Ten years or so ago I was outside Key West International Airport nursing a well earned hangover and taking a smoke break.I had a back pack behind me on the pavement,but touching my leg.I took a final drag,flicked the butt to curb,and looked down.My pack was gone.
My Laptop,Ipod, and a host of other things had been stolen literally right from under me.Luckily,my wallet,cell phone, digital camera,and boarding pass was on my person.Things could have been a lot worse.I still had most of my pictures and a way home.It was an expensive lesson learned in travel.
I didn’t even have time to file a report and it’s doubtful it would have mattered.
You won that round thief.
After a decade and several countries later I’ve realized what should be obvious:Thieves target your day pack.That’s where your valuables are after all.
Europe is relatively safe.If you travel smart it’s unlikely you are to become the victim of violent crime but petty theft and pickpocketing are common in some areas.
This is a list of my top 10 things I practice to avoid becoming a victim:
1.Keep your head on a swivel.
Situational awareness is your number one protection against theft as well as becoming a victim of any other crime.It’s easy to get tunnel vision.A side benefit is that once you practice this it becomes natural and you notice so much more.
2.Wear a money belt/neck wallet
Keep your passport,large bills,boarding passes,rail pass,museum pass,etc here.I keep my day money in my pocket where it is easy to reach.This keeps me from revealing how much I’m carrying and lets me make larger withdrawals which saves money.While relatively rare if you are mugged you will only be out what ever is in your pockets and maybe your day bag.
3.Keep only a small sum of money in your checking account
I use a debit card almost exclusively to withdraw cash,because of this I also keep the majority of my money in a savings account.I use my online banking app to transfer money the day before I need ot make a withdrawal. This way if my card is stolen or compromised my entire account cannot be cleaned out.I also have a second account and debit card for back up just in case.
4.Use the safe in your room.
I don’t rely solely on my safe because realistically someone else knows the combination but it is an added level of security.Just like the layered veneers of a sheet of plywood,more layers equals more strength.
I also leave the do not disturb sign on my door and leave my TV on if there is one in my room.
5.Carry your day bag in front of you in crowded areas
I have a small backpack that I use as a day bag.In crowded places I sling it under my arm or in front of me.In crowded areas like the Paris metro I hold it against my chest.
6.Have a plan for pack security on trains,buses,and airplanes
There are several ways to do this.Something as simple as a rain cover or a twist tie will deter most opportunistic thieves.Remember its about layers of defense.I don’t sleep on planes(see my post on my fear of flying) and the fear of falling asleep on a train and missing my stop is real for me so but having a lock to secure you bag to something sturdy or even a wire type bag protector.Both would work well in transit or in a hostel.
7.Bury your valuables
Yes,bury your valuables.No,not like a pirate.Pack your valuables deep in your day bag.If possible dummy cord them as well with some paracord.This will keep you from accidentally dropping something when you dig out the things you need more frequently like a rain jacket or had sanitizer.It will also keep you from flashing expensive items as often.
8.Know how pickpockets and scam artists operate.
Often pickpockets work in pairs.One person distracts while the other is going through your pack.In Paris I personally noticed children working in pairs.They had a sheet of paper and were collecting signatures for some cause.The paper had few signatures and clearly was old judging by its wrinkles and how dirty it was.The younger(and shorter child,perfect rummaging height for a pack) was the pickpocket.They operate in places where soft targets,mainly tourists,gather like train stations,metro exits, and popular sights.
Another scam I noticed were people posing as beggars.A young girl was wearing a full body shawl of sorts that hid her face and was prostrated on the sidewalk with a cup in one hand.Under her shawl in the other hand could be seen the light of an Iphone.
more Appearances can be deceiving and scammers will prey on your emotions.Don’t fall for it.
9.Know the prices before you commit to buy
I would never eat a restaurant that did post prices.I’ve even heard of scam where you order from a menu with one price then when you pay your tab is a different amount.When disputed the maître d’ presents the same menu but with different amounts.Guarding yourself is easy.Take a picture of the menu on your smartphone.
Another scam I hear dof from an American expatriate living in Amsterdam involves attractive young girls who coax you into buying them drinks. Having experienced this himself he said it appeared to only be orange juice.When the time to pay comes the tab was several hundred Euros and came with some big burly guys determined to collect their pay.
10.Be wary of public computers
Internet cafes are becoming increasingly rare with the availability of WiFi.Often though hostels will have one or a few for use though.I would be wary of entering information like your password for your online banking on one of these.There are several ways to recover your password and log in ID and not all involve malicious software.Wifi is safer in my opinion but it is still possible to have your information compromised.One way to deter this is with the use of a VPN(virtual private network) service. There are several free or affordable apps for this online. The simplest way,though not fool proof,is to not use a network that isn’t password protected.