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)
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    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. Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 14:33
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    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. Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 16:41
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    @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
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 1:37

2 Answers 2


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.

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