Travel Safety: Locking up, how not to lose your bags

A light-fingered gentleman in action.

Travel safety robbery stories

Travelling by overnight bus from south Thailand to Bangkok a while ago, the bugcrew found seats immediately behind the driver. When the main lights went off, they discretely hung their ‘valuables bag’ over the back of the partition separating the driver and ourselves, more-or-less between their legs and well away from the aisle.
Nobody was moving around the vehicle, so they dozed off. In the morning they got off the bus, opened up the bag, and found everything gone, flight tockets, traveller’s cheques but not passports which were inside jackets.
So, if you put a bag down, even in the most apparently secure spot, put your leg or arm through the strap before you relax. And don’t accept/buy any drinks/food from bus staff! There may be additives that don’t agree with you, such as crushed sleeping pills. Safety before sleep!

Indian trains: John and Patricia Lowne, newlyweds in Southern India, had their main travel bag stolen from under their 2nd class train seat, dragged through from the other side. What stung wasn’t the loss of passports, money or clothes, it was the honeymoon photos.
Large bags or packs should be locked up, and locked to baggage racks or stanchions with padlocks or bike chains, especially when travelling on trains and even more especially at night.

Nepal Trek: Steve Gershon was doing the Helambu trek in Nepal. He slept one night in the middle of nowhere, at 4, 600 metres, in a cow shed. In the morning he found his backpack open, clothes, camera, and worst of all his peanut butter, had disappeared.

Hotel ‘Safes’: Don’t relax your guard. Habitually lock everything, and you may still have it at the end of the travels. Rather than carry all valuables at all times, you can elect to leave them in your hotel safety
Stephen Buckell, company lawyer, once left a credit card, among other things, in his midrange hotel in Rio de Janeiro. On his return to England he was surprised to find that he had bought two hi-fi systems, a coffee percolator, an imported air-conditioning unit and an extravagant Japanese meal with his card while in Rio.
He was lucky that the hotel person who borrowed his card from the safety deposit didn’t try for a Range Rover.
Others have left traveller’s cheques in the not-so-safety deposit. On collection a cursory glance shows no problem, so off they go. Days or weeks later, coming towards the end of the chequebook, they find that the last few cheques have gone missing somewhere en route.
The cure for this kind of theft is a small, tough, lockable bag, like a man handbag. Put your valuables in that, lock it, then put that in the deposit box.

Money Belts: Rateros are well aware of money belts, so create your own. Sew a pocket into an elastic thigh bandage or stuff a small wad of cash in your sock or in your hat. But, always keep a little in your pocket for the wacked-out addict with the big blade.
One long time expatriate resident of Rio carries a roll of old, valueless bills, covered with one new note and held together by a rubber band. He hasn’t used it, yet.

Currency Exchange, how to avoid getting short-changed:
Sleight of hand. In many countries the official exchange rate differs dramatically from the black market, often up to 300%. This can mean great savings, if you can do the job without having notes mysteriously disappearing from the bottom of the wad. The bufgcrew have been entertained by failed black market con tricks in Beijing, Moscow, Warsaw, Budapest, Sana’a and Lima, as well as official change rip-offs in Kathmandu, Bali and Paris. How many more succeeded, rateros only know.

A relatively safe system for changing money (including some banks! ) goes like this:
First, compare and negotiate rates with various dealers. Then calculate exactly how much you expect to receive from the best offer, (which may well be from the local con man, especially if his rate is way better than others). Tell him how much you want to change; show him your currency if necessary, but don’t give it to him yet. Take the appropriate amount from him and count it carefully. If it is correct, count it again, then put it in your pocket. Do not give it back to him. If he is straight he will allow you to do this.
If he protests, give it back and tell him to take off. If there is no argument, give him the correct hard currency.

All this sounds intimidating, and may discourage you from travelling beyond Brighton for your holidays. But consider experiences like these as education, part of life’s rich tapestry and the stuff of great stories.
Dostoevsky was convinced that ‘Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness’, so go out there and get conscious, of strange lands and cultures, ancient sights and streets, and the modern rats that roam there. Travel safe!