Regardless of whether you are at home or on the road, theft is an unfortunate fact of life. However, there is no doubt that we tend to be more conscious about the possibility of being robbed or having our stuff stolen while traveling. Strange surroundings combined with unfamiliar people and customs often give the traveler little time to stay ‘on guard’ and keep their belongings in check as they take in the sites and sounds of a new land.

Becoming paranoid is not the way to avoid becoming the victim of theft. Criminals can (and do) make a sustainable living by taking that which is not theirs. But by preventing the opportunity for a thief to prey on you, the risk is significantly reduced. Use some common sense and appear in control of what ever situation you are in: avoid looking lost or confused, pay attention to your surroundings and be discreet when using money or revealing your valuables. Combine this with the tips below and you will surely reduce your chances of getting ripped off by thieves:

  • always use a concealed money belt for both your finances and your passport
  • leave your jewelry at home
  • wrap rubber bands around items in your pocket to slow down pick-pockets
  • use the lockers and/or safety deposit boxes offered at some hotels and hostels with caution. Keep your real valuables with you at all times. Hostel/hotel convenience safes and lockers should only be used for replaceable items.
  • don’t hang your backpack on the back of your chair when eating in restaurants. It could be rifled through in seconds by the person sitting behind you. Place it on the floor with one strap looped under your chair leg.
  • always cooperate with a thief if you get mugged/robbed
  • use a cable and lock to secure your backpack to something solid if you have to leave your bag in your hostel or on a train
  • don’t assume that a locking hotel door is secure. Staff have keys too.
  • leave your valuables at home. Backpacking with expensive watches and CD players will only make you more paranoid about being robbed.
  • carry your daypack in front of you in crowded areas
  • a prime time for thieves to strike is when you are getting on or off a bus or train. They may snatch your bag just as the vehicle is pulling away, leaving you helpless to get it back.
  • try not to pull out any money from your money belt while in public. Keep some money in your front pocket to use. Use a washroom or other private area if you must access your money belt.
  • when in train and bus stations, keep an eye on your bag at all times. It only takes a thief two seconds to grab your backpack and disappear into the crowd.
  • thieves often work in teams of two or more — one distracts you while the other does the stealing
  • cutting through your backpack is just as easy for a thief as unzipping or unfastening it
  • don’t leave your daypack zipped onto the back of your backpack while carrying it. A thief could easily unzip and take your daypack without you even realizing it had happened.
  • even the cutest children you meet may be looking to take advantage of you, particularly in developing countries
  • if you are driving a rental car, don’t leave anything of value in plain view when you park it. Rental cars are common targets. Leave your glove box open and empty too.
  • peering through the lens of a camera with the other eye shut is a perfect opportunity for a thief to pick your pockets or steal your backpack. Thieves will hang around popular attractions knowing that travelers will be taking plenty of photographs.

What to Do After a Theft

If you are a victim of theft, there are several things you should do right away. First, look around and see if you can find any remains of your belongings. Thieves will often take a bag and then just leave it after taking out what is valuable to them. Whether you find your bag or not, take inventory and try to find out exactly what was taken. If it was your daypack that was stolen, you probably had only select items in it. Then, report the theft to the local police and hope that they are remotely concerned about your misfortune. Be sure to obtain a file form from the police for insurance purposes.

If any traveler’s checks or credit cards were stolen, you will want to notify the appropriate agencies to cancel the cards and look into obtaining new checks. If your passport is taken, you should notify your embassy immediately. You do have copies of important documents and credit card phone numbers written down don’t you? Some embassies might even pay for your flight home if you can prove just how destitute you really are. At least, they can help you arrange to have money sent from home if that is what you require.

Although being a victim of theft is a major setback, it is truly not the end of your trip. Hopefully insurance will cover any valuables that were in your bag. Financially, if you are prepared ahead of time, you can obtain replacements and minimize your losses. The key is to be proactive and avoid becoming a victim of theft in the first place.