See the World and Keep your Stuff
How to Keep From Being Relieved of Your Possessions While Traveling
Traveling the world and visiting other countries can be a wonderful experience. You'll meet new people, see the world from a different perspective, try new foods, maybe pick up a few words in a new language. I can’t recommend travel highly enough. But it’s also very easy to have an otherwise great trip wrecked by something that would be a relatively minor incident in your home town.
When you travel you will certainly meet people who want to relieve you of your money. Fair enough; tourists typically have money and generally want to spend it on everything from good local food to souvenirs for the folks back home to brand new experiences. But there are also those folks who will try to take your money or your stuff without your consent. Here’s a few ways you can thwart those people.
Wait, the Airline!?
Yes, even your airline might try underhanded ways to get more of your money than you thought you would have to give them. They might try to claim that your carryon bag is too heavy or too big. They may hit you with excessive luggage fees. If they catch you unprepared as you’re boarding, they’ve pretty much got you over a barrel. Your choices are limited to either paying the surprise fee or abandoning your luggage. Your ticket, alas, is probably non-refundable, so if your outrage outweighs your willingness to get bilked, you’re going to be out the price of your airfare.
You can avoid this, though, by reading carefully your airline’s baggage policy. Find out what your baggage allowance is in both weight and volume, and measure your suitcases before you leave home. If your bags are too big or too heavy, consider repacking. If not, be sure to bring a copy of the baggage policy with you to the airport. That way you’ll know your rights and be able to show the folks at the counter why you should be allowed to bring your luggage without paying a surprise fee.
To stop intruders while you're in your room. If you need one of these, though, you probably have bigger worries.
At Your Accommodations
A lot of travelers are suspicious of the staff at their hotels. Most of the time these suspicions are unfounded. The staff want to keep their jobs, after all, and if they get caught purloining your stuff, not only will they lose their jobs, they’ll probably also get in legal trouble. People are generally honest.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, and if you have reason to believe that the staff are not trustworthy, there are measures you can take. The best thing you can do is to use the hotel safe. The nicer hotels typically have safes that their guests may use to securely store jewelry and other valuables. This is the best way to keep your loot safe when abroad.
If for some reason you don't want to put your things in the hotel safe, there are some steps you can take to help yourself feel safer. For example, you can lock your things into your suitcases. Do not rely on the lock that is part of your luggage, though. They’re generally not hard to pick. If a thief doesn’t care about leaving evidence that you’ve been robbed, he will simply slash open your bags with a sharp knife. There isn’t much you can do about this other than travel light and never let your bags out of your sight (not very much fun). If you’re worried that someone might try to get into your room while you’re there, there are door alarms that you can use, but this scenario is highly unlikely.
Remember also that ostentatiously locking up your bags sends
a pretty clear message to the hotel staff. The message reads as follows: “I
think you’re untrustworthy, and I have stuff in my luggage that you will want
to steal.” In effect, you’ve insulted the staff, and told them where you keep
your valuables. This is generally unwise. It will make any dishonest staffers want to steal from you even more, and might just tempt otherwise honest ones. Devices for hotel room security are really more for making you feel safe than for actually making you safer. If you need them for your peace of mind, fine, but they're mostly unnecessary.
This is a good example of an inexpensive, under-the-clothes money belt. Your valuables will be out of sight and hard to access.
The whole point of traveling abroad is to see stuff you wouldn’t get to see at home. You’re going to want to wander around and look at stuff, and you aren’t going to want to worry about having your pocket picked the whole time. You can avoid this fate by taking some simple steps. First, do not carry your wallet in your back pocket. That’s a pickpocket’s dream. If you must carry a wallet while traveling (you probably don’t really need to) put it in your front pocket. It’s much harder for a pickpocket to get in there without attracting attention. If you can avoid it, do not carry large amounts of cash. Use your credit cards for major purchases and use your bank’s ATM card to make cash withdrawals as needed. There will be fees involved for currency conversions and out-of-network withdrawals, but these will be offset by the peace of mind you get by not carrying a lot of cash with you.
Do not use your credit card to get cash unless you are in dire need! The interest rate on a cash advance from most credit cards is borderline criminal.
Of course, there are several items you will want to have on your person but won’t need to get to very often. These include your passport, plane or train tickets, and any other documentation you might need. These things can be very difficult to replace, especially your passport. Carry these things in a hard-to-reach place. Money belts and around-the-neck travel pouches are your best bets there. Many of these items are reinforced with metal fibers, to make cutting them free very difficult.
Openly carrying a camera announces your status as a tourist to the world. This is not necessarily bad; lots of folks have given me very good advice about things to see while visiting their country once they learned I was a visitor. At the same time, though, if your camera is big and expensive, it will be an object of temptation for thieves. You're going to want to have your camera readily accessible (and therefore visible), but you're not going to want to lose it. Make it difficult for someone to snatch your camera from you by slinging it diagonally across your body as opposed to over one shoulder. Be sure that the connections between the camera and the strap are not easily detached. You may also want to consider a strap that has been reinforced with metal fibers, to thwart those who would surreptitiously cut your camera strap.
There are no Guarantees
Of course, the only foolproof way to keep your stuff from being stolen while traveling is not to travel with it. Don’t pack expensive designer clothing and accessories that can be easily sold for cash. Inexpensive cameras take pretty good pictures; unless you're a professional photographer, you'll probably be just as happy with snapshots from a cheaper camera. Stick with simple, inexpensive items and either they won’t be stolen, or you won’t care (as much) if they are. You're traveling to see, not to be seen, after all. Keep that in mind. This attitude and these few simple precautions will allow you to relax and enjoy your trip without worrying about your stuff.