Are You Prepared?

Robbery of travelers is a fact of life and an increasingly prevalent problem.  The fact is that you can minimize the chances of being robbed, but you cannot entirely thwart a skilled thief.  Remember that while traveling, President Bush’s daughter had her purse stolen in public while under the guard of six secret service agents.  What you can do is to minimize the disruption of being robbed by having well-thought plans for what you will do if you lose any or all of your cards, cash, or documents.

Everyone’s situation is different and so their plans may be different.  The goal of this note is to put before you some principles and ideas that may help you to develop the plans that are appropriate to you.

  1. Never carry all your cards and cash in a single place.  If you lose it, you are sunk.
  2. Carry your cash separately from your cards.  A robber will be far more interested in your cash than your cards, but you can replace the cash if you have the cards.
  3. Thieves will easily spot the outline of a wallet in your pocket and pickpockets are skilled in doing so by touch.  If there is any access to your valuables via pockets, even zipped pockets, you will be an easy target.  One solution is to use a money belt inside your clothing.  The trouble with this is that you very nearly have to undress to access it.  A way around this is to purchase a zip-up wallet that attaches by loops to your belt, but can be stuffed inside the front of your pants. An example is .  You can pull the wallet out and tuck it back without much fuss.
  4. Carry a minimal amount of cash in a pocket that is readily accessible to you so that you can pay for incidental purchases without revealing where you keep the bulk of your money and cards.  Don’t carry more than you can afford to lose, but do carry enough to appease an aggressive and possibly dangerous assailant.
  5. In addition to your ATM card, be sure you have access to a separate backup cash card in the event you lose the ATM card.  The backup card could be a credit card with cash advance privileges.
  6. When traveling as a couple, each person should have cards, backup cards, and cash carried with them as we have discussed.  The cards one person carries should be for different accounts than the cards of the other person, in case one person has to cancel their cards.
  7. Make sure you have access to your credit card numbers and the telephone number to call if you have to replace it.  The easy way to do this is to make copies of the front and back of each card, but be careful where you keep the information.  We keep it in a password encoded location on our computer.
  8. If you lose your card, you can call the card holder collect to report the loss.  However, collect calls may not be free.  In most countries there will be local charges if you call from a kiosk or calling center.
  9. If a card must be replaced, do not be misled by advertisements that indicate the replacement will be rapid or even that it will ever occur.  We know from personal experience that replacement may take weeks or months.  Be sure your plan allows for the possibility that you cannot get the lost card replaced until you return home.

If you’ve read this note and concluded that you are too big, too fast, too smart, or too careful to ever get robbed, we have failed and sooner or later you will be robbed.  That’s what happened to us.  Also, plans aren’t much good unless they are followed religiously.  We suggest you write down your plans, just to be sure you have really thought them out.  Then stick to them.

Being robbed need not be much of a problem.  One of us was pickpocketed by a very skillful group of thieves in Buenos Aires.  While it wouldn’t have happened if we had properly followed the advice above, the consequences were minimal.  In a matter of minutes we had cancelled the cards, replaced the cash and went out for a delightful and relaxed lunch.

Written by Ed & Jennifer A.