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Travelling in the USA & Canada
Safety & Security


The first rule is: Trust Your Intuition – if something seems wrong it probably is wrong. If you have been told that a certain area is a “good area” but you turn the corner and don’t feel right, then turn around and go back – no matter what someone told you, trust your instincts.
The Hostel Handbook® is a listing of all hostels. The Handbook makes no reference to any specific hostel. Your best reference is the other travelers you meet who have stayed in the places you’re heading to! 

Buy a good, lightweight, frameless backpack. Do not use a suitcase. The backpack holds more. It can be carried on your back for long distances. It also leaves your hands free for books, maps, food, etc. The frameless pack can move through airport luggage paths without being damaged or damaging the transport system.

When you are on the move from one place to another, consolidate your luggage into one backpack - not two or three small bags. Having more than the pack on your back makes you very vulnerable for a “snatch and run”. If you can’t get it all in one backpack then you have too much stuff – ship some things home.

Once you check in at a hostel, lock your valuables in a locker or leave them with the hostel desk management. A good hostel provides secure storage for valuables.

If you have a camera DO NOT WEAR IT AROUND YOUR NECK – it is supposed to be a camera not a status symbol. Carry the camera in a small shoulder pack. Only take it out to snap a photo.

Never take photos of people without their permission. It is rude, culturally insensitive – and may get you into trouble. If you feel it is not a problem to take the photo, why wouldn’t you ask first?


Most people who lose their money are not robbed, per se. They lay their bag down and after a distraction, the bag is missing or they are victimized by ‘con artist’ (con = confidence, artist = actor). You are much more likely to GIVE your money to a con artist than you are likely to be robbed. There are hundreds of scams and they all depend on two basic features: they trusted you so you must trust them AND you’re going to make money out of the deal! Keep in mind that you shouldn’t give your money to strangers – even one that has convinced you that you can trust them. And, if it seems to good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.

THE LOST PURSE  A very nonthreatening person (older woman or apparent invalid) approaches you on the street for the time or directions. In the course of the brief conversation, this person spots a purse on the sidewalk or in a garbage can and involves you in an investigation. You find some papers, personal items, etc. in the purse and this person convinces you that the two of you should telephone a number in the papers to see if the purse is stolen. You telephone and discover that the purse was stolen AND (your lucky day) there is a reward! The person on the phone will give you $300 if you will bring the purse to their apartment. Wow! But then, your new friend tells you that they don’t have the time to accompany you – are such a nice person, “why don’t you give me whatever cash you have on you and you go collect the $300?” By this time, you are in too deep – when you arrive at the (fake) address for your reward, you realize it’s a con and you have given a stranger all your cash.

THREE CARD MONTE  At some point you will walk along a street and see a crowd gathered around a game of cards. The dealer has three cards face down on a box. He moves the cards around quickly. The player is supposed to pick out the King (or Ace or whatever). An apparent idiot is playing the game with him and cannot see that the King is slightly worn from use. BUT YOU CAN! You get sucked into playing this game and a couple of people in the crowd are really impressed with your skill. After you win a little money, the dealer begs you for the opportunity to win some of the money back – a “double or nothing” routine. Your cheering section in the crowd encourages you, “you can’t lose – you’re good!” You take out more money, certain that only you can see the difference in the cards – and that you are about to make BIG BUCKS!

Full of hubris, you take your winnings, double it with more of your money and you pick the same worn card – but, what’ s this, it’s no longer the King! You lose! The dealer takes it all. The old switcheroo. You can shout and complain but the same people in the crowd who before said you were skilled and amazing now accuse you of being a bad loser.

You see, they are all in it together: the dealer, the first player, and some of the audience (plus a couple of people standing on the corner watching for the police and probably another couple picking pockets in the crowd around the excitement). Don’t go near this scene. You can’t win!

THE PIG IN A POKE  As you walk down the street, someone whistles and points at a box under his arm. It appears to be a video camera – new, so new it is still in a vacuum-wrapped box. He whispers that it’s “hot” or that it “fell off a truck” – slang for stolen. He says that it is your lucky day – he has to get rid of it quickly. He explains that you can’t look at it because the police might come by. He will sell it to you for only $50. Wow! An $800 dollar camera for only $50. Back at the hostel, you open the box and it’s three well-wrapped bricks.

There are lots of others and I have seen them in every major city around the world. Remember this; if it is too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true. At the moment you find yourself in the position of giving money to someone you just met, STOP. Repeat these words to yourself: “I don’t give money to strangers – even if I think I can trust them and I’m going to make loads of money!”

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