I knew that I would be visiting some impoverished areas and that I might be a target as a foreigner. Though I try to avoid big cities and do not generally travel at night in certain countries, things can sometimes not go as planned. In the instances where I might be targeted for assault or robbery, here are some of the things that I do to minimize losses.
Securing el Cuerpo
[el kwer-po] (the body)
Officially this is my hiking stick. (I am going for the backpacker archetype.)
What it really is: a hefty meter-long club with a nice hook at the end intended to deter social predators.
You can’t take a baseball bat into carry-on luggage on a plane but you can take one of these. Walking sticks are an aid to the disabled and elderly. They do not even count as luggage, so they’re a freebie.
I also carry pepper-spray and a general purpose fixed blade knife for additional self-protection. These items go with the check-in luggage. Despite many border crossings, police check points and X-Ray machines, I have not had any questions or complications with any of these self-defense weapons yet.
I had considered also bringing a taser and a hand axe but I figured that this would be pushing the limits too much, increasing the chances of something getting confiscated.
Securing el Dinero
[el din-air-oh] (the money)
Strategy: Minimize financial losses by concealing, dispersing and decoy of dinero.
Tactic: Establish stash spots and utilize a “sacrifice” wallet as decoy.
The black belt in the middle has a pouch that closes with a zipper. I can fold and stack 20 bills in there. So if I am stashing $100 bills, I can put $2,000 in the belt.
The white pouch on top is where I keep most of the dinero that I can’t fit in the black belt. It is worn under clothing, around the waist or diagonally across the chest, over one shoulder.
I also usually stash a few bills in books, maps, or in my sock/shoe. For more ideas for stashing your money, see this link.
By dispersing dinero I increase the chances that I will not lose it all in the case of theft. For example, if my backpack containing dinero is stolen, I still have cash on me. If I am robbed and I left my backpack at a hostel, I will have dinero waiting for me in the backpack.
The wallet works like this: I carry a small amount of dinero in the wallet, about two days of expenditures. If the wallet is stolen or I am robbed and cannot get away, I can offer up the sacrifice wallet to try to avoid harm and a more intensive search.
Securing la Mochila
[la mo-chi-ya] (the backpack)
This is a handy piece of kit from Pacsafe. It is a cable mesh that wraps around the mochila. At first I was not sure about adding another item to my already overweight pack (about 50#’s) but this security device has been great.
I have left my mochila wrapped in mesh with bus tickets sales offices so that I can walk around town without the added weight. It is great for sketchy hotels. One place I stayed at in Guatemala was shown to me by a “tour guide” who identified me as a tourist upon arrival at a boat dock. He told me he knew a cheap place to stay and brought me to a lot behind a gate off the main street. There were no signs, just word-of-mouth. Inside there was three simple rooms. The proprietor was around during the day but gone at night. I was able to wrap and lock my mochila around the bed frame when going out. Another example of when the Pacsafe came in handy is when I rode the “chicken” buses in Guatemala. On these buses the people get packed in and the luggage goes on top. Though I found the “chicken” bus operators to be helpful and honest, I felt better knowing that it would be difficult to quickly open up a pocket and take something when my mochila was out of my sight.
In Mesoamerica most people use plastic bags, cardboard boxes, baskets and other homemade forms of luggage. It is best to dress not only yourself down but also your mochila.
The plastic bag both protects the pack from some rain and hides the new/expensive mochila.
Other than this I just use common sense: do not flash money, jewelry, or electronics. Be aware. Trust my instincts.