent you from getting out there. The world really is a safer place than a lot of people would have you believe. If all else fails and things get nasty, just remember, whatever you’ve got on you isn’t worth it. Insure the big stuff, and forget about the rest. But the vast majority of tourist crime is nonviolent, and most people just want an easy target. Don’t be one, and you’ll be A-OK. Now, I must be on my way. Whoa! Would you look at the time! It’s 5:23 already!?
You can see more of Brad’s writing at www.truetravels.co