As my mom says: 'You can't be careful enough'. At some point she is right - we all should be more careful with our stuff and shouldn't go too easy about leaving our valuables unattended (ookay, now I also sound like my mom). But when traveling you want to relax and not being paranoid about your belongings - there are more important things to pay attention to than guarding your valuables day and night. Some countries are an easy go though - with low crime rates and high security. But what if you are heading to one where tourists are an easy target for thieves? I have to admit that in some countries I have traveled to I felt extremely uncomfortable because of the safety reasons (sorry, Brazil). But having Russian blood and living in Russia through 1990's helped me think straight and be as careful as I can but also enjoy the adventures. Having my bags snatched and cell phones stolen taught me to keep my eyes open and to expect the unexpected, but it haven't scared me from learning new cultures and traveling to faraway lands.
Let me share with you some tips I gathered during our travels on how to keep valuables safe without too much hassle.
I have to note here that those tips won't guarantee you safety, but they will help you to be more relaxed and prepared. But before I start please remember the most important rule of all:
There is no reason to play a hero and try to protect your belongings by no matter what unless you are absolutely sure that it will work out! Otherwise just part with them - nothing in the whole World is as valuable as your life and health - the rest can be replaced!
As a matter of fact I was 'not smart' enough to oppose a thief once and he gave me my cell phone back, the one he snatched from my pocket seconds earlier. But i think he was taken aback by a crazy furious girl who was not ready to part with her phone. It wasn't clever to do so, but sometimes you just react. Anyhow this was a one time thing, I have never ever tried anything like this again.
I learnt this lesson the hard way in Odessa, Ukraine. We didn't even get off the train when my wallet was already gone - someone probably snitched it while we were busy carrying our backpacks to the train doors. Luckily for me I wasn't traveling alone and I didn't have my cards inside the wallet. But nevertheless it was not a good start of the trip.
So always try to separate your valuables. Keep 2 or 3 wallets if you must - it is easier if you have several credit cards, so you can always stash some extra cash+card in each purse. Oh, and keep in mind where you place them!
To continue the money separation topic, using two wallets is essential in many countries. South American countries serve an example here.
It is not uncommon to approach tourists with knife and request for their wallet. In Brazil we heard these stories almost every day. The answer that you don't have a wallet is not sufficient. Many criminals are quite agressive and will try to get their catch from you no matter what. I don't want to scare anyone - these stories are happening all over the Globe, but some countries are more intense in this matter.
For this reason it is always advisable to have a second wallet on you with a small sum of money you can depart with in case of robbery. NEVER and I repeat NEVER have your second wallet empty. For many nations travelers are seen as 'money bags' and an empty wallet doesn't look trustworthy.
It is also advisable to have a second credit card in this 'fake' wallet, because these days everyone uses one. Sometimes you might be asked to go to an ATM and cash money, so be sure to have that credit card with a withdrawal limit!
I'm talking about extreme cases here, but this is what we did when we were in Brazil and Argentina.
I bet you all heard stories about companies from Cayman Islands cleaning empty your savings account while you are on holiday. Usually this happens when your credit cards data becomes available. And this happens through fraud and fake ATM's.
Yes, another personal experience is talking here.
So, always watch out where you cash your money. Best places to do so are inside official banks buildings with international names or local chains whidely spread inside a country.
Try to avoid the following:
- stand alone ATM's in the middle on nowhere
- ATM's inside or outside small shops
- ATM's with extra attachments around the card slip (these are often automatic readers to steal the data)
- Also be careful with stand alone ATM's with International names written on them - names and banners are easy to attach (hello, India)
- Avoid cashing money outside and always ask for privacy if someones is standing way too close behind you
- Just follow your inner voice as cash money only in places which look official
In any case, have your bank emergency number at hand to block your card right away in case you think you might be dealing with a fraud. If some fraud already happened contact your bank immediately so they can react right on spot - usually they cancel the transaction and return you the money (happened in our case).
Loosing your passport when on holiday is a nightmare! It costs time, nerves and money to replace it and you don't want to be dealing with that. As simple as it gets, leave your passport in a safe place (hotel safe locker for instance) and bring a copy of your passport along.
I don't like to carry my passpost around with me, because I know how much trouble I'll be in if I loose it. When backpacking in South East Asia I had some copies of the main page always at hand and it was enough in most of the cases.
The original document I kept in a small pouch around my neck.
I think I got this tip from my grandma who told me stories about stitching her valuables to her underwear to keep it safe when traveling by train in Russia in the middle of 50's. You don't need to go as far as that, but having a small pouch with your passpost, some cash, credit card and insurance card around your neck won't harm anyone. That's what I've done when traveling in trains through India and Russia. I didn't care much about my backpack, but always kept a little pouch on me.
It's an obvious advice, but I know that many people don't pay too much attention to using safe lockers. Room and apartment robberies are not uncommon, but usually the thieves don't want to loose time in breaking the codes and take whatever they find laying around since they want to be fast.
Keeping your valuables in a safe locker won't hurt you, but will help you feeling a bit safer.
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