Once you've decided what to take with you and embarked on your gap year, then you need to make sure you protect your belongings while you enjoy your amazing gap travel adventures. Next to keeping yourself safe, keeping your belongings safe is the next important priority. The key to keeping your belongings safe is to take care of them and try to use some common sense. It sounds simple, but you'd be amazed how many travellers don't follow this basic rule. Tips for keeping your stuff safe are:
The less you stand out as a tourist, the less likely it is you will be targeted as one. Don't wear jewellery or expensive looking watches or carry a camera around your neck. Don't flash your laptops and videos cameras; keep them hidden until you need to use them. Try to blend in and avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself.
Getting your map out and looking lost is like waving a flag and shouting: 'Look at me! I'm a tourist! I'm lost and vulnerable'. By doing this you can easily make yourself susceptible to being mugged or give con-artists the opportunity to scam you whilst you're distracted. Check where you're going in advance, so that you always walk in a confident manner. If you have to look at a map, duck into a restaurant or cafe and study it whilst enjoying a drink or a bite to eat.
Get your bearing quickly, act confident and walk purposely to wherever you are going. Whenever you arrive in a new city, it is best to leave your belongings locked up in your accommodation and take a quick walk around town to get your bearings. This should give you more confidence when you go out with your camera, money etc.
Opportunist theft can happen anywhere. However, the most likely places are in busy areas such as markets, bus and train stations, on transport, border crossings and at ATMs. Be extra vigilant with your belongings when in these areas.
Do some research and find out what the typical local scams are. Guidebooks are a useful source but the local knowledge is even better. Talk to hotel staff or travellers that have been staying in the area for a while.
Keep your valuables in a bag that has straps long enough to allow you to carry it across your body. This makes it harder for thieves to snatch your bag from you. If you plan to carry your valuables in a daypack then wear it on your front. You may think it makes you look like a geek but that's a small price to pay for being able to keep an eye on your kit and this will help prevent someone from raiding your pockets or unexpectedly slashing open your bag. As an extra precaution you can buy a bag that has two zips, which can then be secured together with a padlock.
When travelling on some buses it's normal for your main bag or backpack to be tied to the roof. This is generally safe. However, it is best to watch your bag being placed onto the roof, and then jump off the bus quickly once you've reached your destination to ensure you retrieve it quickly. Please note that you should not leave any valuables in this bag, especially not in any of the side pockets. You never know when an opportunist thief may try their luck when you're not looking. You can purchase sacks that cover your whole bag, helping disguise it, and preventing thieves from having a quick rummage through it. It also has the added bonus of keeping your bag clean and dry.
Another tip for when travelling on bus journeys (especially overnight) is don't leave your wallet and valuables in a bag on the overhead rack of a bus.Your bag should be visible to you at all times
If you do have to put it down (and only do so if you are confident it will be safe), keep an eye on it, especially when you sit down at restaurants, cafes, bars and Internet cafes. Ideally, keep it on your lap or loop your bag strap through the table or chair leg as well as through your leg to prevent someone from grabbing it. You still need to keep an eye on it though, as thieves could easily cut through the strap and swipe it.Remember to take a padlock with you
Some hostels have lockers in which you can safely store your valuables. Combination padlocks are great because you don't need to worry about keeping a key on you. Just don't forget your combination code! It's worth locking your passport, iPod etc in a locker when you go out.Make a DIY safe
Not all accommodation has a secure place in which to keep your valuables. If you don't want to carry them around with you, then make your own DIY safe under your bed or in the wardrobe. You can do this very simply using a padlock and some chain (or you can buy cable lock from outdoor shops like Blacks or Millets). Some hostels/hotels only have a safe in the main office where you can safely store your valuables. Standard practice is to put your valuables in an envelope provided. You sign a book in front of the staff to confirm what items are in the envelope and then you write your signature across the seal. This way you know your possessions have not been tampered with and the staff can't be accused of stealing something that was never in the safe in the first place. Before you use the main office safe, it's a good idea to chat to other travellers that have been there a while to check that security at the hostel is okay. Alternatively, hostel reviews are a good source of information on safe places to stay and where has the most helpful and trustworthy staff.Make two photocopies of important documents
Take two copies of documents such as your passport, insurance policy and flight tickets. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave a copy with someone at home. It is also sensible to scan your documents and email them to yourself; that way you can always access them easily.
If you do have items stolen, remember to report it to the police immediately or at the very least as soon as you can. This is important, as you will need to have a police report if you wish to make a claim on your travel insurance.