How to Avoid Getting Mugged/Pickpocketed/Robbed/Beaten/Molested/Kidnapped/Murdered in Brazil

January 4, 2010 - 4:15 pm No Comments

Now that we’ve left Brazil and headed to what should be safer places, I’ll share some of the things that Gog and I did to stay safe during our time in Brazil:

a) Register your name and trip details with your home country’s government. For Canada, there was an easy online form for me to do this. Also, find out where your embassies are in the cities that you are visiting. Hopefully, you won’t need them.

b) Before you go, do some research about where you’re going and the specific neighborhoods you’ll be in. Read travel guides, Internet message boards, anything. Be prepared for the worst. It’s better to be a little overcautious.

c) Consider staying in private hostel rooms or hotels or apartments rather than shared dorms in hostels. The more people you share a room with, the more likely someone will want to go through your stuff. Of course, the trade-off is that private rooms will be much more expensive.

d) Travel guides can get out-of-date. Internet research can be incredibly useful but also misleading. So after you arrive, get info from locals that you trust, whether it’s friends or hotel receptionists. They know what’s currently safe and what’s not safe. Review a map of the area with them if you can.

e) Look confident and look like you know where you’re going. Of course, if you’ve done your research and actually know where you’re going, this will come naturally.

f) Keep some small change in your pocket to give to muggers if you do in fact get mugged. Might save you a beating or a more aggressive strip search that might result from telling them you have no money.

g) Use a money belt. Gog had one that wrapped tightly around his waist, while I had one that dangled down between my legs. Not a problem, but when it started to fill up with stuff, I had to wedge it into my scrotum in such a way to prevent it from awkwardly bulging out. Not entirely comfortable, especially in a swimsuit.

h) Don’t take your passport anywhere. You probably won’t need to show it to anyone, but if you do a photocopy should suffice.

i) Make sure your stuff is safe in your hotel. We had an apartment in Rio and a private room right by the reception desk in Salvador, so we always felt that our stuff was safe and didn’t stress about it when we were out and about.

j) Learn how to get mugged properly. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having a knife, broken bottle, or gun pointed at you, let them take whatever they want. I’ve heard too many stories of people who resisted and were seriously injured.

For photographers, these extra tips may help:

k) Get renter’s insurance, which will cover your stuff even if you travel with it to other countries. It’s amazingly cheap. You can even spend a little bit more to get an all-risk rider that covers your stuff even if you drop it or throw it into the ocean.

l) Get the most childish, conspicuous diaper bag you can find and use that for your photo gear. I successfully deployed a lime green Winnie the Pooh diaper bag in Rio and Salvador. It surely made me look like a homosexual, but I didn’t look like I was carrying big-ass camera. (Thanks for the tip, Yonas!)

m) Copy all your photos from your camera to your laptop or onto DVDs each night. You don’t want a memory card with pictures from your entire vacation on it stolen from you with your camera.

n) Something else you can do is take the memory card out of your camera and keep it tucked away in your pocket between shots. That way, if your camera IS taken from you, you still have your pictures. Of course, fumbling to get the memory card in and out of your camera means that your camera is exposed for a few extra seconds every time you want to take a picture, so I’m not completely convinced this is a good strategy. I kept my card in my camera.

o) Something else you can try is wrapping your camera in black tape or masking tape to hide brand names and make your camera look like a broken piece of crap. A crappy camera will be less of a target than a shiny new Nikon or Canon. I didn’t bother with this.

But, like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Gog and I never had any serious issues in Brazil. Maybe it’s because we took these safety measures. Maybe it’s because they are cleaning up the country for the upcoming 2016 Olympics. Maybe it’s because we had a local showing us around most of the time. Maybe we just got lucky.

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