Getting mugged, robbed 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? Here are some essential expert tips to reduce the risk of you being robbed on your gap year.
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, Cable Lock Or Padlock.
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 on a night bus or sleeper train 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 criminal practice 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 just have a daysac full of week old underwear that frankly should be condemned and burned anyway in there, 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.
Seperate Your Sources Of Cash 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 for daily use, but also have your main wallet with an emergency card where no one can get to it and 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) and an extra stash of money and a card in your daypack (maybe with your passport).
Okay, you don’t have to go so overboard and have so many different stashes and hideyholes that you end up losing them but you get the point.
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 a variety 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 to look for! Just don’t wear them, they are obvious targets. 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 security belt have been developed, such as anti theft travel belts 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).
Specifically for women, this Wanderwave bag that fits around the bra and sits on the torso (again, not an obvious place muggers will look) is easily concealable and not so easy to get to.
A great alternative to the bulky everyday wallet for men is these small alloy wallets that can carry your main source of cards and cash but are small, flat and easily concealable in a small pocket (even better if it is a hidden, zipped inner pocket). You can still carry a traditional wallet too with some old cards and a few notes for daily use that you can use as a decoy if the worst does happen, but at least your main stash will remain undetected and safe.
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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Excuse Buster Series Part 4: It’s Too Dangerous To Go Backpacking.
How To Outsmart And Avoid Pickpockets And Thieves On Your Gap Year.
Solo Female Backpacker Safety Tips.
Solo MALE Backpacker Safety Tips.
Travel Safety Advice. The Good, The Bad And The Downright Crazy.
Buy The Books.
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Solo Female Backpacker Guide To Safely Travelling The World.
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One To One Safety Advice.
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These tips will come in handy in a few months – I have finally taken the plunge! It’s not quite backpacking travelling, but I am going to Sweden for a few days to meet up with some friends for the first time, and I’ll be taking a backpack, which counts, right? 😉 I’m very excited as it’s my first ever trip abroad, and thank you for all the tips and advice on here and in your book!
Absolutely it counts! ;D Backpacking doesn’t have to be for a whole gap year or more! It’s a way of travelling, not a time frame. I’m really glad you found the tips useful, and hope the book was even more so?
Have a great trip to Sweden, hopefully it will just be the start of your backpacking adventures!
Yay 🙂 It has been very good thanks, I keep dipping in and out when I have a few minutes, very helpful for someone who has never travelled before, and I like your writing style too.
I think it will be a good one – flying to Gotland, three days there, then driving down into Denmark with a few friends, exploring for a day around Billund, then flying back the morning after. Should be a nice warm up journey!
I really like that wire mesh idea–especially since I’ll be traveling with some valuable camera gear. I bought a second, smaller camera backpack to camera my electronics in, but I’m still very uncomfortable, honestly. I like your tips! A lot of common sense goes a long way.
Thank you Rashad, I’m really happy to hear you like the tips and I appreciate the compliment! There are plenty more in the books! ;D Haha! The steel nets are absolutely amazing, I have used one myself for my main pack ever since I started travelling over ten years ago. They do have different sizes too, including ones specifically for smaller packs/camera bags, and they include an attached steel cable lock so you can tie it to something (such as I did with my pack on the overnight train in the picture above).
Good tips dude! For a second i thought that steel cage lock was just a huge tangled up web of thin locks… haha!
Thanks, haha, no it is a net, I can see the resemblance though! ;D
I always keep our valuables to a bare minimum and keep them on me, it’s one of the situations where a black belt comes in useful – I’m always aware 😉 😉 Good advice though cheers!
I totally agree, I have two first dans and more myself, so I am aware of just how much confidence, ability and awareness training can give you. So many people don’t have that basic awareness or the training though. Thanks for the comment, I really do appreciate it.
I have a pacsafe purse that I adore! Slashproof and just big enogh to hold all I need for the day.
Sounds perfect! Thanks for the comment. 🙂
We bought a really cool lock called an Alarmio for our journeys. We had all our important things in one rucksack and we attached the alarm to it. It’s ultra sensitive and can detect if it is moved or rifled through and it sets this horrible alarm noise off. It was great for bus journeys and trains when we would both sleep and couldn’t keep and eye on our stuff. Just have to play around with its sensitivity settings on bumpy journeys.
Really? Wow, never heard of those. I couldn’t leave my important stuff out of sight though, but I can see the use of an alarmed lock!
It’s pretty cool. We would recommend it for all travellers. 🙂
Good stuff, Mike. Especially the tiger. 🙂
I carried an old decoy wallet with me on my last longer trip, with some small local bills and a couple expired credit cards. The plan was to throw it at a would-be thief if one ever demanded my wallet. It never happened, of course.
The vast majority of problems seem to occur at nightclubs. No need to be paranoid, but nightclubs really are one place to bring your packed wallet.
Haha, my tiger was awesome!
The decoy wallet is a great trick! I’ve used it myself and kept my cash and cards (apart from a few small bills and an old library card) separate. And that is the thing, odds are you won’t have anything happen to you at all, but it is about preparing and reducing those chances even further. I’ve heard of a lot of scams and cons that target travellers at nightclubs too, great tip. Thanks for the comment Bob. 🙂
Great tips! I actually never got robbed abroad, but twice in my own country. I’m always well prepared when traveling, but the decoy wallet is a new idea to me, will ‘steal’ the trick. 🙂
That’s a big point many people forget Nina, quite often crime rates (and risk) are actually much lower in places they travel to than they are in their home towns/cities! And this is backed up by a lot of statistical evidence (something I talk about in my book, as I studied this as part of my first degree). And you are quite welcome to any of the tips you find here! 🙂 Safe travels!
Great tips. We have also used a pacsafe and loved it. Like you, we never used it to walk around cities (some do!), just to keep our gear locked up in hotel rooms. And we second Bob’s tip of a decoy wallet, works great!
It is such a great product! I have seen people walk around with it too but that really is overkill. And you’re right, the decoy wallet is brilliant, especially when backed up with the separating your money and cards tip. Thanks for the comment!
Good post. I bought a Pacsafe a few years back. Cons: Homeland security gave me a hard time about it when I transited through the US (metal+wires+dumb security people = trouble). The other problem is that they are heavy and when not in use just make the backpack that much heavier. So the long and short of it was that after one trip where we brought them (and never used them) we would leave them at home.
We’re about to leave for a year’s trip. I’m still thinking about it, I just wonder if it is worth it for the above reasons. I think if you’re staying on a dorm it’s almost a must. But we’ll be staying in rented apartments…
I think it’ll be one of those last minute decisions when packing my bag…
Thanks Frank. I share your frustration with American immigration! I replaced the supplied padlock with a TSA approved padlock and had no problems. I agree they do add a fair weight to your pack, which can be hard if you are trying to minimalise weight. However I have always found that the security benefits outweigh the negatives, and because I travel light anyway the extra weight wasn’t a problem. I do agree though that it isn’t necessary in every situation. Obviously staying in your own secured apartment wouldn’t necessitate you using one, but to be fair they are for the situations the majority of backpackers will find themselves in such as long distance overland travel, staying in hostels and so on. Thanks for the comment. 🙂
Great advice! Not standing out is very imporant. Taking out the one-square-meter map is definitely a dead giveaway.
Thank you. It is! ;D
Separating cards and cash, and then ensuring a back up is definitely one of the top tips there. We always make sure we’ve got secret little piles of cash hidden throughout our bags and clothes. Best not to put all your eggs in one basket. Great article!
Thanks! I hope people find the tips useful. 🙂
Great tips, thank you. I had the wire mesh but did get a bit complacent with it as time went on, which was silly really considering the valuables i had. Taking even more this time round so will definitely dust it off.
Thanks Brad, I appreciate the compliment. 🙂 It is so easy to become complacent when travelling, I think most of us do from time to time. Staying aware and using your knowledge and common sense is more important than anything. Safe travels.
Thanks for these! Your tips really are amazing, and the book was so helpful too! So many useful insights. Thank you.
Thank you Kate, I’m really happy you found it useful. Safe travels. 🙂
Good tips Mike! I also carry an evil eye on my small backpack, you never know how superstitious the thief would be 🙂
Thank you. Haha that’s certainly a new one on me, it couldn’t do any harm I suppose! ;D Thanks for the tip!