How Do I Avoid Theft While Traveling?

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No matter where you’re going – whether to Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, or even right here in the United States, there is always a risk of being stolen from or pick-pocketed. Here are the best tricks of the travel trade to avoid theft, keep your belongings & money, and a few tips about what to do if this should happen to you.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Think ahead of your travel, and prepare for your trip by using any of these ideas to protect yourself:

  • Pack in non-luxury branded or common looking luggage to not appear like someone who should be targeted for theft.
  • Consider theft insurance for valuables.
  • Consider travel insurance that includes things like replacing your passport or prescription medications if stolen.
  • Make copies of important documents (think: credit cards, health insurance information, insurance information, passport, IDs, visas, vaccine documentation, test results if needed, trusted traveler cards, vehicle documents, rail passes, vouchers for travel services, prescriptions for medications and even glasses) and store them electronically so that you may access them.
  • Protect your Electronic Records. Put a lock/passcode on your phone, have a backup cloud service for your photos and data, and use a “find my phone” type of technology in case it’s lost. If you don’t know how to do these things, ask someone who would know (if you’re a bit wiser in years, then someone younger can probably help).
  • Utilize Anti-Theft Travel Gear. Before heading on your trip, consider your options on anti-theft travel bags, suitcases & more. There are many ideas and products out there.

How Not to Handle your Wallet in Public while traveling. Photo by Samson Katt from Pexels

Think about what to Really take along & How to Store It

  • Fancy rings & bling? Consider whether you really want to wear or take them. This really depends on your destination, travel mode, and whether it is a larger or lesser risk where you might wear it. For example, you may want to wear nice jewelry for a nice dinner evening. While on resort or a cruise ship, a swift thief is less likely to snatch it form you than when walking the streets of a town or city.
  • Lock up your valuables. Whatever you decide to take along, leave your not needed valuables in your room locked in the safe or tucked away in a non-obvious spot in your room. Whether it’s a laptop, a tablet, a high-end camera or jewelry, usually locked in your room is okay, but the safe doesn’t hurt!

Out & About in Cities & Towns

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  • Looping & Strapping – Take your bag’s strap and loop it around your leg, chair leg, or arm when sitting down to take a break or grab a bite to eat.
  • Avoid walking near the road’s edge, where a clever thief by motorcycle or bike could try to snatch a bag or item from you.
  • Walk against traffic if you must be near the road, reducing odds of drive-by theft.
  • Hold bags close to your body while in crowded city areas or if there is a disturbance.
  • Place the bag, as well as any pocketed wallets, at your front so it can’t be attempted at from behind. Preferably only pockets that button or zip shut. It only takes a quick bump on the street or during a public transportation ride to have your wallet go missing.
  • Hide your items without being obvious. When you first put money away, make it seem as though you put it in a “typical, everyday at home” spot, but very soon move it away to your more secure location so thieves don’t see where you put it, really.
  • Secure Checked Luggage. In some places, checked baggage theft is not unusual. Most likely, the risk is having items taken from the suitcase’s outside pockets or near the top of the luggage. Cases that look like they’ll contain electronics, cash, credit cards, jewelry, as well as the items themselves are the most likely to get stolen. Keep your valuables in your carry-on luggage and with you. If possible, travel with a carry-on only (but I know for myself I’m lucky if I can pull that off for the weekend!). And yes, this does and can happen in the United States as well. With that said, it’s a good idea to use a TSA-approved lock with checked luggage, no matter where you’re headed. Lock up your things any time they aren’t personally with you (such as on a train, plane, bus, or luggage room).
  • A recommended ATM strategy: When you go to the ATM in a place that may be concerning, whether in the US or abroad, pull the money out and fake put it in your bag or purse, this actually is a protective caution so that if anyone is watching, they’ll think I was putting the cash into your bag when you are actually not. Swiftly move somewhere unseen, quickly move the money to where it is going to go, such as another location like a bra stash, secret pocket, or otherwise.

Taking Public Transportation

Photo by Ahmed ツ from Pexels

  • If you will sleep on a train, for example, do be sure to attach your bags to yourself, the seat, or luggage rack to prevent an easy take. Just make your bag harder to take than someone else’s and you’re likely to avoid any issue, even if you only use a key ring, paper clip, or a zip tie.
  • Don’t set down your valuables on a table or seat. They’re so easy to take this way. Whether it’s a rail pass, your wallet, cell phone, or a nice camera, keep them tucked away or attached to yourself.
  • Be aware of your surroundings, and secure items to yourself. Bold thieves have been known to snatch a fancy smartphone out of the hands of a tourist taking a photo. You’re looking at the camera, not who’s coming up from the back of you. So a phone strap, a ring case, or something similar can definitely help you out here! You may chase them but remember, you’re a tourist. They know the streets, the shops, and the short cuts.

Photo by Yuting Gao from Pexels

  • Carry a Cable Lock – Bags or purses can easily be snatched from busy bars or restaurants, often right off the back of a chair or from underneath a table. Use a cable lock to secure your bag to a chair, bar stool or table leg. These handy combination locks, not much larger than a lighter, have a thin 2- to 3-foot-long cable that locks into itself. Also known as a snowboard lock, they’ve proved useful far beyond the slopes.

You can use a cable lock in various ways! Photo by Justus Hayes from Pexels

While cable locks are great to really secure a bike, even basic ones, they are also sufficient to slow down or stop an thief with an eye for opportunity. Securing your bag to a chair or bar stool with a cable lock inside a restaurant, bar or cafe, will keep it safe!

When Enjoying the Outdoors

Hide Your Valuables Cleverly A great way to secure valuables during a beach trip is to hide items in a secret safe such as a sunscreen container! As it so happens, the market for SPF 30 is not in high demand, so nobody is terribly likely to steal a container of sunscreen! However, what they are is more likely to take a whole bag off of a beach blanket or a cell phone, so consider keeping your wallet, phone and keys (minimally brought) in an empty sunscreen container or something similar, & if you bring a bag to the beach, keep the item out of the bag. If you’re going somewhere sunscreen isn’t really a fit to the scene, any empty, nontransparent common, inexpensive item can do the trick, too.

Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels

Here’s a few ideas to consider:

  • An empty Pringles chips can
  • Fake empty soda can safe
  • Fake book with cut out inside
  • Fake hairbrush safe

Here are some actual fake safes you can purchase from Amazon*:

Here’s the Non-Ideal way to carry your valuables. Photo by Lum3n from Pexels

Watch Out for Distractions, Crowds, and Disturbances

These are key spots where pickpockets & petty thieves get their bread & butter – your wallets, purses, jewelry, & whatever else looks valuable!

  • Avoid Being Distracted. Thieves often create distractions or use them to steal. Sometimes it will be someone asking you for directions, help, or other events. Any large crowd will generally work.
  • Develop a habit of making sure any time you get around a crowd, or if there’s any personal or group distraction or disturbance, loud noise, or other situation, the first thing to do is secure your bags close to your body and move away from the scene.
  • Don’t put your phone out on the table when having a drink or meal at a public venue.
  • ATM Proximity: Be aware they commonly occur near ATMs. Thieves may try to get folks after getting cash out or by taking the card after watching you enter your pin. Avoid ATMs in public areas, but try to find one inside of a bank.
  • Make eye contact. If you find yourself in a situation, making eye contact with people nearby shows you that you are not distracted and thus, not an easy target.
  • Train/Subway/Metro station alert: Be on guard in any of these areas. Once, my traveling companion was robbed of a pack of feminine pads in her backpack’s small pocket after riding the subway, where someone had unzipped her bag during a shift of the rail cars. I’m sure he was disappointed when he got away with this little bag of products that surely could not help him. Don’t put bags down here, and watch your luggage claim tags are in a secret location too. Be extra aware of things when the transportation stops, where there’s much luggage transfer, at arrival and departure times.
  • Tourist buses are also filled with vulnerabilities. Tourist buses are a hunting ground for thieves. Loop, strap, tuck, hold to your front, and be extra wary at any turnstiles where you can’t go back.
  • Don’t be paranoid because I’m sharing all this – just be ready and aware of your surroundings and vulnerable spots to be extra aware.

Check Again Before You Check Out

When checking out of a hotel, cruise ship, or when leaving any mode of transportation, double check everything to make sure you don’t just simply leave something behind.

  • Don’t leave things behind. Most travelers are most likely to lose their things than to be robbed. Usually in an effort to conceal them, too!
  • Bring your packing list along. This way you can run through your list of items – especially important ones, and make sure you’ve packed them all.
  • When unpacking at a hotel, don’t hide things in tricky in-room spots, just tuck them into the safe or your own bags, perhaps inside a smaller bag under some clothes in your suitcase under the bed. So that way you cannot forget it.
  • Always do a walk-through. Check all seat pockets, cracks in seats, above visors, overhead racks, and the floor in transportation, and in a hotel, double-check drawers, closets, night stands, bathrooms, wall sockets, under bedding and beds.
  • Think through a quick checklist (or that packlist): money, wallet, credit cards, passport, prescriptions, electronics & chargers, toiletries, clothing, etc.

Just In Case… Document Yourself!

Mistakes do still happen. Put an email address, phone number, or name just in case an honest person finds something of yours. For phones, you could put a business card in the case, or put a “if found” how to contact on the lock screen.

Sometimes you could just end up being mugged or robbed during travel. Don’t risk your safety for some things that can be replaced, but here are a few tips to help you prevent this from happening (many already mentioned above):

  • Carry less money than you need to in your wallet, and/or carry a “mugging” wallet that may look legit with little in it to hand over with the bulk of it in a truly secure spot. It may be worthwhile to open a few debit accounts with nothing in them to put those cards into this wallet. Just take what you need for the day.
  • Use a Credit Card that offers Cell Phone Protection: Your mobile phone might easily be covered if stolen if you pay your phone bill with a card that gives cell phone protection, and two such cards I’ve heard about are the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and the Citi Prestige Card. You’ll need a police report within 48 hours of the theft for the incident to be covered by the policy in most cases, but do check with your card agreement.
  • Try to not carry your passport with you, but it’s not a bad idea to carry a paper copy of your passport photo page, hidden.
  • You may wish to consider a belt with a hidden zipper compartment inside for money – some select muggers may check for a traditional money belt but is less likely to find this one. Here are some *examples: Hidden Money Pocket Travel Leather Belt in Brown or Embossed Leather Money Belt with Removable Buckle in Black.
  • Split up the money you do have across various spots on your person. For example you could have a bra stash, fake wallet, real wallet, money belt, anti-theft bag with hidden pockets and such.
  • Regularly Backup Photos: Often, the most painful loss after a theft isn’t the camera or phone but the photos that were on it. Get in the habit of backing up photos regularly. My favorite method is to upload photos using the Google Photos app whenever I’m connected to Wi-Fi. Once those photos are in the cloud, I can never lose them. Also, be sure to enable cell phone tracking apps such as Find My iPhone. You probably won’t get your phone back, but it renders iPhones unusable to thieves.
  • What if I lose everything or very important things? Tune in to future blog posts to catch more about this very helpful topic!

Valuables. Photo by Aleksandr Slobodianyk from Pexels

There are not likely more thieves in other places than in the US, but we notice them much more because they tourist-seeking thieves. Most crimes that tourists experience are nonviolent and mostly avoidable, which is why I wanted to provide you with this comprehensive list of ideas (but I’m sure there’s more ideas out there!). Be aware of the your surroundings while traveling, take your precautions, but also, relax and have the time of your life! Limit your vulnerability instead of your travel adventures!

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*Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases of linked products in this blog post. With that said, I only post them for your benefit to make it easier to find the products I’m referring to and it does help support my small family business. Thank you.