In India, rarely does a traveler find herself facing a violent criminal. It’s not uncommon, however, for an opportunistic thief to do his best to separate you from your rupees. Whether it’s grabbing an unattended bag, slitting open a daypack to empty its contents or simply picking your pocket in a crowded market, if you let your guard down for a moment, any of these things can easily happen to you.
It’s therefore very important that you guard your personal belongings at all times to avoid the loss of your passport, money, camera or any other items that could easily cause your trip to go sideways. Most thieves are interested in making a quick getaway, so often it just means hindering their efforts slightly and they will move on (unfortunately to another victim). Here are some simple things you can do to help prevent someone from taking advantage of you.
1) Carry a money pouch— These can often be inconvenient and uncomfortable, especially in warm weather. However, by using a neck pouch, money belt or leg pouch, you can keep larger quantities of cash and your passport safely tucked away under your clothes so that it would be very difficult for someone to snatch your stash.
2) Carry small amounts of rupees in an easily accessible place — I generally carry a small quantity, perhaps $10 U.S. worth, of rupees in my pocket or a small change purse. This allows me to easily pay for a rickshaw ride or a snack at a market without awkwardly pulling out my money pouch. In the unlikely event that a thief does try to rob me, it’s likely that he will feel satisfied to have walked away with my small amount of money.
3) Carry a cable lock — A cable lock (like the pliable ones you use to lock up a bicycle) allows me to lock up my backpack to a stationery item, whether I’m sleeping in the airport during a long layover in Amsterdam or I’m on an overnight train from Varanasi to Siliguri. If I’m dubious about the staff at my hotel, I will use the cable lock to secure my bag(s) to the bed or some other large object in the room.
4) Use a padlock — Many hotels in India, particularly the low- to mid-priced ones, use padlocks to lock the room’s door on the outside. Who knows how many people have keys to these! I carry my own padlock, usually a combination lock so I don’t have to fumble with a key, and lock up the door this way. While it prevents housekeeping from entering the room, I at least know that my items will be safe and I then don’t have to use the cable lock to secure my bags inside the room.
5) Pack a few tiny locks — I use tiny locks to secure the zippers on my bags so that a thief can’t simply unzipper my bag at a crowded train station to grab items. You can simply leave these dangling on one of the zippers until you need to use it – just make sure that you keep the tiny little key in a safe place so you don’t have to deal with cutting off the lock. Not that that’s ever happened to me 🙂
6) Carry travelers checks — Some people will swear that these are passe. I say not. Have you ever been to a store in your own town where the credit/debit machines are temporarily out of order? Now imagine a country with poor infrastructure that has frequent power outages. What to do when you can’t access an ATM or pay for something with a credit card? Pull out those travelers checks and starting signing. I keep a few hundred dollars of these on hand at all times and just pull them out before every trip I take. You have the added advantage that if they do get lost or stolen, they can easily be replaced (as long as you have kept track of the check numbers!).
7) Avoid crowds — HA! She says this tongue in cheek. It’s very difficult to stay away from crowds in India. Therefore, when you find yourself pushing through the million Indian march, keep your personal belongings close to you with your daypack in front against your chest and your pockets emptied. If you are carrying all of your luggage in a crowded place, make sure that you have your zippers locked and consider wrapping it with a protective slashproof netting.
8) Trust your gut — You’ll find Indians to be extremely helpful, interested and eager to chat with you. In many cases they simply want your business or to bring you to their uncle’s rug show. However, many Indians will be genuinely interested in striking up a conversation with you to learn more about you and to share information about India. Trust your gut instinct to determine which sort you’re dealing with and make a conscious decision as to who you should spend your time with.