by Mac Candee
tips to stay safe in south america

Posted: Tuesday, June 6, 2020

South America is one of these places that people can be a bit apprehensive about before visiting. But you definitely should! This continent is breathtakingly beautiful. There are just so many countries, so much nature and so many things to do. I’ve only explored a fraction of it, as I’ve been to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, but there is so much more left to explore. I’m making this blog post and the video associated with it, so that I can make you feel more comfortable and tell you more about the guidelines you need to follow to make sure you’re safe. The last thing you want to go is visit an amazing place, experience it’s inspiring culture and have something uncomfortable or outright dangerous happen to you. You want to avoid these things, not only so you can have a better time there, but so that you can tell great stories without thinking of that one nasty mishap. This is not to say that all of South America is dangerous, but it’s better to take precaution. I’m not making this post to offend anyone, I just want you to be safe and have a great time!

With all that said, let’s get on with the tips.

1) Do not dress like a flashy tourist

If you dress in a flashy way, some people might think that you have a lot of money, and they might decide to try to take it from you. Keep your expensive jewelry in your luggage or at home. Don’t wear the obvious touristy Hawaiian shirt. Instead, go with something that blends in, something that is similar to the way the locals present themselves. Wear something casual that’s not branded, skip the jewelry and you’re good to go. You can still look great, but most importantly - you’re going to feel much safer.

2) Don’t leave your bag in an “easily snatchable” spot

To illustrate what I mean, let’s pretend you’re at a restaurant. You don’t want to leave your bag on the side of your chair where someone could just walk by and take it. The best strategy is to only bring the stuff you’re absolutely sure you will need, and leave all of your valuables at the place you’re staying. After that, make sure you always have your bag in front of you or on your lap. You can find tips on city specific safety guidelines on different blogs, since of course the situation is different from city to city. If you find yourself in a sketchier area, make sure you wear your backpack on the front, since that makes it much harder for thieves to snatch.

3) Don’t leave your phone on your table

As much as we’re used to putting our phones on the table when we eat or just sit out for a coffee, this is not a good thing to do in South America (as well as many other places). Make sure your phone is in your pocket or somewhere safe. You can opt for one of those money wallets that go under your shirt, which I find to be very useful. It’s very common for groups of thieves to distract people, and then use another person to snatch their phones. The key is not to try to stop these people, instead we should take away their opportunity to do this by taking precautions.

4) Don’t walk around looking distracted or lost

If you’re at a point where you’re not so sure where to go, find a spot where you can just sit down and look like you’re just hanging out. After you’re there, you can look at your GPS and all the information you need. The last thing you want to do is stare at your phone, looking like you have no idea what’s going on around you and where you’re going. This can open you up to many dangerous situations. For example, someone can come and take something from you so quickly that you don’t have a chance to stop them. Or people could see you as a target and decide to follow you. The general rule of thumb here is to always put on a face as if you know where you’re going, even if you’re a bit confused.

5) Don’t walk around with a lot of cash (low denominations)

I would recommend having a back up $20 or $50 bill in your sock, or somewhere people can’t see it, some in your luggage, and maybe some in your money purse. That way, if something happens to you, you’re not going to be completely out of money - you’re going to have a back up plan. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket and you should be fine. If you have a lot of cash and it gets stolen, the bank won’t refund you or help you out in any way. Whereas if your credit card gets taken from you and fraudulent activity is reported, you can file a claim and get assistance. What I usually do is only carry as much as I’m going to spend, and leave all my extra cash in the hotel room.

As for the low denomination - a tactic I’ve heard of is if you pay with a high denomination bill, they will have a similar one but counterfeit. They will then ask you to pay once again, which will leave you with much less money and a counterfeit bill. You want to avoid this by always bringing low denominations with you and trusting only large institutions like banks or credible establishments.

6) Have copies of your passport, credit card and debit card

This is something I do whenever I’m in an uncommon place - I put an envelope with copies of all my important documents and cards, so that if something happens, I can still have some form of identification and access to my money left. I make a copy of those for each of my bags, so that I’m as prepared as possible, and I recommend you do too.

Closing Thoughts

As a last general tip - the key here is to not fight back. If some of these people try to take something from you - don’t try to stop them, since it can get much worse. Some of them will hurt you if you try to do anything, and it’s not worth risking your well-being for any material items. Everything is replaceable but your life is not, so if it comes to that, try your best to keep yourself safe and don’t fight back. If you follow these steps, it is much less likely for anything to happen to you. If you’re not an easy target, most of the bad people will just step back. These tips can be used anywhere in the world, since thieves can be found in any country, but I just wanted to talk more about them in the context of South America, since this is where I came up with them.

With all that said, South America is an amazing continent with a lot of things to see and experience. Don’t let fear stop you from enjoying the moment and creating beautiful memories. If you keep yourself safe, harm is much less likely to come your way!

If you have anything to add, please let me know in the comments. If you would like to watch the video I’ve made on the topic, click here. Or watch it below.

Check out the YouTube video:

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