고생 끝에 낙이 온다 (At the end of hardship comes happiness) – Korean Proverb
People often ask me what is the most dangerous situation I have found myself in throughout traveling to more than 30 countries, and/or what advice I could provide that may help them prior to traveling, whether short or long-term? Well, to keep things relatively short, I have three simple rules that I find to be helpful for both safety and ease, but before I get to that I'll share the most important, which is being self-aware is the BIGGEST key for any situation! This doesn't matter whether you are traveling or in your home city or town that you've been to a thousand times.
I'll never forget one time when I was in downtown Denver and frequented Lodos Bar and Grill –ok yeah for Denverites and Coloradans I know some consider it to be sort of a d-bag kinda place, but c'mon I was in my young twenties–with friends and I decided to leave a bit earlier than the rest of the crew and as I was making my way through the crowded bar, I noticed a group of about six white frat boys mean mugging me. I'd never seen these guys, nor did I have any interaction with them, but because I was quite aware that they were watching me and noticed I was leaving alone they began to start eyeing me and following me through the crowd at a slight distance. As I was approaching the front entrance I was thinking about the best course of action to avoid these major d-bags. It's like when you know you have that gut feeling of another person(s) true intentions and they aren't good. I wasn't sure if they were drunk or didn't like me because I was Asian or whatever, but I certainly will never forget the looks they gave me and the feeling I felt deep down of what their intentions were. Thankfully, as I reached the front entrance, two of my friends that are African-American and both nearly 6'3" and look like straight up thugs, walked in, noticed me and said, "Yo, Troy waddup kid!" As I gave them that traditional sorta 'pound hug' and looked over my shoulder I noticed this group of white frat boys immediately changed their minds about trying to mess with me. Yeah, so there's my thug life story! WHAT?! haha. Anyways, once again being self-aware is the most key to general safety regardless of setting and trusting your gut when you have that feeling something bad is about to happen. When it comes to travel, these are my three simple rules I've pretty much stuck to for the past four-years of continuous travel and knock on wood, they have been pretty key and helped significantly.
#1. They CANNOT be tied to any bank, therefore a gift card with a ZERO balance is the best choice.
#2. It must be a VISA or MasterCard gift card. My suggestion is VISA because it is the most widely accepted and you can always tell based upon the first number designation of the card (i.e. VISA begins with 4 and MC begins with 5)
#3. The card MUST have a magnetic strip that HAS NOT been demagnetized. Therefore, do NOT place cards with magnetic strips side-by-side.
So, you're asking how to use this 'Fake Bank Card'. Simple, you insert the dummy card first, cancel out of the transaction, put in your real card and get your money, then place in the dummy card once more and cancel the transaction. Presto-blame-oh this adds a level of protection. Of course nothing is fully guaranteed, but I feel this certainly helps against card skimmers attempting to collect your data. Also, one last piece of advice is keeping your cards in RFID blocking wallets or money belts.
So, my simple rules for going out after dark, because most times when things go down in shady areas it's under the cover of darkness. I have a mindset of leaving ALL valuables locked up and I usually only take a specific small amount of cash, and with this mindset I say; whether I spend this amount, lose it, or have it stolen, I am ok with taking this specific amount of money with me for the night, because guess what? Most times you can either go back to your hostel to get more money OR borrow money from another backpacker as long as you are a person of integrity and pay them back immediately. For myself, I hate borrowing money, and when I have the first thing I do is pay that person back immediately! Second, I have been burned myself by lending money to others for things like paying for a tuk-tuk and having another traveler tell me they don't have change and they'll pay me back later, only to never see them again or whatever. This I try to brush off, but as all budget travelers, this can be extremely frustrating, annoying, and down right rude. So sometimes, I've also learned to say no.
In conclusion, I hope these simple suggestions will help others save themselves from major disasters whether you are traveling abroad or not.