Staying Safe While Traveling

I nearly got robbed the other night in one of the nicest areas of Miami Beach. I wasn’t cruising through an area I shouldn’t have been…I was in well-lighted, busy area. I suppose some could make the argument that I asked for it. I had just finished buying Little J some milk at a store when a sweaty, smelly but jovial male in at least his 40s showed up right by the counter looking at me saying “hey I’ve been looking all over for you bro!” The Pakistani storeowner looked at me confused and asked, “do you know this guy?” I promptly responded “no.”

At this point, I was still putting away cash into my wallet since that shop forced me to pay for the $3 milk in cash instead of allowing me to get $3 closer to my $3,000 required spending to earn 140,000 bonus points on my new Ritz Carlton Visa Card. The point when said homeless man put his hand out to shake mine and asked me what my name was should have been my cue to say “have a good night” and take off. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I rhetorically asked “you want money don’t you?” to which he quickly shot back “yeah!” So I took one of the 5 dollar bills that I still had in my hand and gave it to him.

Right after that, he put his arm around me (not too tight that I couldn’t have gotten away) and with a grin led me out of the store to a quick left. As we turned left, he shouted to his 5 other homeless friends who were sitting on short cement ledge along the side walk “hey guys, Anthony here said he’s going to give $5 to every one of you mother$%^&ers!” Immediately, the 5 men rushed forward toward me with their hands out and I took 5 more dollars from the wad of cash that I still hadn’t managed to put away, threw it at them and ran.

Moral of the Story

I’ve never been robbed in my life and was lucky not to have been the other night. I’m usually EXTREMELY careful when I travel and I never place my valuables in a place where they can be pickpocketed. Joy always carries her purse cross-body and in front with a hand over it instead of just on her shoulder so she’s a hard target too. We’ve been to some of the poorest countries in the world and have never been robbed because normally we never allow ourselves to be targets of opportunity. However, here is where I went wrong the other night:

  1. I assumed I was in a completely safe location because I was less than 5 minutes from mine and other 5 star hotels and high-end restaurants. Petty crime can take place anywhere.
  2. I didn’t pay attention to who was sitting or standing outside of the store that I entered to buy J’s milk. Had I paid attention to that, I would’ve noticed those 6 shady characters lurking just outside and would have had the sense not to enter.
  3. The store I entered was a little shady for that hour of the evening. It was a liquor store that operated 24-7 under a predominately cash-only policy. It also had very high aisles with little room in between for walking. It was an easy place to get cornered both inside and right outside. Clearly those guys knew all of these exploitable weaknesses and the face and tone of the shopowner verified that he had previous run-ins with those same guys. Red flags were everywhere with this location and I just didn’t pay enough attention.
  4. I was alone. I let everyone go ahead because my friends’ kids were exhausted and I didn’t want Joy and J to be inconvenienced. People that are groups of two or more are rarely targets of opportunity.
  5. I was impatient. I should have just paid an outrageous price for J’s milk than go into a store like that at that hour of the evening. But I wanted whole milk for a good price NOW. Impatience always blinds you into taking unnecessary risks.
  6. I’m used to giving money to homeless people in Texas. However, I am used to being asked from a far off distance by people who are more polite and take a position of humility to the point of acting almost embarrassed that they need to ask. My association of that brazen homeless guy with the people I usually have compassion on almost led me into trouble.
  7. Beyond that, my guard was probably down more simply because I was in the US. We tend to associate our home country with safety and as result can sometimes not be as vigilant here as I would have been had I been overseas. I would never have put myself in the same position in say – Colombo, Sri Lanka but because it was in the US, I was less concerned.

The Bottom Line

I made several mistakes that were completely avoidable. Please do not think that I am trying to scare any of you into not traveling (I may as well quit writing if I do that), not visiting Miami, or becoming paranoid to the point that you don’t trust anyone. Rather, use my story and apply what I learned to your own travels. Stick with a friend or family, be cautious at night and have a safe, enjoyable journey.



Feature image courtesy of CBS Miami