Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Josh Keefe.

Always befriend locals when traveling.

This is obvious advice, but it usually involves a little more than just smiling and saying “please” and “thank you” in the native language. It requires being a bit proactive and chatting up strangers. This is not just a good idea because you can find the best bar or restaurant from a local.

Sometimes being friendly to locals can actually keep you out of danger.

Doing your best to make sure people see you as a human being instead of a walking wallet can really increase your safety.

This starts with chatting up cab drivers. Cabdrivers usually know where they’re bringing you, and they have a much better idea than you of exactly what the situation is going to be when you get there.

One Tuesday night in Puerto Escondido, a cab driver was taking us to a shady after hours bar we had heard about that apparently was attached to a whore house. As we chatted him up and talked about the area he became less surly and more talkative. Eventually we were laughing with him. Finally he slammed on the brakes, turned to us, and told us that there was simply no way he could bring us there in good conscience. It was way, way, too dangerous for gringos, he said. We thanked him and ended the night somewhere a little more tame. Of course, we tipped him well.

Don’t be afraid of handing out money. A bum could save your life.

To wit:

I was in Montreal years ago, before I even considered myself a Flashpacker, and my cousin and I ended up drunkenly separated from the group we had come with. We also had no idea where our hotel was.  A bum approached us and asked us for money. All we had left on us was five dollars, not enough for a cab. We gave it to him, and asked if he could tell us how to get to our hotel. He said he would walk us there. We thought this was very nice of him; we also figured he had nothing else to do.

We walked and we asked him about Montreal. He told us about his city, and the conversation soon become more personal, and he detailed some of the bad breaks that led him to a life on the street. By the end of our twenty minute walk, I really liked the guy, although I like everybody when I’m drunk. But still.

We reached the end of the street where our hotel was. We saw the sign, and thanked him profusely.

“No,” he told us. “I’ll walk you there.”

“Um, okay,” we said. The hotel was a block away. We could clearly see it. Now his willingness to walk us back seemed a bit shady. Was he going to try and come in with us?

We were just about at the door when we passed the alley next to the hotel. I turned and looked down the alley and a man who looked both homeless and incredibly aggressive was sprinting at us from the darkness.

Our man put out his hand in a “stop” motion towards what I assume was a would-be attacker, and said very sternly:

“No! Not these two.”

The attacker stopped immediately and turned and went back into the alley. Our man looked at us and wished us good night as we stood there shocked and confused. Then he turned and walked away.

So be nice to bums. Especially when they have Obi-Wan Kenobi powers.

 About the Author: Josh Keefe is a 27-year-old writer/blogger for Flashpackerguy.com and Locationlessliving.com who, up until recentl,y coordinated food delivery systems for a living (he was a waiter). He has also worked in the fashion industry (in a Laundromat). Find him on TwitterFacebook, or RSS.

8 comments

  1. Good advice. And by the sounds of it, that homeless man was well aware of the other fellow who would be hanging out in the alley waiting for people to rob.

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  2. We definitely agree about befriending locals on your travels! Overland style travel is such a down to earth way to see the world and really mingle with the locals and learn from their culture. A great way to interact with locals, especially in more rural areas, is to take balloons or blowing bubbles for the kids. The laughter and fun the kids have with these is soul lifting stuff.

    If you were thinking about taking candy for the kids, rather go for something that won’t mean the local kids’ parents have to haul them off to the dentist and feel the punch in their wallet.

    Great post, really enjoyable read.

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    1. I bring post cards .. but the balloons and bubbles sound like great ideas!! And, guilty, I totally brought candies with me to Rwanda. But, turns out, more than the candies, the kids wanted pens!

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  3. Great tips. A little friendliness goes a long way, and good intentions don’t go unnoticed. Will keep your advice in mind when I head off on my travels, thanks!

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  4. Wow that’s crazy great advice. It always pays off to be nice to everyone, no matter their status quo. I’ve been fortunate enough to have never been truly robbed other than petty theft while on my travels but I know the day is soon to come. Thanks for the advice and I’ll keep everything you said…errr wrote in mind! 🙂

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