Protecting Your Belongings
Your belongings are important to you. On the Road you live out of your rucksack; it is your home, it is all you own. Yet people have had their entire rucksacks stolen, and continued with their trip. After the initial shock, they found they could buy whatever necessities they needed, and sometimes even felt some relief to get rid of that heavy pack. People have lost their passports and all their travelers checks, and continued with their trip after the inconveniences of replacing them. It is not the end of the world, or even the end of the trip. But it is not going to happen to you, because you are going to be prepared and know how to protect your belongings.
Also consider that the less you have, and the less you show off to others, the fewer problems you will have with theft. Even backpack travelers may be assumed to carry interesting goods far beyond the economic reach of most local people; but a smart thief will definitely choose targets that appear more lucrative for him. Given a choice, he will go into the rooms of people he has seen carrying big cameras, electronic gear, and expensive camping equipment which he may hope to sell quickly. You can still be robbed, but the chances are only increased when you show off such items of apparent value.
Copies -- Just In Case
There is almost no paper -- except cash -- that cannot be replaced, eventually, if you keep a copy or a record of it. Before you leave home, copy your passport photo page, vaccination certificate, travelers check receipts, air ticket, driver's license, student card, YHA card, etc. Leave a copy at home and carry a couple of copies in various places in your luggage. Take a copy of your birth certificate to help you get a new passport. Keep a list in your notebook or address book of the numbers of your insurance policies, bank accounts, social security or national identity number, credit card numbers, and the serial number on your camera. Leave your main address book at home and take a smaller one for traveling. As you pick up the addresses of new friends along the way, add them to the end of the letters you send home.
Now, along the way, make copies of any air tickets you buy and write down the ticket numbers. Some people even copy important visas they get. At least write the visa numbers down. Being in a country without a visa can be as much trouble as not having a passport. Your embassy can do nothing about replacing your visas or entry stamps.
If you buy new travelers checks along the way, not only save the receipts (separate from the checks), but keep a separate note of all the check numbers and when you spend them. Having exact information about which checks are lost will greatly help in getting them replaced. You will probably not lose any of these items. But if you do, you will be able to get them replaced with the least amount of trouble.
Keep your money, your passport, credit cards, and other valuable documents next to your skin. Keep them in front of you. Take them to the shower with you. Sleep on top of them.
Keep your money and other paper documents organized in a single plastic folding case similar to what you get with your travelers checks. One with a fold-over flap is better for protecting them. Put this, your passport, credit cards, and any other valuables that will fit (spare key, a few passport photos), into a flat pouch that you can wear next to your skin. I will call this a "money pouch". Various types of money pouches you might use are discussed below.
I use a money belt because I feel it is safest. This is not a real belt, but a thin pouch that straps around your waist. Wear it inside your trousers or skirt, under your belt, and in the front, not the back. Wearing it on the outside of your clothing may be more comfortable, but it defeats the purpose. The most popular alternative is a "passport bag" that you wear around your neck. They are more obvious and easier to steal. People have had theirs stolen on crowded trains without even being aware of it. If you use one, run a strong length of wire entirely through the neck strap, to prevent it from being cut.
You might consider stashing a small amount of cash and a traveler's check in one or two extra places, just in case you ever lose your money pouch. For example, in your rucksack with your passport copy, or in a separate, secret pocket or pouch on your body.
Whenever I have to dig into my money pouch in a public place, like a station or airport, I immediately move on to another location instead of staying among the same group of people. Watch to see if anyone follows you. In fact, even if a thief sees that your money is kept next to your skin, he will know that it is too difficult to rob you of.
'Walking Around' Money
Keep the amount of money you expect to use during the day in a wallet, money clip, or small purse in a front pocket — not a back pocket where it can more easily be lifted or slashed free with a razor blade. I sometimes add a snap or velcro closure to this pocket to make it more difficult for pickpockets. When things get really close, lay your hand casually over this pocket if you can. If you wear a skirt without pockets, sew a little pocket inside the waist where you can get at it easily. Do not carry anything else of value -- irreplaceable phone numbers, travelers check receipts, or photos of your family -- in this money holder. I have only been pick-pocketed once, on a very crowded local bus. It was an infuriating experience, but I only lost a few dollars worth of cash, and the wallet. Keep coins separate, so that you do not have to pull out your wallet on a crowded bus.
A woman's handbag or shoulder purse is not as safe as a day pack because the strap is easier to break or cut, unless you reinforce it with wire. If you do take a small purse, keep it inside of your day pack so you have only one thing to carry, and don't leave your passport of travelers checks in it. A waist pack is a good alternative, and even more difficult to steal or lose.
If you misjudge the amount of money you will need for the day, you will have to dig into your money pouch. Do not do so in public places if you can at all avoid it, least of all on a crowded public bus. If there are too many prying eyes, just say you will have to go to the bank or hotel to get more money, and come back later. Then find a more private place.
Day Pack Security?
You will still keep some things in a day pack -- but not your really valuables, like passport, money, and (hopefully small) camera. In some countries (the list is growing), bag slashers will come up behind you, slit your day pack (or rear trouser pocket) with a razor blade and follow along behind you, waiting for the goodies to drop out. For this reason, it is a good idea in more theft-prone areas to place a bulky item such as a sweater (jumper) or wind-jacket or (hey! a hotel) towel in the bottom of your day bag first. In really close situations -- on a packed bus or marketplace -- wear your day pack "backwards", on your chest!
Protecting Camera Equipment
The main valuable you will not be able to carry in your money pouch is your camera equipment. You should carry it with you at all times. Your hotel room is not a safe place to leave cameras, but you will end up doing this on occasion. When you must, lock the camera equipment inside of your rucksack where it cannot be seen or easily stolen.
If you have much camera equipment, you will need to keep it in a day pack and carry it with you everywhere. (See Day Pack Security, just above). In any questionable situation, wear it in front of you! This includes crowded buses, in queues at the station, or even walking down the street in theft-prone cities.
Unfortunately, when you want to take a photo, you may end up setting the pack on the ground to pull out the camera. Do not leave the bag there while using the camera, put it back on your shoulder. It is much better if you have a day pack which you can swing under your armpit, open, and remove the camera without taking the pack off of your shoulder. Practice this at home, or before buying a new bag for this purpose.
You can buy (at home) waist packs specifically made to carry camera equipment. A bag secured around your waist is less vulnerable to theft (and forgetfulness) than a day pack. Wear it in front of you or on your side where you can rest a hand on it, not in back! You may find this alternative uncomfortable if your equipment is very bulky.
A compact camera is much easier to protect. You can fit it into a trousers pocket if it is all you are carrying. Don't use shirt pockets unless they can be secured with a button or snap; things are always falling out of shirt pockets. I usually carry my compact camera in my small waist pack, which can also hold film, notebooks, and dozens of other small items. It becomes my valuables bag, leaving my hands free. I never leave it behind because it is secured around my waist. I wear it on the side, with one hand casually resting on it, or it can be shifted easily in front of me in tight situations. Make sure the zipper is closed toward the front side; for this reason a double zipper is preferable.
If your camera has a wrist or neck strap, use it! It not only prevents theft, it will save your camera on the one or two occasions during a trip when you accidentally drop it. You could also be bumped by someone 'accidentally', causing you to 'drop' your camera right into the hands of his passing accomplice.
Again, if you follow these precautions, no one will even try to steal your gear. If you do not, probably no one will try. But for that one time in a hundred...