Koala on the Great Ocean Road in Australia
As I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, last September in Quito, Ecuador I had my purse stolen. While I know there’s a big thing these days about how you shouldn’t blame the victim, and I was a victim of some criminals who stole my purse. I personally think that to just blame the criminals who did that is short sighted. Every victim, myself included, made mistakes that made them an easy target for a crime. If, as the victim, we don’t take a look at what helped make us a victim, then we’re doomed to make the same mistake. So after I got over the aggravation and frustration with having my purse stolen, I took some time to think about the mistakes I made the day my purse was stolen, I suggest waiting a few days or weeks to do this. Hopefully this exercise will serve as a reminder to me and help prevent others from making the same mistakes.
I break my mistakes into 3 categories:
Lack of Preparation
I’ve been traveling all around the world, and not always to the safest places in regards to petty crime. Yet, I still have not found a day bag that I like and fits my needs. It seems like every trip I’m taking the bag that is convenient, but not the right bag. I need to put a little more effort into finding the right bag for me, one that I will be comfortable with and will use regularly. I’m open to suggestions.
The night I was going out, I was actually running on time, until I got an email that I thought was important and needed to respond to RIGHT AWAY. In the end the email was NOT important and could have waited. Responding to that email, made me rush out the door. If I had a few more minutes I would have just grabbed what i needed for dinner that night and stuck it in my pockets. Instead, I grabbed my purse. If I had left the email alone, or given myself 2 minutes to take only what I needed, things would have turned out different. I usually try to give myself ample time when traveling so I’m at my best when I’m out and about.
My mind frame was a biggest downfall.
I live outside New York City and regularly spend time in New York City. I go out with my purse all the time, and not always in a cautious way. Nothing has ever happened to me. I like to think that I naturally do a lot of little things to keep safe, that I look like a New Yorker, and that I have a bit of a sense of when something’s not right around me. That could all be true to some extent, or totally made up. Either way, it gives me a bit of confidence even when I’m in a foreign city.
Many years ago when I was on my first trip to Europe, I flew into London and was almost afraid to get off the hop on and off bus the first day. After a 2 week Contiki trip around Europe, I returned to London a new woman, easily running around London without a fear. One this day, I was returning to Quito after a week in the Galapagos and was having a similar feeling – like I had become older and wiser in the past week. Basically, I got comfortable and confident in Quito.
Generally, that’s a good thing, there’s something about the stride of a confident person that will deter criminals, they’re more likely to look for an easier mark, someone who looks uncomfortable and unfamiliar with their surroundings.
I was over confident and it made me sloppy.
Here’s what happened:
My friend’s and I left our Hilton Hotel around dinner time and went to a nearby restaurant in a touristy area. I suspect the thieves noticed us leaving the hotel and saw us go to the restaurant that was only a block away.
I was carrying a purse which is not recommended in Quito, and in this case, wasn’t needed.
The table we choose was in a back corner, there was no one sitting near us and my seat was next to a wall. I placed my purse on the back of my chair by the wall, intending to put my fleece over it. This is something I regularly do at restaurants. My theory being that my jacket hides my purse and is usually annoying on the chair behind me so I would notice if it was coming off the chair. My fleece was going to provide a layer of security for my purse. Unfortunately, I was chilly and never took my fleece off.
I was also so engrossed in the conversation with my group that I didn’t notice that people sat behind me, my first inkling that something was amiss was when I noticed a chair behind me out of place. Part of me noticed it and knew something wasn’t right and that I wasn’t as aware of my surroundings as I like to think I normally am. The other part of me said my memory was playing tricks on me, how would I not notice people sitting behind me?
Of course at that point it was too late anyway.
In the end, a series of small mistakes made me a better victim for a bunch of criminals looking for an easy target. While those criminals are the ones truly responsible for my purse being stolen, I need to accept some of my own responsibility too. I’m glad that I can at least look back at mistakes and (hopefully) change my behavior in the future to prevent being a victim again. I’ll remember to take an extra minute to make sure I have only what I need, I’ll remember that part of confidence is making good, safe choices, and finally I’ll be honest about how aware of my surroundings I am and will be in the setting I am in.
Have you ever had anything stolen on the road? What lesson did you learn from it?
Here are some other more tangible tips to protect yourself:
Unless you know you need it, don’t carry your passport with you. I was not carrying mine and it made my life soooo much easier.
Only keep small amounts of cash with you, I fortunately needed cash and only have about 30 cents in my wallet when it was stolen.
Keep a little extra stash of cash separate from your daily cash. I happened to have run out of money, but normally I like to have a little emergency cash as a back up, just in case. You never know when you’ll have trouble with an ATM, or have your wallet stolen.
Bring (and keep separate) an extra credit card and/or ATM card. I had an extra credit card, that solved about half of my money issues. The other issue would have been solved if I had brought my back up ATM card.
Pay it forward, years ago my roommate on a tour ran into a money issue. I lent her some money and my cell phone to call her bank. Aside from it being the right thing to do, I like to think that positive karma like that is why I had friends on this trip willing to lend me money for the last day of my trip.
Travel insurance, while I didn’t end up needing it in this case, travel insurance will often assist with these situations and getting you cash. It’s a stressful situation, and having someone who has dealt with this before can make a huge difference.
Have copies of EVERYTHING – passports, drivers licenses, credit cards and make sure someone at home has them too. When I was crying in the police station and they were asking for my passport #, which was in my hotel, I texted my sister and asked her to look up the information for me. Those same documents were the ones I used to call my credit card companies to cancel my cards.
Keep extra ID separate from your primary ID. A few years ago my brother-in-law had his wallet stolen while on vacation. My sister had to overnight his passport to him so he wouldn’t have trouble getting on the plane. In many cases that is not necessary. But, it makes life much easier and it doesn’t hurt to bring any extra ID. Keep it separate from your primary ID so they’re not both stolen together.
Do you have any tips for travelers?