Travel Safety Advice for a Backpacker

May 12th, 2012, 09:21 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 6
Travel Safety Advice for a Backpacker

What advice can you give me to stay safe and avoid being taken. Keep in mind this is my first time traveling around the world for a extended period of time and backpacking, previously I used luggage and shorter trips... I don't think you have to worry so much when you stay in nice hotels, use cabs, and have the money to do safer more leisurely activities.

[some safety steps]
-I plan on carrying a backpack with nothing of value and a messenger bag
- I will have pockets sewn into my pants for emergency (instead of a money belt)
- I have a fake slim wallet with some cards for my front pocket
- I have travel insurance
- Copies of all my stuff and email backups
- get a cheap doorstop
- get a retractable cable lock
- walk with purpose even when lost, and find a alley or private place to read your map
- Carry a fake wallet with that days cash and some cards, if mugged they can have it

IF I have a private room in a hostel do I have to lock up my laptop if I go take a shower? Should I have the hotel put my laptop in their safe or use the lockers?

What can I do to avoid robberies at train stations as they seem to be hotbeds. What does one do on a train to avoid having their bag snatched. I have heard many say put a strap around something but how do you do this if you have a 65L backpack? Where is there areas to attach things trains I have been on do not have these or everyone stuffs their bags in one spot by the door.

What do you think about those mesh cover backpack cable things?

If you have a backpack on 65L your screaming tourist and I have items on me (obviously you wouldn't have this if it was at the hostel) what advice can you give to keep your stuff safe when you first arrive at a train station and may have to walk through a crowd? How safe are luggage storage at a hostel? How safe are lockers at a train station and can they fit a 65L backpack?

Would you get one of those slash proof bags are they really necessary or can I get away with a standard messenger for walking around, does it need to be locked and have a zipper or are buckles on the bottom good enough?

So you suggest I buy a ipad over taking my laptop (remember I have insurance) wouldn't that be just as hot to steal?

When you suggest taking a cab back to your hostel if its late, do you mean dark or 4am in the morning?

Regarding maps if I had a map for every country I would visit my pack would be full without anything else, the iphone allows me to have everything offline (no Internet connection) and I can get a map at the local tourist center as well. Wouldn't holding a iphone with a map blend you in more than holding a big paper map?
dan94546 is offline  
May 12th, 2012, 10:15 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
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My best advice is to take a smaller backpack! What on earth are you packing?

Second, read Hasbrouck's "Practical Nomad".

Third, don't take anything you're not willing to lose, aside from your camera, and stop being so paranoid.

Query, why not a money belt? I've spent over three years total traveling with a backpack, and I swear by a money belt. BUT, you don't access it in public.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 13th, 2012, 12:02 AM
Join Date: Apr 2009
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Yes, lock up the laptop when you leave the room. It's better to be cautious than to lose something that valuable. Even if you have insurance it would take time and effort to replace it.

Different hostels may have different sorts of lockers. I stayed in some hostels a few years ago and saw many variations. Some had small boxes with electronic locks, others had larger lockers with physical locks. One place had what looked like wire cages that could bee seen into. A few places had individual lockers attached to the beds. It may be a good idea to bring your own physical lock-and-key.

Do you really need such a large backpack? Hostels usually have laundry facilities. Sure, you will get very tired of wearing the same clothes all the time, but it's not like anyone else is likely to care. Have you tried packing that backpack comepletly full and carrying it around for a day while walking around? Can you lift it over your head, as if putting it in an overhead rack on a train?

Don't keep anything valuable in the backpack. You do not have eyes in the back of your head so you can't see if someone comes up behind you and slashes it open. It drives me crazy to see people who take off their backpack, pull out their wallet from it, pay, then put the wallet back into the backpack and put the backpack on again. Uh? Now they've told any potential thief that there is money in the backpack. Sure, it may be only that day's cash, but it will still draw thieves.

Use a moneybelt or neckpouch for your passport and credit/ATM-cards. NEVER reach into the moneybelt/neckpouch in public.

If you are the sort of person who takes lots of photos you should download them each night from the camera to the laptop/ipad/whatever and then maybe to an USB memory stick that you keep separately. That way you don't lose all your photos if someone steals the camera.

Yes, an Ipad is just as hot to steal as a laptop. Possibly more, actually. Why, exactly, do you want to bring a laptop/Ipad? Do you want/need to access the Internet? Are you going to use it for photo-storage? Travel-blogging? Document-keeper? E-reader? Skype? GPS? Is there any way that a smaller smartphone (something small enough to keep in a pocket) can do these things?

As for the cab question I have no idea. I usually don't stay out that late.
anyegr is offline  
May 13th, 2012, 01:04 AM
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 6
Regarding the paranoid comment... I have heard from a few friends and my brother they have had robberies while in Europe (Portugal and Germany) because someone in a hostel had a key made to his room and he was mobbed my a gang that acted like his buddy and took his money belt. Another friend was surrounded in Spain and didn't realize what had happened in the crowd. One friend had a gypsy throw her baby at him while he was robbed.

Backpack size I went to REI for several days and tried several packs, actually the ones that were bigger sized had better support for the back and heaver waist belts making the load lighter. Also I am going to be gone 7 months, that is a long time and a ton of different weather temperatures, I made sure everything is packable and got things that packed well but it all adds up to weight. I have a digital scale and I must keep everything under 20 kilos or I will be fined by the pre-booked airlines. I am trying to keep things between 20 and 30 pounds. I did take the backpack on a hike and while heavy I figure I will only be having to wear it in between the towns where I can hopefully luggage check. IF I can get everything and still have a ton of room in my pack I'll go down a size in my backpack.

What do I do with the laptop if I don't want to carry it around sight seeing, do I put it in a locker in the hostel if available, check it into the train stations luggage check, or the hostels luggage check?

Why am I taking my laptop, because .56 lbs or 254 grams with a extended battery on it. It's older than my ipad and has a keyboard, i need to keep in touch with people to couchsurf, hostels, and tours, home through email and websites. It would be nice to research info pre visiting a tourist spot. I was going to dump my photos on the laptop each night. I also upload tracks to my ipod to listen to and watch videos when I have wifi. IT would be nice to watch a dvd at night wich would remind me of home. I will be updating my blog and itinerary to connect with people in every city.

I don't want to use a money belt and instead have pockets sewn in my pants. and keep a wallet for the day only in my front pocket.
dan94546 is offline  
May 13th, 2012, 08:18 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
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I don't stay in hostels. I stay in B&Bs and guesthouses and low end hotels. I lock the valuables in my pack when I'm not in the room, although if there IS a safe I use it.

I have traveled for as long as ten months with a smaller back pack, my packing list starts here:

I think the pockets would be a bigger hassle than the money belt, but your choice.

Your story about the hostel robbery is sobering, but very unusual. The mobbing in Spain is a known hazard and an argument for wearing a money belt. You will find more backpackers on Lonely Planet's thorntree, perhaps they can calm you down a bit.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 13th, 2012, 08:39 AM
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 746
You can get robbed anywhere. Even in your own hometown. Even in your own house. Staying home will not guarantee complete safety.

The problem with being robbed in a foreign country is that you are likely to be carrying your passport, credit/ATM-cards, lots of cash, expensive electronics etc. and it will take time and effort to replace those things. Yes, you will have insurance. But you are still going to have to talk to the police, the bank, the insurance company, your embassy and others.

About packing for multiple destinations with different temperatures... Try to group all cold-weather destinations together. Do them all together. If you do the cold-weather places first you can wear the thick winter clothes on the plane and use them, then send them home by post or give them away to a charity when you go to the warmer places. If you chose to do the cold-weather places at the end, simply buy some cheap winter clothes right before going there, NOT at the beginning of the journey.
anyegr is offline  
May 13th, 2012, 12:45 PM
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"Also I am going to be gone 7 months, that is a long time and a ton of different weather temperatures,"

Doesn't mean you need to take 65 lbs of stuff! That is a HUGE amount -- I have friends to go for a year at a time and only take 25-35lbs (including cameras/lenses/laptops). Even cold climates don't require thick, heavy clothing. You layer lighter garments . . . so most of your warm weather clothing (except for shorts) also work for cool/cold weather.

That massive/heavy backpack will wear you down no matter how fit you are. Plus the more 'stuff' you carry, the bigger the target . . .
janisj is online now  
May 13th, 2012, 09:41 PM
Join Date: May 2012
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Goodness I think he meant 65L as in 65 liter bag... I don't anyone travels with a 65 pound backpack haha!
OmaPlata is offline  
May 14th, 2012, 01:43 AM
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Thats exactly what I meant i have to be under 20 liters for planes. ;-)
dan94546 is offline  
May 14th, 2012, 11:09 AM
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Depending the order of the climates you are visiting you can send stuff home if there's a time after which you no longer need it.

I don't travel with a laptop of ipad, I stop into internet cafes when I need to. I use free paper maps that I pick up along the way, when you first get into a city.

No I don't believe in "slash proof" messenger bags. If something gets stolen it's most often because you set it down and turned your back, not that anyone's cutting it off your body.

I also think those mesh pack covers are dumb for the same reason. Someone cutting your backpack with a knife is not the usual way things get stolen.

There's a reason money belts are the preferred method, not sewn pockets.

Have you researched on any of the backpacker-specific websites? Like The Thorn Tree at Lonely Planet, one example.

There's a few long haul travelers here on Fodor's who you've heard from, but really the demographic here skews more mainstream travel.
suze is online now  
May 14th, 2012, 01:46 PM
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Posts: 10,509

Depends on the area. I was a lot more comfortable where I stayed in London than in Rome. Some places you stay are safe after dark, some are less so. It's simply a judgement call based on the area and your own comfort level.

You want a zipper, though a locked zipper is usually not necessary. With the flap that buckles at the bottom, it's crazy easy for someone to reach into the little gap between the main bag and the flap cover. A zipper (with the zipper towards your front where you can keep an eye/hand on it) means that a thief needs to split the zipper or cut into the bag. You're a lot more likely to notice that sort of thing.

Walk with purpose is generally a good choice, but again be aware of your surroundings. If you're lost (except in some icky areas, which you probably want to just get yourself out of as quick as possible) it's generally fine to stop to look at a map. I do this often and have never had problems with someone targeting me because of that. The problem with the map is that it distracts you. If you're lost, put your back to a wall so that a) you're out of the way and b) even though you're distracted, you're still somewhat protected. Use your map or phone to get back on track, but still pay attention to your surroundings. You don't need to be paranoid and afraid of everyone, but do pay attention. DO NOT SEARCH OUT LONELY ALLEYS!

As with everything else, pay attention to your surroundings! I've seen many people put plastic zip ties through the zipper pulls to keep them closed. This works with simple twist ties as long as you fold the ends in a bit. The goal isn't so much to prevent someone from getting in, but from doing it without you noticing.

<<< I am trying to keep things between 20 and 30 pounds. I did take the backpack on a hike and while heavy I figure I will only be having to wear it in between the towns...>>>

20-30 pounds is heavy?? If your bag is fitted right and has hip supports then you should be carrying the weight on your hips and not back/shoulders so that really shouldn't be a hard weight to carry. You might want to readjust your bag or find a different size that fits better.

As for needing stuff for all kinds of weather, remember to think layers! Try to group climates so that you're not going cold to hot to cold, but if that's not possible layer like crazy.

Keep a backup credit/ATM card(s) and cash separate from what you plan to use on a daily basis. Same with the passport, keep a photo copy available either in paper or electronic format (NOT just on the laptop/phone but somewhere you can access even if those are stolen).
Iowa_Redhead is offline  
May 14th, 2012, 05:25 PM
Join Date: Sep 2011
Posts: 56
You sound really paranoid... traveling isn't that scary. And most crimes are crimes of opportunity.

So imo the best way to protect yourself isn't to blend in, wear a money belt, or slash proof things... the best way is to not have a lot of money on you at any one time and to pay attention to your stuff in crowded situations. If you get robbed and you only had 120 euro on you... it will suck but it won't be devastating.... so get an atm card with no fee unlimited withdrawals (usually credit unions and usaa has those cards).

I took a really cheap netbook with me to skype home during my trip but I didn't stay in hostels but in cheap hotels and bandb's it is equally convenient and inconvenient to have one so its up to you, really... I just left it in my room or sometimes at the front desk... depends on where I was staying. GL.
Elyse_Dorm is offline  
May 14th, 2012, 05:28 PM
Join Date: Sep 2011
Posts: 56
I think moneybelts are bulky and a pain in the butt... so I used a large handbag and secured the zipper with a safety pin... I guess you could use one of those cloth man-purses that go across the body... they are pretty normal in europe.
Elyse_Dorm is offline  
May 15th, 2012, 10:37 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 92,935

No one answer to that question yes/no. Depends where you are talking about, in a city, in the countryside, how safe the area is, how many people are out and about, etc. etc.
suze is online now  
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