Robbed while traveling? I’m sure this is a concern or even a travel story that you’ve heard from friends. There aren’t many things I hate more than thieves who steal from travellers. Among my hated list:
- Pedophiles and rapists … there should be a separate level of hell for those creatures.
- People who have phone conversations in the theaters
- Waiters who tell me how I should eat my steak … yes, people I love burned steak.
Thankfully, I don’t have a personal experience of being robbed while traveling. I look like the “everyman” … so most countries that I’ve been to, they think I’m actually from that country – which actually has made me very safe, even though I’ve given one or more the reasons to be robbed – see list below). In fact, I had my “scam cherry” popped in Istanbul last year (it was hit to my travel ego more than anything else … and it did lead to a great travel story) Personally, I think if you travel enough, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll get robbed or scammed. Almost. If you think about it, there is are a number of reasons why you could be robbed while traveling. Here is my list of 16 reasons, you could be robbed while traveling:
- You’re a tourist.
Seriously, is there more of an obvious reason? You might not speak the language, know the “social contracts” or customs, not know the bad part of town or assume that because you’re a tourist – that you have some special immunity on the road. You would be amazed at the number of risks that regular people take on the road, that they would never consider when at home.
- You dress inappropriately
Inappropriate dressing isn’t just about wearing a mini-skirt to a mosque. Understand the local customs and dress. I wore a “djellaba” in Morocco to blend in with people and avoid being a target. Being in a country different than yours, is not the right time to be flashing your designer brands or any sort of jewelry. The idea is actually to be as inconspicuous as possible. You’ll never blend in perfectly, but don’t give people a reason to notice you and avoid displays of wealth. For example : If you’re in country where the monthly income is less than the price of your hotel for the night … don’t wander around with expensive equipment.
- You’re a walking billboard or advertisement
As a separate point to #2 … don’t make yourself an advertisement for any brand. Don’t walk around with your camera gear in a Canon or Nikon bag.
- You don’t listen to locals
If you get a recommendation from your hotel or locals about staying away from a certain area, then follow their advice. They live there, they know more than you’ll ever know, about their own town and country. Too many bad stories have started up from travellers following other travellers in spite of good local advice.
- You ignore intuition
I don’t know why this seems to always happen, but even experienced travellers will ignore their own intuition, which invariably gets people in trouble. Recently, while in Uzebekistan, I needed to change money and I committed 3 cardinal sins in 2 mins
– I took out foreign currency from an ATM with locals around
– After taking foreign currency out, I walked directly to a money changer – who saw me take the money out from the ATM
– After agreeing to a rate with the money changer … random people walked into the store, where everyone was on the cell phone – and I didn’t walk out immediately.
It took me 2 extra minutes to recognize the danger of the situation. My alarm bells were going off … so I stopped everything, asked for my money back. There some haggling but I stopped the entire transaction and firmly asked for my money back and walked out the “store” and into the car. I might have overreacted, but trusting my intuition has gotten me this far without incident … I wasn’t going to stop listening to it now.
- You lose self awareness
You’re a tourist, you see amazing churches, temples, buildings, art, museums … I get it. You’re around some amazing stuff, but remember the same way that you’re in awe of everything you see, there are always other people watching you, because YOU’RE DIFFERENT too. Most people will be curious about you, some will want to sell you stuff, some will want to ask a question or practice their English – and there is always one person out of a thousand (1 in 1000) who wants to steal from you. Always know where you are, know where your stuff is and know who is around you.
- You appear to be lost
My number one rule in travelling … “Be confident about where you’re going!”. Even if you’re going to a public toilet, walk strongly and confidently, you’ll be amazed at how many bad situations will not occur around you. Standing at a street corner, pulling out a map and looking all around in a 360 view, will sure attract the worst kind of attention. If you need to check a map, go to a coffee shop, KFC, McDonalds or anywhere where you can sit and gather your thoughts. Also if you’re looking at a map, you’re not looking at your stuff. See #6. Always keep calm, reorient yourself and in the worse case, walk to a hotel or call your own hotel, if possible. They can always help you.
- You’re old or have kids with you
The majority of travel crime involves distraction and a pickpocket or two. Older people seem to bear the brunt of travel crime because they have low self awareness, easily show disorientation and many times will show frustration openly. Having kids travel with you, will always be a huge distraction … it is inevitable and it means that you have to be on guard even more. Accept the reality of being older and/or having kids as pickpocket magnets … take the precautions and you’ll be fine. Remember – prepare, prepare, prepare!
This also applies if kids also surround you … it could be good, but just be aware
- You assume all taxi drivers are NOT evil and are your friends
The easiest scam is always a taxi driver overcharging you because you don’t know the price. There are too many websites that will tell you the right price from the airport to a hotel. Use them! Outside of North America or Western Europe, you’ll have to bargain or haggle the rate. This is a necessary evil/rite of travellers’ passage – it all depends on how you look at it. I’ve been accused of being very mean to taxi drivers … I’ve also never gotten completely ripped off and scammed either. Choose which one you want to be.
- You flash money around with little self awareness
See #5 on the list … unless you’re in a country like Uzbekistan, where you need a backpack for your money, try not to flash money around. This should be completely obvious … you wouldn’t walk around Toronto, NYC, San Francisco or Paris flashing a huge wad of money around … why do it in a 3rd world country?
- One bag, one item to track … two bags, more items to track
Why do women always seem to get pick pocketed more? They always have a purse, bag, clutch or some other bagged nonsense along with their primary bag. Distraction crimes are always about dividing and separating attention from one of those two bags. Be smart … use a backpack. It’s not as sexy, but it’s also not as attention grabbing either.
- You offer details on your personal life to locals
Locals will be curious about you. They will ask all sorts of questions. Depending on where in the world you are, some questions could be perceived as downright rude or invasive. Know the “social contract” … understand what is an appropriate question and always try to answer. However, don’t tell locals how much money you make back home, what type of car or house you have. You wouldn’t generally share this information with people in your home country, so why would tell a local. If you make friends along the way, then why not … after a couple days or so … then the rules change. Know how to evade questions of a personal nature – it will keep you safe in the long run.
- You trust the wrong person
This happens a lot more often than you think, but it generally comes from a failure to listen to your intuition. Think about this choice : You want to take a risk and have a great travel story or you want to be safe. You can have a great travel adventure and be safe, but you have to prepare and have the knowledge to keep safe. This comes from reading and listening to other experienced travellers and their experiences.
- You get drunk by yourself
Is there more to be said on this point. If you’re travelling alone through a strange country … don’t get drunk by yourself. If you don’t speak the same language … don’t get drunk by yourself. If can’t easily get a taxi or find your hotel … don’t get drunk by yourself.
- You leave your valuables displayed in your room
Before leaving your room, organize your belongings. Don’t leave your room trashed out. Your loud display of goods may be too tempting for people entering your room. If something is removed, it may take you long to find out (maybe while you are at another location). I don’t like daily cleaning of my room. I always put the “Do not disturb” sign on and tell the front desk. If I find that my room is still cleaned, then it’s a bad conversation with the hotel staff. I’ve never had anything stolen from my room – after more than 300 hotel stays and 1000+ nights in hotels/guest houses/hostels. My probability is one to work with.
- You pissed off the hotel staff
Knowing how to manage the hotel staff is an important key to your safety and your belongings not going missing. Be appropriately nice to the hotel staff. If you’re lucky enough to stay in large chain hotels … then you should even be better. I’ll insert a plug here for my awesome SPG status and how well they treat me.