The Travel Psychologistís Take:
“To be or not to be…pick-pocketed, that is!”
(We suggest reading The Travel Psychologistís Travel Tale, “Pandemonium on the Madrid Metro” to provide a context for this article!)
Imagine the scene. You are packed in a lecture hall. I am speaking on the psychology of travel. I come to the podium. I fumble around. Oops, a notebook and keys tumble to the floor. I feign embarrassment and look around at the audience. I slowly regain the items as well as my composure.
Become more conscious and aware. Attempt to SCAN your surroundings. ALWAYS—especially when traveling—periodically look around you: To your right, your left, in front, behind—at each one of the of the four quarterly hour time zones of the clock. Repeat this action continually. Continually switch your gaze. Look at the people; see what they are doing. Look for well-lit places; avoid the dark alleys. Does everything appear to be as it should be? (Note: this is what you see the President's Secret Service guys doing all the time, scanning.)
Do NOT allow yourself to be distracted. This is hard. This takes practice, but you can improve. Distraction is the major tool of pick-pockets and thieves. NEVER allow yourself to be distracted—even for an instant! More disappears in this simple, single 'instant' than you can ever imagine.
Realize that you carry your own ‘cocoon’, envelope with you everywhere—whatever you want to call it. You carry not only your physical baggage but your psychological baggage as well—the sum total of your being that tends to make you less aware of your surroundings than you could be.
When you are at home you tend to ‘run on automatic’ in a relatively unthinking manner. You must begin to realize that although this ‘works’ in your own surroundings at home, it is not always functional when traveling overseas, particularly in third world countries.
Dress accordingly. You've heard this again and again. But it's true. A multi-pocketed safari jacket is the perfect thing. It's what kept me from being relieved of my valuables. Wear NO jewelry! Wear no accoutrements that spell out “$$$$”!
You must not look rich or wealthy. True, by virtue of being from the west, you are relatively much better off than the people in many of the third world countries you travel in. But, still, you don't need to flaunt it. You might as well look a bit dirty—don't worry—you will likely sweat and become dirty. Accept it. Even embrace it. It is your camouflage!
Hopefully, I have earned your attention and engaged your interest in matters of safety and security while traveling overseas. Now let me ask the hypothetical audience a question (please imagine that you are part of my audience). Here's my question:
“When I fumbled and dropped my book and keys on the floor, show with a raise of hands, how many of you looked to the book and keys I dropped on the floor? Be honest, now. Tell me the truth. How many of you looked to the book and keys on the floor?"
“Predictably, ALL of you raised your hands! Just as I expected. EVERYONE'S hands went up. After all, you are only human, huh?"
It never fails. In all of my talks on pick-pocketing and other miserable things that can befall you while traveling, I start out by dropping something on the floor…keys, a book, what have you. Yes, it never fails. All eyes in the audience travel to the objects that hit the floor. ALL eyes. it's a great way to start out a lecture on this subject!
I’m Dr Michael Brein, aka ‘The Travel Psychologist’. I'm writing an eBook series on the psychology of travel as revealed through the best travel tales of more than 1,500 world travelers and adventurers I have interviewed during my travels around the world. You can visit my website at www.michaelbrein.com to see what the psychology of travel is all about and learn more about the forthcoming eBook series.
Michael Brein, Ph.D., aka “The Travel Psychologist" is an internationally known traveler, adventurer, author and lecturer and writes a monthly newsletter and blog on the subject of the psychology of travel. Subscribe to these at www.michaelbrein.com in “The Travel Psychologist" section of his website.
— Dr. Michael Brein; 2009–05–08 —
* Dr. Michael Brein is ‘The Travel Psychologist’ living on Bainbridge Island, Washington. He is an avid world-traveler as well as author, publisher and lecturer on a variety of travel subjects. His travel guide series, “Michael Brein’s Travel Guides to Sightseeing by Public Transportation” may be viewed at www.michaelbrein.com. Michael Brein may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.618.7618.