The following is a guest post by Monica Stott. If you’d like to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read our submission guidelines.
I recently had a 20 hour bus and boat journey through Indonesia.
I arrived at my destination feeling groggy and tired and … very light. Suspiciously light. My heart dropped while anger fired up inside me as I checked my half empty bag, the bag that I’d clutched protectively to my chest like it was a small child through the whole journey.
Both my camera and my iPod were gone. I was angry that someone had stolen them from under my nose but I was mostly confused. When and how had someone managed to get inside my bag and how could I have been so stupid not to notice!?
After hours of angry ranting, I finally listened to my fellow travellers and found that almost everyone had had a similar experience at some point during their travels.
I found that most people had their belongings stolen from their small daypacks whilst on buses and boats and together we thought of a list of things we’d do differently to avoid ever being robbed again.
Here are my top 9 tips to avoid theft while backpacking:
1. Have backpack security.
Anything from small padlocks, combination locks or full wire meshing will keep a thief away. Even if it is just for show, it will make a thief think twice. I even think that a plastic raincover can help, but at the end of the day, nothing can keep a thief with a sharp knife out of your bag, which leads me to my second point….
2. Don’t have anything worth robbing.
This isn’t always possible, especially as most people like to travel with a laptop and camera, but its the only way to be 100% sure you won’t have anything stolen. I always travel with an old, worthless mobile phone, a small and relatively inexpensive netbook (leave the Mac Air at home!) and I leave all my jewelery at home.
3. Don’t keep anything of any value in your main backpack or suitcase.
Your main bag can be out of your sight for hours at a time and this is a perfect time for thieves. This tip seems so obvious, but time and time again, I have met travellers who have had things stolen from their main bag while it was stored under a bus or on a boat. [Editor’s Note: I met a young couple who had stuff stolen from their bag while atop a bus riding from India to Pokhara, Nepal. Remember, in countries such as those it’s commonplace for people to ride atop buses, so you’re better off keeping your valuables in your daypack where you can at least try to keep an eye on them.]
4. Keep anything valuable in a small bag.
I’d like to emphasize that this should be a small bag so you can literally take it everywhere with you. You should be able to carry this into a tiny toilet cubicle or whilst climbing up the side of a swaying ship. And most importantly, you should be able to take it everywhere without looking suspicious and make people wonder why you won’t let it out of your sight.
5. Keep passports, money and bank cards in a money belt around your waist.
It is virtually impossible for a pickpocket to reach this, especially without you noticing.
6. Carry as little cash as possible.
You often get charged for using cash machines abroad so it’s tempting to to withdraw as much as you can in one go to avoid the fee. I still think that it’s better the get charged $2 for every small withdrawal than to withdraw $200 at once and have it all stolen.
7. Use your online banking.
Avoid having a lot of money in your current account. If your card is stolen, someone could quickly access all your cash. It is best to keep the bulk of your money it in your savings account, which can’t be accessed with your ATM card, and then transfer a small amount over every week or two.
8. Don’t be flashy.
It is inevitable that you will have some valuables on you at some point so hide them away as best as possible. Use small, discreet black headphones and keep your MP3 player in your pocket. I also have a small, cheap camera that I take on nights out or to crowded places where a big camera would be inappropriate.
9. Always use the safe.
If there isn’t a safe in your hostel or hotel room, there should be one available at reception. If you’re leaving money, place it in a sealed envelope with your name and the exact amount written on the outside.
The most important point is to not forget the 9 points before this!
It’s easy to become more relaxed, particularly if you spend months traveling and don’t have any trouble. It’s a horrible thing to say, but don’t trust people you don’t know and be aware that it can be your fellow travelers who have their hands in your pockets.
Safety shouldn’t be something you have to constantly worry about while travelling, so make sure these 9 tips become second nature and they’ll go a long way to ensuring a hassle free trip.
Be prepared for the worst and have photocopies of your tickets and passport saved in your email accounts, and backup your photos on a photo sharing website.
About the Author: Monica Stott caught the travel bug when she was just 10 years old and is currently on a 2 year trip around the world. You can read her tales at: The Travel Hack or on Twitter @TheTravelHack.