It may be an understatement, but for those of you whom it has not happened to-being robbed is no fun. (I know, I have been robbed once and nearly robbed on two other occasions.) The following is a list of tips and advice that I have learned along that unfortunate path.
1. Keep your things with you. Really, try to keep your things either touching you at all times or within your line of vision. On a bus, train, subway or even in the street, always try to keep your bag on your shoulder and as close to you as possible. For example, many people riding the bus in Quito, Ecuador would actually put their backpacks on backwards and wear them on the front to have better control over the bag. (Even the Quiteños did this, not just the gringos!)
Likewise, if you are traveling on a bus, keep your bag with you in your seat (not overhead as someone could grab it as they get off the bus or under the bus when anyone could take it out when they get off.) I think the best method is to sit with your feet planted and the bag resting on top of them. (Not around the bag as a sneaky someone could always cut into your bag from behind.) The only time I would allow my bag underneath the bus is if I could also get a tag ensuring (supposedly) that only I can take the bag off the bus because I have the matching number. (This should work and has for me in the past, however you never really know…)
2. Don’t flaunt.Don’t wear things-especially jewelry- that you would not like stolen. Many thieves will
instantly associate expensive looking jewelry with someone that would be great to steal from as they must have lots of money, ect. The potential theif may try for your handbag, wallet, cell phone or the jewelry itself. I suggest purchasing once you are abroad some cheap, neat, local jewelry.
3. Watch your pockets. Outside and back pockets are much easier for the potential thief to slip things out of without your noticing than inside or front pockets. I have many, many friends that had a cell phone or wallet stolen out of a bag’s side pocket or their own back pocket. This is especially important if you have a large bag that you cannot keep your eyes or hands on all parts it or when you’re on a really crowded bus. Thieves tend to ride the tightest packed trains so there are people touching all sides of you in the hopes that you will not notice a hand in an unsuspecting pocket.
My host mom in Ecuador taught me a valuable lesson after I was robbed there (via knife in my canvas bag): always use your bra (or other undergarment) when carrying large sums of money. Use some consistent spot that no one could get their hands into without you being entirely aware if it. Note that this works well for large amounts of money, but I would still put smaller amounts in front pockets or a wallet (that resides in the front pocket or somewhere hidden in a purse) for paying at the grocery store, taxi, ect.
4. Keep your valuables in multiple places. If you have all of your important documents, money, cards, ect. with you at one time (i.e. while traveling), be sure to have them in different places. I think a traveler’s belt is great if you do not need your passport in hand (otherwise it could be really awkward-use a bathroom to take the passport out and replace it once through customs, ect.) and large sums of money. In general, I always have my passport either in a traveler’s belt, in a zipped pocket in my purse (which is clutched pretty tightly to my chest) or in the safe at a hostel (assuming you trust the hostel staff.)
However, always be sure to make at least one copy of your passport, visa, whatever essential document, and keep it in a different place! I generally go for one on my body and one tucked away safely in a bag. Just put the copies somewhere different (in case something does get stolen) and remember where they are. I also like to keep an electronic copy in your email.
5. Lastly, be aware and trust your instincts. If you feel wary while traveling, determine exactly what you feel wary about and focus your energy there-you very well may be right and it doesn’t hurt of you were wrong. One of the times I was nearly robbed was on a crowded bus when this smiling, nice woman standing next to me began talking to me. She chatted about the weather, where I was going, ect. and I felt a small tug on my purse. Instead of trying to be polite, I moved my bag to the other side of my body and put my hand inside it to be sure my wallet was still there. She had cut through the outermost lining of my bag and was working her way through the inner liner when I stopped her.
Be sure to trust your instincts, even if that is not the polite thing to do, and try to do things that make you feel safe. In the above example, moving my bag was definitely the best option (especially as the one time I was robbed the person also cut through my purse while grinning at me.) Always be aware of what is going on around you and plan for that situation. Taking an overnight bus? Don’t use the ear plugs, eye mask and put your bag overhead. Go for one of the three, or maybe two if you feel very comfortable. Even if you have a worse night of sleeping because you were watching your things, you will have a fresh set of clothing to put on when you arrive because you weren’t completely oblivious. Therefore so no one took your bag.