How to Avoid Theft While Travelling

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It happens, I can’t deny that. People get robbed when they travel. People also get robbed at home so is the occurrence more likely on the road? I don’t think so. I’ve visited 50+ countries over too many years and have suffered two thefts and one attempted theft, that’s not so bad. This blog is about how to avoid theft while travelling. I’ll give you some tips, but I’ll also give you some real life travel theft experiences. I’ve asked some of my favourite travel bloggers to contribute their travel theft stories, I hope you enjoy them and can use them in avoiding theft and robbery while travelling. More travel security tips and suggestions are at the end of this post.

 Tips in Avoiding Travel Theft and Robbery. Travel Security

Real Life Travel Theft and Robbery Stories 

Travel Theft in Australia

We’ve had an unpleasant pickpocket incident on a bus in Penang, also an attempted bag slashing  (prevented by a metal anti-theft inner as found in modern anti-theft bags and daypacks.) on a train in India, but the story below was the one that hurt.

When we emigrated to Australia we were, unsurprisingly, carrying way too much luggage along with 2 very small boys, their strollers, travel cots and car seats.

We’d maxed out our luggage allowance while the bulk of our possessions travelled slowly to Australia by container ship. Precious items, the ones I would be devastated to lose should the ship sink, I had in my day pack.

These included my most precious photos, from our wedding, our travels and the birth of our children, along with jewellery, medical records and heirlooms.

We travelled from Cairns airport to our local hotel by large mini-bus taxi and arrived late at night. Excited to be on the tropical Coral Sea, we ditched our big bags in our securely locked hotel room and took a stroll down to the waterfront just carrying a small bag holding money, cards and passports.

 It was peaceful, warm and soothing, and it felt so good to be looking out to the reef from a tropical shore after our months of frantic preparation.

The next morning, as I boiled water for coffee and listened to the new, noisier, avian wake-up call, I noticed that my daypack was missing. All those precious, non-valuable items, along with my SLR Camera, gone. The camera was the only thing of value, the rest of the bag was entirely personal.

We never saw any of it again, we checked with the police, the hotel, the taxi company and the airport multiple times over coming days, I was devastated. Airport security were adamant it hadn’t happened there, their security and CCTV system wouldn’t allow it.  It was either a taxi theft, or somebody with a key took the bag from the hotel room. We’ll never know, but this story is alarmingly similar to this story from a Romanian travel blogger friend, also robbed in Cairns.

Travel Theft in Guatemala

Travel Theft Story From Explore With Erin

Erin Holmes-Bender, well-known family travel celebrity writes:

“Semana Santa in Guatemala. We had been warned. The city swells from its tiny local existence to a swarming sea of tourists. We avoided the crowds with great success until one night when we went out to dinner. Quite by accident, we happened upon a street parade and the crowds enveloped us like a giant bear hug.

“Your wallet,” I said to my husband. He was juggling our daughter on his shoulders so he removed one hand to place it over his wallet in his pocket.

We made our way through the crowd and came out the other side, sighing in relief. Until I asked my husband for my phone.

He put his hand in the other pocket and it was gone. Stolen amongst the sea of people, with no way of knowing who got it or when. I could only thank God he had his other hand over his wallet.

Finding the tourist police in Guatemala was incredibly difficult, but something that had to be done to go ahead with our insurance claim. Back alleys and no Spanish made for an exciting journey late into the night.

we spent a month living in Antigua Guatemala and experienced no issues with theft but we had many strong warnings to be careful. Take a look at our cute little rental in Antigua Guatemala here, see if its somewhere you’d like to spend a while.

Travel Theft in the USA

Suitcases and Sippy Cups

Jessica, a US based family travel blogger writes: “It was day six of our ninety day traveling sabbatical around the country. Our plan was to visit several Route 66 sights, starting from St Louis and working my way to the south down the famous highway. 

Our first stop was the Chain of Rocks Bridge, the first toll bridge on the Mother Road, just off the main highway.  It was a grey and drizzly day, so we were understandably the only car in the parking lot.  With a break in the rain, it seemed like a good time to grab some pictures of the bridge before we headed to our next stop.

With the baby in the stroller, we set off about 50 yards from the car to grab some pictures of the bridge.  I reached into the stroller to grab the video camera and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car drive up next to my car.   

In what seemed like movie magic slow motion, I watched in disbelief as a shadowy figure entered my car and began rifling through my front seat.

When it was done, my cellphone and purse were stolen and our car was vandalized where they used a screwdriver to pop the lock, but the remainder of our belongings were left behind because I turned around and began screaming for them to get out of the car.

I was also able to take pictures of the car as it sped away, and thankful, though we were shaken, no one was hurt.”

Travel Theft in Ecuador

Real Life Travel Story from To Travel Too

Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith, our favourite retired travel couple write:

“Saturday morning in Quito Bus Station, the busiest morning of the week. Locals and tourists flock to the local buses that take you to Otavalo Market, Ecuador’s famous indigenous market a 2-hour ride away.

The buses leave every 20 minutes and it is total mayhem.  There are queues for the tickets; there are queues to get on the bus. When it is your turn to hop on the bus you are pushed and pulled.

Duncan has been asked to put our suitcases in the bus hold, so we are separated and I am told to enter the bus.  

It turns out eyes are on us from the time we enter the bus station, we are being watched.  The local bus attendant guides me to our seats stating ‘company rules day packs must be placed under the seat’. Duncan pushes his way onto the bus and makes his way to where I am seated. He sits down asking where my bag is; I state the company rule again.  “No way” he says. 

I reach down to retrieve my bag and I can’t move it, eventually after a lot of pulling it is released.

Checking in at the hostel we are asked for our passports and credit card.  We open the bag and nothing. No passports, all my credit cards gone. That sinking feeling! 

Learning #1 ignore local bus attendants. 

Learning #2 don’t place your day pack under the seat in any circumstances. It turns out the friendly bus attendant is in cahoots with another passenger and we are seated in a position where another can access the content of our daypacks from under the seat.

2.5 months later we leave Ecuador with brand new Australian passports and Jane’s credit cards.  It took that long to renew our Australian passports (involving original identification; birth certificates etc. being sent from Australia to Ecuador and back to Australia) at a cost of nearly $2,000 covering fees, transport to the Embassy and accommodation. 

Travel Insurance is a must – we say ‘if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.”

Robbed in Papua New Guinea

 A2B2Sea’s real life travel theft story

Alissa, who travels with her family by boat writes:

“In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, our hotel room was being cleaned. I was in the room working at the desk. After they had changed the sheets on the bed, I realized that I had left my headphones (earbuds) in the bed, so the crew came back in and were looking for them.

They brought in another guy who had been helping and asked him if he had seen them. He said no and then started looking with the rest of them. It was only luck (stupidity on his part) that I happened to notice one of the earbuds sticking out of the pocket of his pants and asked him if they were, in fact, my earbuds.

He sheepishly handed them back pretending he had no clue how they got there and then they all left.

I called the hotel manager and explained what had happened, he said he would take care of it and I never heard anything else. Even though it was just something small, I felt really violated, particularly as it happened in our hotel room which was supposed to be a safe place.

While Port Moresby is crime-ridden, this type of incident isn’t location-specific and could’ve happened anywhere.”

Robbed in Vietnam

Blended Family Road Trip

Leezett who travels internationally and by bus around Australia, writes:

“During our many years of travelling the world, we have not experienced any theft until 2016 in Vietnam.

Prior to catching our overnight bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Dalat we carefully went through our standard routine of packing our bags and placing valuables in a smaller pack that came on board with us.

We have been travelling long enough now to know that phones, iPad, laptop, cameras, passports, cash etc never get left in our big backpacks in transit.

There were rumours years ago in Thailand that bus companies would allow petty thieves to hide below the bus in the luggage compartment and go through bags stealing anything of value while you blissfully slept through the night. Whether that happened to us or not will never be known.

We forgot our GoPro camera was in a side pocket of our big packs, safely wrapped in T-shirt to protect it from damage. Later into our trip we noticed it was missing and remembered the overnight bus. It could have been anyone grabbing the bags that felt it and took advantage or it could have been a dishonest employee.

Luckily we had download our pictures and had them safely stored on a hard drive along with insurance to replace stolen items, but the experience was a good reminder to try to carry only what you need, always check daily on items of value and to double-check nothing is missing.

Still travel with adventure on your mind and don’t let such experiences stop you from seeing your next destination.”

How to Avoid Theft While Travelling

Everyone handles travel theft and security differently so there is no one definitive answer, the following points are suggestions only in avoiding crime while travelling.

Tips to Avoid Travel Theft

  • Take out good travel insurance to replace items and cover document replacement charges.
  • Leave everything non-essential at home, this includes jewellery.
  • Split up your valuables, cards and cash. Never store everything in one place and have multiple cash sources. Consider a secure travel money card.
  • Take a scan or photo of all your important documents and store them online, not on your computer.
  • Choose a travel bag or purse that is either designated as anti-theft, or is sturdy and can be worn cross-body. ( see anti-theft travel bags here). This halts bag snatchers or casual thieves.
  • For backpackers, consider a wire mesh, pacsafe device or anti-theft metal backpack protectors like this one.
  • Consider chaining or otherwise fastening, bags to train chairs or other immovable objects, particularly on sleeper trains. Buy retractable cable locks here.
  • Never take your eyes off your bags, if you are solo and have to sleep, secure your bag or hide your valuables on your body.
  • Choose a bag that will take a small combination padlock, usually through zip holes. Buy luggage padlocks (TSA approved) here.
  • Never carry valuables in your pocket, unless you can keep a hand on that pocket at all times.
  • Consider an anti-theft day pack. See these here in our post.
  • Consider a waist pouch or neck pouch for small valuables, one like this.
  • Consider one of the many travel securty garments on the market, from vests to scarves, bras with hidden pockets.
  • A simple doorstop wedge can give you greater peace of mind at night, you can now buy them, cheaply, with built-in alarms. A night-time thief is unlikely to wake you. Buy two, hotel rooms often have doors to balconies or adjoining rooms. Take a look at these.
  • Remember that theft as you travel is rare, don’t travel in fear.
  • If your hotel has a safe, use it. However, many smaller hotels and guest houses do not have safes. In this instance either carry your valuables and passport with you, or lock them inside a bag. A locked bag is no deterrent to a real thief but should put off opportunists.

for Pinterest…

Travel Theft 15 Tips to Avoid Theft While Travelling

I really can’t state strongly enough, don’t travel scared. Most of the above incidents are easily avoidable with just a little extra vigilance but don’t beat yourself up if it happens to you. None of us are perfect and as we’ve shown here, we all take our eye off the ball sometimes. What about you, do you have a travel theft or robbery story that will help us all avoid theft on the road? Leave it in the comments to help fellow travellers.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

11 thoughts on “How to Avoid Theft While Travelling”

  1. Oh, it is the worst feeling! I had travelled all over Europe backpacking with my husband!! We got back to Australia, Melbourne Airport. Either in the delirium or maybe letting our guard down – a bag that had some of our camera cards and my iPod in it got stolen! On home soil after so many places, it could have happened. It also had our house keys. So, after 20+ hours transit, we then had to wait a few hours for a locksmith. When I realised what actually lost – the camera cards. It was before “hard-drive storage”. I cried. 90% of our photos were gone. We follow up with the airport so many times. It was lost! Still devo about it!

  2. Reading these stories makes me realise how lucky we are that we’ve never been robbed while travelling. We’ll be off to South America next year though, which I hear might be a bit more risky than Southeast Asia (is that a myth, do you think?), so we’ll review our luggage, insurance and security options for that. Great post 🙂

  3. Great article, thanks for sharing! I didn’t know for example that travel scarfs exist. We are planning a big trip, the first since the kids were born and I am a bit scared. Last time it was just the two of us…I suppose this is going to be a different game 🙂

    • Don’t be scared! But I LOVE those scarves, I’m a big scarf wearer anyway, I might get a secret stash one in London next week. Chef has an under-clothes belt now too, he’ll be modelling it shortly in another post on these gadgets.

  4. It happened to me in a train between Amsterdam and Rotterdam – I dozed off not more than 5 minutes, enough for a thief to steel my handbag with phone, purse and keys. I must say, I was in quite a shock for about half an hour, unable to get my thoughts together. Police and station staff were adorable, but it’s one of the nasty travel experiences I do not like to recall …

    • Yep, that’s your whole world gone, just like that. It leaves you helpless. I never travel alone, but if I did I’d make sure I used a wire cable lock, we don’t generally bother because there are 4 of us. On sleeper trains I tuck everything under my body.

  5. Its good to know we are in great company however, theft can be scary and its an incredible invasion of privacy and trust. Great article and a reminder to keep on ones toes

  6. It’s never really pleasant, but it happens to most people, and most times, it’s not too bad. I felt for your bag, because all those things aren’t replaceable!


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