When traveling there is, of course, always a risk of being robbed or of simply losing track of your important items. While this can happen anywhere, it’s often of most concern when on the road because you stick out, you’re moving around a lot, or you’re taking rogue transit methods. Likely, all three. Some of this information is pretty obvious, but it’s important and perhaps bears repeating.
Places to be Extra Careful
The first step is being aware of your surroundings, and identifying when you are most at risk. The following are places you should generally be on alert:
- Big Cities: No surprises here, some part of most any city in the world requires caution.
- Deserted Areas: It’s easier for someone to threaten or rob you if you’re on a deserted street than a busy area (there you can yell for help, others can intervene, etc.).
- Conversely, Very Busy Areas: Think plazas, subways, crowded places. With tons of people around, a casual “bump” (aka robbery) will go unnoticed.
- When You’re Clearly Visiting: Even if you aren’t doing “touristy” things like snapping photos every 20 seconds in a souvenir tee, sometimes you’re clearly an outsider and that makes you more of a target.
- Major Tourist Attractions: While these provide safety in numbers, they’re also a pickpocket’s playground with multitudes of potential victims in one place — and distracted ones at that.
How to Secure Your Valuables On Your Person
Bags, Backpacks and Purses
If possible, don’t bring a bag: This is my #1 recommendation if you’re in an area of high concern. Leave most items behind secured in your hostel. If a would-be robber has a choice between someone with a purse or camera on their shoulder or maybe something in their pocket, who will they choose?
If you must bring a bag, do the following:
Bring a cross body purse, keeping the zipper towards your body. It’s harder to snatch and can be kept in front of you.
Observe The Locals
When I’m unsure about of a certain area is safe, when for example I get excited and wander off my planned path or get wildly lost (basically every day occurrences), I take a cue from others. What are the locals doing with their bags? Are they walking with them in back, in front? Are they holding smartphones on the street or no? Their behavior will tell you everything you need to know.
If others are exercising caution you should absolutely do so as well.
Mimic their behavior and stay alert if they are — especially if you stand our or are maybe wearing that tourist tee you couldn’t resist buying. If no one else on the street is using their phone, do not pull yours out. If everyone is wearing their backpacks in front on a certain subway, do the same.
Sneaky Maneuvers For Hiding Items On Your Person
- For Girls: Use Your Sports Bra: Seriously, a lot can fit in there. Your passport, for example. Shove it in there. Cash can go in there, and even cell phones (no really – we tried it). This also works and is even more inconspicuous with shirts/dresses/bathing suits with removable padding. The items will stay safe and invisible…things only become slightly awkward when you need to get something out.
- Keep “Emergency Money” In Your Underwear: Gross? Kind of. Weird? Definitely. Unnecessary? Maybe. But if you’re in a risky area or are just a super paranoid person, keeping a small amount of cash in your underwear ensures you can still travel back to your hotel even if something happens to your bag or wallet.
Helpful Gear For Stashing Stuff
Still not sure how to secure your valuables while traveling? Here are a few unexpected gear items that help with stashing your stuff on your body as you go.
A what? I never heard of this before either, but a friend recommended it to me. I bought it because it was kind of cute (ugh) and I like headbands, but it proved its utility by day 3. So what is it? It’s like a bandanna, but made of a single piece of cloth. The packaging advertises myriad uses (18 of them), but I additionally found it wildly useful for carrying and hiding things.
- Hiding Camera: In Rio we were convinced we were going to be immediately mugged and/or die due to dramatic warnings and stories from others. It actually t turned out to feel totally fine, but in this paranoid state we wanted to take as few valuables out iwth us as possible. This lead me to do the strange behavior of putting the multiclava on as a headband and sticking my camera inside in the back part hidden under my hair. It looked as though I had nothing with me at all, I was able to bring my camera without stress, and it stayed absolutely secure all day.
- Hiding Money/Credit Cards: Same concept here. This can be done as a hairband, or also with the multiclava wrapped twice around your wrist.
- Extreme Maneuver: Put it around your body and hide your passport or whatever in it. It will stay VERY tight on your body, won’t fall out, and can be worn under clothes without detection – kinda like a money belt but less bulky. It’s a bit constricting I will admit, but safety > comfort. This was a good plan when sleeping on a night bus. A more normal thing to do, however, would be to just wear a shirt/jacket with an inside zip pocket…
I discovered this one by accident, when my sister was taking too long in a store. It’s a tiny wallet, nothing fancy, but this brand is super-durable, small, and comes in cool colors (obviously important…). I repeatedly put it in my bra and it was completely invisible, plus my money and cards stayed secure. It can also be stashed in pants pockets or anywhere else.
- Decoy Wallet: Carry a “decoy wallet” with a bit of cash and things you can part with. If you’re robbed, hand this guy over while keeping possession of the important stuff.
- Pocket Cash: Same concept as above. If robbed, hand this over rather than everything you have.
- Split Money Up: If you must carry a lot of cash or items, for example when you’re in transit with all your bags, split it up – either on your person (some in pocket, some in bag) or among people if you’re not alone (each take some). If one person or bag is compromised, you won’t lose it all.
- Use Your Sock: Tried and true method of hiding things, verified by many a traveler, although nearly not as creative as my recommendations above.
Want more tips on how to secure your valuables while traveling? Stay tuned for part 2: Stashing Your Valuables, At Your Lodging!