You’ve dreamed of visiting New York for years and now it’s almost a reality. But you’re wondering if the awful crime stories are true. After all, you watched CSI: NY and know that there are many shady characters living in this huge metropolitan area.
While most visitors have a blast, there’s always a smaller percentage of newcomers who learn security lessons the hard way. It’s typically the tourist-types who are too obvious in their approach and too starstruck by the billboards to pay attention to their immediate surroundings. There are also those who walk through any neighborhood indiscriminately, thinking that the world is their oyster and nothing bad can happen to them.
Since you’re reading this article, I’ll presume you’re more clever than that. You’re well aware that tourists are a hot target of muggers and you’re more than happy to take the necessary precautions. I applaud your wisdom! And I have 10 very logical and incredibly helpful tips which will help you stay safe without ruining any adventure you had in mind:
1. Get an anti-theft backpack
Moving through crowded streets with a regular backpack is asking for trouble. NYC is jammed with traffic, there’s a lot of noise all around. Someone can easily creep up behind you, unzip your backpack and steal your stuff. Even if you notice what happened, it’s almost impossible to catch the person if you don’t know the streets well.
An anti-theft backpack is typically slash-proof and it has lockable and hidden pockets. It’s way safer than an ordinary backpack or a bag. If you plan on taking your laptop or camera while you stroll through Times Square and other crowded locations, I recommend getting one of these secure backpacks first.
2. Carry an anti-theft pouch or wallet
An anti-theft pouch or wallet are a great additional storage unit. They’re usually easy to hide under a shirt. There are even secure belts for carrying cash and credit cards. It looks like a regular belt but it has a small storage compartment for these kinds of items.
3. Keep a self-defense weapon at hand
I’m not talking about firearms of course. But having a pepper spray or a taser is always a good thing. If someone tries to mug you in a dark alleyway your best bet is to give them your belongings and call the police as soon as you can.
But if someone physically attacks you, one of these self-defense tools can save your life by giving you enough time to escape. Here is my list of best non-lethal self-defense weapons.
4. Don’t look like a tourist
It can sometimes be very difficult not to look like a tourist. You want to take photos, shoot videos and your eyes are all over the place. This is especially true when people visit large metropolitan areas like NYC with flashy lights and a lot of events all around.
But still, try not to be an obvious, naive kind of tourist. Don’t wear short pants with long white socks and a weird hat. Dress normal, act normal and friendly, and you’ll blend in perfectly. No one will see you as an obvious target and that’s the easiest way to slip under the radar of NYC muggers. And presumably other places as well.
5. Hide your valuables
If you’re not carrying an anti-theft backpack or an anti-theft pouch/wallet, at least wear a jacket or pants that have zipped pockets. It will take more time for someone to mug you in crowded areas if they have to unzip the pocket. If you have any hidden pockets inside your clothes, use them to your advantage.
You can also place smaller amounts of cash in the socks that you’re wearing (between the sock and your leg). Just make sure you push it deep enough and that the socks are not loose on top so that the money doesn’t fall out while you’re walking.
6. Pay attention in these crowded areas
New York is visited by tourists throughout the year. Not to mention that it has a population of 8 623 000 million people. So you’ll find many locations to be crowded with pedestrians. Especially the tourist areas which are the most interesting parts of the city anyway.
I’m not saying you should avoid these areas completely, but keep your awareness of your surroundings at a maximum. These are some of the most crowded areas:
5th ave between 50th and Central Park South, premiere shopping area with the flagship Apple, Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch stores (the latter two tend to have lines out the door), FAO Schwartz, Bergdorf Goodman (the window displays year-round, and especially during Christmas time, are incredibly extravagant), plus the various high-end stores such as Prada and Louis Vuitton.
Times Square, the most popular tourist location in New York, and possibly the entire world.
Canal Street, known for cheap sunglasses, fake handbags, souvenirs and all the fish you can carry.
Rockefeller Center, NBC’s 30 Rock has brought even more attention to this area, but it’s also very popular because of the ice skating, shopping and nearby Radio City Music Hall.
Grand Central, high traffic area due to high density of subway trains passing through the station, in addition to the Metro-North. Tourists are also attracted to the area due to the famed vaulted ceilings in the terminal and the shopping.
Herald Square, the Macy’s was, at one point, the world’s largest department store, so if you’ve come for shopping this is one of the go-to areas of town.
Broadway between Spring St and Broome St, SoHo in general is a great people watching neighborhood, but this street gets particular attention because of the Bloomingdale’s and other shopping opportunities.
7. Avoid alleyways and parks at nighttime
This piece of advice can be applied to any city you’re visiting as a tourist. I know that exploring hidden parts of your destination is where the real fun is at. But try not to lose yourself in an isolated alleyway. You know, like the one where Batman’s parents found their end.
New York is very similar to Gotham, with many homeless people and thieves lurking in the shadows. If you want to stay safe, use these narrow and isolated passages only during daytime and only if it’s really necessary.
8. Don’t travel alone
If you’re travelling to NYC for the first time, it’s best to go with a friend or a relative who’ve been there before. They can show you how the city functions and which parts of the city to avoid.
I’ve listed the most crowded areas, but it would be impossible to list all the small alleyways that are worth avoiding because there are so many. It’s something you need to figure out during your journey or have a local show you the ropes.
9. Learn basic self defense
Knowing how to defend yourself in a street fight will make you a more confident traveler. Actually, a more confident person in general. It can also save your life in a physical altercation, or help you escape one unharmed.
In my opinion the best self-defense discipline is Krav Maga, which is used by Israeli military force and is very popular today with regular people. It’s very effective in street fights because it’s designed specifically for defending yourself and disarming an opponent. It focuses on winning (or staying alive) at all costs.
You can learn more about Krav Maga and see an excellent video course in this article.
10. Only carry the essentials
Before I got my anti-theft backpack I used to leave almost all of my stuff in my room. I would then explore the city without having to worry about my expensive camera getting stolen.
If you don’t have to carry your camera or laptop around, I suggest keeping them in your hotel room or apartment. For smaller items like smartphone, credit cars and cash, it’s enough to have a small safe pouch which you can carry under your shirt without anyone noticing.
Final Word: How to Avoid Getting Mugged in New York
While NYC can be dangerous for some people, it’s not if you employ some common sense. If you avoid any shady areas and stick to the tourist-friendly places across Manhattan and Brooklyn you’ll generally be quite safe.
Millions of people visit NYC every year and only a handful will tell you a horrifying tale of being mugged or threatened on the street.
By following these 10 tips I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time knowing your stuff and your personal safety is of sound quality. So I hope this bit of advice will help you, and I wish you a happy NCY adventure.