It’s every traveler’s worst nightmare…after months of saving and planning you finally start your holiday only to lose your valuables to a pickpocket or thief, and now you’re stranded in a foreign place with no money or way to get home.
Luckily there are ways to prevent you from becoming a victim and, failing that, minimise your losses so you can continue enjoying your vacation.
Here are 5 tips that will help you do just that…
#1 Recognise that you are a target.
No matter where you go, tourists are always a target for criminals. They usually carry lots of cash and they’re typically distracted because they are focussed on site-seeing.
The best defence is to not look like a tourist at all, but this is often impossible. There are just too many things that will give you away like your accent, outfit or the gear you’re carrying.
The next best thing is to make yourself a less enticing target, there are two ways to go about this:
Firstly, don’t be too flashy. If you wear jewelry or a watch, keep it minimal and don’t bring your most expensive items. Yeah it’s cool if you can afford a Rolex, but its way less cool if that bad boy gets stolen!
And secondly, be aware of your surroundings. Look up from the camera every once and awhile, don’t let anyone too close and, if you’re in a crowded area, make sure you can account for all of your valuables at all times.
In many places the assumption is that all tourists are rich and vulnerable, no matter what you’re doing. But by trying to fly under the radar and being situationally aware, a criminal is more likely to target someone else.
#2 Divide (up your valuables) and Conquer (the pickpockets by enjoying your holiday)
Sometimes there’s no stopping a pickpocket, even if you do everything right. Let’s not forget, this is their day job; this is how they survive! Therefore, it is likely that they are much better at stealing from you than you are at preventing them from taking your stuff…
So does that mean we’re all doomed to get robbed and we should cancel our holidays and live vicariously through the awesome travel content on the Trails social media pages?
Instead, just make sure you don’t carry all of your valuables in one place.
When you go out, only take the cash you think you’ll need for the day and leave the rest at your room. I like to use the safes in the hotel room, but if you don’t trust it, put it in your suitcase and lock it.
I usually bring two credit cards when I go away, one I keep on me and the other stays at the hotel room with the rest of my cash. If possible, it is best that these cards are not connected to the same pool of funds.
During your holiday, your passport is the most valuable thing you have, it is the hardest to replace and it will ruin your trip if it is lost…so protect it at all costs!
I do this by taking two forms of ID on my travels, my passport and driver’s license. The passport remains locked away in the room unless I know that I am going to need it and I use my driver’s license for everything else. An official form of photo ID will work in most circumstances, so there’s no need to risk your most valuable item on a daily basis. If you’re really worried, take your driver’s license and photo of your passport.
Holidays get ruined when a thief steals all of your money or your passport. By separating your valuables you ensure that you minimise your losses.
This strategy served me well when I got mugged in paris. I was walking back to my hotel from the train station when a man jumped out from the shadows and demanded my money, I gave him my wallet and ran in the opposite direction. Luckily I was not hurt in any way.
Although the experience was terrifying, I didn’t actually lose that much as the bulk of my money and my passport were all in my hotel room, far away from the mugger.
It was the middle of the night so I lost the few remaining euros from that day’s budget and one of my credit cards, which I managed to cancel before any money left the account.
#3 Your hotel can help!
As we mentioned in a previous blog post, your hotel can be an amazing resource. It can also be a great way to get access to some local knowledge and make sure you get home safe.
So, once you’re settled into your room, go and speak to the front desk (or if you’re in a fancy hotel, the concierge!) and ask them about the area. They will be able to tell you the places where crime is more prevalent, so you’ll know where to avoid, and give you other tips and tricks to get around.
Another thing to take from your accommodation is a business card. It may seem strange, but I guarantee it will make your life easier. Hotel business cards will typically have their address in english and in the local language. This can be incredibly useful when you’re speaking to a taxi driver and there’s a language barrier or if you’re having trouble with pronunciation, just show them the card and they’ll know where to go! I have used this trick many times, but it was particularly useful in Sri Lanka and Kenya as I am particularly bad at Sinhalese and Swahili (first world problems, am I right?).
#4 Bring a mobile phone…if you weren’t already
Let’s be real, your phone is definitely coming with you on your travels…how else are you supposed to make your friends jealous on social media?
It’s also a great tool that can be used for everything from photography to the storage of important documents.
Ironically, people are the most apprehensive about using their phone as a phone while on holiday. These fears are warranted as international call charges can get pretty ridiculous…I remember getting an astronomical phone bill after a trip to Europe, the charges were attributed to one phone call I received (yes, you read that right, I didn’t even make the call!) from my grandma while I was in London.
That being said, you should always make sure that you have a working phone during your trip. In an emergency situation, you’ll be thankful that you have a way to contact the authorities or local embassy to get you out of a jam…just make sure your grandma knows how to use Whatsapp…
#5 If all else fails, don’t be a hero!
The tips I mentioned before are centred around avoiding danger and minimising your losses after the fact. But what do you do in the moment? How do you stay safe when a mugger is a metre away demanding your valuables?
In a word, cooperate. Give them what they ask for as they are likely to leave you unscathed once they get what they want.
Unless you’re Rambo or Gina Carano (look her up, she’s a beast), you do NOT want to fight them off. It’s just not worth it. If you’ve paid attention to tip #2, then they will only get access to that day’s cash, one of your credit cards and maybe one of your IDs, all of which are replaceable.
No amount of cash, or any one of your possessions, are worth your life…so don’t be a hero and live to travel another day!
It’s important to remember that, although the prospect of being robbed is scary, the chances of it occurring are relatively slim. In fact, many concerns about travel safety stem from being in an unfamiliar environment rather than any actual increase in risk.
That being said, it is better to be safe than sorry! And with these 5 tips, you’ll be well on the way to ensuring that you are the former…
Did we miss anything? What do you do to stay safe on holiday? Let us know in the comments!