18 People Share Their Best Tip for Being Street Smart

I grew up watching Tommy Boy, so of course, I know the difference between book smarts and street smarts – and recently, John Mulaney has been refreshing us on those, too.

Street smarts are what you need to survive in the wild, as an adult (whatever that means) without getting hoodwinked (or worse) while going about your daily life.

If you think you could use a few more of those, here are 18 tips from people who (claim to) know.

18. Get that hard expression down.

Look like you’ll fight back.

Not so much that it looks like you’re issuing a challenge, but just so that anyone looking to get the twenty bucks in your wallet will wonder whether it’s worth the effort.

The not issuing a challenge thing is important. Because people looking for a fight will go for you, and you end up looking like your in fight or flight mode in a fish out of water way.

You don’t want to look naive, but you don’t want to look concerned either. Just another day for you

17. Don’t ignore your instincts.

Situational awareness. Look up the OODA loop and learn it.

Notice who stands out, who looks out of place. If you get a bad feeling about a situation or person DO NOT ignore it.

Know your exits. Even if you have a weapon yourself, getting out without having to fight is best.

16. Protect your skin!

Buy a daily moisturizer with sunscreen in it.

15. Know your exits.

Especially the exits and gut feeling thing. Our brains subconsciously pick up on things that we don’t really acknowledge or know in the moment, so that gut feeling that you should leave is most likely correct because of the little details that are causing you to feel that way.

Also, know not just the main exit, but other exits that are less obvious. You won’t have to fight through a crowd and will get out faster and easier.

14. That’s knowledge everyone needs.

Security guards, doormen, food cart owners, and blue collars in general, know where the closest bathrooms are.

13. Keep a cool head.

Here’s some more details I’ve learned from my tactical self defense program. OODA loop: observe, orient, decide act. Notice something?

Look at it, decide if you should get involved, then act on that decision. Cooper color code: white is not paying any attention, yellow, aware but relaxed, the ideal situation. Orange is the beginning of the ooda loop. You noticed something and it has your attention. Red you have decided to get involved, black and you’re too in shock to react to anything.

Then the reflex four: visual pat down checks if someone looks anxious or threatening, is wearing the wrong clothes like a long coat in July, weird bulges in clothing, actually showing a weapon on them, etc. exits means knowing where you can get out, whether is be a main exit, emergency or window. Also scanning your area for force multipliers, which are any item you can pick up and throw or hit with, or can shove an aggressor into.

At a restaurant these might be plates, glasses, utensils, a menu, the leg of a chair, a corner or table. Finally, if you see something concerning, look for accomplices/sympathizers. These would be people who came in together or make frequent eye contact, are dressed similarly, or standing together.

It seems like a lot but basically it’s making an effort to be like Shawn Spencer from Psych, and pay attention to the details around you.

12. It’s a little thing.

If you are a woman and have a handbag with a zipper, make sure the opening end is towards the front (where you can keep an eye on it).

This prevents someone walking behind you from opening your handbag and taking your wallet/anything valuable.

11. Not down at your phone.

When walking always look up.

They never do this in the movies, and that’s where the zombie spider which from Mukilteo is hiding, right above you.

10. They’re your things, after all.

Other bag/pickpocket related tips:

If you’re waiting for a train or bus, try to stand with your back against a wall so no one can sneak up behind you. Especially a good idea if you’re wearing a backpack.

If you have a cross-body or shoulder bag, keep it in front of you. I know it’s more comfortable to push it behind your arm or let it rest on the back of your hip, but it’s super easy for someone to take something from it without you noticing if it’s not in your field of vision.

9. Not good for my audiobook habit.


You make yourself an easy target by making it so even the most clod footed mugger can sneak up on you.

8. Don’t just hand over your phone.

If you are a tourist and want a local to take a pic of you with your phone either have it be an employee or someone you can outrun.

Wear one headphone so you can still hear whats around you

7. Protect your valuables.

People make pickpockets’ livelihood so easy. Just check out how many phones are in people’s back pockets, how many handbags dangle by the side, easily accessible.

Always put valuables in an inside, preferably zipped pocket. If you in a notorious pickpocket area like Paris or Naples, you can even carry a fake wallet with monopoly money in an outside pocket.

6. Many things can double as mirrors.

I use windows/reflections to check who is behind me.

Looking at a shop window while I walk is innocuous enough, but it allows me to check if someone is still behind me without me turning around.

5. Public toilets can be hard to find.

Hotel lobbies are great places to use the restroom. They are usually clean, safe, and hardly ever occupied as most guests will go up to their own room instead of using the public location.

On a side note, I’ve found it’s best not to go to reception and ask if you can use the toilet because they sometimes say no. Just walk in like you’re staying there and know where you’re going and follow the signs for the toilet

4. Follow the mothers.

If I’m in an unfamiliar city, I’ll explore freely every neighborhood as long as there are women and kids around. Most mums don’t hang outside with their kids if the street/area is unsafe.

This worked very well for most throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia.

3. Always pay attention.

Basically, just be aware of your surroundings. A lack of situational awareness can lead to some bad things.

Use windows as mirrors to see your blind spots or check behind you. Know where the public places you pass by are, like grocery stores or convenience stores.

Listen close to your own footsteps, and know that sound. This way, you’ll be able to hear other footsteps behind or around you and pick up sounds easier.

Never wear headphones or earbuds and never look distracted by your phone or something else. This is all to help you with situational awareness.

2. Keep your friends close…

If you want to know if you can trust somebody you let in your home, leave a $5 bill in a place that looks like it was forgotten about and that they would see it.

If they’ll take you for $5 now, they’ll take you for more later.

1. Don’t worry about people’s feelings.

I am a 60 something female who travels extensively alone for work. I have had a few close calls but my rule is I don’t worry about offending someone that approaches me if there aren’t others around.

I will cross the street, head for an open establishment, get away. Panhandlers, do you have a cigarette guys, don’t let them get close to you if there’s no one around. I keep my keys in my hand and say if you come any closer I’m going to push this alarm.

I was heading for the airport early in the morning with luggage and a creepy guy drives by asks if I need a ride, I say no, he goes down to turn around and is coming back. I saw a restaurant worker down the next block having a smoke so I yelled to him. Hey I might need some help here and he ran down to stare the guy down.

I don’t hesitate to ask a security guard to walk me to my car. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be aware of your surroundings!

Definitely going to keep these in mind the next time I’m wandering about alone.

What’s your favorite “street smarts” tip? Drop it in the comments!