Safety While Traveling Abroad – Self Defense

Posted by | December 13, 2013 | Safety, Traveling Tips | 8 Comments
Self Defense

This post is a continuation of our Safety Abroad series, which started with Monday’s Situational Awareness, and continued with Wednesday’s Physical Demeanor

Almost every single travel guide or website related to traveling abroad has one, unified theme they talk about in great detail: if you are ever assaulted you are recommended to simply hand over all of your things and let the assailants take all of your hard-earned money, clothing, backpacks, cameras, cell phones, gear and other sundries.

Lay down. Play dead. Tuck tail and run.

This is the most ridiculous, cowardly, idiotic thing you could ever do. You have a human right to defend what is yours, and unless the person(s) attempting to mug you has a gun pointed at your head, you should be doing everything in your power to keep your possessions where they belong: with you.

Self defense is the ultimate weapon, not just when traveling abroad, but also for your general safety and well-being. It can help you from being mugged, raped, assaulted and taken advantage of. It can help you go from being a victim to a survivor.

If you ever take a safety course or a martial art or any type of self defense class your trainer/teacher will always teach you about two things: situational awareness and protecting the lives of your family/loved ones and yourself. You don’t need a weapon to defend yourself, and you can protect yourself from just about everything other than a gun with basic self defense training, regardless of which martial art you choose to follow.

By choosing to not have some form of self defense training at your disposal you are choosing to be the bleating sheep, laid out for the slaughter for any wolves daring enough to come in for a bite. You might as well open your throat for any would-be assailants as soon as you see them coming, because without self defense training you are nothing but an ant, waiting to be squashed beneath the boot heel of anyone bigger and stronger than you are.

As a general rule, the type of people who are muggers are homeless street bullies and kids. They not only have no skill at wielding a knife, but they’ve likely never taken a safety class or a martial art and are only waving that knife/board/stick/whatever around in your face because 99% of the time the moment they whip out a weapon the scared tourists are pissing their pants and instantly handing over all of their possessions. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, no pun intended.

They don’t have any actual skill with those weapons; they just use them to intimidate. Most of them are simply people who have been driven to desperation by situations you and I cannot comprehend, forced to live on the streets and eat out of dumpsters and  the scraps the rest of us carelessly throw to the wayside. And when a fat, juicy tourist comes by with enough camera gear and clothing and fancy gadgets to feed them for six months or a year, the animal is going to react instinctively, without thought.

This works to your advantage. Because these are simply starving, desperate people without any formal weapons training or martial arts knowledge, you can easily defend yourself against a simple knife being waved in your face or someone with a stick who is trying to intimidate you. But only if you have the skills to defend yourself. And only if it’s not a gun; no amount of self defense training can save you from a bullet, and while some measure of training can help you defend against a knife attack or multiple assailants, you can’t block or parry a bullet.

Yes, there is still some measure of risk in defending yourself even if the assailant doesn’t have a gun, because there is a remote chance that the individual on the other end of the knife does indeed have training. But in my opinion I’d rather run the extremely remote chance that the person trying to mug me is anything other than a starving, desperate person with no training than simply hand over all of my money, passport, gear and etc. with no questions asked.

Note: situational awareness has to come into effect here, and I’m not saying there is no risk involved in defending yourself, even with training. There is a chance you could get stabbed if your assailant has a knife. You could get a few bruises or a broken arm if someone assails you with a baseball bat while you are defending yourself. And if five massively muscle-bound, tatted up dudes are asking for your cash while wielding knives and bats and you are alone, you would have to be an idiot to not comply when they ask you for your cash. But if it’s just a couple of street punks looking to intimidate you and you have the training to handle them?

You work hard for your money. It’s yours. And you have a human right to defend your belongings. If someone want to take your things they better be prepared to fight for it, because you have an inherent right to the same code of survival that has been part of our human nature since the dawn of civilization: kill or be killed. Survival of the fittest. I certainly don’t want to end up on the streets without any food, clothing or means to pursue my lifestyle. And I’m going to do anything I need to do in order to ensure my continued survival. As should you.

The only time I would recommend handing over your money and possessions is if the attacker is armed with a gun or you are facing obvious military/mafia types who are three times your size and armed to the teeth. In every other situation you should be primed and ready to kick ass and take names and defend the money and gear that you worked for, as well as any companions or family traveling with you. You should not be the cowering sheep who just lays there while the wolf rips its throat out; you should instead be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, ready to burst out at a moment’s notice to protect you and yours.

Note 2: It’s also worth noting that situational awareness also comes into play when it comes to the value of what you have on you. I rarely leave the house with more than 20 bucks in cash on me; in this instance, I have no problem giving up my cheap burner phone + 20 dollars in cash to a would-be mugger just as a “you need it more than me” gesture and because 20 bucks is pocket change to me. However, if I’m on a photo shoot with my gear + my passport and a couple of grand in cash (not that I would ever have that much, but it’s an example someone brought up on Facebook), you can bet your ass I’m going to be fighting tooth and nail to keep my shit unless it’s the aforementioned mafia/military types.

Regardless if you are traveling or not, it’s a good idea for every human being out there to take a basic self defense course or a martial art. You never know when it could come in handy, and it might just save your life as well as your belongings.

This particular post will likely rub some people the wrong way, because it goes against the conditioning you’ve been brainwashed with since you were a child in your Western, civilized nations where you are taught to lay down, be passive, let the police protect you, and never lift a finger against another human being, even in defense.

Civilization has done a lot of good things for humanity, but the one thing it has stripped from most of us is the survival instinct. Protect what is yours, what you’ve worked for. Your plot of land, your food, your clothing, your shelter. Governments have trained you to trust them, to obey them, to lay down your arms and passively accept their “protection” so that revolutions do not take place. They want the people fat, lazy and defenseless so they can herd them along as desired.

On the surface it sounds great: a peaceful utopia where everyone gets along. But the reality is that we aren’t living in that science-fiction fantasy realm just yet, and until we do, only the lamb goes willing to the slaughter. If you don’t have self defense training yet, I highly recommend going out and taking some courses now. If not for your own sake, think about your family and loved ones. If you can’t defend them when the situation arises, what good are you? 

You have a right to disagree, and can do so in the comments below…respectfully. We cherish thoughtful, provoking conversation here at Marginal Boundaries, and opposing viewpoints often provide the most thought-provoking conversations. Outright rudeness and trolling on the other hand, are not tolerated. 

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This post first appeared as part of The Expat Guidebook blog. Photo source: Lancaster Self Defense.

About T.W. Anderson

T.W. Anderson is the founder of the Marginal Boundaries brand. He is the writer, editor, videographer, photographer, and social media guru alongside Cristina Barrios, the other half of the brand. In his spare time, he is the creative director of the Saga of Lucimia, a forthcoming MMORPG from Stormhaven Studios, LLC.


  • There’s always going to be risk associated with defending yourself, Red. But regardless of the risk…I’m going to defend what’s mine. If we are talking my passport and my jacket….take it. But if I’ve got 3k of gear on me and it’s 1-3 persons who don’t have a gun…I’ll take my chances. It’s my human right. And just like my ancestors of old would defend their homes, their meat, their crops, from invaders….I’m going to protect mine, and recommend everyone else do the same.

  • Red says:

    Sounds like sound advice.
    from someone who’s never been cut.

    these “homeless guys on the streets” have knives for survival -and have to regularly defend themselves from each other.
    sure they may not be “trained” but the majority have more live blade experience than most dojo black belts.
    this gives them the advantage- as blade fighters go- they dont have a pattern, or set of predetermined moves, they’re unpredictable and dont follow any “fighter’s etiquette” they’ll just stab you, and grab what they want while you just lie there and bleed.
    That isnt even taking into account if they’re on any drugs…
    if all they want is a full stomach, or cash for their next high, I say let them have it, I can go to the ATM and get more, but I’m not sure where i can get an un-punctured lung or 4 litres of blood at 3am….

  • Yep, Jennifer; two birds with one stone :)

  • Jennifer says:

    I took a self defense class in college as an elective. It was a great class! A self defense class can even just make you feel more confident, which in itself is a deterrent to muggers and other would be thieves.

  • We’ll just have to agree to disagree, Martyn. A stray dog needs a swift kick to the head if it tries to bite, not a pat on the back. You might get bit, but it’s better than getting mauled while you just lie there.

    Mugger’s wallets are always a good thing, and situational awareness (don’t walk around with your smartphone earbuds plugged in, oblivious to your surroundings) is always a must, but I’ll never advocate pacification, no matter the statistics.

    Everyone has a right to defend themselves, and only the sheep are led to the slaughter willingly.

  • While I agree that people should not take things lying down, I think your advice to kick ass and take names is dangerous. Why? Because you state that a gun cannot be argued with, but a knife poses a small risk. Statistics have turned out that in shooting, 95% of the involved survive, whereas in stabbings only 66% of the victims survive. A knife doesn’t need to reload, has no safeties, and can be used in a variety of ways. With a gun, you have to avoid staying out of the line of the muzzle, but a knife has a variety of dangerous sides.

    Also, a mugger might be a homeless bully, but they also have less to lose and they are certainly more used to violence than the average citizen.

    If you check my website, you see I give courses myself. In my courses, I teach people on the criminal mindset and how to avoid or defend against the scan/interview method that most muggers use to select their victims. I teach people not to be distracted by their phones and ipods and the sights as they wander like blind sheep through the city. I teach them not to walk around with their wealth in full view.

    And when they get mugged, I tell them to have a mugger’s wallet ready. A mugger’s wallet is a second wallet in an easy to access place where you put in a few low currency banknotes and some coins that you can throw at a mugger’s feet when you’re held at gunpoint. Muggers tend not to hang around but to snatch up your wallet and run off, only to find out later they’ve been duped. If you want to be badass, put a paint bomb in the mugger’s wallet so that if they check the contents they’ll get coated by bright blue or red paint that will make them stand out in a line-up.

    But don’t teach people to kick a homeless mugger’s ass as if they are cowardly stray dogs. Stray dogs don’t have anything to lose and they’ll tear you a new asshole if they think you are a threat.

  • Hell yes, Kenin. It’s like the school bully, just looking for an easy target.

  • I could never understand why people give the ” give them everything they ask for advice”. Most thieves are lazy and are looking for an easy target, if you make yourself that hard target, they will move on to someone else. Doing anything but fighting back is just crazy talk.

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