Travellers, stop being so paranoid

The photos from that first week in Vietnam look ridiculous.

There I am on the streets of Hanoi, with a square bulge on my chest. There I am at a restaurant, with a square bulge on my chest. There I am singing karaoke, with a square bulge on my chest.

After the first week, however, the square bulge mysteriously disappears, and it would never be seen again.

That bulge was my passport, or rather a satchel containing my passport and important travel goodies like US dollars and a credit card. I was wearing the satchel around my neck, under my T-shirts, because I knew about security, and was taking every precaution.

I was 24 and it was my first time in Asia, into the unknown, and I wasn't about to lose my valuables to a dodgy room cleaner or a backstreet mugging, which was why the goodies were all residing under my T-shirt.

After a week, however, I was getting pretty sick of having a weird bulge on my chest. And it was making me sweat in uncomfortable places.

My solution: a money belt. I took all of the stuff out of the satchel, placed it in a money belt, and started wearing that around instead. Still safe from robbers, and now with a weird bulge on my waistband instead of my chest.

Another week or so later, however, I'd even ditched the money belt. No one else was wearing one, I reasoned, so why should I bother?

For a time there the money belt resided in my daypack, where I could still keep a close eye on it. After a while though it didn't even make it in there – I'd just leave it in my room at the hostel, packing it in my bag and covering it with a few T-shirts for added "security".


Nowadays when I travel it's the same thing. I don't have my passport with me all of the time – I don't even carry a photocopy, which is apparently Travel 101. I leave all of my valuables in my room, buried under my clothes. I've never had a thing stolen, or run into any trouble for a lack of official ID.

Maybe I'm just lucky. But my feeling is that travellers are really in far less danger than they might think.

I've heard some great stories from the security-obsessed. There's the secret-pocket-in-the-belt trick, where you sew a space into your normal belt to store cash. There's also the fake wallet, placed strategically in the back pocket to distract thieves. But are all these measures really necessary?

There can be a perception, particularly from inexperienced travellers, that the likelihood of being robbed when you're on the road is high. I know I thought that, which is why I had my passport dangling around my neck at all times.

You hear the stories of pickpockets in Barcelona, of muggings in LA, of dodgy blokes in Paris, of crime in Rio and hold-ups in Mexico City, and you start to worry. I've heard travellers say they won't even go to Barcelona, because it's so dodgy. They wouldn't even think of going to Central America because of the crime rate.

But people visit those places all of the time, and very few of them ever experience any problems.

I'm admittedly pretty lax with security. I leave valuables in my room all the time. I carry a driver's license in my wallet, but no copy of my passport. I don't have stashes of cash secreted in pairs of socks or anything like that. In some cities I'll keep my wallet in my front pocket rather than the back, but other than that I pretty much act the way I do at home.

That's not to say that bad things don't happen to travellers. People get robbed, and in some places the chances are much higher than others.

But it's not worth obsessing over. You can take a few precautions here and there if you want to, but there are so many travellers who expend more energy on worrying about the worst than it's really worth.

As long as you're sensible – as long as you're not walking down that dark alley at night, or flashing expensive jewellery in dodgy places, or wandering around with your wallet hanging out of your pants – there's no need to be the backpacker with the weird bulge on their chest. If anything is going to make people want to rob you, it's that.

How security conscious are you when you travel? What measures do you take? Have you ever been robbed and lost your valuables on the road? Post your comments below.



Join Ben Groundwater on a cycling tour of Vietnam. Details here.