“So, do you like it?”

“No, we got our wallet stolen.”

An excerpt from a conversation with my friend a while ago when I asked her thought about a particular country she went to. Yep, not a great start (or journey) to your holiday, is it? Losing your hard-earned money is the last thing you want to go through, in any occasion and nobody wants to go through it while traveling abroad in a country you’ve never been to! It is frustrating and can possibly ruin your trip, even if the place you’re going to is SO beautiful. Money is such a sensitive thing to discuss, but I feel the need to bring this topic up and maybe it can help you the next time you travel abroad.

What’s more, most Indonesians I know bring cash instead of credit cards when they are traveling and I thought it’s quite normal – until I did a summer exchange where almost every one used credit or debit cards and they were surprised to find that I even dared to bring all my allowance in cash. Before anything else, we should ask ourselves first on why do they steal and how is it possible that we, of all people, get our pocket picked?

The short answer is, because it’s there!

So what can you do to outsmart the pickpockets? 

  1. Keep your friends close, but your money closer – to your body, that is. As much as I hate using money belt or money pouch, it is indeed a good way to keep your money safe as long as you keep it hidden. If money belt is uncomfortable for you, keep it in the inside pocket of your jacket.
  2. Bring just a little cash and use your credit card to pay instead. If you have several credit cards, check which banks offer the best rate for exchange currency to the countries you are going and before you go, don’t forget to call the banks to let them know that you are traveling abroad, so that your transactions don’t get declined. It is also convenient to use credit cards when you travel to many countries in just few days where the currency is different in each country, say if you are doing a 2-weeks tour of Central Europe. That way you don’t need to carry heavy coins that you can’t use in the next country you’re going to (and buying heavy chocolates just because you need to get rid of the coins!)

    The sunset may not be so beautiful once you got your pocket picked.

  3. However, there are still many countries where credit card/ATM use is not so ubiquitous and you need cash to survive. The trick is, don’t keep all your eggs in one basket – keep your cash in small amounts in many places in your bag and backpack so if *knock on wood* you get mugged, you won’t lose all your money all at once.
  4. My parents once said that when you are traveling, everything you keep at the front side of your body is yours and everything at the back belongs to other people – yes, including your money so don’t put your wallet in your back pocket because it is a magnet for pickpockets!
  5. By all means, dress fashionably but keep it modest – don’t flash around your jewellery like you are a second sun in the universe! As it is with putting your mouthwatering wallet in your back pocket, it attracts pickpockets. So please, just don’t overdo it.
  6. If you are up for it, do some research and watch Scam City. It is a TV show that shows the kind of scam that could happen to you in cities like Prague, Barcelona, Rome, Istanbul, Bangkok, and other big cities. Watch as the host, Conor Woodman, be a victim to the scams so that you don’t fall into the same trap!
  7. If you bring a hand bag or sling bag, please don’t ever a) leave it unattended or b) put it on the floor. Yes, even if you are on a long haul flight – I sleep with my sling bag on me.
  8. Keep a copy of your credit cards information. In case you get your money stolen, you can call them immediately to block your cards. Also take note on where your country’s consulate or ambassador office is in the countries you are going to because if you lose your passport, you will have to go there to issue a passport replacement.
  9. When I went to Czech Republic 2 years ago, it wasn’t possible for me to buy Czech Koruna in Indonesia. If you really need to exchange currency at the country you’re going to, don’t exchange big sum of money at the airport because they have notoriously bad rate. Just exchange what you need to get you to the hotel or through the first night and exchange it at a bank with better rate afterwards.
  10. If you decide to exchange money at a bank or money exchange, don’t forget to count the money and count it again BEFORE leaving the counter. Take your time because they don’t receive complaints that you receive less than what was agreed AFTER you leave. It happened to my friend when we were in Budapest where he felt that the money exchange lady gave less than what the rate said, but unfortunately he said so after he left the counter. Well, we found out later on that the lady did give him the right amount of money and he counted it wrong – but when he complained, the lady didn’t budge because he told her afterwards.

Safe and smart travels, people!

Until next time,