Clearly we are living in terrifying times. As a result, many would-be American tourists are canceling or postponing their international travel plans out of fear that they may be targeted by the criminal element present in so many tourist-friendly destinations.

I am here to tell you: this fear is completely unfounded. Please do not let the fearmongering press (who embellish tales of bloody violence abroad to serve their own financial bottom line) dissuade you from experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in an exotic locale.

As a reformed predator of tourists, I feel it is my duty to make amends for all of my past wrongdoings by sharing some simple tips for traveling safely. After all, who better to teach you how to be safe than someone who’s spent years studying your weaknesses?

And, again, just to be clear, I am no longer a criminal, nor am I in any way making money through kickbacks paid to me by criminals I’ve trained to continue my former criminal enterprise. I mean… come on… that would be stupid, right? And American tourists are obviously too smart to be lured into danger by someone like me… someone who is so totally not a criminal or anything… but I digress.

Let’s get back to keeping you safe out there.

1. Research local customs and traditions.

This is critically important. Let’s use Brazil, my old stomping grounds, as an example.

When visiting Brazilian restaurants, it is customary for tourists to keep their wallets and/or purses open and on top of the dinner table while dining. It is also customary to dine blindfolded.

Tradition also dictates that tourists should always accept drinks from strangers, regardless of how poison-y they may smell. And make sure you drink every last drop. Anything but an empty glass is an insult, and you certainly don’t want to be rude to people who are giving you free drinks.

2. Be proud to be a tourist: don’t be scared to stand out in a crowd.

Wear your flashiest jewelry, prominently display your bulging money belt, and let your camera dangle around your neck. If you’re lost, pull out the biggest map you can find and spread it out right on the sidewalk. Someone will be along to help you shortly — guaranteed!

By the way, it’s much smarter to carry as much cash as possible, rather than waste your time procuring traveler’s checks. Carrying heaping mounds of cash illustrates that you understand and respect the local economy and its merchants.

You should also adopt the habit of keeping your credit cards on your person at all times, along with a list of all of your PIN numbers and passwords to all of your accounts. In fact, just to be safe, go ahead and always carry a list containing the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all your wealthy friends as well as the names and locations of the schools currently attended by your children.

3. Don’t just hit the usual tourist-trap destinations – explore, be adventurous.

Poorly-lit streets and dead-end alleys offer tourists an authentic local experience that they just can’t get on professional tours of museums, historical monuments, and parks.

And it’s okay to travel alone. By all means, go sightseeing by yourself. Give hitchhiking a shot. If possible, do most of your traveling at night. Seek out activities and places that are unanimously ignored by travel and tourism professionals.

In Brazil, for example, eager travelers should feel secure consulting any man with a neck tattoo of a winged dragon ferociously humping a bald eagle. These men are travel experts that I have trained myself. Believe me, they know how to add excitement to your vacation. They will show you things you never believed possible and — literally — leave you breathless. Best of all, there is no need to tip them. Trust me, they do fine.

4. Your choice of accommodations is unimportant.

There really is no such thing as a “bad” hotel. If vacationing in Brazil, do not be surprised if your room does not include certain luxuries, like room service, clothes hangers, ironing boards, hair dryers, safes, a security staff, or doors.

Do not fear the enormous wild chickens with razor-sharp talons that gallop freely among the halls; likewise, be respectful of the roaming hordes of shoeless vagrants who hunt them for sport and sustenance. And if you should somehow kill a wild chicken, even by accident, without a license or special permission… well, let’s just say… you had better be prepared to eat it. And I mean all of it.

5. Do not be scared off by urban legends about organ trafficking.

We’ve all heard the story: a tourist takes a blow to the head, then wakes up later in a tub full of ice with a stitched-up incision wound on his or her abdomen. Pure fiction.

First of all, the whole ice bath thing is scientifically invalid. Only the extracted organ needs to be put on ice. Not the patient/victim. I mean, think about it. When have you ever heard of someone coming out of surgery in a hospital, only to be whisked away to a bathtub full of ice water? Medically speaking, the patient/victim wouldn’t benefit in any measurable way from an ice bath.

Not that I know from experience what happens in the world of organ trafficking or anything. I mean, how could I? Organ trafficking is so gross and wrong and illegal. Thank God it’s only an urban legend and absolutely not real in any way.

Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be sure to enjoy a safe holiday excursion abroad. Oh, and you should probably forget I even mentioned organ trafficking… which doesn’t exist.