How Not To Get Robbed While Traveling
In the four years since I absconded from corporate life, I’ve traveled a lot. And in that time, I’ve thankfully never been robbed, mugged, burgled or had so much as a toothbrush stolen from me. (Here’s the point where I knock on wood and rub my lucky rabbit’s foot because it’ll no doubt happen to me tomorrow now that I’ve stupidly said it out loud …)
Of course, there’s an element of luck at play here so I won’t pat myself on the back too much. I have plenty of friends who’ve lost it all in spite of being even more cautious than me. Nevertheless, I have learned a multitude of skills to help keep my stuff safe on the road.
Here are seven tips for helping you do the same …
#1: Make Your Luggage Unsnatchable
Individually your luggage is easy to run off with. A small purse, daypack or laptop bag is a thief’s wet dream.
The solution is to cluster your bags together in such a way that, even if a thief is able to grab them, it’s unlikely they’ll get very far. To do that, simply connect your luggage into a heavy, unruly mess. I always travel with a few carabiners expressly for this purpose. I latch my daypack to my my main backpack or rolling luggage with at least two carabiners whenever I’m not planning on going anywhere for a while.
If your backpack or camera bag looks bright, shiny and new as the day you bought it, you’re begging for attention. Either dirty or scuff it up so it looks less desirable. Or simply travel with used, crappy-looking bags in the first place. This isn’t for the style-conscious traveler of course, but honestly who cares how good your luggage looks if some thief makes off with it anyway?
#3: Walk Like a Boss
As an outsider, it’s virtually impossible to blend in completely. Whether it’s your clothes, your haircut, the way you speak … something is likely to alert the locals that “you ain’t from ‘round here”.
But you can still look as though you belong. And the fastest way to do that is to master a confident stride and act as if you know where you’re going at all times. Don’t walk around with your head on a swivel, staring awe-struck at all the pretty lights and street signs, like a five year old at Disney World. Look straight ahead, towards your destination and move quickly and confidently.
At the very least, locals will make you for an expat: they know you’re not from there, but they’re less likely to mess with you if they think you’ve got the lay of the land. If locals start asking you where such and such restaurant is in the native language, you’re clearly doing it right.
Whether you’re walking around the city or snoozing on an overnight train, don’t put all your valuables in one place. Disaster professionals call this a “single point of failure” and you want to avoid it at all costs.
The solution is simple: spread your passport, cash, credit cards, plane tickets, travel gadgets, etc. around your person and personal space as much as possible. Stash some in your pockets, in your pack, in your socks, in a stealth travel wallet (the kind that’s ultra thin and is meant to worn under your clothes), etc.
Along those lines, consider a “decoy wallet”. The gist is that you keep a wallet in your pants pocket with just enough cash and cards to fool a mugger into thinking that it’s your only one. Meanwhile, your whole nest egg is safely stashed elsewhere. If you do get mugged, they’re (hopefully) only making off with a fraction of your real stash. (Read more about it on Vagabondish.com)
Be clever about it and you’ll never need to worry about losing all your eggs at once.
.#5: Use Clever, Security-conscious Travel Gadgets
This is a hotbed of discussion amongst seasoned travelers. Some argue that accessories like those from Pacsafe (a company best known for over-the-top security mesh bag protectors like this) only serve to make you an easy target. I’m inclined to agree, as I don’t think it’s necessary to go to such extremes.
There are however more subtle and clever ways to protect your wares. A variety of options exist such as the “Shaving Cream Can Diversion Safe” or the entire line from Clever Travel Companion. Or, our personal favorite, the Brief Safe – real underwear with a hidden compartment and “special markings” to keep prying eyes and hands off your valuables. Disgusting, but pure genius.
#6: Never Be Alone … Even When You Are
If you’re flying solo (literally and figuratively), you’re an instant, easy mark for thieves and muggers. If anyone asks – no matter how friendly or trustworthy they seem – never make it known that you’re traveling alone. You’re always “waiting for a friend” or “your boyfriend’s in the bathroom”. Whatever the lie you need to tell strangers, make it believable and tell it.
#7: Don’t Get Drunk
You don’t really need me to remind you of this, do you? Sure, it’s common sense but I see solo travelers all the time in foreign bars who stumble out the front door completely sauced at closing time.
I get it. It’s hard to say no when you’re crashing a beach bar, toes in the sand, with a sixty cent case of pilsener all to yourself. Still, get drunk in a foreign land – especially if you’re traveling alone – and you’re practically begging to get jumped.
Vagabondish.com founding editor Mike Richard is a Rhode Island native, professional web designer and travel junkie with an unhealthy addiction to backpacking, the great outdoors and seeing the world. He enjoys knit hats, small, declarative sentences and speaking in the third person. His professional credits include “Woman’s World magazine contributor” and having once been interviewed by Tyra Banks (seriously).