How to Avoid Getting Mugged While Backpacking

Last Updated on July 7, 2022 by Alice Benny

Crimes against backpackers are common. Criminals may steal your entire backpack; riffle through your pack; grab what they can from outside pockets; and use a sharp knife to slit the backpack open. Here we explain how to avoid getting mugged while backpacking.

One of the worst things that can happen to you is getting robbed while you’re traveling the globe. The best thing you can do is to be informed on how to prevent being a target of such crimes. We got mugged in Malaysia. We learned a lot from the experience and also talked to other backpackers to learn their best practices.

Fortunately, you can avoid getting mugged while backpacking — or at very least make yourself less of a target — if you follow these simple steps. Aside from the helpful backpack-specific tips, there are things we should all do to stay safe, whether we are backpacking, road tripping, or simply out and about around our hometown.

How Not to Get Mugged Backpacking

Learn how to avoid being the victim of a mugging. Whether it is your first time backpacking solo or you are an experienced backpacker going with others, it is always smart to review ways to be safe when traveling.

Locks on Your Backpack

Keeping lightweight, small combination locks or padlocks on your travel backpack will go a long way toward deterring thieves. You can also cover your backpack with a plastic rain cover or a full wire meshing.

Always keep the backpack zipped and cinched. If there are compartments, make sure they are secured as well, including ensuring all the flaps are down. 

These are all ways to limit access to your backpack when you are carrying it around. However, there are times when your backpack won’t be with you. Don’t assume just because you have locks on it that thieves won’t have access to it. Experienced criminals will have pocketknives or other knives with them and will be able to slit it open.

how not to get mugged backpacking
Learn how not to get mugged backpacking before you set out on your adventure

It is important to be sure to carry your most valuable possessions — your identification, money, credit cards, debit card, and cell phone are on you at all times.  

Bury Important Things in Your Backpack

Do not put important items in the outside pockets where they will be easy for thieves and pickpockets to access. Do not leave your wallet, cell phone, and anything important in any of the outer pockets. Instead, use these pockets for snacks and drinks and other disposables. 

Your Phone is a Magnet for Thieves

One of the most important things you can when learning how to avoid getting mugged is to limit using your phone. Few things can be as frustrating on your vacation as having your phone stolen. And in terms of checking in with loved ones and having access to your information, a stolen phone can hurt your chances of a safe trip.

Many travelers aren’t aware of the huge market for stolen smart phones in foreign countries. This isn’t just in third world or exotic destinations either. In the UK alone over 1,200 smart phones are stolen every day.

If you are someone who typically has your phone out while traveling, you may want to put it away. Thieves can come right up and grab it out of your hand. Leave your phone use to more secluded occasions. With your phone out you are a magnet for crime. Besides, you came there to see new things not just your phone screen.

Keep Backpack in Front of You & Away from the Curb

Motorbike thefts are common especially in developing countries. They target people whose bags are located on the side where they can grab it easily as they speed off. Keep your bag tucked away from the side of the road, and it’s best if you can place it in front of you.

This tip is applicable for those who use shoulder bags and sling bags. A safer option for travel bags you can use while sightseeing are crossover body bags which you can sling over to the front side of your body, and money belts where you can store your credit cards and cash in on the front of your waist. Remember, muggers are always on the watch for opportunities. Don’t be a target.

Walk in the Opposite Direction as Traffic

When walking in an unsafe area, it’s best you walk against traffic. This way, you can see if any potential danger might be coming your way (like, if someone pulls up and abducts you), and you’ll feel much safer seeing what’s coming toward your way.

You will also be more likely to notice if someone is doing what you are doing and is targeting you. 

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Remember that crime can happen anywhere, so when you’re out and about exploring a new city, your senses should always be heightened. If you’re walking, always check if there are any people in your vicinity who look suspicious, or if you are being followed. Never look down and use your phone while you are out and about.

It can be quite difficult to peel your eyes away from the beautiful scenery, but don’t put your guard down while doing so. If you’re in a crowded area or an area that’s known for being unsafe, be even more aware. Professional criminals blend in through crowds, looking for opportunities and stealing what they can.

Being fully present while exploring will not only make you appreciate the place you are in more, but will also prevent you from attracting any thieves.

how to be safe backpacking
Be safe backpacking by not pulling out important information when you are in busy areas

Passport Management

How to avoid mugging is to never take your passport out while you are in public. Bury it deep in an inside pocket in your backpack, and avoid accessing it. Imagine the headache if you are in a foreign country and your passport gets stolen. The cost alone of finding additional lodging and change flights can cause considerable stress.

Plus, if you don’t have access to that information it will be difficult to check in to hotels or continue your trip abroad. A simple solution is to make photocopies of your passport, driver’s license and other information. Carry it in another place in your backpack. In addition, you may want to email yourself a copy too. That way you can access this information virtually should thieves steal your passport.

Don’t Look Like You Have Money

That doesn’t mean you have to dress poorly, but this just means to dress in such a way that doesn’t make you look like a walking target for theft. Keep jewelry to a minimum (or none at all), dress appropriately, and don’t flaunt gadgets and valuables.

It’s best if you dress like a local, not like a tourist. Flashing valuables is one very common way backpackers get robbed. You might as well be walking around with a big sign that says “Mug Me”. While we never want to blame the victim, be aware of this.

Valuable rings, necklaces, or bracelets are attractive to thieves. Avoid walking down the street with your cell phone in your hand, and always pay attention to your surroundings. Be diligent always! When making your backpacking checklist and packing list, only bring what you will absolutely need. It is important to pack light when backpacking.

Don’t Flash the Cash

In the same vein as not showing all you possess, don’t break out your money. When you leave the ATM, be mindful of your surroundings.

Keep Valuables in a Small Bag

It is better to keep your valuables in a small bag as opposed to letting them kick around in a much larger bag. You will be able to keep an eye on them, and they will be harder for thieves to get. It’s easy for a mugger to unzip the large component at the top of your backpack, but it’s much harder for them to fish around in a small pouch inside your backpack to get at your passport or rings.

Don’t Put Your Credit Cards and All Your Cash in One Wallet

Separate your credit cards away from your cash. It’s wise to keep them in separate places in case you lose your wallet, or if you do end up getting pick-pocketed or mugged. This way, at least you aren’t totally left with nothing, and you have a backup card and emergency cash stashed in a safer location with you still.

Some backpackers even carry around a fake wallet with a few bills and old expired credit cards, along with a fake phone just in case they run into some trouble. Most thieves will just want your wallet and phone, so this is a good way to protect you and your valuables.

Also, it is better to withdraw small amounts of money from the ATM and pay the fees than to carry around more cash than you will need. Withdraw small amounts of cash at a time.

Limit Travel at Night

Always go with others and limit traveling at night.

Research and Know Which Places to Avoid

This can be as easy as doing a quick Google search before heading out for sightseeing, or ask advice from your hotel or hostel staff for safety tips and places that must be avoided. More often than not, they will be happy to help you and will give you valuable advice. Also, it goes without saying that you should avoid going to alleys and streets that are poorly lit, look suspicious, and have little to no people as these areas are usually the perfect setting for muggings to take place.

Have a Companion or Stay in Groups

While solo backpacking may seem enticing, muggers will mostly target travelers that are alone. If you do need to travel alone, check out our top Ways to Stay Safe Whilst Solo Traveling. If you’re a solo traveler, this might be a challenge. But if you do plan to explore an area that’s notorious for crime, it’s best to find a companion to go with. You can make some friends in the hotel/hostel you’re staying in, and propose to go as a group.

Look Like You Know Where You Are Going

One of the best ways to avoid being mugged is to always walk with confidence, even if you don’t know exactly where you are. Muggers like to target people who look unsure and lost. If you openly show this vulnerability, the more these criminals will see as an easy target.

It’s good practice to research the place you are going before heading out, so you have a general idea of how to get there. If you need to check your map or directions on your phone’s map, choose a safe location to do so. Stay alert.

Beware of Pickpockets

One lurking predator that can become a problem in your travels is the threat of pickpockets. Favorite tourist destinations like Paris are nearly famous for their prevalence of these thieves.

While giving you and your family a safe trip is the first priority, you need to keep your possessions safe as well. And when it comes to professional pickpockets, tourists are often surprised at how fast and casually they’ve been robbed. We already mentioned making a photocopy of your passport. You will also want to do the same with your cards in your wallet to prepare for a possible theft. Make sure you also check out what international travel banks are out there so you can get help right away if needed.

Embassies suggest that women who carry purses only use ones that zip. And carry your bag tight under your arm. Men are cautioned to put a rubber band around their wallet and carry it in their front pocket. A pickpocket can ruin a trip with headaches and loss of necessities.

Use a Money Belt

A money belt is an excellent theft deterrent. Use it to protect and carry some of your cash as well as a few of your credit cards.

There are money belts and other travel gear you can wear to help hide valuables. You should also get an RFID blocking wallet to protect your ID and credit cards so thieves won’t scan your information.

JooJoobs Leather Travel Front Pocket Wallet
JooJoobs Travel Front Pocket Wallet

Who Has Your Itinerary?

Who knows where you are headed on your trip? If you have a whirlwind multi-destination tour in mind, make sure a loved one knows where to find you. We love packing in as much fun as possible while away from home. But if you only leave vague descriptions of where you might be it will be difficult for loved ones to help if you need them.

Part of a safe trip is preparing your destinations ahead of time. Once you know where you will be, make sure you leave a full itinerary with a friend or family member back home. This way they will be able to find you if they need to.

In the Hotel 

If you are staying in hostels, you will need to keep your backpack with you at all times.

While hotels around the world can offer incredible luxury, they can offer multiple threats to your safety. You may take it for granted in your home country that you will know how to respond in an emergency. Never tell the front desk or anyone in the hotel or motel what you have in your room. If there is a safe in the room, use it to lock everything you can. Leave it in the safe when you are out sightseeing.

  • Ask for a room not on the ground floor.
  • Ask that your room is not near the stairs
  • Look all windows and doors
  • Use your room safe if there is one
  • Use the Do Not Disturb sign

Put the Do Not Disturb Sign On Your Door

Whether or not you are in your hotel room keep the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob. This is more likely to alert possible criminals that you are there. If they suspect you are a foreign tourist, they could be targeting your room. The sign will warn them away.

Mugged While Backpacking

Unexpected costs, different cultural norms, language barriers, and of course being unfamiliar with safe and not-so-safe areas exasperate an already demanding situation. Researching everywhere you are going can be overwhelming for a backpacker, who is literally trekking across a country or multiple countries. However, it is important for backpackers to learn about the specific areas they will be backpacking to. Having plans to mitigate the risks will make you better prepared and safer.

A good backpacker and traveler is one that informed and prepared to avert any incidents of theft that they may encounter while on the road. Getting mugged while backpacking is sadly a common tale from one unprepared backpacker to the next. However, the fear of getting mugged shouldn’t hinder you from traveling to the places you want to go, because crime is inevitable, anywhere.

If you don’t already know, learn what is backpacking. Backpackers literally carry what they need for traveling around with them. It’s typically a less expensive way to travel. Here are a few tips that can help you be safe on your next backpacking trip.

Avoid Getting Mugged Backpacking

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people in the world who do not have your best interests at heart. When you are traveling and obviously a tourist, you are vulnerable to muggings, local scams, and getting overcharged. Do your research on your destination before even setting foot on the plane or train.

Learn what kind of scams are prevalent in the area. Find out how much you should actually be charged. This is especially important in areas in which you don’t know the language. When you are armed with this information, you are far less likely to be the vulnerable victim of a mugging, scam or worse.

Backpacking Safety Tips

Whether you’re spending your summer holidays inter-railing around Europe, your gap year volunteering in South East Asia or you’ve taken a year off work for a round-the-world trip, it’s important to stay safe whilst traveling.

5 safety tips for first time backpackers Don’t Flash Your Cash.
5 safety tips for first time backpackers Don’t Flash Your Cash.

Although most places are tourist-friendly, you’re likely going to stick out like a sore thumb. Stay safe when traveling by following these tips, and you can avoid attracting attention for the wrong reasons. Spread your money out and store them in different places. Keep some money in your wallet, some in your backpack and some in a day bag, and the same goes for your credit and debit cards. That way if one of these items is stolen or lost, it’s not the end of the world. 

Set up at least two accounts on your bank, one which can be used at ATM’s to take out money, and one savings account which can only be accessed from online. This way you can transfer smaller amounts of money every month to your ATM card so that if things go sideways, thieves can only take out as much money as you have on the ATM card. 

If it gets stolen, you won’t lose all your savings. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t take out too much money from the ATM at once, it’s better to take out a little money at a time. And make sure to get a card from a bank that offers free withdrawals in foreign countries or you will lose a lot of money down the drain! Do not store your money in a fanny pack, first off it looks silly, but you’re also basically telling everyone where you have all your most valuable things stored.

If you follow these travel tips you can make sure you have a great and safe backpacking adventure. When you are traveling someplace new or somewhere familiar, these precautions will get you there and home in one piece. Great travel means making the most of every moment on your vacation. You don’t just need to travel safely. You need the best tips, tricks, and guides to enjoy your time away from home. As We Travel can help you have the vacation you always dreamed of and keep you safe while doing so. Since our founding in 2010, we have traveled and blogged from over 45 countries.

How to Not to Get Mugged Backpacking

The world is a beautiful place, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you could find yourself in some serious trouble.

In conclusion, while backpacking always be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to stay safe. Follow the tips listed in this article and you’ll be less likely to get mugged while on your trip. Have a great time backpacking and be safe.

There are many things to keep in mind and do when backpacking in Europe, across the world, or anywhere. Be sure to stay aware of your surroundings — and off your phone. Have a route planned in advance and be sure to avoid high-risk areas. If you follow these tips, you can enjoy your trip without having to worry as much about your safety.

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