Mardi Gras is a glorious time for New Orleans: merriment, laughter, and spectacle abound all around. It can be dazzling and intoxicating.
It can be so bewildering, in fact, that it can lead you to let your guard down to the point where someone can easily take advantage of you. For those joining the city's Mardi Gras celebration and those who have been here their whole lives, it's important to stay aware of your surroundings and keep yourself safe.
Keep your cell phone charged, and bring your phone charger (wall outlet and cord) with you. You may also want to carry a fully-charged backup battery. If you find yourself in an unfamiliar part of town or in a bad situation, you don't want to be caught without the ability to call for help. Some phones also have an SOS system that can send text messages and your location to certain contacts in your phone.
Beware of pickpockets. Keep your phone, charger, keys, cash, cards, etc. in a small secure bag like a theft-proof fanny pack or a traveler's wallet that goes under your shirt. If you are carrying a purse, use one with a zipper and keep it zipped up and secured under your arm. Don't hang the purse on the back of your chair at restaurants and bars where it can be accessed by others. Large purses may make you more of a target, so use a smaller bag and only carry essential items. Keep your wallet in your front pocket where it's more difficult for a thief to grab without you noticing.
Do not wander down empty streets late at night or in the early morning hours. This is the time when you are more likely to be targeted for a crime. Stay in populated, well-lit areas, and travel in groups of people if you do walk around town late at night.
Do not get so intoxicated that you become incapacitated. New Orleans is well known for its abundance of alcohol and other substances. It's very easy to become so drunk that you don't understand what's going on around you. Only imbibe when you're with your group. Keep a hotel room key or something with the address of where you're staying on you at all times. If you get so intoxicated that you can't find your way back, someone may help you find where you're staying using those things. Eat large meals with carbs and fiber before drinking. This will help to slow the absorption of alcohol and keep you more coherent.
Beware of scammers. Don't walk away from the street or away from your group to go with someone you don't know. You may encounter scammers who use the old "I'll bet I know where you got them shoes" trick or something similar. You'll answer, "Where?" and the scammer will say, "On your feet." After you laugh about it, the scammer may demand money from you because he "bet" you.
Use a map service or paper map to navigate. Plenty of people are happy to point you in the right direction if you ask politely (but please don't ask where the French Quarter is when you are in the French Quarter). Take time to study a map and figure out the lay of the city: where your hotel is, where Bourbon Street is, where the restaurants you want to visit are, and where the parades are. Wandering around and looking confused can make you an easy target for criminals.
Carry a non-lethal personal protection device like pepper spray. If you feel that you are in a threatening situation, pepper spray can give you a moment to escape the situation.
Keep your drinks safe. Women especially need to guard their beverages from being drugged. Someone can easily and quickly reach over while your head is turned to do it. Do not leave your drink unattended, ever. Use a lid when it's possible or carry your own water bottle with a lid to put all of your beverages in. You can order a glass cover like the Nightcap to put over your beverages to protect them from being spiked.
Blend in with your surroundings and look like a local. There will be a lot of people wearing Mardi Gras beads if you're here during the parades. But if you want to look less desirable to thieves, don't wear them. Wearing beads signals that you aren't from here and you're easier to target.
Do not get into cars that aren't licensed taxis or Ubers or Lyfts that you didn't order through the app. Do not get into a vehicle with a driver who says that they drive for Uber or Lyft, but they'll take you for cash. Only get in cars that are on the app, and verify the driver's name before you enter the vehicle.
Do not get too close to moving floats. Although it's a rare occurrence, people have died from being run over by floats. You can lose your sense of balance very easily when you're standing on the side of a moving float. Remain several feet away at least. You'll probably catch more throws father back anyway.
Use common sense. If you wouldn't do it back where you live, you should not do it here. You really don't want to end up at Orleans Parish Prison over Mardi Gras because it will take even longer than normal to get out.
New Orleans is a very fun and accommodating place, but there are dangers here that are found in every major city. Protect yourself, stay aware, and stay safe.