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.