packing list

Should I Wear an Anti-Theft Travel Bag or Bum Bag While Travelling?

One of the most common questions I was asked during my time working at Cotswolds and other outdoor stores was whether a special security purse or anti-theft travel bag was necessary when travelling. This can be a tricky dilemma to resolve, and I can easily understand other’s trepidation about choosing the right one. To put it blunt, some countries are more dangerous than others, and no one wants to be stranded in the middle of a foreign country with no money, passport or identification.

Before rushing out to buy one however, consider where it is you are travelling. If you are visiting European cities or other Western countries, then having one of those bags can potentially mark you as a target to thieves. Security bags are black, use an inexcusable amount of Velcro and zips, have never, ever been in fashion and stick out like a sore thumb.

Admittedly the reinforced metal straps on those bags are a great feature, but just because you know the strap is reinforced, doesn’t mean the pickpocket that is eyeing your bag knows this too. More than once I’ve had people tell me stories of a thief slipping a knife down their side, thinking one easy slash to the strap and the bag is theirs. Instead the thief ends up repeatedly slashing at the bag and the victim ends up with multiple cuts around their stomach, chest or shoulders, and an unexpected tour of the hospital.

No one wants to be robbed, and at the end of the day no bag is worth more than your life. Worst comes to worst, you can get everything back with your travel insurance;  it’s why you paid for it in the first place!

Instead, as the old saying goes, ‘Do as the Romans do’, and just bring a well-designed, everyday purse that will help you blend in with the crowds.

The key is finding a bag with the right balance of security features that looks so commonplace passersby will hardly glance at it. Key features to keep an eye out for include:

  1.   Inner zippered pockets: while you might want to store a water bottle, food, or other inexpensive bulky items in the main compartment of the bag, store money, passport, and other important documents you need with you in the smaller, discreet pockets inside.
  2.   Buckled or zipped access: pickpockets only have moments to distract you enough to dive a hand in your bag. Choose a bag with a covered zipper or, better yet, buckles, and pickpockets will less likely target your bag.
  3.     Thick, crossover strap: choose a bag with a thick strap that can go across your body
  4. Thin, delicate straps can easily be slashed, and wearing it across the body instead of one shoulder makes it more difficult for a thief to grab it.
  5. Manufactured from tough, durable fabric: look for a bag made of leather or some other equally durable animal-friendly fabric. Thin cotton fabric can easily be ripped, while leather will take much more of an effort to slash.
  6. Don’t flash the cash: using a designer handbag with brand names splashed on the front will also make you a target too. That’s not to say you can’t bring it with you, but just remember thieves are just as likely to go for the bag as they are the stuff inside it.

Your attitude towards protecting your bag is just as important as the construction of it too. When standing in crowded places, such as train stations or markets, keep a protective hand or arm over your bag when you can. Try to be discreet when getting cash out of your bag, and after taking it out, make sure you zip or refasten it immediately. Often pickpockets will watch you and wait for an opportunity – even a small moment like accepting change from a cashier is enough for them!

Whenever I’m travelling around cities, I either use an old battered camera bag with lots of pockets and compartments, or an old leather satchel that has several inner zips. So far, I have yet to be pick-pocketed, (hopefully I haven’t jinxed myself now) although admittedly it can sometimes be irksome having to undo buckles every time I wish to grab something quickly from my bag.

Some destinations however do require extra steps to be taken to protect your belongings, but for those places I would again recommend choosing something that helps you blend in with everyone else, such as infinity scarves, an incognito bra stash, or a secret money belt (although you might want to reconsider the last one due to the amount of stares you’ll get from loosening your belt every time you’re asked to pay for something in public). Better yet, go DIY and sew a small pocket into the inner waistline of your trousers to store notes.

Do you have any tips for protecting your bag from pickpockets?

Photo credit: palindrome6996 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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