Keep Your Valuables Safe While Traveling

I was once a young naive traveler who often let my guard down while traveling. I didn’t want to be bothered with worrying about my things getting stolen. These days I travel with a lot more expensive electronics than I did in my younger years, so my level of comfort has changed.

Let me tell you a little story. I once knew a girl who had been traveling all over Western Europe by herself. Towards the end of her trip she got sick with the flu. While feeling miserable during a train ride from Prague to Amsterdam, she found a cabin all to herself, put on her headphones, and fell asleep to the melodic sounds coming from her ipod.

She felt safe inside her cabin since nobody else was there to steal her things. She was very smart to bring a money belt on this trip, but after the first couple weeks of travel, she decided it was unnecessary. In the midst of feeling tired and sick, she left her money belt in her travel backpack, which was right next to her while she was sleeping.

The next morning she awoke in Amsterdam feeling groggy and extremely sick. While exiting the train, she reached into her money belt to grab a few Euros to buy a croissant.

“What the hell?!” Where is the 250 Euro I had in here?”

After running the events of the previous night on the train through her head, she recalled waking up a few times to German men in uniforms opening the cabin doors, pointing flashlights into the cabin, then closing the doors. “They are just security officers, checking on things,” she thought.

Well, they sure did check on things. They also helped themselves to 250 Euros from the girl’s backpack. They were nice enough to leave her passport and ATM card. Thank god for that!!

Okay, so if you hadn’t already figured it out, that story was about my younger self. I’m a little ashamed that I actually let that happen and that I wasn’t more careful. In order to help out other travelers, I’ve put together a short list of tips for keeping your belongings safe.

Tips For Keeping Your Belongings Safe While Traveling:

  • While Sleeping on a train, bus, crowded hostel room, or any other public place, always keep your money, passport, credit cards and camera memory cards on you. Preferably in a money belt. Most likely you will wake up if somebody tries reaches down your pants while you are sleeping. At least I hope so.
  • Always keep your valuables (ie. camera, laptop, or anything else you don’t want stolen) with you. Don’t put them under the bus or give them to a taxi/van driver offering to put your bags in the trunk. I always keep my bag on my lap. I also keep a couple different stashes of money and credit cards. I keep most of my cash and cards on me (in my bra or money belt) and the other half somewhere hidden in my bag — that way I won’t be stuck with zero money if something happens. The only exception to this rule is when I’m sleeping in a public place (in this case, I keep everything in my money belt.
  • If I’m sleeping on a train or in a public place, I use a lock or PacSafe for my small backpack and lock it to something secure or sleep with my arms around it. I also recommend this slashproof backpack when riding on public transportation. (Oh, and I would suggest not listening to your headphones while sleeping in a public place.) Check out our Pac Safe Camera Bag Protector Review.
  • I now use a small PacSafe purse when walking around in a city. It’s big enough to carry my wallet, passport, phone, and a few other items. I’ve also tried the bra stash when I don’t want to carry around a purse. I have sensitive skin and the Eagle Creek bra stash doesn’t irritate my skin.If I decide I don’t want to bring a small backpack on day trips, I’ll carry this padded camera bag.
  • When booking a hotel or hostel, make sure it has good reviews when it comes to security and they offer a locker or in-room safe.
  • I always purchase travel insurance and make sure it covers my valuables if something were to happen. I use World Nomads because they have a great reputation. They also offer insurance for digital nomads who want extra coverage for things like laptops, camera gear, phones, and iPads. You can also look into covering these items if you have a homeowners or renter’s policy on your home.
  • Don’t get wasted and walk around alone in unfamiliar territory. (Which is something I also did in Amsterdam, but luckily nothing bad happened).

Common Travel Scams to Look Our For While Traveling:

  • Be on the look out for anybody who is offering to help you with your bags at a train or bus station. We once had a guy who didn’t seem to work at the station, but was offering to help people with translating the announcements and informing them when their train had arrived.When our train arrived he followed us to our cabin and offered to put our bags on the top shelf for us. I refused to hand over my small bag. I later realized he was probably going through people’s bags as he was putting them up top because you couldn’t see from outside the cabin.
  • South America and other parts of the world have their fair share of scammers looking to steal your money and valuables. Swindlers can create elaborate plans to trick you into letting down your guard and steal your belongings before you even know what hit you.A friend of ours got his money and passport stolen while trying to leave Argentina. The scam involved three people. The first part of the plan was to put a white cream on the back of our friend’s shirt without him knowing. Then an older lady informed him there was something on his shirt and offered him a tissue to wipe it off.He took off his backpack in order to reach the back of his shirt. When he turned around, he saw a man running away with his bag and he wasn’t able to catch up with him quick enough to eliminate losing his passport, money and camera. He was then forced to stay in the country and endure the long and expensive process of getting another passport.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If something seems out of the ordinary, just keep walking and don’t take off your bag for anything.

I’m not saying the world is a horrible place or that you should be scared to travel. As long as you are careful while traveling and stay aware of your surroundings, especially in transit, you will be fine and able to enjoy your travels. These are just a few tips and stories that might help you avoid the same mistakes others have made. Ninety to ninety five percent of the time you don’t need to worry and you will encounter genuinely friendly people.