11 Skills to Build Your Street Smarts

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By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook

Street smarts are an asset, and even more so in volatile and turbulent times.

 “You’re a born innocent, JeeBee. Until you learn this is a different world nowadays, that you’re either top dog or bottom dog, that there’s no such thing as in-between dog, you’re a walking risk to yourself”.

 Paul The Peddler (Wolf And Iron, Gordon R. Dickson)

Being street smart is defined as having the experience and knowledge necessary to deal with the potential difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment. 

Whichever way things go in the world (the big circles, as Selco calls it), city dwellers will have to contend with the realities of their streets and neighborhoods (the small circles, again per Selco). And these are becoming more tense and downright treacherous at a fast pace everywhere, evidencing the importance of cultivating some top-dog shrewdness to pull through.

A hard life turns people into survivors at an early age. 

In the outskirts and favelas (slums) of developing countries and destitute neighborhoods anywhere, two-year infants play in the streets without adult supervision. Growing free-range in precarious and unsafe settings, you wise up and learn to fend for yourself. Or else.

And in fact, as a rule, people raised in rough settings or any place where conditions are hard, resources scarce, and life is overall more dangerous quickly develop some thick skin, acumen and wit, and a much-needed nuanced social interaction ability.

That doesn’t mean everyone coming from such places is a warrior. Maybe a fighter, and certainly a survivor – or adapted to deal with open, fluid contexts, a great variety of events, people, and situations (and of course more danger). A higher degree of street smarts is necessary to better navigate all that.

People adapt to their environment.

Consequently, the abilities required to live and thrive in a protected milieu, under a more civilized and clear set of rules, are necessarily different. Also, one can go through life practically spared from most of the world’s ugliness and threat – a lifestyle that won’t demand higher levels of awareness and readiness.

None of that is to imply people living and transiting almost exclusively between homogeneous, predictable, relatively safe, and controlled places and environments (a.k.a. The Bubble™️) cannot or won’t become street smart. They can, and obviously many do (also because part of that has to do with personality and temperament).

There’s no right nor wrong, no moral judgment to be made in this. Just what’s more fitting for one circumstance or another, and the price to be paid for each choice. When the rules change, and reality asserts itself (i.e., the going gets tough, which is clearly the case in the post-2020 world), making all efforts to adapt and up the game is a sensible decision.

More art than science?

Let’s go back to the definition of street smarts in the first paragraph: experience and knowledge. That’s wisdom (hence the term street-wise). It’s something acquired over time, through exposure and practice. It’s training the eyes and senses.

Most adults have some level of universal savvy that applies to the streets, naturally – no one is starting from scratch with this. But there’s really no shortcut to learn (or teach), much less a way to fake street smarts (well, maybe a little here or there).

However, there’s still enough theory left there that can be used to accelerate things if one’s willing to apply and expose. And if there’s a way, there’s room for improvement. That’s the mentality.

Below, I list my top 20 street smart tips to help The Organic Prepper reader get started and going, divided into two installments. This is the introduction and some general guidelines and principles. In the next piece (Part 2), I’ll present more practical advice and actionable strategies.

1. Just don’t be street dumb.

A lot of bad that happens in the streets is opportunistic trickery. Walking around town with your head in the clouds, daydreaming, or like you’re invincible is the total opposite of street smartness.

Hence, not acting and looking like easy prey is already a big, big step in the right direction. And immediately attainable, as it demands just a few adjustments in habits, looks, and demeanor. If there’s a hack, this is it.

Being in the moment, aware, and ready is the essence of street-savvy. If you take heed of #2 below, this should come naturally. Some knowledge on human psychology, believing in (and following) our intuition, and carrying ourselves properly rounds it up, basically. That’s the short of it. If you want more, read on.

2. Be cognizant of evil.

Ignorance doesn’t make us immune but it can make us vulnerable (this holds true for most prepping and survival matters, by the way). So, it all starts by being conscious about and accepting the extent of evil that exists in the world.

Humans are capable of committing the most violent and cruel acts, killing and torturing other people and living beings for the most mundane reasons – or for no reason at all – without a slight hesitation or remorse. Say what you will, that’s how it is.

Even good and decent folks are capable of some really nasty stuff, directly or indirectly. It doesn’t take a full-scale SHTF for evil to the surface: in any circumstance, most people can and do a lot more than we think. You and me included.

3. Be cognizant of lesser (but still harmful) evil.

Humans are natural-born actors: they will play, lie, fake in the most convincing manners, and go to unimaginable extents to swindle, dupe, and trick others as a way to achieve their goals, whichever those might be.

Drug addicts will tell the saddest stories and cry. Panhandlers will fake diseases deficiencies. Mothers will bring their infants to beg. And so on. The opportunists’ playbook is extensive. Nine out of ten times, the objective is not getting help or compassion, just the next “fix” or another immediate reward.

I don’t mean everyone out there is bad or has bad intentions. 

Many, if not most, are genuinely destitute, desperate, hopeless, out of options. Especially in this day and age of choppy waters and growing hardship. They’d do what they can, what they must. And that’s precisely the point: the game in the streets is survival, not play.

Charity is personal, and I believe we should help whenever we can. Just be aware that you may not be helping but rather getting scammed or being set up for something worse. I’ll go over this again in Part 2. For now, assume bad intentions or at least indifference and hostility from anyone out there (again, I said anyone, not everyone).

I concede this may sound overly cynical or even insensitive, especially for those living in more civilized places or among higher standards and decent welfare. It’s not, believe me. And that’s not judging, just pointing to reality. Either way, consider yourself warned.

4. Accept that the world has already changed.

It’s perplexing (and a bit anguishing) to look around and see so many still believing things are ‘coming back to normal.’ Crap is hitting the fan left, right, and center, but millions are still invested in keeping up with the Kardashians.

I mean, the world hasn’t ended, obviously (and most likely won’t), but come on – take a good look around. It’s past time to be a little more serious. Anyway, I have a feeling the situation in Ukraine and its developments – not just the war itself but also the effects on the economy – will soon change that.

(It’s because of this this that you’re going to want to check out our free QUICKSTART Guide on what to eat when the power goes out.)

5. Strip off biases and preconceptions.

We all have our biases and assumptions, all sorts of them. We analyze and judge others based on a specific set of clues and accepted social signs as an evolutionary mechanism to save time mental bandwidth and simplify decision-making.

It’s impossible to get rid of biases completely and definitely. But to be able to observe, learn and evaluate (and ultimately connect with) strangers, we must open our minds, step out of ourselves as much we can, and look at things and people with as little passion and prejudice as possible.

Don’t confuse that with opening up and lowering guard, though. This is more a deliberate and conscious exercise in objective observation and social interaction. Remain present, alert, and vigilant at all times.

6. Street smarts is not about violence.

Many seem to think that. Though the level of physical danger in the streets of even the most peaceful cities in the world is definitely higher than, say, inside a fancy restaurant or upscale office building, that doesn’t mean violence is prevalent.

It’s present and imminent, undoubtedly. But in most mildly civilized places, few situations really come down to any form of physical altercation. The street survival mindset dictates we should be ready to deal with violence – preferably by avoiding, escaping, deflecting, or de-escalating.

Violence should be employed only as a last resort and only for self-defense. Not only for reasons of more immediate risks but also because it has consequences and repercussions (yes, even after SHTF).

7. Not everyone in the streets has street smarts.

Like some people go to school and get degrees but remain stupid and incompetent, just because someone grew up in the streets or around hard settings doesn’t mean he or she is streetwise.

Street people are just like any other subset of citizens: heterogeneous. There are all kinds out there. That said, it’s still important to acknowledge the influence of context: the situation of being in the street may push people beyond their limitations in some ways (for good and for bad).

8. Beware of the baggage.

Be aware and keep in mind that many who live in the streets, or make their living in the streets, may carry “debts” of various natures: drug, gambling, shady transactions, fights, disputes, crimes, among others. This “baggage” follows them all the time, wherever they are.

Being in the company of a stranger or strangers (for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter), we may become liable by association, at risk of sharing this burden somehow, and end up having to answer for others’ deeds along with them. At the very least, having to do some explanation (best case scenario).

Something similar happens in The Bubble™️ (“if you’re seen playing golf with the riches…”). In the streets, however, these dynamics play differently, simply because most there are playing the short-term survival game rather than socializing or networking with a business prospect. Things are more fleeting and fluid.

 I’m generalizing for the sake of simplicity, but you get the idea. The point still stands: you don’t know the past of people you don’t know, and this can have consequences when in the streets. When out there, beware of whoever you partner with, even for short periods.

9. Don’t underestimate other people or threats.

As tough, skilled, and prepared as you may think you are, there’s always someone smarter, bolder, more ruthless, more capable, or simply with bigger teeth and sharper claws out there. Or just in greater numbers.

Also, even when we’re in clear advantage (in case of a direct confrontation), there’s always the possibility of being injured or worse. We never know the outcome of a fight. Keep that in mind and avoid trouble. Don’t act stupid, don’t play Superman. If you want to survive and stay safe, let go of ego and pride.

10. Trust your instincts. 

The mind can be tricked. The heart can be fooled. But the gut will always tell the truth. Maybe not always, but most of us have a reasonably decent and accurate ‘radar’: use it, and it’ll grow stronger and sharper. You’re honing your senses: trust them. If something looks or feels suspicious or shady, turn around.

11. Don’t live in fear and paranoia.

Sure, things can get bad. But fear and paranoia are paralyzing. It makes no sense to stop living the moment to think only about the future. We don’t control any of it, but we can act now. Do what you can, and stop worrying. Have faith in what you’re doing, and also that you’ll be able to handle whatever gets thrown at you.

That’s it for now, look out for part 2 soon.

What are your thoughts on this? What street smarts do you find most important? Let us know in the comments below.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. 

You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor

Picture of Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

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  • Good information! I recommend everyone read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker, which is available for free on the Internet —use the Brave search engine with the words “The Gift of Fear free PDF.”

      • Left Of Bang is great, IMHO it expands and details the concepts presented in The Gift Of Fear. There are others too, (Spotting Danger Before It Sports You, Scaling Force, and many others).

        They´re all great for situational awareness, and it does indeep play a big role of being safe not just in the streets but anywhere. But street smarts is not just that. It´s not just violence either.

        Really dard to explain in depth, I´ll address some more of that in Part 2 but one really must be out there.

    • I’d like to point out that the Internet has been becoming a rather rough neighbourhood, with rules that are often unclear. So apply all the ideas above to the Internet as well.

  • Let’s make a parallel with the life of dogs on the streets.

    The bravest dogs, who run after cars, motorcycles, who threaten people, usually don’t survive for long.

    However, the more discreet, friendlier dogs, in addition to avoiding getting involved in troublesome situations, can even receive help from people and live better on the streets.

    • Not if we´re talking common urban crime. Nothing is personal in the streets, everyone is just another someone out there.

      You may be targeted if the situtation is fviewed as avourable by an attacker, and/or you´re easy (tasty/weak or appearing tasty/weak somehow).

  • 1. Don’t comment on this website because comments are removed and stolen and the commenters ideas are recycled by half-witted nincompoops incapable of coming up with their own ideas. That happened to some of my comments on this site.

    2. Know when to burn bridges. I am a huge fan of burning bridges and getting rid of losers, and I have decided to burn this bridge too.

    • i enjoyed your comments Andrea! don’t go, you have a lot to offer and intelligent insight, even if its not everyone’s cup of tea!
      as for the article, I’m from South Africa, some time ago the most crime ridden place in the world. Here you cannot take things for granted with street smarts, tip: attack your attacker worse than he would, i.e. poke his eyes out if you must, otherwise he may do so..

      • Hi Kurt, also in South Africa in Cape Town. Just getting acquainted with this site. I get the impression prepping is not a big thing here.

  • Well Andrea since you commented on my article, it’s only fair that I reply – even if just to say that you’re absolutely right:

    Anyone who considers him/herself knowledgeable, original and articulate enough to help others should definitely consider submitting full writings to T.O.P. Or perhaps writing a book, ebook or something.

    Commenting is always important and necessary – even if to inspire others to do the above. Either way, I definitely encourage it, by all means. But there are more efficient ways to reach a bigger audience and add to the expertise base (thus helping more people), if that’s the genuine intention.

    Also agree on burning bridges. But only when it’s done with the intent to achieve something really significant.

    Stay safe.

  • I appreciate what you’ve shared, Fabian. I look forward to part 2.
    When my kids were young we lived in some rough parts of town. I woke up to people in my apartment in the middle of the night, landlords being shady and thensome, being trailed home by folks with ill intent, etc. but now it’s a lot worse and I live in between the good, bad and ugly of the city but doesn’t matter. The street smart folks are all around. I’m having to learn at a whole different level how to deal with things.
    I have neighbors who I get a lot of practice learning in how to deal with things, trusting my gut and reading intentions.
    I refuse to live in fear and prefer to learn and to deal with the situations at hand around me.
    Times are coming where it will be more important than ever to know how to deal with situations as they happen.

  • When I was homeless, I followed the same advice as shared on this site concerning riots—“Don’t be there.” You did not find me on the sidewalk. I also have woods smarts so I could set up a camp where casual passers-by wouldn’t find it, and in the morning leave it spotless. I found it much more restful hidden in a park than out on the street.

    Even Central Park in NYC has such places.

    However, in a real SHTF situation, I expect more people will try what I did and I will do again if the situation calls for it.

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