Travel involves risk. Where you travel impacts the level of risk you undertake. If you’re going to Peoria, you’re probably pretty safe. But what if you’re heading someplace not-so-safe?
Yes, you might get hurt. You might get sick. You might miss your flight connection and end up on a bus to Shanghai instead of a comfortable flight. Those are all risks. But the biggest risk you face is probably theft. Pickpockets, purse snatchers, petty thieves — these are the people most likely to disrupt your trip. Here’s how to avoid them.
Use a Money Belt
A money belt is a wallet you wear under your pants. It’s sort of an extra-safe secondary wallet. You might carry a few bills in your pocket, but your cash stash is tucked away and nearly impossible to nab (along with your passport). This is a very common tip, but people still ignore it. Don’t. Get one of these: Eagle Creek Undercover Money Belt.
Extra paranoid? Open a separate checking account to use on vacation. Keep ~150% of what you think you’ll spend on your trip in the account (or plan to transfer funds mid-vacation). This way, if you’re forced to empty your account by an attacker at an ATM, they won’t wipe you out as severely. Also, if your account number is compromised, your primary checking account isn’t at risk.
Be Smart With Your Smartphone
If your phone isn’t going to work in the country you’re visiting, why bring it? Leave it at home. Then you don’t have to worry about it being stolen. Our phones have our banking information on them. They have our email on them. They’re little “steal me” signs we whip out at every photo opportunity. A stolen phone can turn into a stolen identity or emptied bank account pretty easily. Consider leaving your smartphone at home.
What about emergencies? Worried about the camera? Keep reading.
Bring an Old Phone
If you want to be able to receive calls abroad, pick up a GoSIM and a cheap, unlocked quad-band GSM phone. Then set your cell phone to forward all incoming calls to your new GoSIM number. Don’t buy an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S5 or Apple iPhone — get a shitty flip phone or a Blackberry-wannabe. Thieves are interested in the latest and greatest. Your old-school junker is of nearly no value. And the battery life will blow your mind.
Still want a music player for the flight? Going to miss Google Maps? Then bring an old smartphone. Set it up with Google Maps, download the map of wherever you’re going, and use it as a GPS navigator abroad. You can get old Android phones for under $50 on eBay. Don’t connect it to your email and bank accounts. If you lose it, you’re out just $50.
Bring a Cheapo Camera
Your digital SLR makes you a target. If you’re just taking pics for Facebook, get a cheap digital point-and-shoot for your trip. If you’re not a National Geographic employee, leave the pro gear at home if you’re worried about theft. Cheap digital cameras take damn good pictures, and their prices keep dropping. Spend $60 and you’ll get more than that back in piece of mind.
If you’re bringing a beater Android smartphone, maybe use its camera instead. However, if you’re doing something adventurous, you might want a wrist strap or something waterproof.
Printouts and PDFs of Your Details
Without a smartphone, you can’t just pull up your old emails and show the front desk your confirmation code. Print it out and bring a hard copy. Print out your hotel addresses and phone numbers too. Works without batteries too.
Also, scan your passport and put a copy on a secure online storage location like Dropbox or Google Drive. If you lose your passport, the embassy will probably allow you to login to Dropbox and bring up your details.
Leave Your Laptop, Bring a Chromebook
Your laptop has your life on it. Don’t bring it. Even if you’re diligent with your backups, a lost laptop is brutally unpleasant. Don’t risk it — bring a Chromebook instead. A Chromebook is a great travel computer. They encrypt your files, are impervious to viruses, are easy to share, and force you to keep things in the Cloud. A lost Chromebook is unpleasant, but it’s not punch-in-the-stomach, feel-like-I-might-vomit unpleasant. It’s like a $200 kick in the shins. Change your password from another computer and your data should be safe.
If you want even more security online, then don’t trust the hotel WiFi and set yourself up with a VPN service. While you’re at it, set up two-factor authentication from Google as well.
Pack a Decoy Wallet
I’m not sure where I first heard this tip, but I love it. Fill an old wallet with expired credit cards and an old ID and a bit of cash. If you get robbed at gun point, reluctantly relinquish this wallet then flee the area before they find out they’ve been scammed. Genius!
Remember RFID Protection
The highest-tech robbers of today don’t even need your physical wallet. With RFID technology, they can steal your info while standing next to you on the train. The solution? Get an RFID-blocking wallet or, better yet, these sleeves for your credit card and a big one for your passport.
Wear your Tin Foil Hat with Pride
Let’s face it — the only way to truly be secure is by wearing a tin foil hat. Bring a roll, just remember that you’ll have to remove it when going through airport security.
A less paranoid addition? Bring a small LED flashlight. Be prepared, Boy Scout.
Full Paranoid Traveler Packing List
- Money belt
- Travel checking account
- Smartphone at home
- GoSIM + cheap phone
- Junker smartphone as media player and map
- Cheap camera
- Printouts and PDFs of travel docs
- Chromebook + VPN
- Two-factor authentication
- Decoy wallet
- RFID protection
- Tin foil for hat
Got another paranoid travel tip? Leave a comment below.