A guide to self defense for travelers


Traveling is a thrilling experience. It takes you to new places, allows you to meet new people and in some instances gives you a sense of adventure. But, sadly when traveling tourists can be easy targets for small crimes such as pick-pocketing/muggings and sometimes crimes even more grisly. That is why everyone (especially travelers) should know how to defend themselves. Self-defense skills are not limited to physical contact. In fact, much of self-defense is how to AVOID getting into a situation where there is physical confrontation and how to deter would-be predators. Below, are a few lessons that have served me well in my own travels.

Walk with purpose

Have you ever been walking along and someone comes up to you asking for money? Perhaps canvassers trying to get you to sign a petition? Or in some cases maybe you got the impression someone wanted to lift your pocket? Either way — all of these people were trying to engage you in some way or another to achieve their ends. However, when you walk with purpose and at a faster pace (as if you are determined not to be late somewhere) — it becomes much more difficult for you to be approached by someone on the street. People with more nefarious intentions are going to be on the look out for someone who seems a little lost, distracted or not getting anywhere fast. Walking with purpose will make you appear focused and act as a deterrent to anyone wishing to approach you.

Look alert

When you’re by yourself and it’s after dark, constantly be scanning the area. This should entail doing a 180 degree scan of the area in front of you so that you’re swiveling your head slowly from right to left. Keep looking ahead and at your peripherals as you walk somewhere.  Obviously, you are trying to be alert and keep away from anyone or any place that might look suspicious. But, the fact that you appear alert is going to make you immediately less attractive to someone hoping take advantage. Do NOT be listening to music, trying to read a map or talking on your phone. People often think there is security when speaking to someone on the phone, but it actually serves as a distraction and might not deter a would-be attacker.

Don’t be afraid to be rude

Someone comes up and asks you for directions on the street, you perhaps provide them with instructions on how to reach their destination or explain that you’re not from around there and sadly can’t help them. Then, they start asking you other questions like where you’re from, who are you with and where you’re headed. Suddenly, you start to feel a little uncomfortable but you keep finding yourself answering these questions because you feel trapped by being polite.

This happens more often than you think. People who are looking to take advantage of you might start with a seemingly innocent question about how to get some place and then start to ask a lot of other unnecessary questions or seem intent to keep you talking. My rule of thumb is that I’ll answer the first question and then if things seem a bit odd, promptly excuse myself. If they keep talking, just walk away from them fast. Obviously, there are times when people are trying to be friendly but that’s a judgement call you have to make in that instance. At the end of the day, if things feel out of sorts it’s better to be rude and safe.

Shout “fire!” instead of “help!”

Believe it or not, shouting “help” will not necessarily get people running to your aid. My taekwondo instructor explained this in a self-defense seminar. It’s been shown that if bystanders hear someone shouting help, they might hesitate to get involved for their own safety. But, if you shout “fire!” people will tend to come running because as far as they know it’s their house on fire. Bottom line, if you’re trying to get people out onto the street where you and a would be attacker are alone —learn how to say fire in the local language and shout it at the top of your lungs.

Follow your instincts

I can’t stress this enough. If something doesn’t feel right then don’t ignore it — act on it and get to a place you feel safe.

If you are forced to physically engage with someone as a matter of self defense, I recommend to always keep your keys in your hand — they can be used as a weapon especially in terms of gauging at someone’s eyes. Additionally, the throat, solar plexus and groin (both men and women) are always targets you should aim for as they can be debilitating. However, I highly recommend you go to a self-defense seminar or practical martial arts class where you can learn how to defend yourself correctly. If you have been to a seminar once, then go again. The more you practice these skills, the more likely you will be able to use them should you ever be in need. As always, safe travels!


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