If you look like a tourist when traveling, then you could be making yourself out to be an all-too-easy target. Here are five surefire ways to reduce the risk of being pinpointed by scammers, pickpockets or thieves.

What makes travel so exciting — the chance to immerse yourself in a wonderful, yet unfamiliar, new place — is also what can make us so vulnerable.  

“Criminals like confused, distracted and inattentive targets,” said Harding Bush, manager of security operations at Global Rescue.

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Show even the briefest flash of vulnerability — i.e., fumbling with your bags, being glued to your phone — and you might as well have a lit-up sign with the word “tourist” pointed down at your head. In fact, statistics show it takes around seven seconds for a criminal to select their target. You read that right: just seven seconds.  

“Criminals may also dismiss or move on to an easier target just as quickly, meaning that looking aware is critical,” added Bush, who served 20 years in the U.S. Special Operations forces and 12 years in international and corporate travel security. “By being aware of what makes a criminal pick their target, you can reduce the risk of them pinpointing you. It’s knowing how to not look like a tourist.” 

Here are five essential tips from Bush to present yourself as a difficult target.  

1. Be Unpredictable 


Do not have an established, predictable pattern. “Being predictable makes you an easier target,” said Bush. “The criminal will have the advantage of knowing where you will be and when you may be most vulnerable, increasing their advantage.” 

Being unpredictable on vacation is easier than when traveling for business. When you are on business, you can adjust your movements around set times. You may have to be at the office or in a meeting at a specific time, which is out of your control, but how you get to the office and what you do along the way is something you can adjust to create more unpredictability.  

2. Recognize Unusual or Suspicious Behavior

This is an essential part of practicing situational awareness. (What is situational awareness? Check out our blog “How to Be Your Own Security Team.”) Nearly every sort of crime requires surveillance, which is when criminals observe potential victims for characteristics that make an easy target. People’s attire, body language and behavior should be consistent with where they are and what they are doing. If you can recognize the surveillance, you can avoid it.

For example, uniformed building maintenance crew should not appear lost in their own building. A bike messenger should not get out of a taxi and a jogger shouldn’t stretch on a street corner for 30 minutes. Although these examples do not necessarily indicate surveillance, they require a second or extended look.

And if you do see something suspicious, always remember to say something. “We all have a responsibility to report suspicious incidents to help prevent terrorist or criminal activity,” said Bush.

[Related Reading: Suspicious Activity?
See Something, Say Something — And Exactly What to Say

3. No Fumbling. Ever.


“Don’t fumble around with your bags or documents, especially in crowded areas with many travelers, like airports, train stations and city centers,” said Bush. “It makes you look confused and inattentive.”

For example, be prepared with the appropriate documents or information when approaching a ticket counter, flight schedule board or hotel desk. If you want to buy a coffee or give a tip, have the equivalent of a few dollars — in local money — in your pocket, so you don’t have to go fishing around in your wallet (and accidentally flaunt your wealth, too).

4. Don’t Unknowingly Give Away Information

Again, any intel or information a thief can easily glean only aids with their surveillance. Make sure any luggage tags with your name or address aren’t exposed and be wary of company logos on clothing or luggage. Make sure to limit discussion with your travel partners that could be overheard and provide insight for targeting, times, places, etc. Also, be cautious of people asking for specific information without having a real apparent need for that information.

5. Carry Yourself With Confidence  


Never walk too slowly, shuffle along, or look aimless — these are markers of uncertainty, indicating you are out of your element. Rather, Bush says to walk with “purpose and confidence:” Your back straight and with a smooth stride. Criminals will instantly think not to mess with you.  

For reference, this NBC article goes into even greater detail, illustrating exactly how you should walk — and how you shouldn’t. 

Global Rescue as an Emergency Backstop

Nobody wants to imagine an emergency abroad. Maredith Richardson certainly didn’t plan for it when her passport was stolen by a purse snatcher in Paris. But because she had Global Rescue, she was able to have it replaced in mere days (our services include streamlining the process to replace a lost or stolen passport or visa), whereas standard government processing is estimated to take up to six weeks. That’s just one of the perks of a Global Rescue membership.