While Thailand is one of the safest countries in the world to travel or live in, like anywhere, we do have petty theft. Backpackers are particularly at risk as they sleep while traveling on buses, trains etc., carry all their belongings (and money!) on their backs, and tend not always to understand the local culture.
That’s why, if you’ll be backpacking your way around Thailand, while perfectly safe in most instances, here are a few tips to follow to help keep your backpack (and money, iPod, cell phone etc) safe.
1. Never Leave Your Backpack Unattended – While it might seem obvious, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen backpackers in Thailand with their backpack shoved under a cafe table and them at the counter getting another coffee.
If you don’t want to drag it with you everywhere you go, ask someone sitting at the next table to keep an eye on it for you. That way it’s highly unlikely to walk away or have your stuff nicked out of it.
2. Watch it On Buses and Trains – Never fall asleep on a bus or a train with your backpack on an overhead luggage rack or under the seat next to you. Backpacks that are unattended on public transportation have a habit of being picked up and carried off. Watch it at all times and, if possible, don’t fall asleep. You can do that in your hostel or hotel room.
3. Don’t Put It in Compartment Under the Bus – Unless it’s an absolutely massive thing, haul it onto the bus with you rather than stow it in the compartment under the bus.
In Thailand, one scam is to put everyone’s bags in the under the bus compartment, get everyone on the bus then have a small ‘delay’. The delay gives unscrupulous people the chance to grab a few bags and leave. You won’t even know it’s missing until you get to your destination.
4. Never Leave Valuables in It – Always have a separate small bag you keep with you at all times that contains your passport, money, travelers checks, ATM card, iPod, cell phone etc. Never, never, never put any of these items in your backpack.
5. Carry it at the Front – If your backpack is loaded with valuables, carry it at the front, across your body. Watch how the Japanese travel. They always have small or large backpacks, securely fastened and carried across their chests. Emulate them.
6. Avoid the Flag – Never saw a flag on your bag. A) We don’t really care where you’re from and B) You’ve no idea what people you meet think of your country. Particularly if you’re from America, Israel or any other country that half the world hates, avoid the flag. It will only bring you trouble.
7. Pack Important Things on the Backside – When packing your backpack, put any important items you’d hate to lose at the back of the pack – the one that will be carried next to your body. That way, if someone slashes your bag with a knife while you’re carrying it behind you, they won’t get your good stuff – only a bag of three day old dirty socks rom the front.
8. Don’t Wear Expensive Clothing or Accessories – The best people at backpacking are the ones who wear cheap clothes and leave the expensive jewelry and watches at home. If you look like you have money (and many people can spot an authentic Gucci watch a mile away) then you’re far more likely to be a target. Buy cheap stuff, so if it gets stolen or lost, you’re only out a few dollars.
9. Leave it at the Hostel – Many hostels nowadays offer free or inexpensive storage. Even if you’ve checked out of your hostel and you’re heading for a day sightseeing in Bangkok, leave your backpack behind in their locked storage while you go and explore the area.
Sure, it might mean an annoying trip back to the hostel to pick it up, but it’s far better than the annoying hours you’ll spend at the police station and on the phone to credit card companies etc. when your backpack gets swiped.
10. Zip it Low – Never zip up compartments of your backpack and leave the zipper showing at the top. That’s an easy way for someone to unzip the compartment and quickly grab what’s in it. Fasten the compartment with the zipper making sure the zipper stops at the side or the bottom of the compartment. Far more difficult to grab a quick hold of.