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Traveller's Atlas

How to Avoid Getting your Stuff Stolen While Traveling

What I woke up to stuff

Not what you want to wake up to

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January 10, 2018.

By any means, a normal day.

For everyone else, but me.

I was back in Auckland looking for job after travelling around New Zealand living in a van for 3 months, look forward to city life and work again when I made a classic error…

I left my backpack and most of my stuff in my van in plain view when I went into the hostel that night.

Being so used to living in the van left me taken off guard on the realities of city life, that if your belongings are unattended, an  opportunistic thief will take advantage.

Seeing my backpack there, he broke the window of my van and grabbed everything he possibly could including my dirty clothes.

[insert screenshot of excel sheet with everything that was taken]

I thought, that’s OK, at least I have travel insurance and they cover theft in my policy! I’m all good!

HA! Those bastards at WORLD NOMADS INSURANCE don’t cover items left unattended in cars.

What’s the point of travel insurance (or any insurance for that matter) when they don’t fulfill their obligation? It’s criminal.

In my opinion, Insurance companies are the most well-orchestrated scam in the world. You buy insurance to protect yourself from situations like this and they ACTIVELY WORK TO AVOID PAYING YOU!

But I digress.

I’m not bitter anymore, I just learned a valuable $1200+ lesson and I want to help you avoid this same mistake.

Follow these 5 steps to avoid (or seriously reduce) the likelihood of losing your valuables like me.

  1. Pick a good insurance company: Don’t make the same mistake I made and pick the wrong company for insurance. I picked World Nomads because a lot of the travel bloggers recommend it but truth is, they’re affiliates with the company so of course they recommend it, they make money selling it to you. Just make sure before purchasing, you go through your policy and understand it completely, especially situationally, what is covered and what is not. They may cover theft but not if left unattended in a car (cars are left unattended 99% of the time). Unfortunately, I don’t know a good travel insurance company to recommend at this time but do your homework! I’ll be purchasing new travel insurance soon and may update this when I do.

  2. Keep your eyes on your stuff: Never let it out of your sight. Don’t walk away to go to the bathroom, don’t turn your back on your stuff until you have it securely locked up in a hotel or hostel. If you have to leave your bag, leave it with someone you trust but even then that person is not responsible for your stuff, you are. Their priority is not your stuff, it’s your priority. I got scammed in Cambodia for trusting the van driver with my bag. They charged me around $20 USD to bring it back. A nice little “you can trust me” scam they got going and a cheap lesson to learn.

  3. Get a slash-proof bag: Not as common in SE Asia but more so in Europe with the gypsies, a slash-proof bag will decrease the chances someone will run by and try to cut the bag to get into it. There are several of these bags on the market now easily found on Amazon.com. If you want to slash-proof larger luggage like a 65L backpacker’s backpack get stainless steel wire mesh, like here: this one or this one or perhaps this big backpack. There’s some good looking bags in the market but not all anti-theft backpacks are the same. I particularly like the Pacsafe brand because they have steel wire mesh behind the fabric so it can’t be cut open, heavy though. I haven’t used them but saw a few of their products in-store like this Pacsafe fanny pack/bum bag/waist bag and am thinking of picking it up to store my camera and passport but it’s $100 NZD in-store, so it’s actually cheaper on Amazon in the US than in New Zealand.

  4. Lock up your stuff: A lot of thefts happen at hostels or other shared accommodation. Hotels have a safe usually and hostels usually have lockers. Just remember to bring a lock (try this Sea to Summit Key Card TSA Travel Lock or this Pacsafe Key Card TSA Travel Lock. I’ve never tried either one but I like the idea of putting the key card in my wallet so I don’t lose it.

  5. Be aware of your surroundings: situational awareness goes a long way. If you’re going out for a night out in South America, it’s not uncommon to travellers to get their wallets and phones stolen. Only bring a small amount of cash and a copy of your ID, not your passport, this way you reduce your chances of losing more. Dark alleyway? No thanks.

  6. Buy a waist wallet or travel belt (or both): Keeping the most important items on your person is the best way to avoid theft. A waist wallet is a bit bigger and can fit things like a passport and a travel belt cannot and is generally just for stashin’ cash. There are plenty of these items on the market but the most popular on amazon are these, Money Belt or this Waist Wallet.

Pickpockets, bag slashers, and opportunistic thieves can all be thwarted by prescribing to these 6 steps. Had I followed these steps I would have avoided a costly error.

Learn from my mistake, don’t be like me.

Read more about freedom camping in New Zealand.

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