This isn’t meant to scare you but rather prepare you (see what I did there) for the fact that happy go lucky travelers are often made targets if they’re not prepared. In many countries you visit, you are viewed as a rich foreigner with endless amounts of cash and resources. While this may not be the case, everything is relative, right? Your iPhone, camera, backpack, money in your pocket and the designer clothes you’re wearing could possibly be equivalent to the annual salary of some of the individuals you will encounter in your host country. If you keep this in mind and prepare accordingly, you should have a wonderful experience.
This being said, you obviously will not fall victim to this because I’m going to prepare you based on my own experiences!
- Tight Fitting Pants: You’re likely wondering where I’m going with this one – but seriously, pickpocketers are incredibly skilled at their craft and if you’re roaming around with loose fitting jeans, sweatpants or a skirt with pockets, you’ll be an easy target and likely won’t even know that you’ve been had. I’m not talking skinny jeans unless that’s your thing, you just don’t want to make it easy for a stranger to get into your pants…pockets.
- Minimal Withdrawals: Take it easy when you head to the ATM to take out cash. It’s easy to pull double or triple the amount you think you’ll need because you want to avoid the $5 international ATM fee, but always remember that $5 is far cheaper than losing the entire bundle. Always ask yourself, “Would I carry X amount of dollars in my pocket in my home country?” If the answer is no, you probably shouldn’t do it in a foreign country either.
- Divide and Hide: When you do pull out money from the ATM, put the equivalent of $10 in your pocket for expenses you may incur within the next few hours and hide the rest deep in your bag, wallet or purse. If you do fall victim to pickpocketing, you’ll feel a lot better knowing you’re out $10 than being out $300.
- Avoid Sketchy Areas: When you come to a bridge and determine that it’s much faster to go under the bridge than climb the stairs and go over…but all the lights are out under the bridge, it’s getting dark out and there are not a ton of people around – don’t be lazy, take the stairs.
- Travel Locks: These are lightweight, affordable and invaluable as a traveler. I’d suggest
locking your bag with a travel lock, preferably the coded type, so you do not need to wonder where your key went. Not only do these locks actually lock your valuables inside of your bag, most guesthouses have lockers you can use and having your own travel lock provides peace of mind while you’re out sightseeing. When you’re in busy areas, the travel lock is also a deterrent to would-be thieves.
- Fake Wallet: Yup, I always carry a fake wallet with me when I travel. Remember the $10 tip from tip number 3 above? Well, I put that $10 right into my old wallet that is full of expired credit cards, small bill currency and a shaming note addressed to whoever steals it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the shaming note but to each their own. So, the idea is – if someone is robbing you in a more aggressive nature, you pull out the wallet and throw it over their head and run the other way. Ninety-nine percent of the time (don’t quote me on this statistic), the thief wants your wallet, not to harm you.
- Second Debit Account: If you are traveling with one ATM card, you’re really putting all your eggs in one basket. If you lose that ATM card, what in the world are you going to do? You could take an advance on your credit card, which is super expensive. You could coerce a friend or family member to wire money down to your current location, which is expensive. Or, you could open a second bank account at the same bank where money can be easily and instantly transferred from one account to the other. This way, you travel with 2 ATM cards and if you lose one, you have another back at the guesthouse to help get you through the rest of your trip.
- Neck Pouch: I know, I know – these are super nerdy, I agree, yet I always travel with one. There are plenty of ways to pickpocket unsuspecting tourists but putting your entire hand and arm down the front of their shirt is not one. I carry my passport, 1 ATM card, 1 credit card and enough money to get me through the day. I am currently 100% at not getting robbed wearing a neck pouch. So even though they are not stylish, they are very practical and you will always know where your most important resources are located while traveling in another country.
- Slash Points: When you pack your bag up for the day and head out into the wild, make sure that you’re aware of what I call, “slash points.” This is anywhere that a thief armed with a boxcutter can cut your bag open and grab your stuff. Use the inside pockets for all valuables and try to keep anything important from touching the exterior walls or the bottom of the bag. If you’re in a crowded market and someone slashes the bottom of your bag, you’d prefer your lunch and water bottle to fall out then your camera and wallet.
- Plain Clothes: Please don’t wear designer clothes, even if they are knockoffs that you purchased abroad. This also goes for baseball hats with team logos, fancy sneakers, and nice watches/jewelry. I’ve found with plain clothes, no logos, and a cheap watch, I’ve been able to blend in during my travels, bringing far less attention to myself.
- Bonus – ABM (Always Be Mindful): I know, that’s the worst acronym ever – I just made it up. Constantly be aware of your surroundings, if there is a shady individual on your side of the street, cross to the other side. When eating at restaurants, make sure your bag is always connected to your person in one way or another. If I can’t set the bag next to me, I’ll put it on the floor with my foot through a strap. Carry a carabiner and hook it to something close. Always be mindful!
Over the years, these are some of the most common issues and prevention techniques I’ve seen to help you avoid falling victim to the most commons ways to lose your valuables.
I’ll leave you with a quick story and a final note…
A friend of mine had his fancy DSLR camera stolen from a guesthouse in Thailand. The thieves removed his memory card and placed it on top of his pillow so he wouldn’t lose all of his memories.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, your iPhone, camera, backpack, money in your pocket and the designer clothes you have on could possibly be equivalent to the annual salary of some of the individuals you will encounter in your host country. If you are robbed, it sucks, I’ve been there and I get it, but instead of being upset, understand that losing your $600 camera is not going to ruin your life.
You are still going to have a roof over your head, you’ll still eat dinner and you still have a ticket back to your home country. Heck, you’ll likely purchase another camera before you even fly back home.
So if you do fall victim to being robbed during your travels, try to put a positive twist on a negative experience and understand that whoever stole from you likely needed it more than you did. I don’t believe those individuals who stole my friend’s camera were being malicious, they probably just needed to put food on the table.