Having survived cities such as New York, London, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh and Sydney, and a fair few other places such as Belize City, Mexico, Guatemala, Budapest, and Prague (back when it was far less touristy), I’ve learned how to keep myself relatively *safe* but you can never be too careful.
There is one travel experience I will never forget…and it involves being robbed of $200 by a group of 10 year old girls on the streets of Nice, France. It’s one of those things I’ll never forget for 3 reasons:
- At the time, I considered myself a fairly experienced traveller having flown and travelled to far flung places since the age of about five.
- The sneaky & crafty way in which they did it still astounds me – but knowing their trick has saved me (and some friends) on more than once occasion from succumbing to the same fate.
- The fact that I was robbed by 10 year old children is still just a tad embarrassing.
Here’s how I was robbed by kids…
A group of young girls crowded round me asking for money and holding out a piece of paper in front of them, asking me to read it. I tried to push them away but they kept swarming round me and pawing at me, asking me to read this sign and surrounding me, despite the best efforts of my girlfriends to help push them away.
After a couple of minutes I felt a small tugging on the security money pouch I was wearing (but hadn’t had time to tuck away properly – duh!). I looked down and as I did the kids scarpered having clearly been rumbled. I noticed the zip was open about an inch and was convinced they couldn’t have taken much from such a small opening. They’d actually snaffled around $200.
Another would-be thief tried the same tactic on me again whilst I was having a coffee with a friend in London a year or so later; our mobile phones were on the table and some guy came up to our table and held a piece of cardboard over the table in front of our faces and told us to read it. Wise to his trick, I immediately shoved it away and grabbed our stuff off the table and he skulked away empty-handed.
Travel Safety Tip# 1: Don’t Let Them Distract You
If kids or anyone else ever come up to you begging or holding out a piece of paper/cardboard or something else in front of them, push it away immediately and secure your belongings. This is just a distraction so their nifty little fingers can get at your valuables.
Travel Safety Tip# 2: Secure your luggage
When everything you own is carried round with you, it’s of paramount importance to keep this safe and sound. Even if it’s not worth much, it’s all you’ve got on your nomadic wanderings and what seems of little value to you, may be exceptionally tempting and valuable to people in the countries you visit. Keeping your luggage safe means securing it in any way possible, to prevent and deter anyone from tampering with or stealing your luggage…
- Always have a lock for your luggage – TSA-approved padlocks help to ensure that airport security don’t just cut it off and leave your luggage unlocked, plus they let you know if your luggage has been inspected.
- If you’re travelling on trains or you need to secure your bags temporarily (even if you’re sitting right next to them), then consider getting a backpack & bag mesh protector which encases your bag in a wire mesh and allows you to lock it securely to something to avoid it being taken.
- To help keep your possessions as safe as possible in your room both when you’re there or when you’re not, consider a travel door alarm to alert you of any suspicious activity.
Travel Safety Tip# 3: Secure your laptop
As a nomadic, work-anywhere entrepreneur your laptop is probably one of the most prized items you’re carrying. Not only is it crucial to running your business wherever you are, it probably cost a fair bit of money too. It’s well worth securing this valuable item with extra precaution and measures…
- Consider carrying a laptop lock and using it to secure your laptop up when you leave your accommodation and/or if you use it at airports, in cafes or other places where it can easily be snaffled from right under your nose.
- You should also consider the type of bag you carry your laptop in – whilst a fancy Tumi laptop case might set you apart from the commuters in New York or London, it’s almost as good as carrying a sign above your head forecasting your “rob-ability”. Try getting a laptop backpack that looks more like an adventure backpack. Alternatively, you could try the Pacfsafe Theft-proof bag.
- There are certain places where you probably want to avoid carrying your laptop around with you. As nice as it might be to go and work on the beach or from a wireless cafe, be aware of who sees you out and about with it and keep it under wraps. You may also want to avoid broadcasting the fact that you have a laptop at your accommodation by wandering in and out of your accommodation with it under your arm.
Travel Safety Tip# 4: Secure your cash & credit cards
- You may or may not be a fan of those travel wallets that strap to various parts of your body. Whether you use one or not may depend upon where you’re going and whether you need to carry huge wads of cash about with you. If you do use one, then I’d recommend the more authentic “belts“over the leg, waist or shoulder-type pouches – unless, as a woman, it doesn’t go with your outfit!
- Keep a note of your credit card numbers and the telephone numbers needed to cancel them (but not the security number and/or expiration date). Whilst some people advise making photocopies of the front & back of your card, if these get mislaid or stolen the thief can use the details to order online.You can keep a soft copy of your cards, password-protected on your laptop if you must.
- You should let your credit card company and bank know that you will be overseas – and ideally where you’ll be. Banks monitor suspected fraudulent use and will stop a card from working if they suspect it. Whilst it often only takes a phone call to reactivate it, it’s more efficient to let them know your travel plans in advance.
Travel Safety Tip# 5: Stay Alert
If you’re new to a city and haven’t quite got the measure of the different neighbourhoods, then keep your wits about you as you’re walking around. You can usually tell whether you’ve unwittingly wandered into a different area by the type of people walking around, the state of the buildings and shop fronts on the streets.
If you don’t notice any other tourists and you do see more threatening looking people around, then walk confidently in the direction you came (unless you know a quicker way out already) without getting your map out and head back to a safer, more touristy/populated area.
Travel Safety Tip# 6: Blend in – or at least try not to stand out
If you are trying to blend in with locals – or at least stand out less – then on your first day in a place, notice how the locals dress and dress accordingly. Dead giveaways include:
- Wearing sandals with white socks
- Wearing trainers/sneakers
- Wearing a bum-bag/fanny pack (unless you’re in the US perhaps)
- Carrying a camera around your neck
- Having a tourist map sticking out of your pocket
- Wearing shorts & t-shirts when everyone else is dressed for business
Travel Safety Tip# 7: Avoid public demonstrations and marches
As exciting as it may seem to join a public march or demonstration, if you’re in unfamiliar territory and a foreign land, then it’s best to avoid these. Whilst peaceful demonstrations may be the norm in your country, you don’t know that this will be the case in a foreign country and your visa may also be at risk if you are caught taking part in political demonstrations. It’s just not worth the risk for that little bit of excitement and camaraderie you might experience at the time.
Travel Safety Tip# 8: Avoid broadcasting your lack of local knowledge
Unless you’re in a touristy area where everyone else is doing the same, the be careful about getting your map out and trying to figure out where you are. The same goes for standing in the middle of the road and pointing vigorously to specific points of interest in the distance – another dead giveaway that you’re less than a local.
Travel Safety Tip# 9: Always know your escape route
As you’re walking around unfamiliar areas, especially in the dark, take note of specific landmarks, buildings and amenities. If you ever feel threatened, it’s useful to know a ‘friendly’ place you can duck into (the nearest shop, bar, cafe, gas station, mini mart or restaurant) as soon as you can to either call for help or wait until the threat has passed.
Travel Safety Tip# 10: Leave your valuables at ‘home’
Depending upon where you are, you may want to consider always leaving your laptop, jewellery, watches or other expensive items at home rather than carting them around with you. Whilst some people have had bad experiences of laptops and valuables being stolen whilst left in a room/apartment, being robbed of an item directly from your person can be a far more unpleasant experience. Plus, you’re increasing the chance of something else happening (like dropping it or losing it) whilst you’re out and about.