From the distance and experience of 18 years On the Road, most of it spent in a lot of "Off the Beaten Track" kind of places, I ask myself what kind of tips and tricks I can share with others who set off to explore the world in a rapidly changing world environment.
So for the purposes of this little sermon from the foothills, I will stick to what I know best which is India and Nepal, places I have intimate knowledge of. Let's just call it Grandma's little rule of SOS.
SOLO is not a word that is likely to bring up images of wild exhilarating freedom in this part of the world as it is in ours. In fact to be alone in India and Nepal is to be vulnerable, a fact often borne out by the kind of sympathy people give you when they discover you are travelling alone. While most people will befriend you in order to save you from what is seen as the loneliest experience of all - the individual- others will just as likely try to exploit it.
OBSERVATION is a two way street. Take a read of Paul Thoreaux's book The Elephanta Suite to see what I mean. His point in a lot of the stories rang very true for me, the fact that no matter how well we think we are blending in with the local surrounds we actually stick out like veritable dogs balls. Looking, as they say in India, is free, and looking at foreigners is a favourite sport here. I know because after some time here I also gape and gawk at foreigners! Crime in India is less often confrontational and more often subversive. People are watched outside of banks and followed home where they are robbed, poison can be offered in food shared with fellow 'passengers' on a bus or train and sneak thefts are more common than muggings.
It's up to you to keep a very sharp eye out for potential trouble makers, without being neurotic about it. After all you must do it every day at home when you walk a city street or are out after dark. You have these skills already because you use them at home, so just remember to put them at the very top of your list.
SPEAKING Be aware of who you are speaking to. If you need advice or directions look for a well dressed person rather than addressing people randomly on the street. Do not get into inane conversations with men you meet randomly in any situation, especially do not tell them your travel plans or mode of transport. Always invent friends who are waiting for you at your destination, imply that they are well connected local people. Carry a cell phone at all times and never let it run too low on credit, pretend to be in contact with people at the other end of you're the trip.
Then relax and trust your instincts.