This week, a small, seemingly banal incident, prompted me to write this post.
I went to the Singapore work permit center to renew my access right. It’s always packed, and there are people everywhere—many counters —counters with cue numbers to put order in the chaos. This center receives several thousands of foreign workers 6 days a week. Mainly they are construction workers and helpers from China, the Philippines , India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and all of the poorer surrounding countries.
I was not worried, because I had all the papers and this was a renewal that had already been accepted. I missed one paper and I had to called my boss to ask him to send me a copy via the Internet. The only place available to receive and print e-mail was invaded by hundreds of workers in orange suits like the American prisoners. Oh my god, he’ll have to be patient?Finally, I got to print my missing paper and I’m went to queue at the renewal counter.
I dug in my pockets to search for my iPhone. I thought I must have forgotten it at the public Internet service.My god, the chances of finding it got slimmer every minute that passed away. I returned to the scene and someone was just playing with it.. phew! That was close. That made me realize that after all I had done to save my phone—I gave it a ‘low profile’ look—a simple black plastic case hiding the famous Apple logo so it did not attract attention.
I remembered the only time I had left it on the Foodcourt table. We called the phone and the guy from the security office had answered, the old lady who washed the tables had no interest in mobile phones.
I also remembered one time when I left my bag in a bar locker room Vientiane in Laos. My bag was still there, but the camera inside was gone, and to my surprise, my iPod was still there, because it was stashed in a discreet pocket.
The only new motorbike I owned was in Laos. I went to visit my friend at her house, and I was sitting on the table in front of the house for a good part of the evening, when at 21:00, I decided to go home. It had disappeared, but only mine. All the others around were still there. In a small neighborhood, in a private courtyard, without remorse, they decided to steal the white rich guys bike. He will buy another one. If I had a shitty second hand bike, nobody would have touched it.
I also remember the story of a German girl called Hanna who had a new iPhone in it’s never opened box. One day in Laos, she decided to open it and start to use it. Surprise, her new phone was replaced by his old one and the brand new iPhone was gone. Someone had searched his luggage and made an exchange.
It reminds me of a cartoon from my childhood made by Serge Gaboury. Unfortunately, I could not find it. It was about a couple of tourists who arrived in Mexico with their jewelry and their big camera vest wearing I love Mexico shirts…They said “hi naked people.” To make everyone to laugh at them, three drew away, and we saw the couple again, totally naked, wearing nothing at all … Who was naked now?
30 Security and Safety Advice Tips for Backpackers in Asia
1) If you are traveling and work via internet or post your adventures, you will need to hang with more expensive equipment (laptop, camera DSLR, Hard drive), and you should be more careful.
2) On adventure travels with your backpack, it is best not to put too many electronics or show evidence of your valuables.
3) Do not just bring your DSLR camera. It is not very portable and is desirable to thieves. Once night falls, drag a small “point and shoot,” which is more convenient to put it in your pocket.
4) Do not use the official bags for your camera or computer. A multi-purpose backpack will not show everyone that there is something of value inside. Remove or hide the labels of popular brands like Apple or Nikon.
5) Avoid putting any valuables or precious items in one place. Keep copies of your important documents (passport, insurance) safe on the Net on a drop box account, for example.
6) A popular travel scam is to make you stop. A passing person will warn you that you have dirt on your bag while they handle it to vacuum your bag of its content.
7) In busy streets, crowded spots where we are often distracted, it is always advisable to keep monitoring valuables things and get things out, like your camera, only when you use it.
8) Beware of Monkeys.
Especially in Bali, there is a clan of monkeys lead by small local savvy. This lazy criminal had the good idea to train monkeys to steal from tourists in exchange for rewards. They could steal your camera and return it to you in exchange for an Indonesian Rupiah. The story does not say if they are able to identify counterfeits. It seems that the monkeys would exchange money, then their master would exchange that for monkey rewards. Beware especially if you visit the Monkey Forest in Ubud.
9) False police are a classic.
They may be false officers or real corrupt cops who are trying to give you a fine to scam you out of a few dollars, depending on your reaction to his speech. It often done with a leading paper in the local language. You do not understand it, but they will point to a local currency number, not very expensive in USD, but a good business in local currency.
10) Sometimes people pose as an improvised tour guide or responsible person in Asia and in many poor countries. People will come to help you, and they will offer all kinds of services: find a taxi, or buy train tickets or worse, at the border of Cambodia they will offer you to set your visa. “Give me your passport and wait here,” a kid about 10 years old told me. I was not too much on, but hey, it seemed to be quite normal. I did not have a problem except he tried to tax me in return for his service. You can reward the friendly local who offers help close to tourist spots, but be careful, you never know.
11) Theft in the Bus or train
A child with a knife or sharp object can slip at your feet under your seat and collect the contents of your bag. Keep your luggage close and keep an eye on it.
In China I was taking a public bus and I was seating next to a guy in a corner. I was sleeping and he cut my jeans, because my wallet, is not a wallet is just a small pouch. He tried to take it but it was attached to a nylon string. When the bus stopped he tried to remove the wallet but it was stuck so he ran away. I’m always prepared for any situation
– William Oh
12) The counterfeit money
Do not change money in local currency in restaurants or sketchy exchange counters who not display official licenses. Visit banks and international hotels and you will be safer.
13) Pickpockets—it’s the classic guy who bumps into you to steal the contents of your back pocket.
14) ATM scams
The bandits around the world love the money machines. They are bottomless money wells. Many scams are raging, like the fake ATM to collect the print of your card and your password. Make sure the ATM you use is an official one and not a fake setup. Use the counters at official institutions or the ones in the shopping mall. Always be careful around the ATM machine, and try to use it during the day time, because the risks are reduced.
15) Protect your backpack
There are two possible things you can do. The first one is to show that your bag is secured with padlock, and this will discourage lazy criminals. The second is that if you put extreme visible security measures on your bag some criminals may think that it’s content is a treasure. Remember that there is no bag that can’t be opened with a common two dollars penknife .
16) Do not bring anything of value
Even though this is sometimes difficult, if you plan to travel for cheap and for long in budget places, only bring things that can be lost without shedding a tear. For example, I bought a indestructible Nokia first generation for $20. If I lose it,I will not be sleepless. You can travel with an affordable netbook and leave your MacBook at home.
17) Do not keep anything of value in your main bag.
Your high capacity bag is often left behind and unattended. This is the place that is more inviting to thieves. Especially on public transport in poor countries.
18) Keep the essentials in a small bag.
A bag that you can carry with you at all times without showing that you are hiding something of value. The less you have, the less you lose!
19) Keep your passport, money and credit card around your waist or in a safe. It is hard for anyone, even a famous pickpocket, to play near your private parts without alarming you.
20) Keep as little money as possible on you.
ATM fees in exotic countries are high, and it’s tempting to withdraw more money than needed to avoid fees. But it is always better to pay $2 fees than being robbed of $200.
21) Use your online banking access.
Transfer the money that you need for a week or two from your main account to your ATM account. If something happens with your debit card, your losses will be substantial.
22) Do not bring more than one credit card.
The less you have, the less you lose. One credit card, and one debit card are enough and are less risky.
23) Keep your bank contacts in a safe place in case of credit card loss or theft; you can quickly cancel and they will send you a new one quickly, almost anywhere in the world
24) Backpackers who steal from other backpackers
Sad but true, many thefts suffered by travelers are committed by other travelers. Many ‘packers’ like to meet other travelers like them. They often share the road for several days. Without being paranoid, you must apply the same common sense with all strangers. When vagabonds and travelers are running out of money, and they want to come back home, some will not hesitate to steal from their friends. If a stranger asks you where you sleep, lie. Be general in your answers.
25) Look at the people that look at you, follow you, or act suspicious. When in doubt, go to public places and stay on your guard.
26) Get a smaller, more discreet laptop. Do not expose yourself too publicly with your expensive toys.
27) Do not forget to keep an eye on all your accessories such as chargers and batteries, as they are hard to replace and it costs the skin off your buttocks.
28) Bring a friend if you take pictures in the city with all your expensive equipment.
28) Change your memory card and often send files and photos over your internet account.
30) If you do not have a safe place, hide your valuables under your mattress, for example, but do not forget to get them before leaving.
Ending on travel safety in Asia, they say that even if you plan, the impossible can happen, but once you find good you are ready to smile much faster.
This post is also available in: French