Basic tactics for evading imminent threats as an untrained differs from the highly trained but the mindset remains the same while abroad.
*This is an evasive self-defense guide for travelers without applied operation martial arts or formal combat training while in foreign countries.
The best (if possible) tactic is the avoidance of any situation where physical contact self-defense may be required. Subconsciously we avoid obvious signs of danger as a natural instinct for self-preservation, but this passive defense is very limited as a visitor in a foreign country.
Mind your surroundings and evaluate the local people. Practice observing the little details around you and keep them in the back of your mind. Nothing too specific, just anything that sticks out that can be easily retained by memory.
Any little detail, no matter how insignificant or seemingly irrelevant may help you see potential danger coming or evade it.
PRO TIP : Noticing a potential mugger noticing you before the act could deter them to back off. But it’s always best to get out of visual range and gain as much distance from the aggressor as possible.
If evading a confrontation is unavoidable, escape is the next best and most logical tactic. Get in the habit of mapping basic escape routes of wherever you may be for; areas of police presence, crowded places, public transportation, taxi stops, stores and hiding spots.
It doesn’t have to be complex or fully detailed, just mental notes of certain places to go and how to get there in case of danger. Having this basic information handy will give you a strategic sense of direction instead of running nowhere fast.
Escape is meaningless if you have nowhere to escape to. Escape is first a journey then a destination.
PRO TIP : Simplistically, just running away and getting distance from the potential aggressor is the best move.
Traveling with a partner or as a group is the most effective deterrent against muggings and violent advances from the local population.
If traveling solo in a seemingly unsafe urban environment, just being within close proximity to a group of other foreigners or even “safe” locals (families, couples, people in uniform) will greatly reduce the risk of an attack.
Safety in numbers, as it were.
PRO TIP : If you see danger coming, wave your hand out like your saying “hello” to an imaginary person from a distance, this will make it appear that you’re not alone and may deter the aggressor.
Blending in to your environment and the people around you is an excellent way to minimize yourself as a visible target. This could mean as far as dressing the same way the locals do or at the very least, not looking like a typical tourist.
This concept of “cultural camouflage” is more than physical appearance, mannerisms also play a role in blending in. Observe, learn and imitate.
The key is to not stick out.
As a tourist and foreigner in certain countries, it may be difficult to visually blend in, read this guide to adapting and blending in.
PRO TIP : If the country you’re in is too exotic relative to your own nationality, the most effective method of blending in is travel with a local; friend, guide etc.
Showing signs of obvious wealth (excessive jewelry, expensive watches, luxury brand name apparel, stacks of cash) is both potentially dangerous and could be demeaning to the locals of certain cultures.
“Showcasing” such expensive items to the world makes you a prime target to criminals not only for those specific items but for the money you probably have on your person as well as access to more.
Looking wealthy goes beyond the increased chance of robbery and muggings to kidnapping for ransom, particularly in poorer countries.
PRO TIP : In some parts of the world, children are taught to seek out wealthy looking tourists and use sympathy to beg for money and in rare cases, steal from them.
Most personal crimes committed against tourists are robberies and muggings, for the latter, giving the assailant what they want could effectively end the situation peacefully. With a “decoy wallet“, you can control your loss to a minimum.
Separate from your actual wallet or purse, this decoy should be within reach. It should appear to be a “real” wallet which include a few small bills, expired cards, and old receipts.
Just hand the mugger the decoy wallet and walk away.
PRO TIP : If trapped in a corner, throw the decoy wallet just out of the aggressor’s reach but far enough to make an opening for you to escape.
If evasion is impossible and your trapped between the aggressor and a wall, there are 3 basic moves available; give in, fight or escape.
If this is a mugging, give them what they want. If you don’t want to part with your property (not recommended) or if physical violence is imminent, scream as loud as you can and the aggressor may back off, if not, combat is inevitable.
When the aggressor moves in closer, don’t throw a punch. A proper kick to the groin or shin could give you a moment to escape.
If your too close for a kick, a headbutt to their nose or a jab using your forefinger / middle finger stretched out (or strike with the area between your thumb and forefinger if better positioned) to their pharynx.
PRO TIP : It deserves repeating, the best defense is the complete avoidance of the need for contact escalation. Combat is the absolute last resort.
This is a guide for avoiding dangerous encounters with other people while traveling abroad. But if damaging physical contact or loss of property does occur, find a local friend to help, contact the authorities and your embassy for serious matters.
I don’t even call it violence when it’s in self-defense; I call it intelligence.-Malcolm X
The best self-defense is always evasion.
[The featured image was taken in Seoul, Korea.]