It was a sunny day in Arequipa on my trip through Peru. All around me the white colonial buildings almost glowed with the warmth of the afternoon inviting me to take off my coat. I saw him out of the corner of my eye as my gaze wandered from the main plaza, lunging fast and straight for me. Before I had a chance to react I felt a sharp pinch on my chest and heard a faint ripping noise. My instinctual reaction was to scream as loud as I possibly could, and for what was probably only a second, time stood still and my attacker and I looked each other straight in the eye with mutual shock before reality snapped back in and he high-tailed it down the street. Looking down, I could see my shirt was ripped and missing was the gold chain with an ivory elephant ‘good luck’ charm that I had tucked under my shirt this morning” – Me at age 22
“It was at Pret A Manger, across from LSE, where some friends and I decided to grab lunch and take a break from studying. Rather than leave my laptop in the library, I thought I would bring it in my purse to lunch to be ‘safer’. While we were eating we noticed an attractive, well-dressed guy walk in and head straight to the back of the restaurant where our table was. He didn’t stay long, didn’t buy anything, and eventually got up and left as we continued talking. At some point I reached under my feet to grab my purse and check something on my laptop when I noticed it felt oddly light. When I looked inside, both my laptop and wallet were gone.” – Jacqueline, 27
“I was walking along a beautiful street in Amsterdam with a friend during a trip through Europe and this guy suddenly came running towards us pushing a bike. He said he was trying to buy a train ticket to Rotterdam and was a bit short. We said we couldn’t help him out, that we were travellers and didn’t have any cash on us to which he told us that the reason he came to us was because he thought we looked ‘cool’ and he didn’t want to have to go to someone else and use his knife. At this point he rolled up his sleeve to reveal a massive butcher knife…” – Adam, 20
Thefts happen every day all over the world and can happen to anyone regardless of age or gender. It happens when you least expect it, when you’re not even aware of it and sometimes in a way that can shake you, ruin a vacation or your opinion of a place. Thieves never steal the meaningless things; they steal the things with sentimental or monetary value and the things that are annoying or impossible to replace. Here are a few ways to avoid this fate or at least prevent it from ruining your holiday:
- Be extra careful when travelling during a major event
Big events like the Olympics, sporting events, major holidays or a festival can bring out the most common thieves. Out-of-towners are generally vulnerable making easy targets for a quick grab. The best ways to avoid falling victim is to not carry anything valuable on your person in the first place, to always be aware of your surroundings and belongings, and to take note of those in the area and beware of anything that may seem suspicious. Most of the people who get mugged mention they had a “feeling” that something wasn’t right so trust your gut.
- Don’t keep all your valuables in one place
Pretty much every hotel you go to these days has a safe in the room where you can store valuables like plane tickets, credit cards and passports but it’s not uncommon to hear stories of safe raids. Whether it’s an in-room lockbox, the front desk of your hotel or your money belt under your pants, try and split up your valuables so if one of these places gets hit, you haven’t lost everything.
- Make copies of important documentation
Sometimes you take all the precautionary measures and you still fall prey to a pickpocket. Protect yourself by storing copies of any important documentation in other places like your suitcase, money belt or companion’s suitcase (i.e., any passports, Visas, identification cards, credit cards, etc.)
- Don’t bring valuables with you
This may seem like an obvious tip but many people like to travel in style with some of their most valuable belongings. Decide before you go whether it’s worth it to you to wear those diamond earrings and risk having them ripped from your lobes or if you really can’t live without your new expensive tablet for a few weeks. Honeymooners should leave their new rings at home.
- Don’t make it obvious that you’re a tourist
A camera around the neck may seem like the safest place for you to keep track of it but it also identifies you as a tourist and therefore a target. We all need to refer to our maps and guidebooks but try finding a quiet café where you can pull out your book to find your footing before heading back out on the streets. It’s much easier to keep track of your belongings in a quiet environment rather than a crowded street.
- Make people earn your trust first
You don’t want to assume that everyone is a criminal but there’s no harm in taking a few precautions before you jump into the back of that cab. Check credentials, ask questions and be informed so that you won’t be surprised later.
- Banks are different away from home
Don’t treat the ATM the same way you do at home. In many places, this is the most common location for getting ripped off. Try to avoid taking out large sums from machines, don’t go at night and in many places, only go to banks with security guards.