One of the travel memories I will almost certainly remember vividly for the rest of my life, is when my partner and I got robbed in a neighbourhood in Valparaíso, Chile, where we shouldn’t have been walking but ended up anyway.
We never planned on ignoring the hostel owner’s advice, we just decided to head back to the hostel via another route we came for and then got lost in the iconic maze of stairs and alleys of Chile’s brightly coloured harbour city.
Just as I put back the Rough Guide into my partner’s daypack since it was not going to be of use – we were off the map – two young guys seized their opportunity. One of them picked up a wooden rod from the street and threatened my partner who decided to stand still and give in to whatever they wanted to steal from us. I had another response – we’re still not sure which of the two is the best one – and ran off, back in the direction where we came from. After realizing I was the only one running, I held back and in just a second the second guy had my shoulder bag in his hand. It just took him one rough pull and off he went with my wallet, phone, camera and sun glasses.
Neighbours opened their doors at the sound of us shouting, but closed them just as easily when they saw what was going on. It took some convincing to get me in the car of a passer-by who offered to take us to the police station some minutes later, but I was relieved to get away from that spot quickly.
At the police station the fun part of this experience started. It looked like as if we had been transported back in time. Two lazy, chubby men were asking us what happened without any real interest to the story. Or perhaps it was just that our one week of Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires had not prepared us well enough to explain a situation like this properly at a Chilean police office. The two of them were manning the ages old matrix printer standing in between their desk that took ten minutes to print out two pages listing all the belongings we were missing. And then another ten, after I realised I had not yet mentioned that my phone was gone too.
In the end we managed to get what we needed (a police report to send to our travel insurance company), and here’s how you can make sure of that too – if need be:
Make copies. Make photocopies of your most important documents – passport, credit card, student card – and send them to your email account. If you’re going to a destination without internet connection, bring some hard copies with you and store them in your daypack/backpack/suitcase/money belt. Obviously not just on your phone, as you’ll probably won’t have it in your possession anymore.
Make a back-up of your photos. I don’t know about you, but for me photographs are the next best thing to memories when it comes to travelling. Your camera is replaceable but your pics will never find their way back to you. If you feel the same way, please please please remember to back-up your photos regularly during your trip – on dropbox and a usb stick or tablet.
Consider installing an app like ‘find my Iphone’. This might be not your thing, certainly not when you travel to feel free and disconnect from the digital world, but it’s worth considering. The app might come in handy when you’ve forgotten where you’ve last seen your phone (for instance when you leave it at the ladies’ in a museum for instance and find out it’s missing only when you’ve arrived at the other side of town at the end of your sightseeing route – obviously, this totally didn’t happen to me in Sydney) or to track down the person that took it from you. Although I would definitely not handle this myself – just let the police know.
Save the phone number of your travel insurance company somewhere you can always find it – your guide book, notebook, brain – so you can report what happened and have them help you out.
Know by heart the phone number of at least one close relative or friend. If you’re shocked and need to know the world is still a happy place besides the assholes that robbed you – this is the person who you want to talk to. If you need financial aid because all your money and credit/debit cards were stolen this is also the person to talk to and ask for help in the form of a service I’ve become too familiar with myself – Western Union. Although I have to admit that over weekends nothing’s going to happen, so you might find yourself having to embrace eating Oreo cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days in a row (yup, that’s us).
Bring along an icon book. (Of course, this will only work if you still have it after your valuables were stolen.) In countries where speaking a little bit of the local language is out of the question unless you would invest three months of intensive language course while living with a guest family, a picture book might just be your saving angel. You can buy a book like this in any decent travel store and it will help you out when words just won’t do it. Simply look up the icon of the item you want to refer to and point it out in the book to your interlocutor.