Unfortunately, traveling isn’t always just happy moments. Sometimes terrible things happen – like getting scammed or pick-pocketed. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and that’s why there are precautions that we can all take. Same reason we have locks on our luggage and doors, the reality is we can’t trust everyone. Of course being mugged is never the victim’s fault but you can’t just assume it won’t happen to you. The following stories are from experienced travelers who had a first-hand experience with being robbed or scammed while overseas.
The Lucky One
We had caught the metro from Montmartre and one stop on the train was suddenly filled with a lot of people. So many people crowded around me that I was literally unable to move. As I suffer from claustrophobia this was extremely frightening. All I was able to do was hug my handbag to my body. At the next stop, the people got off the train and a Parisian approached me to tell me my backpack had been unzipped and the contents rifled through.
Luckily I knew that this unpleasant experience was a possibility in Paris. So I had put only clothes in my backpack – so there was nothing to steal! I also bought an across body anti-pickpocket bag. I cannot stress how much safer I felt with all my money/documents and valuables in a bag which cannot easily be accessed by pickpockets. Read up on all the scams and possible danger points – I knew Montmartre was a particularly bad area for this as is the metro.
Note – when we were at the Eiffel Tower some vendors caught a pickpocket in front of us and emptied at least 50 wallets and purses onto the ground. It seems to be a huge problem.
Tracy, Tracy Travel’s in Time
I came out of the Anne Frank Museum on my last day in Amsterdam with my big travel backpack and a smaller daypack, mentally and physically spent from waiting two hours in line to enter the museum and walking through the museum with my heavy backpacks. I headed to a nearby bench and had only set my bags down for a second when a man approached me pointing at the Anne Frank Museum and asking in broken English if it was a cafeteria. The strange thing was he was walking toward the building as he was asking, as if to lure me away from the bench where I had set down my bags.
I immediately got an uneasy feeling in my gut and turned around to see his accomplice walking away with both of my backpacks, which held all my belongings for my two-week backpacking trip through Europe. Most importantly, they held my passport and wallet. I immediately ran after the man and grabbed my bags back from him as he innocently shrugged and said he did not know the bags belonged to me. I was the lucky one; who knows how many travelers they had tricked with this tactic. Be VERY careful and always keep an eye on your bags while traveling, and trust that when you get that uneasy feeling in your gut, something is probably not right.
Diana, MVMT Blog
The Biker Gang
For Phnom Penh, Cambodia there is no shortage of safety advice and sadly it’s warranted.Think seriously before walking Phnom Penh’s streets after dark. Take a tuk-tuk, motorcycle taxi or regular taxi to where you want to go and if this fails, have your venue management phone ahead with arrival details. This may seem to verge on paranoia but could save your belongings as well as a few bruises.
On a transport scarce evening where I was venturing 2 blocks, I fell head first into the scam. Advising the security guard at my location of my plan I strode down the brightly lit tree-lined street’s centreline. Security had done their part by informing a pod of thieves of my location and within no time I was surrounded by 3 silent electric scooters carrying 5 guys.
My advice in hindsight is, don’t struggle or react, they’re going to take it anyway. Next time I’ll take my own advice and not lash out. I was angry. Mostly with myself for not being more safety conscious but certainly at this group of 5 young men attacking a lone female. Taking 3 hours to make a statement, the police put up a good show until they asked for cash to get my belongings back.
On the positive side, a lovely couple helped me off the road once the scooters had disappeared. My Cambodian friend, Mara took me to the airport to fly home. Phnom Penh is an incredibly interesting city in a beautiful country with (for the most part) generous, kind people. Use my experience to make your stay there hassle and pain-free.
The One That Almost Got Away
So I will share with you a story from Barcelona, Spain. Not that Spain is so dangerous for pickpockets, but in crowded areas, we had this special luck. It happened on a family trip on the metro in Barcelona. I was traveling with our extended family and suddenly, at the metro, there was a bunch of older women entering the metro with us. 3 or 4 of them made confusion by moving around the train and speaking to each other loudly, while one was opening backpacks of the confused tourists who only saw the noise.
My uncle saw it and grabbed her, and from there the things started looking a bit more comic as the train’s door closed so she couldn’t leave with her fellow stealers. He held her until the next station, where we started looking for police people. What they do is: they make a noise, one of them tries to steal stuff from confused tourists, and they jump off the metro train just before the door close (while beeping): so the people stay on the train while they leave the train with their wallets. Not sure if it’s still actual in Barcelona area, but for sure it is actual somewhere in the world, so beware of that.
Matic and Urška, Sliva
The Overconfident One
On my first solo backpacking trip to South America, I was especially paranoid. I thought that everyone was out to steal all my things, so I brought those small TSA-compatible locks for every zipper I had and tucked cash in various parts of my pockets and clothes – I went all out. It worked! I always came back with all my things still there, and never lost any money while I was out. I began to get more relaxed and even overconfident.
So when a local Couchsurfing host I met in Cochabamba, Bolivia told me not to hang around the market and bus station at night, I did it anyway. Nothing had happened to me, and I hadn’t been robbed before. I ignored her advice. I was standing outside the bus station that night, looking something up on my phone when some guy whizzed past and tried to rip my phone from my hands. Luckily, I had a death grip on it. However, the guy, seeing that he wasn’t about to get my phone, ambled along while all the locals around me acted like nothing had even happened! Seriously?? It took me a while to process what had happened, but by the time I got furious the guy was already long gone.
The lesson? Don’t get too cocky! The people who make mistakes aren’t just those who are starting out have don’t have much experience. Those with a little experience are the most dangerous! They’re most likely to have inflated confidence and ignore the advice that other people specifically warn them about. Even though I didn’t lose my phone this time, I could have lost it and anything else I was carrying because I thought I knew better. I definitely didn’t!
Alice, Wherever I Want
The Importance of Locks
After 1 year of living in Europe without having anything lost or stolen, I felt like I was a master at avoiding theft. However, on one particularly exhausting travel day, I went to lock my things up in a storage facility. I moved all of my valuable items-laptop, camera, etc. into a locked bag, but I forgot that I still had my laptop charger in my backpack which doesn’t have a lock. Later that evening I returned to my hostel only to discover my $70 Mac charger was gone.
Moral of the story: bring enough locks for each of your bags, and don’t use backpacks that don’t lock (no matter how cute they may be!). You also shouldn’t trust “secure” storage places. Also, it is important to remember that sometimes items that you don’t often think of as having a high value like your favorite shirt, your most comfy pair of shoes, your phone charger can be quite a pain to replace, so it’s best to just secure everything!
Catalina, Miss Adventures Abroad
The ATM Scam
While attending Carnival in Rio De Janeiro I fell victim to a worldwide ATM scam. I don’t know how they do it because I am an honest, law-abiding human, but they managed to steal my debit card number and make withdrawals from afar. By the time I noticed, solely due to the fact a friend had alerted me after noticing fraudulent activity on her bank account, they had withdrawn nearly $800 USD.
What to do, what to do? If you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation, contact your bank immediately. My frustration level was at an all-time high as I tried to call my bank from a party hostel during Carnival. Needless to say, I could not hear a thing and did not have my own phone line on this trip. After many tears (feel free to skip this step), my mother was able to step in from back home and assist me in getting the situation sorted. The bank temporarily unblocked my card so I could get some cash, started an investigation so they could refund my missing money, and sent me a brand new debit card to my next destination.
Now, there are some helpful YouTube videos floating around out there, but make sure to check the card slot each and every time you use an ATM. Thieves can slip a card skimmer on top of the actual card reader on the machine. I always pull on the card reader to ensure it is permanently affixed to the machine. Additionally, be sure to cover your hand when you type in your PIN. You never know who or what is watching. Between yanking on the machine and covering my PIN, I have not had another issue during my travels around the world. Knock on wood!
Cali, Cali On The Go
Have I been robbed when traveling? I wish I could answer no. But it did happen. I don’t know exactly when/how, but it happened somewhere in Cambodia. I’d say it was during one of these long night bus rides or in my dorm while I was in the shower. Who knows?
I never carry too much money with me. But, that time I did. I traveled three countries in less than a week and my brain was getting super confused with the currency exchange. When I arrived in Thailand, I was still thinking of Myanmar. I ended up taking half of my bank account out (I wasn’t that rich, but still, let’s say that it was more than enough as I was leaving the country 4 days later to visit Cambodia!). They didn’t take all my money but they did steal around USD 100, which is quite a lot when you’re traveling across Asia.
My best tip would be to keep in mind your currency exchange rates, but also, to make sure you don’t carry all your money with you (or at least, don’t put it all in the same spot!) Also, if you’re planning on sleeping on the bus, make sure to strongly cuddle your backpack at night. It can happen if you’re traveling to countries where most of the people struggle on a daily basis. I’d probably do the same if I was in their shoes, wouldn’t I?
Melissa, A Broken Backpack
The Worst Ping Pong Show
I visited Bangkok with a friend and one night we visited the Patpog market. The place is famous for fake brands on sale, especially bags, watches and the Ping pong shows. You can find people in each street corner begging you to attend their “amazing” show. Out of curiosity and after a big pressure from a short Thai guy we decided to give it a shot! As per his offer, we could enjoy our drink of the price of 200 Baht, each including the show.
We entered an underground bar with dark lights and 4 mild aged women wearing only the minor bottom clothing. We saw a lot of foreigners (men and women) and decided to stay to watch the show. Big Mistake!
Soon they started using their lower part of the body to either hold, eject to blow objects from their inner place. Really gross! We watched for 10 minutes and we decided to leave. We reached the cashier where a lady gave us the bill, which instead of 400 Baht was 3000 Baht! We tried to complain and explain that this is not the price we agreed for! The lady start shouting to us “YOU LOOK, YOU PAY MORE!” what? How are we supposed to watch the show? With closed eyes?
We tried to make a scene and refused to pay that amount. No success! At the end they agreed to charge much less than 3000 Baht, we paid and we ran out of that place. Back at our hotel, we informed the staff about the incident and they informed us that this is a common tourist scam, that sometimes can be really dangerous. All the bars in that area are protected by the corrupt Thai police system. Lesson learned! Never again!
The Break In
Arriving at our hostel in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, James and I put our rucksacks in the lockers – large, cage-like things that are common in most dorm rooms in Southeast Asia – and locked them with our own combination padlocks. We tried to be especially quiet as there was an older-looking man asleep on one of the beds who looked a little worse for wear: blotchy, sunburnt skin, scabby feet and a bandage on his hand. Something about him made me feel a bit uncomfortable, but I shrugged the feeling off as a combination of hunger and tiredness after our long bus journey. We headed out for dinner.
Arriving back at the hostel at around 8 pm, something was wrong. The door to my locker was wide open and my rucksack wasn’t in it. Perhaps the hostel staff had moved my stuff? Then I noticed my padlock was still hanging on the door; part of the locker door had been broken off. Frantically scanning the room, my rucksack was on one of the beds with my clothes falling out of it. My iPad was gone. My credit card was gone. I started to cry. And then I realized the worst part: I had put both of our passports in there.
Phnom Penh is a city in which pickpocketing on the streets is common. I thought I was doing the right thing by leaving our valuables at the hostel, locked up safely. But then I found our dorm-mate’s bandage in my rucksack. We found a hammer and a screwdriver under one of the beds, tools he had used to break into my locker. This was no mistake. A fellow traveler had planned this. He had robbed me.
You can never completely protect yourself from being robbed by traveling and it can happen anywhere: on the streets, in a hostel, in any city in the world. But, if there is one thing I have learned from this experience, and if there is one piece of advice I can give others, it’s this: Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Abbi, Spin the Windrose
The Stealthy One
Pickpocketing is one of those things that you think will NEVER happen to you. But what I forget is that I am just like everyone else. No matter how much travel experience I have, bad things can still happen to me. Like anyone else in Barcelona, I was just walking through the metro. I had my eye on someone who looked suspicious, but I pushed my uneasiness aside. I should have listened to my gut because as soon as he passed me, I knew something was amiss. When I reached the metro platform, my suspicions were confirmed because my wallet was gone and I was left feeling annoyed and stressed out that I now had to contact my bank in a foreign country.
But the most awful part was that it all could have been prevented. If I had just brought a neutral colored backpack that didn’t scream, “pillage me”. I also should have worn my bag in front of me, instead of worrying how silly I would look doing this. I also should have brought only what I needed, and not my whole wallet. Had I done this, then I wouldn’t have lost such important documents like my insurance card, driver’s license, and credit card.
Kelly, Girl with the Passport
The Dark Alley
Back in 2015, when I was still on my year abroad in Guadalajara, Mexico me and my boyfriend were on our way to a bar when we were mugged by two men who claimed to have knives.
You know how they say you never know how you’ll react in a situation until it happened to you? Well, that was definitely one of those moments for me. I vividly remember trying to stuff my phone down the back of my jeans but instead ended up tussling with them both; as one tried to pull my cross-body bag over my head, the other was wrestling my phone out of my hand. It was chaotic. At one point, after the bag-rifler had managed to get my wallet (almost accidentally stealing my ID and keys in the process), he threatened to stab my boyfriend if I didn’t hand over the goods, so I finally let go of my phone and they ran off.
The first thing I learned is that I have an iron grip when someone tries to get between me and my phone. The second thing I learned is that I shouldn’t have gone down a dark alley at night or resisted so much – I mean, it provided a vaguely amusing anecdote, but it didn’t stop them from taking my stuff in the end.
However, I also learned that people are predominantly good – after it all happened, we went to the nearest house (me still in hysterics), where they lent us phones and laptops so we could report it, before giving us money to get home.
Lauren, Northern Lauren
The Lost Umbrella
I used to work as an expat in Port-au-Prince Haiti, not exactly the safest city in the world. I knew about all the warnings and the extremely high rate of criminality. In fact, one of my friends had her wallet snatched from her hand by a motorbike in broad daylight. Whenever I walked around in Port-au-Prince I was on my guard.
However, I did not want these things to restrict my life in Haiti too much. Some expats rarely left their offices and had to live by strict security rules. I did go out and one of my favorite things to do was to visit the local markets. In the weekends I used to take the tap tap, the local bus, up the hill towards Petionville. There I used to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables and try the delicious Haitian street food.
It was in one of these markets that one day I could feel my backpack moving. Immediately I turned around and saw the offender running away with my umbrella. The only thing he managed to grab from my bag. Surprisingly this was the only bad thing that happened to me in the two years I lived in Haiti.
My advice is to not let the fear of robbers stop us from doing what we want, but be on your guard. It’s when we don’t pay attention that things happen. Wear a money belt, put your wallet in a safe place and don’t flash your valuables, or even better, leave them at home.
Ellis, Backpack Adventures
The Importance of Planning
On my first trip to India, I think I was more concerned with getting Delhi Belly instead of my safety. I had been traveling around Delhi on my own for a few days and I actually commented that I thought it would be more crowded. Then I was riding the metro on a Saturday and it was completely packed. I thought I could feel someone in my bag but we were so packed in I thought it was crowded. When I got out my bag felt lighter and I just had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I checked and my wallet was gone. I was lucky though as at least they left my camera.
There were a few things that lead to this. I only lost about $40 but I lost all of my credit cards. I had left my credit cards and passport in the hotel safe and someone said you shouldn’t trust it so I put them in my wallet. I wish I had kept to my usually way of doing things but at least I had my passport in a different compartment. Now, I keep cards in different places and I always allow about five minutes at the beginning of the day to think about what I need for the day and ensure everything is not in the same place.
Nicole, Travelgal Nicole
I was robbed in April 2015 while traveling in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I was walking in the city as I always used to do, the same route I always take to go to my Aunt’s house. This time, instead of walking by myself I walked with a friend of mine. I was about to cross a street when a man on a motorcycle came close to me and pulled my purse off from me. Everything was gone in that moment: cell phone, debit card, a few pesos I had just exchanged and what was the most important item for me in that purse: my Moleskine notebook filled with essays and short stories that I was writing in about the city.
What I learned from that day was to never trust. I was walking very confident because I knew my way. The other thing I learned is that the less you talk the more you can camouflage yourself among locals. Nothing ever happened to me before because being half-Dominican, everyone thinks I am local. That day I was speaking to my friend, they were able to notice my Puerto Rican accent. Definitely, that was my lesson learned.
The Friend Maker
In an American city, I decided that I’d take a late night train and save money on a taxi. This meant that I’d walk 20 minutes through the dark/empty city center to the main train station with all my belongings. The only issue is that there was a blizzard, which made it hard to see. I also decided to put in my headphones to listen to music.
After walking a bit, I took out my headphones after seeing a figure behind me and I heard footsteps behind me rapidly advancing. As he caught up, I saw a man holding something in his hand that resembled a knife who was staring at my bags. I got my phone out, except it was so difficult to see the street signs (to give an address to the police) without stopping, so I pretended to call the police explaining the situation in a loud voice. He slowed down quite a bit, yet continued to follow me. I ran and found another person walking down the street. I introduced myself and started a friendly conversation as if we were old friends. This stranger was confused, but it turned out that he was also heading to the train station. My potential mugger disappeared immediately after.
The lesson that I learned is that if you know walking through a certain area past a certain hour, you should avoid it. Similarly, putting on your headphones while walking at night (or in an unsafe area) is not a good idea; stay alert. It’s best to show a potential mugger/pickpocketer that you WILL make a scene. Engage with people around you if you have a bad feeling and don’t be afraid to make a scene as it can deter pickpockets (who often don’t want the attention).
I hope you found this collaboration post helpful! Thank you all who contributed and shared their stories and advice.
Have you ever been the victim of a scam while traveling? Have you ever been robbed on a trip? What advice would you like to share with others?