Theft is never fun, and if your money or belongings are stolen while travelling, it can cast a shadow over the entire trip.
While insurance goes a long way to mitigate your loss, and interactions with police make a great story down the road, it’s infinitely better to do what you can to avoid being robbed in the first place. There are plenty of things you can do to improve your travel security.
Don’t leave home without a padlock
Combination-lock padlocks are the security-conscious traveller’s best friend. Avoid locks that require a key, as they are easily picked and a real hassle if you lose the key! Choose a TSA-approved combination lock, and make sure the combination is easy for you to remember but not obvious to guess.
When shopping for luggage, make sure your backpack or suitcase can be locked using a padlock, or consider a lockable outerbag.
Take less stuff
The less you have, the less you have to lose. Plus, you’re more likely to notice immediately if something is missing and can take steps to recover it.
We travel with just carry-on sized bags, which we keep within sight as much as possible. This means airport baggage handlers don’t have the chance to slip small items out of side pockets, and anyone trying to slip off with a small bag while we’re distracted with a larger one is out of luck.
Keep things locked in your main bag
Wherever you’re staying, it’s a good idea to keep as much of your stuff in your bag at all times. If you’re staying with friends or family, this keeps things nice and tidy, and if you’re in a hostel you can lock up your bag for extra security. Try to put valuable gear in the same place each time so you know where to find it and so that you’re instantly aware if something goes missing.
If you’re staying in a hostel that provides lockers, make use of them! Use your padlock rather than the ones provided for extra security.
Use the safe
If you’re staying with relatives or couchsurfers, your stuff should be relatively secure, just don’t leave valuables in plain sight. In a hostel or hotel though, your best bet is to make use of the safe. Store your electronics and extra cash there, and your passport if you’re in a country where you don’t need it with you all the time.
Keep things hidden
Twelve years after I was given a money belt as a gift, it still travels with us. These days it’s more of a storage device than a security one, as we’ve found new (and more comfortable) ways of keeping our documents secure. However, I used it for years to carry my passport, credit card, and spare cash, and liked the feeling of security it gave me.
If you choose to use one, it’s important to keep it totally hidden — don’t keep going into and out of it. Have a coin purse in your pocket with your daily cash in it, and go to the toilet or into a bank if you need to access more. Go with a waist belt over a neck pouch; these are quite uncomfortable and the strap is a lot more visible. You could also consider a belt with a secret money compartment.
If, like us, you aren’t too keen on a money belt, just keep your valuables out of sight as much as possible. Choose clothes with zip pockets whenever possible, and keep those zips done up! Don’t flash your smartphone around, and keep your wallet as slim as possible to make it less visible.
Be smart with your day bag
We’ve been robbed twice over our ten years of travel, and both times the thieves took advantage of my lack of vigilance and took things out of my shoulder bag. It’s fine to keep valuables in a day bag or handbag, just watch it very carefully. Put valuables right down the bottom, keep it locked if possible, and never put anything of value in the front pocket (this was my mistake). The idea is to make it difficult for a pickpocket or bag-slasher to get your most important items.
If it’s a backpack, keep the zips zipped right to the side, not to the top, as a grab and pull could completely open it. You’re usually okay to wear it on your back, but flip it to the front when you’re in dangerous areas. The same goes for shoulder bags — get into the habit of wearing them at the front of your body rather than the back.
Travel security doesn’t have to be difficult — just be aware of your belongings, take some common-sense steps to keep your stuff safe, and your things will be that much more likely to come home with you.
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