You’re Being Followed, Now What?
Being followed is frightening. Being followed in an unfamiliar city or country? Even more so. Here’s a few tips to help you spot and react to the basic criminal element overseas.
How to spot a tail:
- Stay aware: Do not bury your head in your phone or wear headphones when walking around a new city.
- Do you see the same faces repeatedly, in different areas throughout the day or week?
- Does someone seem overly interested in overhearing your conversations?
- Stop unexpectedly, sit down and watch for others who may seem out of place or suddenly occupied with trying to look normal.
- Take multiple random turns to see who is making the same moves.
Diagnose the situation:
Understanding why they might be following you can help dictate the actions you take. You should always research a location before you travel; you should especially look out for the country’s safety warnings. Kidnapping is prevalent in some locations, while other areas are known as transit points for human smuggling or sex trafficking. Combine that with cultural insights and what you’re seeing on the street to decide if you’re in danger and how you should react. Pay attention to the following:
- People who are well dressed, good looking and typically in pairs: They will attempt to be suave, act as if money is no object, then often offer to buy you a drink in a “bar they know,” where you will likely be robbed. Their main goal is to attempt to get you alone. One way to navigate their intentions is to mention that you’re with two or three other men (your father, brothers, boyfriend, etc.) who have gotten ahead of you. If their intentions are no good, they will continue to attempt to separate you from your travel companions.
- People who are poorly dressed: Most likely robbery or kidnapping for ransom. Robbery is a crime of opportunity. Kidnapping takes more planning: Are you in town long-term for business? Alternate your daily routines and avoid creating a pattern of predictability. You are at your most vulnerable to kidnapping when leaving home and leaving work.
- Solo and overly friendly/overt with their romantic intentions: They may want a date or other intimate interaction with you. Typically seen in culturally masculine countries, the ideal response is to not acknowledge any catcalls or verbal attempts to get your attention. If the attempts become physical, then it’s time to give a definite and unmistakable “NO.”
If you’re being followed:
- Get to a safe place, then get help.
- Stay in public areas. Avoid going into any isolated areas, especially at night.
- Find a crowded restaurant or hotel lobby and look for security personnel. They should be able to contact the police.
- Take a cab: Put some distance between yourself and the interested parties.
- Notify the police: Whether in person or over the phone, you should notify the police and provide as much information as you can: Where you saw them, how many, what they looked like, and anything about how they operate can help identify and catch the individuals.
- If you’re staying long-term, avoid the area you noticed that you were being followed.
The time to figure out that someone has been following you is not when you’re alone, at night, and in a foreign country. Above all, you are not required to be polite or friendly to anyone who refuses to leave you alone. Knowing what to look for and how to deal with it can put you in a position to save yourself and whoever you’re traveling with.
J.C. Lightcap, Travel Safer | October 10, 2016
JC Lightcap is a travel safety consultant, author of The Travel Safety Handbook, and serial traveler. He provides business travelers, study abroad students and families with the tools to focus on their travel goals, raise their awareness overseas and come home safely. JC has been quoted in the Washington Post, featured in the Liberty Project and is a member of the International Ecotourism Society. He currently lives with his well-traveled wife and two dogs in Denver, Colorado where he snowboards, camps and hikes 14ers.