Three Steps to Keeping Your Belongings Safe on the Road

Or: I Did NOT Leave My Wallet in El Segundo

I’m paranoid about losing my keys or having my wallet stolen, especially since I’ve lived on my own and faced the prospect of being unable to get into my apartment if my keys go missing. So I’ve developed some overly paranoid steps to minimize the risk of these things happening. Most travel guides and websites will give you tips on how to keep your things secure when you’re in a foreign place (get a bag that zips, carry it across your chest instead of at your side, etc.), but the truth is that the same strategies work anywhere, whether at home or abroad.

Step One: Run “Ready, Set, Go”

Every single time I leave my house, I run a “ready, set, go” check. Look in my purse for keys, wallet, phone. With those three things, I’m good anywhere I end up. The one time I didn’t check, of course, my keys were still in my bedroom, and that was when I lived in a place with automatically locking doors. Not a pleasant realization, when I ran the ready, set, go after I’d already let the door close behind me with a sharp click.

Step Two: Develop a New Plane of Awareness

The CTA posts ads with tips on deterring pickpockets, including a recommendation that you not check for your wallet in your back pocket, or run a finger along your phone’s outline in your purse, or in some other way indicate to a thief the exact location of your valuables. But I don’t feel comfortable not being able to check up on things, so I’ve developed a a system of constant movement that allows me to check on things without being too obvious about it; I shift my purse from one arm to the other, and do a quick tactile check on its contents, or open it up to take out my chapstick or iPod, and do a quick visual check that way.

Step Three: Be Lucky

Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, since the very definition of luck includes being unable to control it, but I think it’s important to recognize the crucial role luck plays in keeping our belongings secure and our persons safe. There are a lot of steps we can take to protect ourselves, but sometimes thieves succeed or accidents happen, and all the precautions in the world can’t help in those instances. I mention this because I think it’s easy to blame people for not being careful enough with their things, and that’s not helpful. Especially when you’re traveling someplace new, it’s easy to get disoriented and lose track of your usual habits that keep your things with you, and if you get separated from those things, you won’t want it to ruin your trip. Do what you can to keep your belongings secure, but if misfortune strikes, remember that they are all replaceable, unlike the more pleasant memories you’re forming while traveling, so do your best to focus on those instead.

Any other suggestions?


13 thoughts on “Three Steps to Keeping Your Belongings Safe on the Road

  1. I couldn’t agree more with #3. Shit happens.

    Leave home with a bare minimum wallet: you don’t need multiple credit cards all the time. Try getting by with a $20, a metro-card and one form of ID during your very routine work-week. Obviously the contents of a minimal wallet depends on each person but this will come in handy when/if that luck runs out; no one likes cancelling credit cards or worrying about how much your thief bought by the time you realized what happened. (Although one time I lost my wallet while practicing this tip and still lost something of value: a fully-punched card to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. SO HEARTBROKEN.)

    • PS – Obviously DO THIS while traveling! Your one form of ID should be a PHOTOCOPY of your passport! PHOTOCOPY! ESPECIALLY IN RUSSIA! And don’t put anything of value in your pockets. Strap that shit to your chest and zip your jacket over it (true story, this kept me from getting jacked in Mongolia).

      Ok, momism over.

      • I don’t think I was even aware you went to Mongolia. MORE STORY SWAPPING, PLEASE.

        But also, yes. Good advice. Paranoia about this stuff looks ridiculous until it saves you from a bad situation.

  2. In this era of programmed cell phones, I have had to make a deliberate effort to actually memorize a few numbers — and I probably should memorize one or two more.

    • Yes! Also important. I do keep all my friends’ cell phone numbers and addresses in my Gmail contact list, so if I can access email somewhere (borrow someone’s smartphone, for example), I can be ok that way.

  3. Ah ha ha! Remember Rome?? I spent a lot of time at the flea market, and consequently I had a lot of hands in my pockets all the damn time. I kept “decoys” of useless items and small change in my pockets and purse, and I kept all my valuables inside a money belt INSIDE my underwear. Despite being physically accosted and pick-pocketed numerous times, nobody ever got *that* far, and I never had anything important stolen.

    • Decoys, such a smart idea! I was a scaredy-cat and hardly went to the market. I did go once in December, when it got cold and I realized I hadn’t packed a coat, so I looked over all the coats laid out on the table and tried to express that none of them would fit me. The salesman held a coat up to me to see if I liked it, and I had to throw my arms wide and say, “Grande! Piu grande!” Finally they rummaged up a man’s coat that worked but by that point the entire market was looking at the GRANDE girl. Ah, Rome.

  4. Can’t agree more with hiding your valuables on your person. Just don’t access it in public.

    I’ve got a few more tips — link up with a local tourist support group, if one exists. For example, when I was in Quito the South American Explorers had updates on the latest street scams. When some idiot sprayed mustard on me in the street, I already knew every step in the scam, and made my exit before it went any further.

    Also, if traveling alone, link up with another person also traveling alone. You’re less likely to be targeted as part of a group, and, if you still get targeted, you’ve got help.

    Have an exit strategy in mind. If it doesn’t feel right, just get out, immediately.

    Happy travels!

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