Safety tips from an Overly Cautious person

Tabitha Ato
October 12, 2019

In any new environment, safety is my #1 priority and I'm glad that with IES Abroad Quito the safety of all students is taken very seriously. I have come to realize that here in Quito, most people on the streets or those who take the bus are not actively looking to steal or cause harm towards anyone. Additionally, while traveling through different provinces, I found it necessary to be aware of my surroundings because it is sometimes obvious I am a foreigner.

In Ecuador, foreigners as well as the natives are targets for petty crime mostly due to the fact that many people tend to place themselves in vulnerable situations and do not pay close attention to their belongings. However, as an exchange student, you have the opportunity to learn more about your surrounding community and most importantly, the etiquette to keep yourself safe while going out. After living in Quito for a few months, I can proudly commend myself for not being one of the unlucky victims of petty crime. It may be due to luck or the fact that I am very cautious and ALWAYS aware of my surroundings not just here in Ecuador but also back home.

Disclaimer: Please feel free to laugh out loud at some of the recommendations because I absolutely did while writing them. However, these tips have been helpful.

Here are 8 tips on how to be safe in public transportation and in the streets of Ecuador:

1. Put your phone INSIDE your bag before leaving your house/school/office etc: This means not in the side or front pockets or mini compartments because it makes it easier for someone to grab your device or cut open the pocket. The safest place for your cell phone while you’re walking outside or taking the bus is in the main compartment of your backpack. Additionally, do not try to keep your phone in a safe place right before you get on the bus. By doing this you increase the chances of theft because someone may have spotted where you hid your cell phone/device.

2. Put your hand across your bag at all times: this may seem excessive but everyone on the bus carries their backpack in front of them while riding the bus. However, by putting at least one hand across your bag shows that you are aware of your surroundings but not terrified of riding public transportation. Also, if you are sitting on the bus, I would recommend placing your backpack so that the front with the zippers is closest to your body (it may seem extreme, but these are the measures I took).

3. Do not be scared of going to the back of the bus: You will probably be advised to stay as close to the front of the bus as possible, which is great advice for the first few times you ride the bus. Nonetheless, when you’re accustomed to the rigor of Ecuadorian public transportation and have memorized all the bus stop names, there is no need to stay in the front. I would recommend moving to the middle or back of the bus (depending on how crowded it is) to avoid the crowd and so that you can be able to breathe.

4. When going out, keep everything hidden: Personally, I do not like to draw attention to myself, so if I am going out at night, I wear my fanny pack across my shoulder and then wear my jacket over it just to be safe.

5. Ask for help: if you are lost, do not panic but go into the nearest store and ask for directions. I have found it helpful to know landmarks or street names, so I can describe where I am going. Also, do not just stop on the street to ask for directions it could be risky.

6. Use hand sanitizer: after riding the bus I would recommend disinfecting your hands before touching your face or phone (very important) because being sick is not fun.

7. Be aware of babies: you will encounter an uncountable number of cute babies but DO NOT be distracted by their cuteness.

8. Sleep responsibly: Yes! I said it! Contrary to everything you are going to hear about safety on the bus, if you decide to sleep, do so at your own risk and responsibly. As someone who has long commutes to and from the city, there is absolutely no way I can stay awake on a 45 minute plus bus ride after a long day of classes, walking around, and transferring bus stations. Firstly, follow the previous recommendations to make sure your belongings are not exposed. Secondly, it's advisable to sleep if you’re sitting closest to the window because that’s the furthest you’ll be from traffic in the aisle. Lastly, you’re actually resting your eyes not sleeping hahah, so make sure you open your eyes every few minutes to observe your surroundings.