How Not to Get Robbed While Traveling: Part 2
Jul 2, 2009
Part 2: Protecting yourself and your stuff while traveling
You may have read through yesterday’s vicious diatribe on thieves, and how to protect your home while you’re away. Today’s installment will focus on how to protect yourself while away from home. And now, for our exciting conclusion …
- Utilize the hotel safe. It’s there for a reason, and it’s free. Just don’t forget to empty it before you go (tip: leave your wallet or last pair of clean underwear in there – something that you can’t leave without).
- Swap out memory cards. When my good friend Pinguina and I went to Italy, we were (overly) paranoid about losing our cameras, so we brought numerous memory cards with us and kept swapping them out along the way. At the very least, if our cameras got stolen, we wouldn’t lose all of our photos – just the ones on that particular card.
- Upload, upload, upload. My husband usually has to travel with his laptop, and often times he’ll snag the camera from me and upload photos in the middle of our trip. It not only frees up space on the camera, but it means that should I lose my camera before we get home (as I did this week … sigh) we won’t lose all of our vacation pictures, too. If you don’t have the luxury of bringing a laptop with you, just bring the proper cord, and use a local computer to upload your pics to Flickr.
- Be inconspicuous. I don’t mean to suggest that you whisper through your entire trip – just that there’s no need to call unwanted attention to yourself. Be quiet, blend in, and don’t wear any ostentatious jewelry (even if it’s fake). Pinguina and I were in a street market in Florence, and three women were loudly talking and haggling with a salesman. Since they were American, quite a few people were turning and looking at them, and their huge, vulnerable handbags.
- Zip it up, lock it down. The hubby is originally from New York, and as such, he keeps his wallet in his front pants pocket. It’s virtually impossible for a thief to nab it. Likewise, consider cross-body bags (they even make them with slash-proof straps nowadays) and hike that sucker up into your armpit. Or use a woefully unfashionable money belt (NOT a fanny pack). And wrap your camera’s cord around your wrist while taking photos. No thief likes a hard target.
- Love it? Then leave it. There’s no reason to take grandma’s favorite brooch with you on vacation. You’ll stress about losing it the entire time, you likely won’t wear it that much, and it’s not like the brooch needs to see the Empire State Building, anyway. Taking heirlooms and fancy jewelry with you on vacation is just tempting fate (and makes you look like a rich target). Same goes for anything you love a little too much. If you can’t risk losing it, then don’t risk taking it with you.
- Use protection. Err … yeah. Not that kind (that’s a good idea, too, but an ENTIRELY different article). Protect yourself financially – cash can’t be replaced. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Most debit and credit cards, however, have systems in place to protect you from theft and fraud (my grandparents-in-law were robbed in Italy, and in 20 minutes, the thieves racked up over $20k in charges. Fortunately it didn’t cost the two of them a penny). Ditto goes for a lot of traveller’s checks (but who the heck still uses those?). Look into it before you leave, and take all international customer service numbers with you.
- Be aware of your surroundings. I know, it seems like a no-brainer. But if you don’t know a city, it’s easy to end up in the wrong part of it. Wandering into the nasty end of Termini station in Rome isn’t hard if you are just wandering around. So grab a map and do some research. Knowing where you are and what areas you should avoid are a great way to reduce your risk of theft or worse.
- Register with the nearest embassy or consulate. If you find yourself without your wallet, phone, or ID, you could benefit from some serious assistance. https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ Let the Department of State know where you’re headed, and if misfortune strikes, they’ll be able to give you a hand (this is also true if any incidents on a large international scale take place – the government can’t help you if they don’t know where you are).
- Keep bags in sight at all times. If you don’t, your bag will literally be gone before you even realize it. So keep purses on your lap, keep your bag strapped to you (I even read one account of a guy padlocking it to himself), and wear backpacks in the front. Consider a money belt instead of an easy to slash fanny pack. AND DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING IN THE TRUNK. Ever. Period.
- Don’t let your guard down. I’m not saying to jump everytime someone says “boo” or to sleep with one eye open (but how cool would that be?) but as someone who travels a lot, and considers themselves fairly savvy, I can safely say that anyone, anywhere can fall victim to a crime. The second you feel immune and think it can’t happen to you, is the second you become a target.
- Act confident. I know, I know – it sounds like a complete reversal of number 11, right? But just because you’re aware of theives doesn’t mean you have to look like a victim. Look people in the eye, get a hard-ass expression on your face, and tell yourself that fear and paranoia are not going to ruin your trip. People who are victimized often look the part. World-weary bad-asses, on the other hand, make much harder targets.
Of course, none of this stuff guarantees that you won’t be robbed. Sometimes life is a crapshoot. I’ve done some incredibly risky stuff and lucked out (like leaving all my bags in the trunk of a rental car in Italy). Other times, I’ve been prepared to the hilt, and returned home with just the clothes on my back (… and some eyeshadow I grabbed at a drugstore afterwards. I might be going home early, but I’m going home fabulous). But I’m determined not to let it get me down. As my friend Wendy puts it, in the end, it’s just stuff.
And, worse comes to worst, if disaster does strike, you’ll have a story to tell for years. When we were robbed in SF, the hubby and I tried to put on brave faces. It got easier and easier, and we started high-fiving each other about the incident (“Remember when we got robbed in San Francisco? HIGH FIVE!”). It even worked its way into our wedding vows:
So remember: travel is like everything else; you take the good with the bad, and even if it sucks, it’s yours.