Of the mishaps that can happen on a backpacking trip, having our valuables stolen by other backpacking travellers is an incident that is usually not anticipated. We all like the feeling of camaraderie among the new friends we find at our travel destinations. Travel is such fun and exciting, it’s easy to get lost in the adventure.
But its best to take a step back and do a few easy steps to protect yourself from theft by 1) securing our possessions and 2) documenting our documents.
Preventing the Most Common Robberies
By and large, the other backpack travellers you meet are going to be awesome people. They really are. Sure, you’ll encounter a jerk or two, and, sure, there are going to be some well-meaning weirdos or otherwise harmless backpackers who you would rather not be too close. But overall, the majority of fellow travellers you meet on the road will be perfectly cool.
Unfortunately, you, or someone you know, will eventually meet another traveller or two who hold something less than good intentions. So, you need to protect yourself from these nefarious rogues.
The most common problem you’re going to run into from a few fellow backpackers is theft. There are always a few people that will rob the people they are with. There’re several types of people doing this. Some people rob their fellow travellers because it’s their adventure- it’s a freaking game to them. They’re jerks. For others, they’re compulsive kleptomaniacs. They’re sick. But for a few, they’re honestly very short on cash and often don’t know what else to do.
There are two thievery scenarios that are most common:
- They hit you when you’re out on the town, with them. You go out drinking or clubbing together in a small group. Then at some point you discover your money or credit card disappeared. Of course, it is entirely possible you where pick-pocketed by a local. True. But don’t assume it wasn’t one of your travelling companions. Of course, without proof you cannot say a word.
- They hit you at the hostel. A few untrustworthy backpackers will grab a few items from non-attentive hostel-mates as they leave the hostel. They’re always leaving for good when it occurs, leaving for another hostel in the city or they’re leaving the city completely. Either way, these scoundrels know you are not likely to see them again.
Before theft might occur, it is wise to have taken some security steps and have self-protection habits to minimize or eliminate the possibility of becoming a robbery victim.
Keep Your Valuables Under Lock-and-Key
I’m always shocked silly by the number of backpackers I encounter in hostels who are completely trusting. These kind souls leave all of their things out in the middle of their shared room even while they explore the city or go out drinking or simply hanging out somewhere else in the hostel. While I feel really bad when someone I get to know has something valuable stolen from them, I’m never surprised when it happens.
When I see a new friend leaving valuable things out, I try to tell them how to protect their stuff, but I usually get a “Yes, mother” response. The thing is, backpackers are having fun when they travel. So, they don’t want to think of the need to be cautious. I’m bringing them back to reality. It’s a tough spot to be in. So, please pay attention to what I say.
Most hostels offer some sort of secure storage space, usually lockers located in each room. Some of these lockers are opened and closed with your room key or key-card, while others require a padlock that you are expected to have. The latter type is the best type.
Use TSA luggage locks. Don’t take along your school padlock because they’re too heavy and are usually too large to fit on European hostel lockers. So, instead buy a TSA luggage lock. Buy several at home before you leave. You may be able to find then in Europe. Ask at the hostel front desk where you can buy TSA lock for your room locker.
Most good hostels will also have a safe or high-security locker behind the front desk that’s accessible only by staff. This is a decent place to keep small valuables.
How to Protect Your Valuables
The best way to protect your valuables from kleptomaniacs and assorted sticky-fingers is to:
- Always lockup your valuables and your important documents when you aren’t using them;
- Don’t bring much with you when you go out at night, just the money or plastic and the I.D. you’ll need for that excursion;
- Stuff everything else in your locker;
- Lock the locker, and;
- Look around and double check to make sure that everything is nice and secure.
While theft is common during travel, it’s also very easy to protect yourself.
I’ve never once had anything stolen while I travelled. I owe this to my slightly obsessive fixation on making sure other travellers can’t get their hands on my stuff, even if I’m only popping out of the room for a minute, even if I’m just heading to the toilet- I leave nothing of value out of my sight.
When it comes down to it, you really don’t know the people around you when you’re travelling. You are acting irrationally if you trust too too easily, no matter how kind they seem or how much fun you have with them.
Even at home, trust needs to be clearly proven, before it is assumed.
To Lower The Impact of Theft
First, before you travel you should have multiple copies of ALL of your identification, your passport, credit and bank cards, health insurance cards, your airline tickets, and other important items you bring with you when you travel. Scan every document you bring with you, every page front and back, in the following manner:
- Make physical photocopies of your documents and keep them somewhere that will always be safe.
- Make digital scans of these same documents and save them to SEVERAL different places. Namely, store one copy each on:
- Your password-protected smartphone,
- Your computer, if you bring one (I strongly recommend you install an encryption programme and use it, and password-protect your smartphone and computer with a strong password),
- At a cloud-storage service such as DropBox or Carbonite,
- And email an encrypted copy to yourself.
- Write down a list of important phone numbers, family, close friends, customer service phone numbers that you would need to cancel and/or replace these important items. Photocopy the list and carry it in a secured location.
By having 1) photocopies, 2) digital copies, and 3) handwritten copies of everything you have, you give yourself the ability to cancel or replace the important documents and information you could lose.
With this, you’ll be able to handle 90% of the problems associated with such theft.
Spare Cash Stash
One last precaution. I highly recommend you keep some spare cash or travellers’ checks (if for some crazy reason you have them) scattered around your various bags, wallets, documents, and storage spaces (including your hostel’s front-desk safe or locker). This will take care of most of the remaining problems. If you don’t need it after a theft, you’ll be able to use it when you return home.
See the Related Article: How To Avoid Getting Robbed While Travelling.