Crime Trends

Avoiding Bribes While Traveling

Avoiding Bribes While Traveling 1000 667 Greg Ellifritz

Bribes are a part of daily life in the developing world.  American tourists are aghast at the idea of paying off a corrupt cop, but few realize that paying a small bribe will generally be the least expensive way to deal with the police and judicial system in a foreign country.


Here are some good tips to remember.  Following these guidelines may reduce the chance that you will be targeted in a bribery scheme.


Option Gray: Avoiding Bribes While Traveling


The World’s Easiest Counter Kidnapping Advice

The World’s Easiest Counter Kidnapping Advice 275 183 Greg Ellifritz

Reliable statistics about the number of Americans who are kidnapped abroad each year are difficult to acquire.  Our government intentionally downplays all incidents of international kidnapping so as not to inadvertently create more enthusiasm for the crime.

In my book, I talk a lot about physical kidnappings, virtual kidnappings, and express kidnappings.  If you want detailed advice, that is a good start.


Without discounting all the information in the book, tonight I realized we can dramatically simplify all the kidnapping advice ever written.

I’m leaving in a couple weeks to explore Turkey with a friend.  I just purchased my travel insurance policy for the trip and was reading the fine print on the policy documents.

In the kidnapping section, the documents made the following declarations:


1. Any kidnapping or express kidnapping first occurs in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, or any country for which we are prohibited from transaction due to sanctions by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).


It struck me that with the exception of the occasional Mexican drug cartel kidnapping, I seldom see any American citizens kidnapped any place other than the countries listed above.

That might be a clue.  If kidnappings in those nations are so common that kidnapping insurance doesn’t apply there, maybe the best counter kidnapping advice might be to simply avoid traveling to those locations.


Thoughts on Kidnapping

Thoughts on Kidnapping 2000 1333 Greg Ellifritz

Recoil Offgrid has some good long form content on kidnappings in foreign countries.  You’ll want to check out both articles.

What If You Escaped from a Kidnapping?


What If Someone You Knew Was Kidnapped for Ransom?



Foreign Uber Scams

Foreign Uber Scams 824 513 Greg Ellifritz

My traveling friends will like this article. In foreign countries, taxi overcharges and scams are the single most likely hassles a tourist is likely to experience. Uber has been a game changer. I use it in almost every country I visit now. It eliminates both the overcharging “gringo tax” fare and all of the scams associated with exchanging cash with the cabbie.


Unfortunately, Uber isn’t the most common ride sharing app available in some countries. here is a complete list of all of the Uber-like services available in other countries. Bookmark this one and check it out before you make your next international trip.



While ride-sharing services reduce the opportunity for scams, some unethical drivers will still try to cheat you. Educate yourself about what’s going on in the country you are visiting.  Make those criminal taxi and Uber drivers earn their money.

Make Sure This Uber Scam Doesn’t Happen to You


Image from linked article


How Do Drug Cartels Get Their Weapons?

How Do Drug Cartels Get Their Weapons? 320 181 Greg Ellifritz
Some facts for the folks who believe the mainstream media narrative that lax American gun laws are the primary way that the Mexican drug cartels get their weapons. The truth is that most of the cartel weapons have been stolen from the police/military, illegally imported from other corrupt Latin American countries, or made by the cartels themselves.


Read the article below.  One of the most dangerous cartels has set up numerous gun manufacturing facilities in Mexico. They are building their own AR-15 rifles and selling them on the street for over $5000 US dollars each.


CJNG, The Only Cartel To Have Had Its Own Arms Factory


I will suggest a slight correction to the title of the article.  The CJNG is the only cartel to have been caught with their own weapons manufacturing facilities.  You can be 100% certain that the other large cartels are doing the same thing.


Shut Your Mouth

Shut Your Mouth 375 500 Greg Ellifritz
A reminder to be careful talking to taxi, shuttle, or ride sharing drivers.


On my latest trip to Mexico, I rented a condo about an hour drive from the airport. I booked a ride from the airport to my place with a transfer company I’ve used for years.


As per my life, of course my flight was delayed. I was tired from the delay and the insanely crowded airports. I didn’t have the mental energy to talk to the driver for an hour. I pretended to be the stereotypical gringo and greeted him in English. Even though I speak passable Spanish, I didn’t speak any Spanish to him. His English was not good.


On the drive, he made a phone call in Spanish. I’m listening to the conversation when the driver mentioned his previous customer was unique and worthy to be watched. He said the last customer was a single man in his 40s who was traveling by himself with eight large suitcases.


The driver went on to say how the man had told him that he was a wealthy businessman and owned several hotels. The driver pulled up the phone app he was using to track his rides and shared the previous customer’s full name, email address, phone number, and the hotel where he was staying with whomever he was speaking.


The driver told his friend that the rich businessman should be watched. For what? I’m not sure, but it can’t be for anything good.


I didn’t hear them plotting any nefarious actions, but why would the driver share all that info?


Taxi drivers, especially in the developing world are true hustlers. Many do far more than just drive tourists around. They often serve as a connection to get people information, drugs, and prostitutes.


Be careful what you tell your driver. If questioned, make up a boring middle class job. If you are alone, you should tell the driver that you are meeting a large group of friends soon. Don’t tell the truth when they ask you about how long you will be staying.


Don’t give the drivers any reason to think you have money. Don’t give them information that could later be used to facilitate a scam or a criminal act.


Have a believable boring cover story ready before you get in the cab. Hopefully you won’t be “watched” like the passenger with eight suitcases.


If you want to dig a little deeper on the topic, read my article about best practices for a safe cab ride.



Jamaica “State of Emergency”

Jamaica “State of Emergency” 1200 800 Greg Ellifritz

Jamaica recently announced a “State of Emergency” and announced “no-go” zones in both Kingston and Montego Bay.  Read about it here.

Planning To Vacation In Jamaica? New State Of Emergency Has Been Declared


You wouldn’t have gone to any of those areas on your trip to Jamaica anyway.


I promise you are not going to get killed in Jamaica.  That island was my very first foreign destination before I started traveling for real.  I’ve been there five more times since that initial trip and have a pretty clear understanding of the dangers..


I was once chased around a parking lot by an angry local restaurant owner armed with a butcher knife when she realized she failed to charge me $2.00 for the Red Stripe beer I drank with the meal.  I stayed out of her reach and gave her the $2.00 she was demanding.  Problem solved.  That’s the only issue I’ve had in Jamaica.


The shop/booth owners in the markets are more aggressive than in most places.  They may step in front of you to stop your movement or gently grab your arm to steer you to their stall.  Just smile, say “Your merchandise looks great, but I’m not looking for any of that.  Thank you for inviting me into your stall.  I hope you have a great day.”


The shop owners will smile and you will be free to move on.  It grows tiresome saying the same thing to every shop owner, but it’s the best way to handle things.  You smile.  You compliment them on their wares.  They smile.  You walk away.  Rinse and repeat.


This warning doesn’t really affect tourists.  Enjoy your trip to this unique island.

Fighting in Airplanes

Fighting in Airplanes 800 521 Greg Ellifritz

I get lots of questions about self defense in airplanes and airports.  If you are interested in the topic, I commend the linked article to your attention.  In it, Michael Janich provides a long form article about close quarters fighting in airplanes.


The Unfriendly Skies




Avoiding Prostitutes

Avoiding Prostitutes 1195 1593 Greg Ellifritz

I enjoy a relatively mundane existence in a generic American suburb.  In my normal life, I simply don’t encounter prostitutes at home.  All that changes when I travel in the developing world.


I wrote a whole chapter in Choose Adventure about dealing with prostitutes.  For the record, I actually think prostitution should be legal; but it’s not for me.  I have zero interest in banging a woman who is likely an abused drug addict.  The disease risk is too high for me.  Besides that, lots of prostitutes are opportunistic thieves as well.  While you are resting in your post-orgasmic bliss, she is taking your wallet, passport, and phone.


No thanks.  In more than 20 years of serious worldwide travel, I’ve never once hired a prostitute, even in places where such conduct is legal.

Some countries are prime destinations for sex tourists.  Guys schedule entire vacations around finding as many call girls as they can.  In countries like this, prostitution is far more noticeable to the uninterested traveler than in other places.


I’m in Colombia now.  It has a lot more prostitutes than most of the places I visit.  In fact, when I discuss “running the gauntlet of whores” in my book, I was in Cartagena, Colombia.  Other countries where it’s more obvious are The Dominican Republic, Brazil, Costa Rica (especially underage sex trafficked girls), Thailand, and the very poor countries of Africa.


Many other places have their various “Red Light Districts” but you don’t see many streetwalkers outside those spots.  Most of my readers likely have no experience dealing with prostitutes, so I’m going to outline a few ways you might pick up on the fact that there is sex for sale.  Why do you care?  Because where sex is sold, so are illegal guns and drugs.


Some Red Light Districts are easier to spot than others.
This is the “Love Time Hotel” in Rio. I wonder what happens there?


The same pimps running the girls are also selling drugs and organizing theft rings.  There is an entire economy based around the sex trade.  Dudes who want girls often also want drugs.  When you watch the ecosystem of a place ripe with prostitutes, you can observe the hookers, the “Johns,” the pimps, the dealers, the pickpockets, and a whole other class of folks looking to prey upon any of those people when they become distracted.


Two Colombian women appearing to be prostitutes approached three guys in the street and organize a deal. Viewed last weekend from my third floor hotel balcony.


The dudes looking for sex in these areas are perfect victims.  They are often impaired by excessive alcohol and/or drugs.  The bad guys also know that a guy picking up a hooker isn’t likely to call the police to report any type of crime out of fear of being arrested himself or having his activities outed publicly.


These sites are really not the safest places to be. They’re probably not where you want to spend much time unless you are looking to be victimized.


Many tourists are completely clueless about some of these issues and unintentionally put themselves or their families in danger because they didn’t recognize the subtle indicators.  Let me use my trip to Colombia as an example to provide an education about some of the things you should be paying attention to.


Amsterdam’s Red Light District


As I was in the taxi going to my hotel from the airport at 2:00am on a Thursday night, I saw a massive number of street prostitutes.  Probably close to 100 girls in a 20-minute ride.  I asked the cabbie about it.  He said that they were a huge problem in the city.


The cabbie told me that in Medellin, they call the prostitutes “mujeres divinas,” or “divine women”.  He said the term comes from an old Spanish song by the same title.  Check out the video below.


If you don’t speak Spanish, the song is about some guys drinking and talking about all the women who had wronged them in the past, inspiring the creation of some drunken anti-female song lyrics.  In the end, the singers declare that despite all the ways women have wronged them, all women are divine creatures to be adored, no matter their faults.


So if you hear the words “mujeres divinas,” the direct translation may not be quite correct. I’d never heard that particular term before.


I arrived at the hotel safely.  I was staying at a very trendy and expensive (by Colombian standards) place.  It wasn’t a cheap hourly rate motel in the ‘hood.


At registration, the desk clerk warned that the hotel does not allow guests to bring girls under 18 years old back to the room for overnight stays.  All overnight guests must show identification to ensure that people aren’t bringing back underage prostitutes.  The hotel wouldn’t need such a policy if there hasn’t been a problem with it in the past.


When you hear of such things, your guard should go up a bit.


When I got to my room, I had two more clues that there was a lot of “pay for play” going on in the neighborhood.


I don’t ever remember seeing condoms (extra secure at that) available right next to the M&Ms in the hotel room mini-bar in any of the US hotels where I’ve stayed.


I then went into the bathroom.  They have a special separate trash can for disposing of said used condoms.


Another thing I’ve never seen in the USA.


During the weekend, you might see even more prostitutes trying to sell themselves.  I’m staying at a ritzy hotel in the most expensive neighborhood in Medellin.  The security guards chase the hookers away from the entrances so they don’t harass the guests.  So then the women line up on the sidewalk just out of sight of the hotel guard and go to work.


Last Saturday night I walked to a restaurant about five minutes away from my hotel to eat dinner.  On my short walk home, eight different hookers directly offered me their services.


Another clue that there is a lot of prostitution going on is seeing old Gringo tourists walking hand in hand with very young local girls.  As I strolled the city yesterday I saw an American guy who appeared to be between 65 and 70 years old.  He was holding hands with a local girl who looked to be about 15 as they were walking down the street.  He stopped at a street vendor and bought the little girl a long stemmed rose.  This is very common in Thailand as well.


Besides the street-walking prostitutes, a lot more women meet their “clients” on dating websites.  Guys who get a sudden burst of online attention from young, hot women want to believe that they have stumbled upon a dating paradise.


Sorry, dude.  That hot 20-something doesn’t really think you are cute, she’s just looking to get paid.  A high percentage of women on dating sites in busy South American tourist towns are working prostitutes.


Take a look at the photo below.  She liked my Tinder profile.  It’s funny.  I never have 24-year old girls interested in my profile at home.  I’m more than double her age and live in another country.  Do you really think she’s looking for a relationship with a dude like me?


At least this one is honest about what she’s doing.  Read her bio.  “Busco” means “I’m looking for” in English.


A lot of your online dating matches will be prostitutes. Not all of them will be this obvious.


The issue is so common down here that the locals have a term for a woman who trades sex for favors, travel, or expensive presents.  They call that girl a “prepago.”  It means “pre-paid” like a pre-paid credit card.


It denotes a woman who doesn’t directly demand money for sex like a regular prostitute, but instead will gladly provide sex to a man who “pre-pays” her with expensive dinners or gifts.  “Prepagos” are so common that women who are not prostitutes will often note they aren’t “pre-paid” directly on their dating profiles.


Here is another woman who swiped on my Tinder profile.  Note what she says in her bio: “no soy prepago o amigos con derechos.”  It means “I’m not “pre-paid” and will not be a “friend with benefits.”  That shows exactly how common prostitutes are using dating apps to get their clients.



If you are single and in the dating market, be extra cautious about your online dating matches.  Down here some of the girls use scopolomine to knock out their dates and rob them blind.  Others will lure them to a secluded location where they are robbed by the hooker’s friends.


Meet all your dates in a public place.  If you are going to get intimate, take your date back to your hotel or rental rather than going back to your date’s place.


One other good thing to do is to ask your date if he/she has identification.  You can tell them (whether true or false) that the security in your building is strict and won’t let anyone in without an ID.  Criminals don’t want you to know their true identity.  If they don’t have an ID, that should be a real warning sign.  If the name on their ID is different than on their online profile, that should also worry you.


Dating in other countries can be really fun, but there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid.


Here’s the bottom line.  Even though I don’t partake in prostitution, I don’t judge.  I think consenting adults (not trafficked children) should be able to make an agreeable business relationship, even if it involves sex.  That doesn’t diminish the potential dangers of being around a bunch of prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers.


Where people are openly selling sex, it’s an indication that the people in your location likely abide by different social norms than what is common in the place where you live.  You should be alert to the fact that if some social norms are drastically different, it is likely that other norms are different as well.  That makes social situations harder to judge and places you in a bit more danger.

Be extra careful in these areas.

Don’t Use Your Hotel Safe

Don’t Use Your Hotel Safe 800 450 Greg Ellifritz

I once strongly advocated for storing money and passports in a hotel safe while traveling in a foreign country.  I think very differently now.


What changed was that some traveling companions of mine in South Africa had several hundred dollars taken out of their locked room safe.  The thief opened the locked safe, stole the money, and re-locked the safe.



It ended up being a member of the housekeeping staff who stole the money.


You know there are members of the hotel staff who have the master key or master code to open every safe in the event a guest forgets his combination.  How secure do you think they keep that key/information?


Even without the key, one can make an educated guess about the combination and be successful.  Read the article below for more details.


How To Deal With Stolen Cash From In-Room Safe? (Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok)


27% of hotel safes are programmed with one of these codes.


I stopped putting my valuables in hotel safes.  Instead, I lock them in my luggage with a non TSA-approved lock.  I think that would be your safest bet.