There are plenty of articles online giving great holiday safety tips for how not to get robbed and what to do if the unfortunate happens and you part ways with your possession
But what about preparing to get robbed?
Being robbed is usually a quick act but piecing things back together – remembering exactly what was taken, cancelling bank cards and dealing with lost data – can take days if not weeks to solve, and all at a time when you’re reeling from the shock and misery of the theft itself.
In this article, we’ll look at a few simple travel preparations to minimise the impact if you do wander into the worst-case scenario.
First step: Assess your current behaviour
A good starting point is to ask yourself: “If it happens today, if I get robbed/my bag gets snatched while I’m out and about, can I deal with it? Can I fix this quickly and easily?”
If the answer is no, it’s time to re-assess how you travel. To help you do that, here are my 12 tips.
1. Leave your passport in your hotel room
I’ve had this debate time and again with travellers and my advice is always the same – never carry your passport on you unless you absolutely have to.
Of all the people I’ve ever met who have had their passport stolen, it’s only ever happened when they had their passport in their possession.
Bags get robbed daily but someone successfully cracking into a hotel safe or even breaking into a locker in a dorm is much less likely.
Unless you need your passport for a specific transaction (e.g. proof of identify at the bank or you’re going to the airport/a new location), leave it behind.
Walking it around town, taking it to the beach or treating it to some time in a restaurant screams potential disaster.
The most common push back I get to this advice is “What about ID”. Sure, some countries require you to have ID on you at all times and some bars won’t serve you (even if you are 38) without flashing your passport.
In my experience, a photocopy of my passport together with my driving license (a less vital form of ID) generally does the job and if I do have to take my passport out (e.g. to a bar in the USA), I take it for that occasion only and I keep it in in a zipped pocket of my bag, which I wear across my body all night (yes, even on the dance floor). As soon as I’m done, I return my passport to a safe place.
2. Leave your sentimental items at home
No matter how decent your travel insurance, some items are just plain irreplaceable and if a sentimental item is take from you, there is sod all you can do about it.
If you have any sentimental items you’d be devastated to lose or which would cause you to hesitate if you were being robbed, leave them at home. It’s not worth the risk.
If there are some items you refuse to travel without (I travel with my dearly departed Nan’s engagement ring), assess the risk on a city by city basis. You’re going to face a lot less risk wearing something valuable in Tokyo than you are in Rio. In places that do pose a greater risk, leave your valuable locked up safely for that location.
3. Only carry the amount of cash you need
Although cash is theoretically the easiest item to replace if you’re robbed, nobody wants to lose vast sums of money. For that reason, make dedicated ATM trips. Get your cash and return to your room where you can deposit the bulk of it somewhere safe. For the rest of the time, only take out the amount of money that you will need (or can afford to lose) each day.
A word on money belts: I’m not a fan of travel belts because I don’t believe they increase your travel safety and security. As much as you might like to think these belts share the same material composition as the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter, the reality is that WE CAN STILL SEE THEM! Particularly when you’re stood next to a street food vendor fiddling at your waistband to not so subtly find a few pesos amongst your hundred-dollar bills.
These pouches may look discrete on the shelf if the shop, but the second you put stuff in them, they scream “rob me!” So, unless you’re wearing very loose-fitting clothes and keep only some essential bills and one credit card in them and never access it in public, I think the risk (of indicating to thieves you have something worth concealing) outweighs the benefits.
Also, wouldn’t you rather have a thief pointing his knife or gun at your bag than a fiddly clasp around your waist?
4. Pack a spare bank card
Unlike cash, bank cards are much harder to replace and promise a more significant problem (errr – no more cash) if stolen so, like with ATM withdrawals, only carry your card on you when you absolutely need to.
As an extra travel precaution, carry a spare card on your travels and keep it in a separate location so that if the unfortunate does happen and you get robbed while you’re carrying your main card, you still have an easy means to access cash.
Pro travel tip: I have a spare bank card back in the UK. If I’m really stuck, I can either get that card couriered to me (quicker than my bank can sort something out) or at the very least get hold of those card details and book a flight if things are really bad.
5. Know how to cancel your cards
If your bank card was no longer in you possession, would you know what to do to put a stop on your credit card(s) before your new-found enemy has a chance to clear out your account?
Unhelpfully, most emergency contact numbers are kept on the back of your bank card (fat lot of good it it’s just been stolen). Keep a written note of the contact number and make sure you know (in your head) any security numbers and passwords you’d need to give to deal with your bank. If you need to know your card details, keep that information somewhere online (in encrypted form, of course) or entrust it to a relative who can get the details to you if necessary.
6. Back up your photos and laptop
I know backups can be a chore, especially on an Internet connection that is fresh from the 1990s (as is common in many countries around the world) but I’ve heard it so many times – “I don’t care about the camera/laptop, it’s the photos/data I lost.”
Cameras and laptops are replaceable. Photos and data aren’t.
In short: back up your photographs and laptop regularly. If you’ve had a big day out or spent a long day working on something (your 5-year plan or life story), backup that night. Otherwise, do a backup at least weekly (note to self).
The common advice is to apply a 3-2-1 approach of having three copies on two devices with at least one copy online. I keep a copy of photos on my memory card, laptop, external hard-drive and online (using SmugMug). I back up my laptop to an external hard drive…and need to promptly find an online solution if anyone has any recommendations.
7. Know how to disable your phone and accounts
We all know that there’s this magical cloud place and some sort of find my phone function, but do you really know how it all works? The best time to find out is before something bad happens.
Here are two handy articles:
As smartphones contain increasing amounts of personal data ranging from social network logins to email addresses to stored bank details, you want to be able to prevent access before the thief can delve into your identity.
As for your mobile network, make sure you know any passwords or pin number you will need to call your account and block your number so that the thieves can’t run up a huge bill at your expense. It may sound obvious but I met one girl who’d saved her account pin on her phone – no use when her phone was stolen in Paris.
Pro travel trip: consider travelling with a pay as you go SIM – any liability is limited to the amount of credit you have pre-paid.
8. Check your online storage actually works
It’s all very well backing things up online but do you know where to go to get your data if you need it? Also, are you sure that your back-ups are actually working? Don’t put faith in the fact that you ticked the backup box. Do a dry run and try to access your data to make sure everything is saving fine in a location you know how t get to.
9. Encrypt your data before you travel
If your laptop finds its way into someone else’s hands, lost data might be the least of your problems. As with smartphones, most people tend to keep way too much personal data on their laptops. I know that I love the fact that my Mac remembers my bank details for all my transactions…but I’d definitely love that feature a lot less if a thief were using it to book a trip to the Caribbean for New Year (and didn’t invite me).
The reality is that most laptops don’t come with the level of encryption you might hope and the standard password login can be easily overridden in the right hands. If you’re taking your laptop and a lot of personal data on holiday, making sure your data is properly encrypted is a move that could save your skin.
A great article on the subject is: Lessons I Learned When My Laptop Was Stolen
10. Have a secure password storage system
I don’t know about you, but I have more passwords than I had beers last Friday (for the record, I had an uncountable number of beers last Friday). Thanks to those handy things called cookies, my laptop and iPhone remember who I am and log me into each of my accounts each time. Not so handy is the fact that I no longer know my passwords from memory.
Third party password protectors like Last Pass will not only store your passwords safely online, making it swifter for you to log-in, check your accounts and change your password, they can act as a good prompt to remind you of all the myriad accounts you have active.
11. Don’t just have insurance, have adequate insurance
It should be a given that you have travel insurance (for medical bills if nothing else). However, if you have also taken a policy to protect your valuables, make sure that those items are actually adequately covered. When I was doing a lot of research into insurance policies earlier this year, I was shocked to discover that baggage and valuables cover isn’t always as generous as headline claims might make out.
You can read more in my related article: Travel Insurance: Don’t Get Screwed By The Small Print
12. Know your insurance details and don’t forget to claim!
The likelihood is that your insurance details were emailed to you and you stored it in a handy folder on your laptop. Of course, if your laptop or smartphone goes missing, have your insurance details gone with it?
Keep a written note of your insurance policy number and the contact number and save a copy of your travel insurance policy online (e.g. email it to yourself on a cloud based email service like Gmail).
And finally, don’t forget to claim. If you get robbed, you probably want to put the incident behind you as soon as possible, but if you’ve lost anything of fair financial value, make sure you make a claim within the relevant time period – that’s what your insurance is there for, after all.
And knowing that you will get back (in terms of value) most of what you lost, you’ll hopefully be less concerned if you ever have the misfortune of getting robbed.
Have you been robbed while you were travelling? Any other tips you’d recommend/things you wish you’d done to make the whole experience easier to deal with.