I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world but also witnessed an unbelievable array of street scams and hustles. From Cairo to Caracas, Amsterdam to Amman, someone was always trying to sell me wolf tickets: the fake drunk, the razor blade slash, the Rio shoe scam, money exchange bait-and-switches, shifting walls, high-speed car chases through barrios, muggers with machetes, riots shrouded in tear gas, clans of pickpocketing gypsies, exotic temptresses who slip something in your drink, being a guest in a Third World jail, and running for my life from the Triads, the Chinese mafia. I even survived an elaborate and well-orchestrated grift in Bolivia involving fake policemen with a fake police car and a kilo of fake cocaine that had me sweating like a hostage. But please don’t let all of this discourage you from grabbing your passport and exploring the beautiful world we live in; you’ll find most places to be as safe as your front porch if you exercise some basic rules of caution:
1. Stay ready and you won’t have to get ready.
Before you embark make copies of your passport, medical card, credit cards, and travel itinerary. Give a copy to a friend back home and keep one set with you, separate from the real thing. Email any pertinent information to yourself through a web based email account so you can get it from any hotel or internet café if needed. Check in with the U.S. embassy when you arrive. I even keep $20 folded under the sole of my shoe for emergencies.
2. Don’t be the ugly American.
Don’t draw negative attention to yourself. If you’re going to party overseas (which I highly encourage) don’t get too drunk and always take a taxi at night. Don’t accept an open drink from someone or leave yours unattended. Most importantly, never mess with drugs while you’re in a foreign country - I have a friend serving five years in a Costa Rican prison who can back me up on this.