Travel Safety: How to Avoid Getting Robbed on Vacation

When you go on vacation, you probably want to come home with souvenirs and other goodies from your travels. The last thing you want is to come home without the personal belongings you took on your trip. I’ve been all over the world, sometimes by myself, and I’ve never had a cent stolen from me. There are some fairly simple things you can do to prevent becoming a victim to pickpockets and muggers.

Keep your belongings inaccessible to others in public.

When you’re out, keep your important personal belongings in a place where they are not visible or accessible to potential thieves. This is especially relevant when it comes to money, your passport, or your phone. No one is going to steal something they don’t know you have on you. So keep your money put away in public, crowded places. Keep your phone and passport in a pocket, especially one you can easily check and that you would feel if someone was trying to slip their hand into. If you are wearing a jacket with an interior zipped pocket, keep your things there. If you don’t have pockets on your clothing, make sure your things are in a zipped (or otherwise sealed) bag. If you are carrying a purse, make sure it closes completely. Purses with a visible and accessible opening make you easy prey. Anyone could slip their hand in and you wouldn’t even notice.

In some places, you may have to exercise a higher degree of caution. You may want to carry small locks so you can lock up items like a backpack. On my first trip abroad with my best friend, we bought tiny locks and keys for our bags. We found that in Western Europe, that’s generally not necessary. However, they came in handy in some sketchy neighborhoods in Paris.

Be especially careful in train stations. 

Pickpockets love train stations in big cities. They’re full of lost tourists fumbling with cash trying to figure out how to buy a ticket to get where they need to go. Getting on or off a moving train is also a quick and easy getaway after you’ve snatched someone’s wallet. So avoid being the victim. Look up how to buy tickets, fare prices, and get change before you get to the station. In some cities, like New York, where all subway trips are a flat rate, this is simple. In other places, you might benefit from downloading local metro apps or checking transportation websites to find fare information. If you arrive at the station and you don’t stick out like a sore thumb, you’re already ahead of the game.

At the risk of being redundant, you should always keep your valuables out of sight, but especially in trains. If you’re looking idly at your phone when a train stops at a station, it’s very easy for someone to grab it out of your hands and run out, leaving you with no one to even chase down to get it back. If you have a purse or bag, put it in your lap while you ride the train. If you’re standing, make sure it’s secured to your body. It’s a lot easier for someone to grab a bag that is in your hand than one that is strapped across your body.

Keep your things safe wherever you’re staying.

Whether you’re staying at a luxury hotel or a hostel, or going cross-country on a night train, you should take simple steps to avoid getting robbed. Most hotels have a safe. Use it. Most people carry around a lot of cash on vacation. Don’t take all your trip money out with you every day. Take what you think you’ll use for the day and leave the rest of it in a locked safe. If you don’t have a safe, you have to rely on the honesty of the cleaning staff and the safety of the hotel. But you can always try to your best to avoid getting robbed, like putting your money in a bag with dirty underwear. The other upside to this is that if you are mugged on the street, you still have the majority of your money elsewhere.

If you’re staying in a hostel, it’s imperative that you buy a lock. Pretty much all hostels have lockers (all of them worth staying at, anyway) for you to put your personal belongings. Some of them are under the bed and some of them are in lockers in the room. Bring your own lock so you can sleep peacefully at night knowing that no one is going to get to your bag, not without a wirecutter anyway. I recommend a combination lock so you don’t have to keep a key on you at all times. After all, a key can also be stolen. As nice as everyone might be in your hostel dorm, you really don’t know what their intentions are so don’t give anyone the opportunity to ruin your trip. Lock up even when you go to the bathroom for a minute or two.

If you’re on a sleeper cabin on a night train, you should also be very careful with your belongings. Sometimes the cabin locks malfunction or can be easily broken into and if you leave money or valuables lying around, they may get taken while you sleep. You should have your most important belongings strapped to you while you sleep so someone would have to wake you to get to them.

Be aware of your surroundings and be careful who you talk to.

It should go without saying that a safe traveler is one that is well aware of the people and situations around them. If you’re getting a strange feeling in your gut about where you are and who is around, trust that feeling and go elsewhere. Though there are many friendly people in other cities and countries worth chatting with, you should be wary of people who are trying to hound you in large public squares or crowded places, especially near tourist attractions. Many gypsies make a living this way, either trying to scam you out of money by getting you to donate to fake causes or by distracting you while an accomplice tries to pick your pockets. Sometimes gypsies will try to offer you “gifts” like flowers or bracelets, but when you accept it, they’ll demand payment and they can get very nasty if you refuse to cough up some money. You should get familiar with the phrase “No, thanks” in the native language of the places you visit. Usually a firm no will get these people to back away.

If you follow these general guidelines, you and your belongings should be fine no matter where you go. Just use common sense. Don’t share a cab with strangers… we all saw Taken.