What It’s Like To Be Threatened In Rio (And What I Learned From The Experience)


Photo courtesy of Aurimas Adomavicus.

Two Reais and seventy-five cents. That should cover the bus ride back to my hostel in Gloria. It wasn’t a lot of money — about $1.25 USD; however, it was enough for one man in particular to notice me and to have my travel safety threatened.

I’d been warned not to ever show cash when walking around Rio de Janeiro, but I figured they meant large bills. Besides, it was daytime and I was standing at a bus stop full of people. Nobody would take notice.

But someone did. He looked about 53, a weathered face and dark hair. While I don’t remember his clothing or details about his features, I can clearly picture the menacing scowl that took over his face as he stopped dead in his tracks and glared at my exposed wallet. His stance reminded me of a cheetah ready to pounce as he bent his knees and angled his body toward me, his arms raised slightly. One false move and I was a goner. But, would he really jump me in broad daylight?

My skin felt prickly, my heart racing with fear. I was frozen in a moment that seemed to last forever, although it was probably only a minute or so.

Suddenly, my solo female travel instincts kicked in and I took action. Spying a group a local women chatting nearby, I quickly ran over to their group, never turning my back to the man. While I didn’t speak Portuguese, I smiled at them and waved, gesturing slightly with my eyes at the man. They understood, and made a small space for me in the group, where I nodded along pretending to be an old time friend. The man glared a moment longer before moving on his way.

While I was lucky the situation didn’t escalate further than a scare, it did teach me a lesson: Never make assumptions. If someone tells you an area is dangerous and that pick pocketing is likely, take all necessary precautions to prevent this from happening — whether it’s daytime, nighttime, $2 or $200. A better idea would have been to have my money organized in my wallet so that I could quickly pull it out when on the bus, or discreetly grabbing the money without showing my wallet.

Have you ever felt threatened while traveling? How did you handle it? Please share in the comments below.


  1. Yes – I’ve been threatened while traveling in the Dominican Republic. We made the mistake of asking some random guy on the street where the nearest ATM was and instead of just telling us, he insisted on walking us to the nearest one. We knew all along that he was going to want money, but we stupidly followed him to the ATM anyway. After I made a withdrawal, he demanded a commission and tried to pickpocket my brother. Fortunately, we were close to our hotel’s outdoor restaurant where we ducked in. But while we were eating lunch, we saw the guy across the street making threatening gestures towards us. He even came to the restaurant entrance to pick a fight with me. Thankfully, my husband, brother, and male cousin were there and came to my defense. The waiter had to call the police to get rid of the guy. The lesson: get directions from a shop owner, police officer, or some other trusted local instead of randoms on the street.

    1. @Dana- Yikes! That’s scary. I’m glad everything ended up being okay, though. I’m glad you shared this story as I’ve never considered this situation. Thank you!

  2. We went to Rio a few years back and really didn’t like it (something I wrote about here: http://bbqboy.net/rio-de-janeiro-brazil/). Since then, I’ve read a lot of posts about people getting robbed, harassed, even threatened with a machete! And they don’t discriminate against single females, a lot seem to be targeted.
    Nicely played Jessica!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. @Frank: I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it, but it’s definitely one of the places on my travels I felt the most need to be aware of my surroundings. Thanks for the share!

  3. Quite a story. Glad you had found a wise escape.
    Tip: Keep your daily cash separated in front pockets of your pants or shorts. So you would only pull an amount you need for your purchase.

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