It’s hard not to stand out like dog’s balls when you’re overseas, especially if you’re in a developing country. With all those curious eyes staring at you, there’s bound to be a couple of dodgy ones thinking bad thoughts. Here are some tips on how to avoid getting robbed, from someone who has been (read: The time I was robbed in Guatemala!).
- Leave the bright blue Nike’s and handbags at home. Dress like a local. Or at least dress in simple, generic clothes. Nothing screams rich tourist more than someone walking around a city looking like their off to a party, or decked out in brand new North Face “travel” clothes.
- Take off the bling! This includes watches and rings (although women should always wear a cheap “wedding” ring even if single, to deter over-eager males). This might seem like an obvious tip, but I was hanging out with a young English guy in Colombia in 2009 who insisted on wearing a gold necklace. I heard from a mutual friend he got held up in the streets a few months later and refused to give it up – the mugger shot him dead.
- Always keep your wallet and passport on you – either in a money belt or in your pockets (and never inside your bags) – whenever you’re on the move. You’re more likely to have your bag snatched than your pockets picked. Plus if your pockets are zipped or you use a wallet chain/string it makes pickpocketing even harder. When you’re at your destination, leave your wallet and passport at your hotel/hostel either in the safe or in your bag locked away, and take just what you need for the day.
- Whenever you’re on the move and in-between destinations, keep all of your larger valuables (camera, laptop etc) in a small backpack and keep it on your lap at all times. My sister was on a bus with me in Peru in 2015 and had her backpack under her feet – the guy sitting behind us cut the bag open with a razor and slid her laptop out from behind without us even realising until it was too late.
- Invest in a good money belt AND carry a decoy wallet – use the decoy wallet to store all your coins and small change. Use this when paying for little things on the street rather than pulling out your money belt and flashing your cash. In the event you get held-up you can offer the decoy wallet without hesitation and without much loss. It’s important to buy a good quality money belt which is comfortable – so that you’ll actually wear it.
In the event you do get robbed, either knowingly or not, remember it’s not the end of the world. If you take these simple precautions any impact will be reduced and you’ll be able to resume your travels quicker with less stress:
- Always purchase comprehensive travel insurance and make sure you read the product disclosure statement so you know what’s covered. For example, some companies don’t cover for cash stolen and place limits on the value of physical goods. When I was robbed in Guatemala my insurance covered my losses completely; not only for the physical things that were taken, but also all costs incurred to organise a replacement passport including flights to the Australian embassy in Mexico City etc.
- Remember to get a police report within 24 hours (even if it’s not in English) and keep all receipts – your travel insurance company will usually require this in the event of a claim. Don’t try and make a false claim either – the police may undertake an investigation and will have no problem arresting you if you’re caught out.
- Keep backups of all photos and important documents – not just on a laptop, but also on a USB which is kept separate. Better yet, back up everything online. This goes for passports too – keep photocopies of your passport in all your bags as well as a scanned copy saved online.
- Open a skype account with preloaded credit so in the event things go haywire it’s quick and easy to go to an internet café and make cheap international calls to landlines and mobiles to contact relatives, cancel credit cards etc.
- Remember you can always contact the nearest embassy for assistance. They should be able to loan money in emergency situations. Western Union is also a great way to get money transferred from relatives overseas if needed. If you’re in a country that isn’t represented by an embassy of your home country, there may be an embassy of a partner country that may be able to assist to some degree.
Have you been robbed overseas? What were the circumstances? What tips and lessons can you share? Let us know in the comments section below!