How to Be Street Smart

You can learn how to be book smart in school, but even someone with an Ivy League education can still be street foolish. No one learns how to navigate a dangerous neighborhood in the safety of a classroom. Likewise, you won't become street savvy while sitting at a computer and reading an article, but these guidelines are a good start. Note that these tips assume you're in a bad neighborhood where crime is commonplace; applying these steps in the workplace or on a college campus is probably excessive.


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    Know the neighborhood. Nothing places a bullseye on your head in a bad neighborhood like looking lost and confused. If you have the chance, research a neighborhood before you enter it. Look at maps and pictures. Know where you're going, and know the streets well enough so that if you get lost, you know how to find your way out without having to look at a map or ask for directions. For instance, in many urban neighborhoods, the streets are arranged in a grid. Knowing something as simple as, "If I keep heading north on Burlington Road, I'll hit Highway 201," may be enough. Even if you are lost, pretend you know where you're going.
    • A person who isn't street smart might say "Ugh! This is too paranoid. I can just find a gas station or store and ask for directions." Rest assured, there are neighborhoods where you might not find a "safe haven" or you might find some shady characters inside, who've taken a keen interest in your wallet.
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    • Don't go into an unfamiliar neighborhood without a full tank of gas. In fact, if there's even a chance of getting lost or running into traffic delays, never let your gas tank go below half full.
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    • Learn everything you can about the public transportation system, if there is one. You might need to use it. Understand how the routes and fares work. Be sure you know the places and hours that attendants or guards are available, the safest places to wait for your ride and how to summon help if you need it. A train, subway, ferry or bus station can be a dangerous place late at night, and not knowing what you're doing will make the situation more dangerous.
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    Dress to blend in. Even if you look different, keeping your clothing understated can go a very long way. This is not the time to look glamorous or unique. See what people your age usually wear in the region and copy them. Don't wear flashy jewelry or bright colors. In some places, certain colors like excessive red or blue are associated with gangs. And, if you're a woman, the most practical advice is don't look pretty. Yes, it's a shame that you should have to suppress your individuality, but let's face it, individuality draws attention, and that's not something you want in a dangerous neighborhood.
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    Act like nothing's a big deal. You have to be paranoid enough to be alert to dangerous situations and interactions, but you have to pretend to be nonchalant. For instance, if you're in a grocery store and a very intoxicated person bursts in, yelling and waving a fist, what do you do? If you're street smart, you notice and you casually go about your business, making your way out of the store without drawing attention to yourself. Someone who's not street smart might stare, might rush out of the store, or might even try to help the person (which is a "Good Samaritan" thing to do, but not a street smart thing to do—sometimes the two are mutually exclusive).
    • Don't look up. Your attention might be drawn to tall buildings or trains running overhead, but it's one of those things that people living in a city don't notice.
    • Be quiet. Don't laugh, don't giggle, don't raise your voice to get the attention of someone across the street.
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    Avoid contact. This is tricky. If you're walking towards a person or a group of people who are checking you (or your companion[s]) out, try to walk in a different direction to avoid them altogether. Don't make it obvious, though—if you cross the street, for example, go into a store on that side so it seems that's why you crossed. Remember, you want to avoid dangerous situations, but you don't want to come off as paranoid or scared. At the very least, be alert so you can spot a potential confrontation early enough to cross the street without making it clear to them that you're intimidated.
    • If you do have to cross paths with shady characters, however, don't quicken your pace (you might do it subconsciously). Pretend to be on a call or send a text message as you walk by, unless you have a really nice phone.
    • If you're walking with someone, don't let your conversation get quiet right when you walk by—that can increase tension. Keep the conversation flowing, and avoid topics that might indicate where you're going, where you're from, or what kind of stuff you have.
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    If you make eye contact with someone, don't look away suddenly; look away slowly and casually. Think about how you make eye contact in a neighborhood where you feel safe. You don't shift your eye contact away in a big rush, do you? At the same time, you don't want to hold eye contact for too long, or else you might invite a confrontation. Or an advance. Don't stare, and if you make and hold eye contact, a friendly smile and nod of acknowledgment may reduce the tension of any perceived challenge.
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    If someone says something friendly, Be Polite but brief. If you walk by someone who asks, "How's your day going, man?", reply, "It's going well. Thanks." Nod in their direction when you say "thanks," but keep walking. Don't say anything that invites further conversation, such as, "Good. What about yours?" Some people are genuinely being friendly, but other people have bad intentions; this is not the place to learn the difference. If you're a woman and the person being friendly is a man, you might want to be even more terse. Say, "Fine, thanks," and don't smile.
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    If someone confronts you, stay calm and try not to be or look afraid. Observe your surroundings, and start looking for possible help (other pedestrians that look friendly, a place of business that is open, maybe even a police car approaching). If no such help is available, be prepared to defend yourself. Start by memorizing their face, ethnicity, height (compare it to your own), age and any odd marks or tattoos. They may try to take you somewhere less public. Do not follow them into a secluded area even if they have a gun. You have a better chance to survive if you stay put. If they try to take you by force, scream, kick, punch, bite. If they have a gun and all they want is your wallet or valuables, give it to them. Don't try to be a hero, it's not worth your life. Call the cops as soon as you're able to and explain the "who, what, where, when and how".


  • People looking for a victim will typically go after someone who looks timid or lost. Conversely, people who suspect you are a rival may leave you alone when they learn that you are an outsider and have no stake in their conflict. Try to appear calm and confident, but do not act like an insider if you're confronted.
  • Remember that even in bad neighborhoods, most people are just nice, ordinary people who are trying to live their lives. They may have biases, perhaps even against you, but they're also just going about their daily lives. Being polite and respectful can get you a long way.
  • Making a "mugger's wallet" to drop so you can run away is a good idea.
  • As a woman, don't be surprised if guys look you up and down like they're undressing you with their eyes. They might even call out to you, or say something about you (good or bad) as you're walking by. Ignore them. It happens to the women who live there and they usually ignore it too. Don't smile, don't say "thanks", don't say "I can't believe you just said that about me!".
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation, person, or location feels wrong or makes you nervous, get away as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. It's better to walk away, even if it seems overly cautious, than stay in a situation that might become dangerous.
  • Plan your route several days in advance and familiarize yourself with places along the way that could be dangerous and need to be avoided. Conduct any business quickly: the less time you have to spend somewhere the better, especially in a bad area. Leave the same way that you came and make no additional stops that are not absolutely necessary.
  • Carry a subway or bus map and look at it secretly so that you don't appear lost and you can find your way on your own.
  • Carry needed supplies with you in case you are stuck somewhere.
  • Walk confidently and look forward with your head up. You will look more sure of yourself and surrounding areas. This will make you less of a target.


  • Stairs, elevators, and parking garages should be avoided altogether if you're getting a bad vibe from the neighborhood.
  • All of these steps will be harder to follow if you're intoxicated. Going into a bad, unfamiliar neighborhood without your senses fully intact is as street stupid as it gets.
  • Don't try to talk like the locals. It's better to be quiet and speak sparingly with your own accent. If you try to use local slang or accent, and you don't pull it off, people might think you're being condescending or downright insulting. At the very least they'll think you're stupid.
  • This should be obvious, but definitely don't use any headphone device such as an mp3 player or bluetooth headset. These items are not only a target for thieves but also critically lessen your awareness of the environment around you, making you an easy target. Likewise, keep cell phone use to a minimum.
  • If you can, learn self-defence. Having fear, doing what the bad person/bad people wants or/and says, being passive (not acting and not being bold) and running away does not make the bad people (monsters) go away (although if you can, make an escape but only if the bad person doesn't hit you otherwise you have to defend yourself no matter what and fight but do choose to run away if there are multiple attackers or/and if the attacker has a weapon and the attacker is at a far distance and always call the police if any bad person/bad people physically harms you or/and tries to physically harm you in any way no matter what) and stop being the victim and take responsibility for your life and life choices and fight because otherwise you will no longer have a life because you gave your life and your personal power to the attacker.

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