How to Avoid Getting Mugged or Items Stolen While Backpacking

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The world is a beautiful place, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you could find yourself in some serious trouble. Here we explain how to avoid mugging.

One of the worst things that can happen to you is getting robbed while you’re traveling the globe. A good traveler is one that informed and prepared to avert any incidents of theft that they may encounter while on the road.

Getting mugged while backpacking is sadly a common tale from one unprepared backpacker to the next. The fear of getting mugged shouldn’t hinder you from traveling to the places you want to go, because crime is inevitable, anywhere.

The best you can do for yourself is to be informed on how to prevent being a target of such crimes.

We got mugged once in Malaysia. Fortunately, you can avoid getting mugged while backpacking if you follow these simple steps.

Here are a few tips that can help you stay safe on your next trip.

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Always be aware of your surroundings

Remember that crime can happen anywhere, so when you’re out and about exploring a new city, your senses should always be heightened.

If you’re walking, always check if there are any people in your vicinity who look suspicious, or if you are being followed. It can be quite difficult to peel your eyes away from the beautiful scenery, but don’t put your guard down while doing so.

If you’re in a crowded area or an area that’s known for being unsafe, keep your phone away. Being fully present while exploring will not only make you appreciate the place you are in more, but will also prevent you from attracting any thieves.

Don’t look like you have money

That doesn’t mean you have to dress poorly, but this just means to dress in such a way that doesn’t make you look like a walking target for theft.

Keep jewelry to a minimum (or none at all), dress appropriately, and don’t flaunt gadgets and valuables. It’s best if you dress like a local, not like a tourist.

Flashing valuables is one very common way backpackers get robbed. You might as well be walking around with a big sign that says “Mug Me”. While we never want to blame the victim, be aware of this.

Valuable rings, necklaces, or bracelets are attractive to thieves. Avoid walking down the street with your cell phone in your hand, and always pay attention to your surroundings.

Be diligent always!

Keep valuables in a small bag

It is better to keep your valuables in a small bag as opposed to letting them kick around in a much larger bag. You will be able to keep an eye on them, and they will be harder for thieves to get.

It’s easy for a mugger to unzip the large component at the top of your backpack, but it’s much harder for them to fish around in a small pouch inside your backpack to get at your passport or rings.

Don’t put your credit cards and all your cash all in one wallet

Separate your credit cards away from your cash. It’s wise to keep them in separate places in case you lose your wallet, or if you do end up getting pick-pocketed or mugged.

This way, at least you aren’t totally left with nothing, and you have a backup card and emergency cash stashed in a safer location with you still.

Some backpackers even carry around a fake wallet with a few bills and old expired credit cards, along with a fake phone just in case they run into some trouble.

Most thieves will just want your wallet and phone, so this is a good way to protect you and your valuables.

Have a companion, or stay in groups

Muggers will mostly target travelers that are alone. If you do need to travel alone, check out our top Ways to Stay Safe Whilst Solo Traveling.

If you’re a solo traveler, this might be a challenge. But if you do plan to explore an area that’s notorious for crime, it’s best to find a companion to go with.

You can make some friends in the hotel/hostel you’re staying in, and propose to go as a group.

Walk in the opposite direction as traffic

When walking in an unsafe area, it’s best you walk against traffic.

This way, you can see if any potential danger might be coming your way (like, if someone pulls up and abducts you), and you’ll feel much safer seeing what’s coming toward your way.

Keep your bag in front of you & away from the curb

Motorbike thefts are common especially in developing countries. They target people whose bags are located on the side where they can grab it easily as they speed off.

Keep your bag tucked away from the side of the road, and it’s best if you can place it in front of you. This tip is applicable for those who use shoulder bags and sling bags.

A safer option for travel bags you can use while sightseeing are crossover body bags which you can sling over to the front side of your body, and money belts where you can store your credit cards and cash in on the front of your waist.

Remember, muggers are always on the watch for opportunities. Don’t be a target.

Do your research and know which places to avoid

This can be as easy as doing a quick Google search before heading out for sightseeing, or ask advice from your hotel or hostel staff for safety tips and places that must be avoided.

More often than not, they will be happy to help you and will give you valuable advice.

Also, it goes without saying that you should avoid going to alleys and streets that are poorly lit, look suspicious, and have little to no people as these areas are usually the perfect setting for muggings to take place.

Look like you know where you are going

One of the best ways to avoid being mugged is to always walk with confidence, even if you don’t know exactly where you are. Muggers like to target people who look unsure and lost.

If you openly show this vulnerability, the more these criminals will see as an easy target. It’s good practice to research the place you are going before heading out, so you have a general idea of how to get there.

If you need to check your map or directions on your phone’s map, choose a safe location to do so. Stay alert.

Who has your itinerary?

Who knows where you are headed on your trip? If you have a whirlwind multi-destination tour in mind, make sure a loved one knows where to find you.

We love packing in as much fun as possible while away from home. But if you only leave vague descriptions of where you might be it will be difficult for loved ones to help if you need them.

Part of a safe trip is preparing your destinations ahead of time. Once you know where you will be, make sure you leave a full itinerary with a friend or family member back home. This way they will be able to find you if they need to.

Your phone is a magnet for thieves

One of the most important things you can when learning how to avoid getting mugged is to limit using your phone.

Few things can be as frustrating on your vacation as having your phone stolen. And in terms of checking in with loved ones and having access to your information, a stolen phone can hurt your chances of a safe trip.

Many travelers aren’t aware of the huge market for stolen smart phones in foreign countries.

This isn’t just in third world or exotic destinations either. In the UK alone over 1,200 smart phones are stolen every day.

If you are someone who typically has your phone out while traveling, you may want to put it away. Thieves can come right up and grab it out of your hand.

Leave your phone use to more secluded occasions. With your phone out you are a magnet for crime. Besides, you came there to see new things not just your phone screen.

Passport management

How to avoid mugging is to never take your passport out while you are in public. Bury it deep in an inside pocket in your backpack, and avoid accessing it.

Imagine the headache if you are in a foreign country and your passport gets stolen. The cost alone of finding additional lodging and change flights can cause considerable stress.

Plus, if you don’t have access to that information it will be difficult to check in to hotels or continue your trip abroad. A simple solution is to make a photocopy of your passport and carry it in another place in your luggage.

In addition, you may want to email yourself a copy too. That way you can access this information virtually should thieves steal your passport.

In the hotel

While hotels around the world can offer incredible luxury, they can offer multiple threats to your safety.

You may take it for granted in your home country that you will know how to respond in an emergency.

Never tell the front desk or anyone in the hotel or motel what you have in your room. If there is a safe in the room, use it to lock everything you can. Leave it in the safe when you are out sightseeing.

Do Not Disturb sign on your door

Whether or not you are in your hotel room keep the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob. This is more likely to alert possible criminals that you are there.

If they suspect you are a foreign tourist they could be targeting your room. The sign will warn them away.

Beware of pickpockets

One lurking predator that can become a problem in your travels is the threat of pickpockets. Favorite tourist destinations like Paris are nearly famous for their prevalence of these thieves.

While giving you and your family a safe trip is the first priority, you need to keep your possessions safe as well. And when it comes to professional pickpockets, tourists are often surprised at how fast and casually they’ve been robbed.

We already mentioned making a photocopy of your passport. You will also want to do the same with your cards in your wallet to prepare for a possible theft.

Make sure you also check out what international travel banks are out there so you can get help right away if needed. Embassies suggest that women who carry purses only use ones that zip. And carry your bag tight under your arm.

Men are cautioned to put a rubber band around their wallet and carry it in their front pocket. A pickpocket can ruin a trip with headaches and loss of necessities.

There are money belts and other travel gear you can wear to help hide valuables. You should also get an RFID blocking wallet to protect your ID and credit cards so thieves won’t scan your information.

Avoid getting mugged while backpacking

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people in the world who do not have your best interests at heart. When you are traveling and obviously a tourist, you are vulnerable to muggings, local scams, and getting overcharged.

Do your research on your destination before even setting foot on the plane or train. Learn what kind of scams are prevalent in the area. Find out how much you should actually be charged. This is especially important in areas in which you don’t know the language.

When you are armed with this information, you are far less likely to be the vulnerable victim of a mugging, scam or worse.

If you follow these travel tips you can make sure you have a great and safe backpacking adventure. When you are traveling someplace new or somewhere familiar, these precautions will get you there and home in one piece.

Great travel means making the most of every moment on your vacation. You don’t just need to travel safely. You need the best tips, tricks, and guides to enjoy your time away from home. As We Travel can help you have the vacation you always dreamed of and keep you safe while doing so. Since our founding in 2010, we have traveled and blogged from over 45 countries.

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20 thoughts on “How to Avoid Getting Mugged or Items Stolen While Backpacking”

  1. Hi Sofia! Great post! I saw so many people doing the fanny pack/bum-bag thing on the way from Sweden to NZ – not so smart! Hope you’re enjoying the Winter in Scuol! Kram på dig!
    /Jon

  2. Hi Sofia! Great post! I saw so many people doing the fanny pack/bum-bag thing on the way from Sweden to NZ – not so smart! Hope you’re enjoying the Winter in Scuol! Kram på dig!
    /Jon

  3. Nice! My tip to AVOID muggings in developing countries is buy a CASIO watch. That way you’ll blend in with the locals.

  4. Nice! My tip to AVOID muggings in developing countries is buy a CASIO watch. That way you’ll blend in with the locals.

  5. haha Hey Joe! Yeah we can had that to the list as well! You back in the UK now eh? How long are you planning on staying here?

  6. haha Hey Joe! Yeah we can had that to the list as well! You back in the UK now eh? How long are you planning on staying here?

  7. I think it's hard not to look like a tourist in many countries but it is easy to look like one who doesn't know where they are going.

    I've just discovered in Nicaragua there is a rash of robberies of tourists in cabs. Often you share a cab with others and many people are getting into cabs with strangers and being robbed. The news is spreading quickly amongst the hostels so hopefully it will soon end but until then I'm only taking cabs when I have to and will insist on paying a bit more to take them alone.

  8. The title threw me off …. I think of backpacking as hiking on trails in the mountains where there are no people and camping along the way. The title made me wonder how many muggers are actually waiting behind the trees in the forest …

    Good advice for travelers though!

  9. Nice post! I always marvel at tourists with fanny packs, or those things you wear around your neck that hold money and passports. What are they thinking? Seriously! I bet if there was a statistical study of the things that get stolen from tourists fanny packs would make pat least 80 percent of most often stolen items.
    Make several copies of your passport before you travel, store them in several different locations on your person and in your belongings. and Put all your important things in different places, stash money in different compartments, pockets, etc. That way even if you do get robbed, at least you have some things
    left 🙂

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