The term "street smarts" gets tossed around often when discussing cities which are notorious for criminal acrivity, but how can I actually be "street smart" when leaving a safe area (e.g. downtown)?

Edit: So, to clarify what I'm meaning and to reformulate the question: When traveling a city with a reputation for being dangerous - such as Detroit - which behaviors put me in an advantage / disadvantage with respect to becoming the victim of a crime? Many people suggest "use your street smarts", but that in itself is not actionable advice. I'm looking for more practical things like "Think that someone is following you? Cross the street; if they do the same: Run!!!"

Also, I'm looking for descriptions of situations which should ring a bell. For example, today, I walked along a pretty lonely street in Detroit and noticed someone sitting in his car with no intention of driving away (and which had not arrived at least in the last ten minutes). He waited until I was close, then got out and asked me what I was doing here. My question would be: thief waiting for a potential victim or just a guy napping in his car?

Suggestions I have found:

  • Be aware of your surroundings / Don't be glued to your phone
  • Don't have a camera dangling around your neck
  • Don't go to dimly lit areas (at night)
  • 2
    In the case of Detroit there is no need to put quotes around "dangerous cities". I have personally been escorted by police out of an area of Detroit, when they told me the area I was in was dangerous and I shouldn't be there. The only city in the world this has happened to me. Nov 8, 2019 at 14:33
  • 1
    Happened to experienced, adult traveling companions in Quito, Ecuador, a few years ago. They told us about it just after it occurred when we met up back at the hotel. Nov 8, 2019 at 16:41
  • 1
    @DJClayworth had that happen to me in Atlanta in the 90s. Was walking with a group late at night trying to find our accommodation - police stopped and asked where we were going/what we were doing there, told us it was dangerous and they called up a bus to come get us (about 10 of us) and take us to where we were staying. Cops stayed with us until the bus arrived and we were on our way
    – Midavalo
    Nov 15, 2019 at 1:37

3 Answers 3


How dangerous is walking alone? : Portland applies in general.

My advice is:

  • Stick to main streets at night: many side streets through neighborhoods have poor lighting, which isn't ideal. For example: if you're going east, head up Burnside, Belmont, or Hawthorne, rather than Salmon, Pine, or Couch.

  • Know ahead of time where you're going so you don't have to ask for directions, or appear lost.

  • Don't engage men by making eye contact, or answering questions, especially at bus stops. Sorry, Men's Rights Activists of Reddit, I don't care how nice you think you are- this is a no-brainer safety tip for women.

  • Walk with purpose, don't appear distracted, and pay attention to your surroundings. This is more important at night than during the day.

  • Strategically use your headphones to not talk to dudes, but make sure your music isn't so loud that you can't hear footsteps behind you.


Having lived in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Gary. And, having spent considerable time in New York, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Johannesburg, London, Hong Kong, Manila, and other big cities, I can say two things about street smarts.

  1. Every city has its best parts and its worst parts. Even Detroit and Gary. Being street smart is knowing how to stay out of the disreputable parts. You can find out which parts those are from locals with whom you are familiar.
  2. Any city can be dangerous. Being street smart is realizing this simple fact. Even in the so-called safe cities.

If you are mainly worried about being a victim of a crime, it can happen any where you go. Don’t let yourself appear as a future victim.

Criminals are predators. Like predators, they will go for the weakest of the herd, the easy prey. Always look like you blend in and belong there. Don’t stand out as being noticeable or vulnerable. Be the grey man. Act and look like a local. Never act or look like a tourist or a visitor. If that fails, don’t look like an easy target. You don’t have to act or look menacing. Just don’t act or look like you are not aware of your surroundings or that you don’t have situational awareness. That includes being inebriated in public. And, there is safety in numbers. Travel in groups. Especially a group of locals.

A good strategy is to cultivate an outward appearance that makes you seem simultaneously non-threatening and ready, willing, and able to defend yourself if necessary. Sort of like the human equivalent of a nice, inviting home with an alarm company sign on the door, a big dog in the yard, and men’s work boots on the porch. Just enough to silently say, “move on to the next house.”

This is why some people, usually locals, can walk around a city like Detroit or Gary in the dead of night and be relatively safe. Versus other people who will get mugged or assaulted as soon as they step foot out of their hotel door. It is not fair or right. It is just the law of the jungle playing out in the worst of mankind’s nature.


Have you tried Googling or Reddit?

How to stay safe in a dangerous neighborhood? : AskReddit

  • Mind your own business
  • Don't look terrified
  • Don't make eye contact
  • Be aware of your surroundings

How to stay safe in a dangerous neighborhood? : AskReddit

Don't make eye contact

I would say that this is incorrect. Refusing to make eye contact paints you as a victim.

But staring at someone is just as bad, and could start something.

If someone is making you nervous, LOOK at them. Use a firm gaze, meet their eyes, but keep it short. You have acknowledged that you see them and that you are prepared for them.


Oh and always have your phone.


But don't walk around looking at it.


In regards to the fear of mugging, here's a good idea:

  • carry a fake wallet. Put a couple of $1 bills in, put a load of paper in there (green paper is best) to bulk it up and take it with you. If you get accosted, throw the fake wallet one way and run the other. They're not after you, they want the money. They'll go grab the wallet and let you go, and as soon as they've found out that it was a dud, you're long gone.


My mom (a 5'2 130 lb woman) lived in north Philly for 10 years while she went to Temple and worked after graduation. She said, as she would walk home from work by herself around 2 am when the bars closed, she would sing and dance and skip around, talking to herself, so that people thought she was crazy! Apparently when people think you're insane, they don't want to mug you. I guess because you'll never know what crazy people do.

[–]cjblahblah 7 years ago

Also if you are making noise already others are more likely to notice you and would notice if you suddenly stopped.

Street Safety | Resources | The City of Portland, Oregon

Physical Strategies

  • Breathe!  It clears the head and helps calm the nerves.
  • Keep moving. 
  • Look around as you walk or wait on the street.  Checking out what is happening on each side of you makes you appear difficult to catch by surprise.
  • Take up extra space when sitting and standing.  It defines the physical boundaries that you will protect.
  • Make brief eye contact, selectively.  It communicates that others are seen, that we belong in a space, and that we are not easily intimidated.  To avoid sending a mixed message, keep your face neutral, not glaring or smiling.  Break eye contact by looking to the side.  Avoid eye contact with those who you believe could misinterpret it as a challenge, or as an invitation into your space.

Verbal Strategies

Typically, perpetrators of violence do not expect us to verbalize any distrust of them.  A variety of verbal strategies can help send a message that you are not easily intimidated.  A neutral glance in the direction of a threat can send the same message.

  • Deception & distraction can buy some time or create an opening for escape.
  • Negotiation can alter perpetrators demands or create an opening for escape.
  • Assertively saying “NO” communicates our unwillingness to comply with demands.
  • Naming the offensive behavior can communicate that we recognize bad intent.
  • Directives/commands can shock the perpetrator and make us appear in control.
  • Yelling can send a message that we are not an easy target, and can attract attention.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.