While traveling to other countries it is very easy for ‘opportunistic’ locals to quickly distinguish you as a target….err….tourist. While on my recent trip to Peru I became a victim of theft, even after I heard a story from a fellow traveler who had a $1,000 camera swiped from a zipped up pant pocket just the day before. My wife and I were very cautious following the suggestions I will offer below (with the exception of one, and it cost us). It was not until the last hour, of the last day of our travels that we put down our guard for a minute and quickly became victims.
How I Got Burgled
We were at the airport ready to pass through security when we were re-directed because we had yet to pay our airport fee. Airport fee? Airport’s in Peru charge an ‘airport fee’ of $20 per ticket for domestic flights and $60 per ticket for international flights! Now that’s theft. Botta bing!
The airport did not accept credit cards, and we had zero cash on hand. I was quickly irritated at what seems to be a ridiculous fee and now I had to withdraw cash one last time from an ATM and pay the ATM withdrawal fees! We headed over to an ATM and withdrew the cash.
The goofy fee and anxiety towards getting to our gate made us lose focus for just a minute. And that’s all it took. I realized the next morning, while unpacking, that my debit card was gone. My wife quickly assured me not to worry because most ATM’s will shred your card if you do not grab it quickly enough and besides no one was in line behind us.
I checked our bank account and sure enough someone had successfully withdrew $200 not once, but twice, from our account! How could someone withdraw without knowing the pin number to my card?? I called the bank to have them cancel the card and inquire about the theft withdrawals. The bank told me that there are some ATM thieves out there that have small cameras attached to ATMs where they can look at to see what you are punching in for your pin number and this is what must have happened in my case. I had no idea this was possible. Lesson learned – the hard way.
How you Can Avoid Theft & Subsequent Hassle When Traveling:
Here are some recommendations that I have based on research, personal travel experience, and advice from my wife, who spent 3 months traveling in Europe:
- Wear a money belt. They are super cheap and worth every penny. Store all your important documents such as your passport, credit cards, most of your cash, itinerary, and tickets here. This a great way to prevent pick-pocketing and you don’t have to worry about holding on to your wallet in your pocket at all times.
- Always have your luggage attached to you. Backpacks vs. rolling luggage is a plus (plus it’s easier to get around). While traveling someone told us of how they stored their luggage under a seat on the bus, fell asleep and woke up realizing their luggage was stolen. Someone had cut a hole in their bag and took everything out from under the seat.
- Carry your camera in a VERY secure location. Clean thoughts.
- Distribute cash between multiple travelers and between locations on you. Carry the majority of your cash in your money belt and a small amount in a pocket or wallet for quick access. If robbed, you could also explain to a thieve this is all the cash you had.
- Leave valuable jewelry such as wedding rings and watches at home.
- Take a taxi back to your hotel at night. In Peru we had to have the restaurant call a reputable taxi company since there are some taxis ‘not to be trusted’.
- Scan and email important documents to yourself. Scan your passport, credit cards (front for card number and back for phone number) and any other critical information you would need quick access to if your personal items were lost or stolen. Email the scanned document to yourself and possibly one other person
- Carefully shield the pin pad when making withdrawals at ATMs.
- And always grab your debit card when finished at the ATM!
- If you can use a credit card that doesn’t charge you interest on ATM cash advances vs. a debit card that won’t cover 100% of theft, you’d be wise to do so.
Travel Theft Discussion:
- What things do you do to protect yourself when traveling?
- What is the most valuable possession you’ve had stolen or lost when traveling?
- What’s the damn craziest travel story you have?