In the article highlighted here, seven people who travel for their livelihoods are asked the following question: "What’s the scariest or worst thing to ever happen to you while traveling? How do you suggest others avoid finding themselves in a similar situation?" While the stories behind their answers are not tales the average traveler can relate to, for the most part they break them down into basic rules of thumb it would benefit all travelers to keep in mind.
Take, for example, the story told by travel writer Trevor Morrow:
"When I was 18, I traveled solo to Tanzania to volunteer in a rural school. One weekend, when school wasn’t in session, a few other volunteers and I took a trip to a town on the coast for a little rest and relaxation. Before leaving, two of the volunteers and I decided to take a walk down the beach. The beach was very flat and wide and there was almost no one around. We passed two local fishermen who were dealing with a net and kept walking until they were far in the distance. As we turned around to head back, a lone man who was sitting on a dune started to approach us quickly from several hundred yards away. He wore a pair of tattered pants and held his shirt in his hands, which was concealing something underneath.
Now a few feet beside us, the deranged man revealed the machete he was hiding under his shirt and gestured it toward us — we were being robbed at machete-point.
Extremely scared, we backed up and sped up our pace, moving back in the direction of the two fisherman we passed earlier on the beach. Luckily, one of the two people I was with was a well-traveled Swedish woman in her 30s. Immediately, she told us to just walk very fast and not to run as it might provoke him and cause him to react — this was truly enlightened advice. Think of it like backing away slowly from a bear vs. turning around and running.
We resisted just long enough, while walking fast enough, until we were in eyeshot of the two fishermen we passed earlier. The deranged man, now seeing the potential witnesses to his crime, backed away and left us.
The main lesson to be learned from this story is to always be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Not in a paranoid way, simply in a smart, present-in-the-moment kind of way. This is true no matter where you go, but especially true in places where no one else is around, in economically depressed areas where crimes of opportunity may be more common, and in situations where you stick out like a sore thumb and may attract unwanted attention. This man was watching us come down the beach in his direction for some time and we didn’t even notice him — and if we did, we didn’t think twice about his presence.
The next lesson is, to try not to blatantly carry your belongings with you. All three of us were wearing small backpacks. This advertised that we had items of worth on us — be it the backpacks themselves and whatever we had inside them. In my case, that was all of my money, my passport, and my cameras. Huge. Rookie. Move.
The third lesson is, we probably should have just given him what we wanted, our backpacks. Instead, we played with fire and called his bluff for just long enough to make it back to the eyeline of the fishermen. Things could have turned out way worse.
All that being said, most people on this planet are kind and mean you no harm. Just be smart and be present in the moment.