When traveling you are susceptible to theft but you can mitigate many of the risks by implementing a personal travel security strategy. Security isn’t about preventing every possible risk, but rather, reducing the impact of any single incident. You can insulate your money, information, and person by diversifying and thinking more like a robber and less like a victim.
Protect Your Money With Dirty Socks
Never keep all of your money in a single place. Spreading out your money in various places isn’t difficult, even if you travel with alone or stick with a single carry on. Split up your money as best you can in routine places wallets and your backpack, but also smellier places that aren’t so inviting or typically associated with money.
- On Your Person – Spread out cash over yourself in places like deep within your socks, on the side of your underwear, or a bit in your bra.
- Dirty Socks – Your stinky hiking socks aren’t likely to be touched, even if you leave the socks under your hostel bed (and separate from your backpack). The same goes for your underwear – if it’s gross for you it will be for most crooks too and not many people would expect to find money there.
- Toys – Those of you traveling with pets or kids can use their toys as hiding spots for additional cash.
- Wallet – Have some cash in your wallet and don’t keep your important IDs or credit cards in it. Your wallet is the primary target pickpockets are after so make it a satisfying decoy by carrying unactivated credit cards along with a photo ID with no personal information on it (e.g. old student ID).
- Don’t forget to protect what you’ve got back at home either.
Another way you can be shadier than a thief is to leave just one credit card or free checking account card in your decoy wallet. If it is stolen, report the card as such immediately. Most companies keep close tabs on when and where stolen cards are used and you might get lucky if the thief happens to try and withdraw money under the watchful eye of store security cameras. Just make sure to find a bank that won’t charge time-based fees, here’s how to choose the right bank before going overseas.
Keep Your Gadgets, Laptop, and Data Safe
Next to money, your portable electronic devices are most attractive to thieves. Protect them physically and digitally by encrypting your data and having good backups just in case.
- Lock Down Your Laptop – Follow A Traveler’s Guide To Locking Down Your Laptop Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
- Make Your Stuff Ugly – You can find out how to uglify your digital camera and use the same premise for your other gadgets. Stickers, duct tape, and tacky carrying bags can make electronics less attractive to potential crooks than if they’re strutting around in their shiny best.
- Security At Internet Cafes – Keep your online accounts safe at Internet cafes by loading up a USB drive with these 12 applications or installing portable Linux. Also, don’t use Internet kiosks at airports.
- Zippers Down When Sleeping In Airports – Tie your bags together with a simple laptop lock and have your bags facing zipper down to make it slightly harder for someone to take advantage while you’re dozing.
- Carry Padlocks – Most hostels offer lockers but charge for locks so bring 2 of your own to save the money and get the security.
- Leave The iPhone Behind – There are some advantages to traveling without an iPhone but if you bring one be aware the encryption on the device is useless against even amateur hackers. Don’t leave credit card numbers or other sensitive data there.
- Backup Your Laptop, Backup Your Laptop, Backup Your Laptop – There are 2 good free online solutions which will help you recover from a stolen or dead hard drive quickly.
Perhaps the most important rule to keeping your tech gadgets safe on the road is not flashing them when you don’t have to. Be aware of your surroundings and read up on the common crimes or ask the hostel or hotel clerk what’s risky and not. Don’t assume a busy or touristic area is a safe place; take Drifting Focus’s word for it and follow her advice.
Think Chameleon To Blend In
Tourists are easy targets because they can be easily distinguished from locals and most travelers are carrying money and electronics. Begin your security strategy by blending in (here’s how Americans can blend in abroad).
- Ditch The Jeans – In most places around the world, blue jeans aren’t the default pants worn.
- Know The Faux Pas – Here’s a complete list of international faux pas.
- Look Confident, Even If You’re Not – Pretend you are acting in a movie, who’s the most confident character you know? Channel them to give the impression of confidence and don’t be afraid to be firm when needed.
- Watch The Pace – Look around you and see how people move when you arrive to a new destination. What is the local pace, are you running around while the locals are one step behind?
- Move With A Purpose – It’s not always easy (especially in the first few days) but even when you are wandering, don’t make it seem so.
- Bargain Like A Pro – Or better yet, bargain like a Ferengi, even when you don’t know the local language.
Don’t be under the impression that, despite your best efforts, the locals won’t be able to pick you out. You’ll just be a less likely target for pickpockets and scam artists since they tend to go for what they consider the easiest prey. A confident traveler who knows the local culture isn’t a good choice for most crooks.
Prepare Early, Prevent What You Can, And Be Ready For What You Can’t
As I mentioned earlier, you can’t keep all of your money safe all of the time, blend in everywhere as best you’d like, or ever be completely safe online. The point is that you don’t have to. Simply reduce the impact of any one potential security breach like a stolen wallet so you can move on from it without completely derailing your travels or sanity. Get creative and put yourself in the shoes of a pickpocket or hostel opportunist – figure out what they’d do and be ready with surprises.
[photos by: Hollywood Poodle (security dog), Roo Reynolds (stickers on laptop), ucumari (chameleon)]
Love these tips Anil! Esp. the one about mucking up your stuff! I am a huge believer in that. Why make it look fancy and new?
Thanks Bethany – it’s so stressful to keep everything so shiny and spot free. At least it was for me but years ago I gave up long since and added bonus, it’s better for security 🙂
More pictures of cute dogs and less pictures of scary babies!
hahaha, that’s definitely something I can work with!
Okay- can I just say this was a GREAT post!!!! First- I LOVED the picture :)…second, you had so many great ideas. I especially loved your link to the Faux pas on Wikipedia!! What great insights!!
I appreciate that Anjuli, that poodle looks tough. I wouldn’t want to mess with him or her 🙂
The dirty laundry tip is also useful when traveling to countries where your luggage will be searched (for bakeesh) preferably some female laundry too!
The most simple airport security tip is to loop your laptop bag strap THROUGH the trolley. This means that it can’t be snatched away when you’re distracted (paying for coffee etc)
I hadn’t thought of that, great tip to tie the bag to the trolley.
This is excellent advice. Too often travelers disregard simple safety until they are struck with a security incident, such as theft.
Did you know: it’s easy to open luggage when the zipper is locked? This is a well know trick used by thieves throughout the world.
Most luggage have nylon zippers and it is common to see people locking the zips on their luggage. A locked bag is a flag to a thief that the bag is worth targeting.
You can try this yourself on an OLD bag. I wouldn’t advise trying it on a good bag as it can break the zip.
Zip the bag fully closed with the single or two zipper closers pulled all the way around to one end.
Use the pointed end of a pen, key, scissors or similar implement with a point on one end. Select a position about half way along the zip then push the pointed end of the implement into the zip to separate the teeth of the zip. You will need firm pressure to do this.
The teeth on each side of the zip will separate. Use your fingers to then pull the two sides of the zip apart to open the bag.
To close the bag hold the one or two zip closers that are at one end of the zip and pull them all the way around to the other end of the zip. This will reconnect the teeth of the zip and no-one is the wiser that the bag had been opened.
With some experience a bag can be opened in less than 5 seconds. Within 15 seconds the bag can be opened, searched and closed.
The point here is not to rely on locks on zippers to secure the goods in your bag. Luggage with hidden zips or with a flap over the zip offer a little more protection. Don’t leave your luggage unattended, even for a few seconds.
I guess zippers were never designed to be secure – an excellent demonstration of how easy they are to get crack!
Very great tips!! Love the decoy idea of unactivated credit card. 🙂
They’ve got to be useful for something, even those annoying cards that seem to pop up in the mail!
Excellent! My number one rule for security when traveling solo is ‘never trust anyone’…a little perspective I picked up in NYC I think. Great advice about the socks/underwear..ick.
You are a master at weaving old posts into new posts…always amazed at how well it all fits together!
Got to put that dirty laundry to use somehow!
My goodness what a lot of things to watch out for – I hope you won’t scare people off traveling! I guess these days when we travel with so much electronic gagetry we all have to be a little more careful.
I like the dirty socks idea for hiding money but I won’t be entrusting any cash to my teenage kids or that’s a sure way to never see it again
haha, the teenage version of hiding money is to exchange it for stuff, aka. buying!
I meant to write you before and thank you for your “Traveler’s Guide to Locking Down Your Laptop” series. I’ve spent the past week implementing many of your suggestions. I’ve been particularly happy with Mozy and the ease of mind that service now provides me.
And this was a great post because you’re right, security does not simply involve throwing on a money belt. I particularly like your addition of cultural security measures, such as the clothes we wear and observing the pace around us.
One thing I often do, depending on where I am, is to put my backpack into another bag/box before traveling by bus or train. If I’m in India, I put my backpack into a rice sack, in Eastern Europe I used a fruit carton and in Central America I was using garbage bags. If a thief can’t see my backpack, chances are they’ll just move on to someone else who might have something more exposed.
Earl, good idea, one I hadn’t heard before. Also, glad to hear you’re liking and using Mozy – having an online backup will make a hard drive crash so much less stressful.
I love all these tips, Anil. But how about adding one more: DON’T ACT LIKE YOU’RE AFRAID!”
Love it! Confidence (or a good appearance of it) goes a loooooong way.
Also to add to the thread –
1. Try to pick up few local language like “I don’t want it”, “Where is the Police station”, “Stop it” etc. Saying these in front of touts and other irritating shop keepers would give the impression that you are not new.
2. Always try to inform some one back home about your itinerary and have the person raise the alarm if your regular updates are missing.
3. Do a little research of every tiny destination before going, but don’t blindly believe everything that’s on the net (including this one :-))