Getting mugged or having your gear stolen when on your travels is one of many travellers worst fears. Imagine if it was you for a moment. Your life was in that pack! How will you cope with no money or bank cards? How dare those scumbags put you through that? Wouldn’t you like a way to help prevent it from happening in the first place?
Backpacking around the world is generally very safe and the chances of anything happening to you or your belongings are on the whole pretty low. Saying that, pickpockets and thieves are everywhere and there is always a small chance of you becoming a victim, this is true at home as well as when you are travelling, but when you are abroad the consequences can seem a lot more severe and scary because you are far out of your comfort zone. Staying safe – and keeping your belongings secure – on your travels is all about knowing how to reduce those chances even more. A lot of this boils down to situational awareness and knowing how to recognise and avoid potentially risky situations, but there are also a few handy tricks you can employ to outwit thieves and prevent the scumbags from stealing your stuff.
Use a Pacsafe or a cable lock.
This is a completely obvious tip, but it is one that so many people simply forget or overlook. Many thefts are opportunistic, so if thieves see something they can walk away with, odd are they probably will. So deny them that opportunity!
Basically the times when your stuff is likely to get stolen, in an unsecured dorm or in transit for example, simply tie your pack to something secure and people can’t walk away with it. Wrap a steel net around it, and people can’t get in. It really is that simple.
Don’t let your valuables out of your sight in transit.
Checking your pack when flying is the obvious exception here as you don’t really have much choice unless you are travelling with just a carry on, this tip applies more to overland travel.
Long distance or overnight buses and trains are a staple of backpacker life and many travellers have a constant love/hate relationship with them. It is common when travelling in this way to store your pack in the hold underneath the bus or on top of the roof or in various luggage compartments. Unfortunately this fact is well known by thieves too, and a common scam is to have someone rifle through all the packs in the hold and grab any valuables whilst the bus is in transit then do a runner when the bus makes one of its very frequent stops, or others will quite simply pick your pack up along with their own as they walk away. The stops are often frequent and the crowds and confusion make a very easy smokescreen for any potential thief. Can you really keep an eye on every single person grabbing their luggage and walking away at every single stop? By the time you realise your stuff is gone you are half a country away.
If you have a daysac full of week old underwear that frankly should be condemned and burned anyway, then it doesn’t really matter so much. But if you put your whole backpack in the hold with your important documents, electronics and money stash in, then you are asking for trouble.
Just keep your belongings with you, especially your important ones. Put it on the seat next to you or at your feet, but don’t let it out of your sight when in transit. Don’t assume however that because it is under your seat or above you in a luggage rack that it is safe though, it can still easily be at risk. Combining this tip with the first one above, and securing your pack to your seat or even yourself with a cable lock will also prevent anyone from walking off with it when you are distracted or asleep.
Separate your sources of money and cards, and always have a back up.
I seriously can’t emphasize this tip enough, it is one of the easiest and simplest ways to minimise any damage if the worst does happen yet so many travellers still don’t do it!
All you have to do is have numerous stashes of money and card throughout your person and your pack, and keep your cards separate from your cash. Basically speaking, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
By all means have a wallet or purse with a small amount of money and a card in, but also have a small amount of daily cash in a separate pocket to make small purchases with (so you aren’t flashing huge wads of cash about in your wallet or purse every time you buy a mango juice), a stash of money and a card in your daypack (maybe with your passport) and even another stash of emergency cash in your main pack.
The specific details of how you organise this are obviously down to you and how you travel, but the point is if the worst happens and you do get robbed or something does go missing, you haven’t lost everything!
Have a secret stash.
A secret pocket or inner pocket is a good idea for a small emergency stash of money and a card, especially if they have a zip and a button to help keep them secure. The aim here is to make it as hard for muggers to know what you have on you and where, and as hard for pickpockets as possible to take your stuff, and you do that by putting up avariety of barriers to a quick, easy snatch.
I’m personally not a fan of those bastardised sons of the bum bag – or fanny pack for the American readers (stop giggling at the back!) – the travel security belt. They are – for me at least – uncomfortable, often leave you really sweaty, and if someone is going to mug a tourist that is the first thing they are going for! Even worse is the neck hanging ones as you are potentially giving your mugger a weapon to throttle you with!
There are exceptions to this rule now though and over the last few years amazing and genius alternatives to the traditional bum bags have been developed, such as this anti theft travel belt which is actually just a canvas belt no one will pay any attention to (and not a stupidly obvious bum bag which a mugger will make a beeline for), and for women, this bag that fits around the bra and sits on the torso (again, not an obvious place muggers will look).
But other than these exceptions, the principle of hiding small stashes around you is sound too, and there are a variety of ways you can place money in a hidden or inside pocket with variety of clothes that have these options – or even inside a bra for female travellers – where pickpockets or thieves won’t be able to get them. Not easily, anyway.
Don’t stand out.
Again, this really should be common sense, but so many first time backpackers fresh off the plane wander around with fancy watches, nice jewellery or a range of very expensive tablets, smartphones and other gadgets on display. You may as well put up a huge neon sign saying ‘steal all my stuff!’
Just keep the flashy tech under wraps and don’t advertise it. Hide that branded neoprene camera or laptop case inside a battered, cheap bag off a local market that thieves wouldn’t look twice at. Replace that really nice watch your mum bought you with a cheap digital one off the same market. It’s pretty simple stuff, but it will make you less of a target!
Related very closely to this is how you wear your valuables on you, don’t have your wallet clearly half way hanging out of your back pocket or you will be a target for pickpockets. Don’t have your handbag casually slung over one shoulder, you will be at risk of bag snatching which is relatively common in many areas. Instead put the strap over your head and shoulder which will make it much harder to take off you. Just take a second to think how you wear things and present yourselves to potential thieves.
Remember, the odds are that you will be absolutely safe on your gap year adventures and the odds of being mugged, robbed or pick pocketed are relatively low in most situations, these are just a few easy little tricks that you can use to help reduce any potential risk and keep your belongings safe and secure when backpacking the world.
What about you? What tricks do you use to keep your stuff safe on the road? Have you ever had anything robbed or stolen?
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If you want to gain a more in depth knowledge and understanding about how to keep yourself safe on the road as well as research and understand some of the risks and dangers that you may face out there, then you should get hold of a copy of Gap Year Safety. The book that is here to reassure, support and encourage you to follow your dreams of travelling the world and give you the tools and knowledge on how to stay safe in the process.
Gap Year Safety is the essential, comprehensive safety resource for anyone about to embark on their first gap year. Delving much deeper into issues such as how not to fall prey to common scams around the world, how to stay safe and not become a victim, how to recognise and deescalate potentially violent situations with the unique REACTE system, and what to do and where to get help if things do go wrong, Gap Year Safety is an invaluable resource to keep yourself safe on your travels.
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