8 Lessons I Learnt After Being Robbed While Travelling

On a recent trip to Istanbul the unthinkable happened – I got robbed. After an amazing first night out dining and laughing in this incredible city, I awoke early the next morning – around 5:30am – and noticed that there was a stranger in my rental apartment.

In my sleepy state I sat up in bed and watched as the stranger walked out the front door, not realising what was going on. I reached for my iPhone to activate the torch, but my iPhone was nowhere to be found. At this stage it hit me like a ton of bricks – I had been robbed!

A cat thief had climbed into my second floor apartment through a window that was left open, and while I was asleep he stole of my valuables including my iPhone, wallet with bank cards and drivers license, digital camera, cash and even my favourite travel pants which had my international drivers license in it.

Even though I was extremely upset and traumatised, it could have been so much worse, and I was grateful that I did not get hurt and that the thief did not take my laptop. Thinking back to that day, there is so much I would have done differently, but you live and learn.

To help you not make the same mistakes I did, here are the eight lessons that I learnt from being robbed:

1. Always Lock All Windows & Doors

Rather be safe than sorry, and no matter what floor of a building you are on, rather lock your windows (especially if there are no burglar bars). It’s easy to say “it’s highly unlikely that it will happen”, but rather make sure to prevent criminal activity from happening.

2. Don’t Get Distracted 

Arriving at a new destination is both exciting and distracting. My senses got overwhelmed with new sights, sounds and experiences. On my first day and night in Istanbul, I was enthralled by this new destination, and I got distracted and unfortunately I let my guard down, making me an easy target.

3. Crime Happens Everywhere

Coming from South Africa I’m well aware of crime and am usually very cautious, but no place is as safe or as dangerous as you think it is. Unless you are a local, or are travelling with a local that knows the area, you are always a target to criminals. Remember that crime can happen anywhere especially in tourist areas. Always stay alert!

4. Always Lock Away Your Valuables

Whenever possible take preventative action. While travelling in Southeast Asia, Lara and I were extremely cautious with our belongings and always locked away all valuables. Fortunately we did not fall victim to any theft during our six month stay. In Istanbul I got caught up in the moment, forgot about the basics, and paid the price.

5. Spread Your Cash & Bank Cards

Never keep all your cash and bank cards in one place like your wallet or purse. Get multiple ATM bank or cash cards in the event that one gets stolen or gets lost. Make sure to have an emergency fund in cash and always spread your cash. Not having cash or access to cash can cause huge problems and even ruin any trip. Unfortunately I had all three of my bank cards in my wallet which was stolen during the robbery, but I did have backup cash to use until I could get my bank card replaced. Having new cards couriered internationally was quite a challenge too.

6. Create Regular Backups

We often forget how valuable the contents of our digital devices are. Make sure to make regular backups of all your personal data from all your devices including mobile phones, laptops and tablets. Keep your backups on a separate external hard drive (that you can lock away) or even better, keep your backup in the cloud using one of many cloud based backup services.

7. Consider Using Cloud Based Services

As mentioned above, make sure that your data is safe and consider using one of many cloud based backup solutions. Doing backups to the cloud does involve transferring your files over the Internet, so if you won’t have reliable Internet access, then this may not be the best option. However you might decide to create a backup before leaving your last reliable Internet connection.

8. Have A Plan For Worst Case Scenarios

Being caught off guard and loosing my iPhone, drivers licenses, wallet and camera left me a bit empty handed. Make sure to plan ahead for these unlikely events, because they can and do occur. Have adequate travel insurance or funds to replace any important personal possessions, and most importantly make use of an app like 1Password to save all your sensitive personal data (passwords, pin codes, credit card numbers and emergency contact details) in a safe place that is accessible from the cloud.

Learn From My Mistakes & Don’t Be Discouraged

I often joke about this incident and choose to see the positive outcome. After having my iPhone stolen I spent a lot less time on my phone – checking emails and social media. I spent more time interacting with other travellers, locals and taking in all the amazing experiences.

Don’t let my experience and the risks of travelling put you off. Learn from my mistakes, plan your next adventure and make sure to visit Istanbul. Like any big city it can be dangerous, but there are too many unique and wonderful experiences that you will miss out on by not going.

Have you ever been a victim of crime or scams while travelling? Please share your experience with us on Twitter or on our Facebook.