Honestly? A lot of paperwork.
How Easy Is It To Get Robbed While Travelling?
Very easy. You don’t have to be stupid, you don’t have to be doing the wrong thing, you don’t even have to be there. I was staying in a well reviewed hostel with a key card front door, key card lift, locked dorms and padlocked lockers – I still got robbed (and so did everyone else on that floor!). I have also been pick pocketed in China and been marked by a pickpocket in Naples. Luckily I have never had anything important stolen, and World Nomads Travel Insurance did a really good job of looking after me when my minimal cash got nicked in Paris. My friend on the other hand, HJ, was not so lucky.
Having been so lucky myself as to have travelled to so many places and not had any major problems, I realised that I didn’t really know what would happen in that particular situation. So I asked her to write about her experience, and luckily for us – she agreed.
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Getting Robbed In A Back Country Road In Laos
While being robbed in a foreign country, you really do not want to be:
- Hungover, having spent the previous day drunk off your ass while tubing down a local river
- Carrying all of your most important items, including your passport, bank cards, cash and phone
- Half an hour from the nearest town on a remote road leading to the local mountains
- Riding a bright pink pushbike
Being robbed is a sure-fire way to put a fairly colossal downer on even the best travelling experience. Before I left for my trip I was regaled with all of the standard horror stories: little old ladies being attacked in Rome and having their purse grabbed, thieves who would stick a knife in your rucksack in order to relieve you of its contents, and (foreshadowing my own experience, though I didn’t know it at the time) thieves who conducted their business from the back of mopeds.
Having had a sufficient sense of paranoia instilled in us, myself and my travelling companion took every precaution we could to avoid meeting the aforementioned fates. We both bought wallets that could be worn inside our clothing (mine around my neck and my friend’s taking the attractive form of a thief-proof bumbag) and religiously padlocked the zips on our day bags together so no one could slip a hand in while we weren’t looking. Every time we were eating somewhere we’d take it in turns to use the bathroom, with whoever stayed behind guarding the bags with a Cerberus-like attentiveness. And, to our credit, these precautions worked – we made it through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam without mishap (if you don’t count me ironically having to get the combination lock on my bag sawed off after it broke and got stuck in place).
However, Vang Vieng in Laos proved to be our downfall. Having had a day of tubing and a disgraceful amount of alcohol (highly recommended, if you happen to be in the area) my friend and I decided to take the next day a little easier, hiring bikes to cycle out to a nearby blue lagoon. In a decision that I can only attribute to the hand of fate intervening (though not intervening enough to stop the robbery), we decided before we set out we’d only take one bag between us. This led to me clearing out a ton of stuff to lighten the load, including my camera and my precious travel diary, and my friend only putting in the bare essentials of what she’d need for the day. That done, we were off.
Anyone who has been to Laos, or has any vague knowledge of South East Asia, will know that it can get really bloody hot there. That’s the only real justification I can give for what proved to be a spectacularly stupid decision – taking off my rucksack and putting it in the basket of my bright pink bike. Having succeeded in getting through three countries unscathed, I suppose I must have somewhat relaxed my previous hyper-vigilance when it came to protecting my stuff, and the thought of cycling in 30-degree heat with a rucksack on definitely wasn’t a pleasant one. So, into the basket the bag went – and I’m sure you can figure out what happened next.
Whilst I was cycling along two men on a moped pulled up alongside me, reached into the basket, took the bag, and drove off. I’ve often wondered since if there was a single thing I could have done to stop them, but I was utterly paralysed with horror – and if I’d tried anything I’d have run the risk of them hurting me, or hurting myself in the process. Something that is incredibly important to remember, which my parents said to me after it happened, is that stuff is replaceable: YOU ARE NOT. In any kind of incident like that, the single most important thing is getting out of it unhurt and alive – while it is utterly gut-wrenching to have your things taken, better that than you being harmed, without exception.
So, what do you do after being robbed?
Report it to police, immediately.
As I mentioned, we were half an hour from the town we were staying in, which meant that our first step was a fairly undignified cycle ride back. Reaching the shop we’d rented the bikes from, we tried to explain what had happened, which was somewhat tricky given that a) English isn’t spoken as widely or as well in Laos as it is in other parts of South East Asia and b) I was in a state of almost complete hysteria. Having got the gist though, the immensely kind owner of the shop immediately dispatched two of his sons (on mopeds, of course) to take us to the local police station. It is imperative that following a robbery, you report it to the local police – this is particularly true when it’s your passport that’s been stolen. This is not because they will help you get your stuff back: even if Laotian police weren’t notoriously corrupt and disinterested in helping tourists, based on the information I gave them about the thieves (“two Laotian men riding a red moped”), they didn’t have a hope of finding them (if only I’d been robbed by a six foot ginger man with an eyepatch or something!). No, this is first and foremost to help the insurance claim you will inevitably be making on your return home. Without an official police report listing the items that have been stolen, you’re not going to get anywhere with your claim. You’re also not going to get a new passport from the embassy, which for me was the most pressing concern at the time.
Cancel Debit/Credit Cards
But before I crossed that particular bridge, we had to deal with all of the other initial crises that arose as a result of being robbed. I let my family know what had happened and they went in to immediate action, cancelling all of my bank cards, contacting my insurance company, ordering me a new driving license, etc etc. By an absolute stroke of good fortune, we were due to meet my friend’s parents in Australia (our next destination) about a week and a half after the robbery. Thanks to the speed with which my family and friends at home acted, I would also be met by new cards, new ID, a phone and some other paraphernalia that they were able to replace. And, thanks to the generosity of my friend, I also had access to (her) cash as and when I needed it.
Deal With The Passport Issue
However, none of this solved the most pressing problem: the fact that currently I couldn’t leave the country. The robbery itself aside, I think there are few things scarier than being trapped in a country on the other side of the world to your home, with no legal ID, no visa – nothing to prove who you are or that you have a right to be there, and no means of leaving either. Our next step was to call the Foreign Office in the UK, and get their advice on how to get an Emergency Transport Document that would allow me to leave Laos, finish the rest of our trip and return home safely. The hostel we were staying in kindly let us use their laptop to fill in the necessary forms, and the next morning we were on the first bus back to Laos’ capital, Vientiane, to start the process.
That process for getting an Emergency Transport Document for UK citizens is as follows:
- Apply for a certificate of loss from the police
- Receive that (in three working days unless you pay for them to issue it faster, which we did), head to the British Embassy and complete the application for your ETD
- Receive that (in another three working days), and then get an exit stamp from the Laos consul
- Once you’ve got THAT (in two working days), apply for a Thai visa (we were flying to Australia from Bangkok), even though British people on a regular passport don’t need one if you’re there for less than 15 days (I’m not bitter, honestly)
- Collect that the next day, and you’re good to go
Obviously these are the steps that I personally had to follow, although I expect that they would be more or less the same for anyone in the same situation in another country – if in doubt, phone the Foreign Office helpline!
Keep on Travelling
After an astronomical amount of stress and plenty of crying, we managed to salvage as much of our trip as we possibly could. First and foremost, I had the ETD, and that allowed me to complete the trip as planned (there had been a worry they’d send me straight home, but we as we were able to provide them with an itinerary full of booked flights I was able to continue). As well as that, once we reached Australia I was able to access my own money again, I had a phone I could use, and we had basically repaired as much of that damage that had been done as humanly possible.
And most important of all: I continued to have the time of my life on that trip. Bad things of varying levels happen when you’re travelling, it’s almost unavoidable – but you can’t let it spoil the trip that you’ve worked and saved for, that you’ve been looking forward to, that until the bad thing had been an incredible experience. It’s so easy to feel like your trip, and (when you’re feeling dramatic) your life is over when things go so badly wrong – but if nothing else, getting through it shows how strong and how capable of dealing with crises you are.
Top Tips For Not Getting Robbed
- CONSTANT VIGILANCE! Never get lax about the security of your personal property: you are a tourist, and therefore you may as well be wearing a bright red target on your back.
- HOWEVER – Don’t let this put you off travelling, you just cannot afford to stop being careful.
- If you can avoid it, don’t carry all of your most valuable things (like your passport) on you at once: I kept most of mine in my bag because I was worried about my hostel lockers being emptied, but if you have a massive, heavy duty padlock they’re probably the safer bet.
Top Tips If You Do Get Robbed
- If you are robbed, start dealing with the fallout straightaway: REPORT IT TO THE POLICE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. They may help you recover your things, but aside from that it’s imperative that you have official documentation of the robbery.
- If you get your passport stolen, immediately contact the Foreign Office for official advice on what to do.
- Cancel all of your bank cards and freeze your phone as quickly as you can to ensure they’re useless in the hands of thieves.
- If there are people at home you can contact, let them know what’s going on so they can help from where they are.
- Because it’s worth repeating: nothing is worth your personal safety, or your life. Stuff can be replaced, you can’t – if stopping a thief is going to put you in danger, it’s better to let them go.
- It’s not the end of the world, or even the end of your trip!
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Carry On Or Bust for letting me write this guest post, I’m a huge fan of the blog and it’s been an honour to contribute to it! Thanks guys!
Yes here is the kicker, stuff that gets nicked can usually be replaced or partially replaced by having the right insurance. I have gone with World Nomads for most of my trips simply because of their stellar reputation and the way they dealt with my claims previously. In my experience it has always been completely affordable – if you want to get a quote use the section down below, and if you want to read a more detailed version of my experience with them check out my review.