We get a lot of questions about our lives as full-time travelers. One common question that we get involves our safety and security. In this article I’ll be answering the question “Have you ever been robbed or scammed while traveling?”
If you prefer to watch a video, all of the information in this article is in this link: Have We Been Robbed?
When we prepared to become full-time travelers, one of the biggest concerns of our family and friends was for our safety. People expressed concerns to us about being assaulted, robbed, kidnapped, or murdered. The good news: I have never been kidnapped, and not once have I ever been murdered. But our journey hasn’t been totally incident free. One experience forced us to make an unplanned escape to a safer location (more on that later).
Here are our seven best tips for staying safe while traveling. I’ll share our personal stories and experiences with security in these tips below.
Tip #1 – Be Cautious At Night
Some of our best travel experiences occur at night, but you do need to be extra careful after dark. Don’t miss out on night time experiences out of fear, but do take some extra precautions. Be aware of your surroundings and try to be with a group instead of alone if possible. It’s also better to use a ride sharing service to get around town after dark instead of walking.
Tip #2 – Don’t Over Do It On Alcohol
Be careful with your alcohol consumption. If you’re a little tipsy thieves can see that you are not fully alert and take advantage of that.
Tip #3 – Don’t Keep A Lot Of Cash
Thieves would much rather steal your cash than you personal items. If a thief knows you’re loaded with cash you are more likely to be a victim. Don’t flash loads of cash when getting out your wallet to pay for something. Do be careful around ATM machines, although it is my opinion that it is safer to carry less cash even if that means that you have to visit an ATM more often.
Tip #4 – Know The Common Scams
You are much more likely to be a victim of a scam than any kind of violent crime, and certain scams are common in certain areas. I like to browse through posts on the the TripAdvisor forums, and if there is a common scam then you can probably learn about it from the forum.
The most common scam that people complain about is being overcharged for something. I don’t always think being overcharged is a scam (it depends on the situation). In my opinion, if you as a foreigner get charged more than a local for something, but you agree to pay that price, then that’s not a scam. But if you agree to a price and then price is suddenly higher, or you didn’t get what you paid for, then in my view that is a scam.
We have had two experiences with scams since we became full-time travelers two years ago. The first was in Montevideo, Uruguay. We took a trip to the grocery store, and when we got back to our apartment we looked at the receipt and noticed a charge for a bottle of beer on the receipt. We think the cashier somehow scanned a bottle of beer when we weren’t looking and then kept it for herself.
Our second scam experience was through one of the major online hotel reservation websites (I don’t what to say which one because I don’t want any more hassles with this company). To make a long story short, we had to cancel a reservation early due to Covid-19. The reservation was supposedly fully refundable. After going back and forth for months with the company we just gave up and lost around $20.
Tip #5 – Know How To Get Help
If you’re staying at a hostel or hotel, you can always ask the reception to get help from the police if needed. We usually stay in Airbnb apartments where there is no reception, so it’s good to know how to contact police or an ambulance for an emergency.
Tip #6 – Lock Your Valuables
Most chain hotels have small safes you can use. But we rarely stay in international chain hotels and don’t have a safe. So we bought a PacSafe bag protector to help prevent being robbed. It is a wire cage that wraps around your backpack and then allows you to lock it up. (Note that PacSafe does not sponsor us).
I do have just one very traumatic theft experience as a traveler to tell you about in India. After finishing some laundry I hung my clothes out to dry on the clothes line. I went to run some errands, and I came back to find one of my socks missing from the clothes line! I’m pretty sure I know who was responsible for this theft. Before I left to run my errands there were some very suspicious looking monkeys that had been watching me when I was hanging my clothes, and I know it was one of these monkeys that robbed me of my sock! All kidding aside, we have been fortunate enough not to have been victims of theft while traveling.
Tip #7 – Research Safety In Your Destination
This is probably the most important tip. For example, Lima, Peru has a reputation for having a high crime rate. But we researched ahead of time to find the safer areas in the city and we chose a really nice neighborhood. Again, the TripAdvisor forums are a good source for safety information. We also think the Lonely Planet guides give good information about safety in specific areas.
Our biggest issue with security occurred during our stay in Valparaiso, Chile. The port workers were on strike when we were there, and the demonstrations got a little violent. Our apartment was very close to the port, and one night the fires raged around the neighborhood and we saw attacks on the police. Some of the demonstrators tried to break into our apartment building, but there was a security gate that kept them out.. We stayed calm because we knew the demonstrators weren’t targeting us personally. But we realized that this was not a good time to be in Valparaiso. We left the next morning for a nearby town. We had to pay for a hotel that night, but we have always said that our safety and health are more important than our budget.
The world is much safer than it appears from watching the news or from rumors you hear. I feel safer being overseas than I did living in the US. The rest of the world doesn’t have the same mass shootings, or the gun culture that we see in America. So don’t let a fear of being robbed or safety deter you from traveling! Get out there and see the world!