“It all happened so fast,” said my friend Debbie at a recent dinner. “I’m standing at an ATM, this woman comes up and asks me a question, and then I glance down at the ground and my backpack is gone! My passport, credit cards, tickets, cash, everything!”
Driving home afterwards, I said to Rich, “Imagine being alone, stranded in a foreign country, with all your valuables stolen!”
Rich, who is (and I say this lovingly) a trifle obsessed with travel security measures, spent the next 25 miles imagining just that – and figuring out ways to avoid such disasters. I thought we’d plumbed the depths of the subject when he was preparing for our three-month train trip (see 10 Best Ways to Keep Your Valuables Safe on the Road) but it seemed there was a great deal left to say about it.
1. Never put all your valuables in one place. Divvy up electronics, credit cards, cash, documents, and vital medications, and store them in at least two places, such as on your person, in your daypack, inside your carryon bag, etc. Never place valuables in checked luggage, which can all too easily be lost or stolen.
2. Be prepared to locate and disable all electronic devices remotely. Rich likes Apple’s Find My iPhone, an app that can identify the location of a missing device, lock it down, erase all contents remotely, or – if it’s just mislaid around the house – make it ring loudly until we find it. We also have Prey, an app that works on Android, Windows, and other platforms, letting you recover your devices or wipe them remotely. Coolest part: you can trigger a loud alarm sound and send a message to the thieves to let them know you’re after them.
3. Carry your purse tucked under your arm. Despite what you’ve read in the catalogues, a bag slung diagonally across your chest isn’t safer. My friend Rena had one, and the motorcyclists who grabbed it dragged her down the street by the strap. “Your only thought at that point is how to get it off as quickly as possible,” she says. Similarly, when a motorcyclist snatched my shoulder bag, I was glad the thin strap broke; if there had been a wire cable inside the strap, I’d have shared Rena’s fate.
4. Sit with your purse on your lap and your daypack’s strap looped around a leg – your own, or that of a table or chair. When I suggested this to Patricia, a Canadian friend in Seville, she said, “But I feel so safe here!” I said, “Me, too. But I’ve had my purse stolen twice, right off my shoulder, in broad daylight.” She put her purse on her lap. If your bag’s too large for that, secure it to the furniture or your person. This isn’t necessary everywhere, of course, but it’s a must in sidewalk cafés, parks, and crowded bars.
5. If a stranger approaches you, watch out. Some thieves work in teams, and one may try to distract you – for instance, by pretending to drop a lit cigarette on your trousers and patting your leg frantically as if to put out the fire. When this happened to my friend Jim in the Paris subway, he felt a tug and managed to grab onto his wallet. My friend Debbie at the ATM wasn’t so lucky.
One of the (few) benefits of being robbed is that you learn it’s not the end of the world, just annoying, inconvenient, and expensive. You do recover. Which is good, because no security measures are foolproof; even the best are no match for truly brilliant criminals like Professor Moriarity, Neal Caffrey, or Thomas Crown. But never fear; Rich is constantly devising new and better security protocols, and I’m standing by to pass them along to you.
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained any free or discounted gear in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know about products Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. If you have travel security tips or horror stories to share, I'd love to hear them!
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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