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Posted by on Jul 4, 2011 | 28 comments

Avoid being robbed while traveling

When I travel, I am not worried about the language barrier, the different food or the whole cultural shock.  I am not even anxious about getting lost or about some random taxi driver dropping me off in the incorrect place (it has happened so many times).  None of this bothers me.

What is really important to me is my personal security.  In concrete, I try to avoid at all costs being the victim of robbery and similar crimes.  I don’t know about you, but to me being divested of my valuables and money is not the most exciting experience to have in a foreign country.

Thanks God, during my 10 years of travel, I have never been robbed (or worst).  Unfortunately, I know a lot of fellow travelers that go thru this awful experience. 

Sometimes these events are inevitable.  However, I believe there is A LOT you can do to protect yourself and your valuables.  This is why I want to share with you what has worked for me and for other travelers I have met.

  • First, if there are material possessions that you hold dear to your heart or are outrageously expensive, please leave them home. 
  • A country different than yours it’s not the best place to flaunt all your designer clothes and expensive jewelry.  If you start to show off, locals surrounding you are going to notice.  You don’t want to attract additional attention on your person.  It is impossible to blend in a 100% but avoid displays of richness.
  • In the same line, don’t tell locals how much money you make back home or how expensive your house or car are.  Locals are going to be interested about the way of life in your country but learn how to handle these questions without making emphasis on your person. 
  • While exploring exciting new cities, you have to think how you are going to carry your valuables. I avoid purses that hang on my shoulder. Also, try to avoid purses that do not close (do not have zippers).   I use crossbody purses.  It is really difficult for somebody to snatch my purse and run away.   If you are a guy, consider using pants where you can zip up your pockets.  Sometimes, when I need to carry my passport or all my money, I use a money belt.  I use it as an extra layer of protection but I don’t think it is necessary in most cases.  If you hold on well to your things, there should be no problem.
  • I usually do not carry my camera on a camera bag.  I don’t feel carrying a big bag with the letters Sony or Canon prominently displayed. Plus, everybody knows what is inside.  I always put my camera in my crossbody bag.  This is a person like. I realize this may be difficult for people carrying professional cameras and equipment.
  • If you have a big stash of cash, divide it up.  Also, divide your credit cards.  This is obvious but so many people fail to do it.  Take with you what you are going to need for the day and leave the rest in the hotel safe.
  • On your exploring sessions, don’t separate from your belongings if it is not necessary.  How many girls leave their purses on a restroom, fitting room or restaurant?  I have seen this happened many times.  I always keep my purse in direct contact with me.
  • Before leaving your room, organize your belongings – Don’t leave your room trashed out.   Your loud display of goods may be too tempting for people entering your room.  Plus, if something is removed, it may take you long to find out (maybe while you are at another location).  If things are organized, the probabilities of noticing a difference are greater.  While on the road, I put most of my belongings in my suitcase every day.  I closed it and put it on a corner. In that way, I know my things are not on public display.  I know this may sound like a pain in the neck but I realize it’s important (plus I pack light).
  • Lock your suitcases before leaving your room.
  • If you are carrying large amounts of money or expensive electronics, consider leaving them in the hotel or room safe.  If you are staying in a hostel, consider the lockers.  If you don’t want to lose it, secure it.
  • Close your windows, doors and balcony doors.  I have seen so many people robbed because they left their balcony door open.
  • A lot of people use the “Do not disturb” sign to keep people out of their room.  Even if you put this sign on your door handle, there is no guarantee people are not going to enter your room.
  • Be nice to hotel staff.
  • A lot of robberies occur while taking public transportation.  You need to decide if the public options are safe. If not, it is advisable to book private options even if they are more expensive.  Believe me, I know about this.  I try to make use of public transportation as much as possible.  Some trips have gone terribly wrong (like in overcrowded buses where you don’t know what is going on, shady guys selling stolen goods, drugged people making a show or witnessing actual robberies).   A combination of lack of research and a desire to save money has gotten me into trouble.  Therefore, make sure you know what are you getting into (pay more attention if you are carrying all your things).
  • Make sure you use taxis belonging to reputable companies.  Guidebooks, hotels or hostels can provide you with this information.  I don’t want to say this but you can easily get in trouble if you don’t follow this advice.  For me taxi drivers, are some of the most fun and interesting people you can meet while traveling.  Taxi rides can be described as experiences.  However, do not put yourself in danger (to save money or whatever).  It is not cool to find out you have been taking pirate taxis (not registered) during your whole stay in a place (yes, it happened to me).
  • Get an idea of the atmosphere of a city’s neighborhoods.  Some are ok to visit, some not.  Some are safe at day but not at night.  Some are desolated on the weekends.  Get a good understanding of these aspects and plan your sightseeing or walks accordingly.
  • Follow local’s advice.  If a local tell you not to take a particular street or not to go to a place at night, follow what they say. They know more than you.
  • Be careful with how much alcohol you ingest – I don’t have a problem with this because I don’t drink.  I am not here to preach but we have to recognize that an excessive ingestion of alcohol suppress your senses.  Thieves looking for opportunities have a tendency to attack weak and indefense people.
  • Walk around with confidence and security – As said before, delinquents don’t want to bother with strong people.  If you project assurance, they will probably pick something easier to fool.
  • Be aware of cute and innocent beings (like kids) who may want to distract you, while others rob you.
  • If you start to notice that things are getting rough around you, get out of there.  Similarly, if you have a hunch about certain place, follow your intuition and move on to a safer place.
  • Do not hesitate to ask.  If you have doubts about a place or a transportation method, ask.  Locals (like in the hotel or hostel reception) will likely respond your questions properly.  I know that sometimes you don’t want to look clueless or stupid.  But a simple question can help you to enhance your (or your family) security.

What other advice can you provide on this topic?  What has worked for you?

28 Comments

  1. Awesome post! We use secret cross-body wallets as well, very useful for keeping important valuables when traveling. 🙂

  2. You covered it pretty muxh all. Like you, I don’t drink alcohol, which is a HUGE advantage. Soft drinks only out of a closed can or bottle to avoid anything being slipped in. And my additional advice: attend a self defence course before you set off and keep practising.
    inka recently posted..Galicia’s dramatic Coast of DeathMy Profile

    • Mark,

      I kind of do the same. I try not to take off my bag while using the restroom or sitting to eat. It is not the most comfortable thing to do but I prefer to keep my things in direct contact with me.
      Ruth recently posted..Avoid being robbed while travelingMy Profile

  3. Great tips! I also have a fake wallet with some old credit cards, bank cards, etc. with a few US Dollars. I’ve never had to use it thankfully, but I always have it when I travel in case I get robbed I don’t need to give over my real wallet…
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..Growing Old Before My TimeMy Profile

  4. Great tips. I’ve been robbed in my hotel room while sleeping, and was so grateful that I had my cash and credit cards separated as at least I still had money to finish my trip. I’ve never thought about locking my suitcase in my hotel room, but that’s a good idea.
    Laurel recently posted..My Favorite Castle Ruins in GermanyMy Profile

    • Huhu. That is freaky, being robbed while sleeping. Good that you had money to continue your trip.

      I have heard tips on using door stops to make sure nobody enters your room while you are inside. Others said this is not a good idea because it difficults rescue teams efforts in an emergency situation. It is just an option that can be considered.
      Ruth recently posted..Avoid being robbed while travelingMy Profile

  5. A good list of sensible tips here Ruth. Even the most experienced travellers can become complacent from time to time and need a friendly reminder. I especially like your tip about using your intuition or gut instinct which can be all too easily ignored.
    Thaizer recently posted..Red Shirts Celebrate Election VictoryMy Profile

    • Thaizer,
      You are right. People can get complacent from time to time. I think we should always be alert (not afraid) because we are more vulnerable in foreign surroundings. That sense of awareness can make all the difference.
      Ruth recently posted..Avoid being robbed while travelingMy Profile

  6. This is a great list full of useful tips. While many I already do, it is good to see these tips again and again so I don’t get lazy! It is always a good idea to watch how much alcohol is consumed even at home. I really hate to read about young women who get into trouble because they had way too much to drink. Caution is always the best way to go.
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Independence Day Celebrations across EuropeMy Profile

    • Debbie,
      It is true. The least you want to do while on vacation or traveling is to organize your things in the hotel room or to keep an eye on your things all day. I confess it is not my favorite thing to do. I also know that I have to do it . Like you said, I should not get lazy.

      I also know a lot of girls that have been on great danger because of alcohol consumption. That is why I wrote that particular tip.
      Ruth recently posted..Avoid being robbed while travelingMy Profile

  7. Everyone I met who was robbed while traveling has\d the incident take place while they were sleeping in a train station! Even if you think you’re sleeping on your bag or are otherwise secure, watch out! I try to avoid sleeping while in transit for this reason. 🙂
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..The Seven Links ProjectMy Profile

  8. Nicely done Ruth, I have to say the two things I’ve had difficulty with in the past is one keeping my money in different places. I get rushed and just forget sometimes. The thing is asking about more questions. I feel like I never ask enough I just have to get over it.
    I am very good about not wearing designer clothes, but that easy for me as I never buy anything expensive anyway. :p
    Scott – Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Nepal in Black and White – Photo EssayMy Profile

    • Sometimes, I also forget about dividing the money. My husband remembers me to do it. Or we split what we use during the day. Good to travel with good company.

  9. I have been robbed twice, my best advice is not to get too paranoid. Sometimes you do all the tricks but you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Getting robbed isn’t great but it could be much worse.

    • You are right, sometimes this is unavoidable. That is why you have to be prepared in case it happens. I think there are more probabilites of lossing stuff than getting robbed.
      Ruth recently posted..Vancouver’s Viceroy: Day 2 (Scene 2)My Profile

  10. A couple of things I would add to this. For one, use a money belt in certain situations. I always use mine when traveling between cities or on long journeys. I don’t use it everywhere I go but if you have a lot of cash and you have everything with you (can’t leave it locked up in a room), make sure it is as concealed as possible. Also, many hotel rooms have safes which you can store you stuff. Also, I keep my camera in my pocket (doesn’t work for big DSLR cameras though).
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Airport guide for travelers – flights, apps, guides, technology, sleeping, and moreMy Profile

  11. i love your post. this is really informative, hope to hear from you more. thanks a lot.
    charlotte recently posted..Luxury Ski ChaletsMy Profile

  12. great tips ana.. i never put my wallet in my back pocket..i stash my money in my pocket..and just a few dollars in my wallet..the hassle of have to make a police report,identity card missing,banks..to much things to do..
    iwanbie recently posted..Kuala Lumpur Sentral StationMy Profile

  13. This is an informative blog pot, Thank you Ruth for sharing this thoughts of yours…
    hannamay recently posted..Luxury Chalet RentalMy Profile

  14. very informative tip! confidence! confidence! i try as much as possible to be confident whenever am in a new city, people may take advantage of you if they see as if you l are confused or something and they may end up giving you wrong directions, i also don’t ask directions from anybody on the streets, mostly i ask security officers if i feel like am getting lost

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