Travel Safety Tips from Four Times I was Robbed Backpacking the Caribbean

In the three-month backpacking trip that inspired this website, I was robbed FOUR times. Traveling throughout Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was one of the greatest adventures of my life. But to say it was perfect is a lie.
Three of the four times I was robbed happened in ONE WEEK.
By the second time, I was robbed my family and some friends told me to come back home but I replied with a big, fat NO. These things can happen anywhere in the world, even in your own hometown. I wasn’t going to stop just because I had some bad juju.
Continuing my trip taught me not to run away from places or situations when it is not working out in my favor.
I learned some valuable lessons on how to be careful and keep my things safe when traveling.
Note: I got robbed one time in Haiti and three times in the Dominican Republic. This is not a reflection of either island. It’s just the circumstances I went through in the time and places I was traveling in.
CARRY YOUR STUFF ON THE GO
On my second day in Port-au-Prince, I took my first ride in a tap-tap. Taps-taps are actual pickup trucks Haitians convert into multi-people transportation. They put two benches on each side in the back of the pick-up truck and then a roof to cover people from the sun. It’s a bit chaotic to catch a tap-tap in PAP because there are so many people trying to get on one. But I managed to catch one to Petionville (where I was heading to). Back-faced, I sat on the base of the truck in between people’s legs with the front of my small messenger bag facing the people sitting down.
I got off my stop, looked to get something in my bag, and realized the front pocket was open. Someone had taken out the 30-something dollars I had there.
Lesson: Always keep your belongings close to you. This may seem obvious but when you are abroad you can lose your sense of logic because you’re paying attention to many new aspects of the environment you’re not used to. For example, in Haiti, I would need to pay attention to what people are saying or doing because I don’t know the language.
Tips: 1. Always carry your purse/bag/wallet in front of you. For men, carry your wallets in the front pocket. 2. In case your bag gets stolen, have backup money in an area of your body.
NEVER LEAVE ANYTHING OUT

The second time I was robbed was in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. About a month after my first experience in Haiti. I stood in a three-bedroom share in a water-front hostel surrounded by other travelers. On the second day of my stay, I made a girlfriend and the next morning we decided to go to the beach. That morning I carelessly and thoughtlessly left my iPod Touch on my bed. When I got back it wasn’t there.
Lesson: Well, duh there was a 90% chance it wasn’t going to be there when I returned but again it was a reminder for me that even if I have never gotten something expensive and valuable stolen, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I trusted too much and thought because I was friendly with my bedmates it wasn’t going to happen but it can and it did.
Tips: Take valuable items with you, don’t bring them at all or lock them up in a safe box or in your luggage.
DON’T BE FLASHY
The third time I was robbed was in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. The day before I rented a scooter and the next morning I rode the 20-minute ride from Cabarete to Puerto Plata. A few days after the iPod incident, I decided I need a new scene for the day. I was slowly riding around El Malecon when another scooter with two men rode up beside me. The man in the back snatched off my very thin gold-plated necklace.
Lesson: Never wear shiny things like jewelry and watches (even if it’s fake) or have valuable items like a camera hanging from your neck.
Tips: 1. Avoid wearing any jewelry. 2. Take a small, modest camera when traveling. Use a camera case that doesn’t look like you have a camera in it. 3. Avoid bringing any items you would cry about and regret losing.
SECURE YOUR STUFF IN HOSTEL ROOMS
The fourth time I was robbed was in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. I thought I was going to leave all my theft karma behind. But apparently, it wasn’t going to leave until it was finished. I stood in Las Terrenas for another week at a hostel owned by a fun, 24-year-old Canadian chick. On my third day, she organized a bonfire on the beach for all the guests and staff. We happily all went and got back around one or two in the morning. We all go to our rooms to discover that some of our items were missing. I was missing my phone. (I mean what else were they going to take at this point!) My dorm buddy was missing all the money she worked for from her seasonal job in Punta Cana and one of the staff girls was missing her laptop. Apparently some people (we still don’t know who) jumped over the gated hostel and swept the place.
Lesson: Before going out to explore where you are, make sure to lock up everything!
Tips: 1. Bring a lock or two with you every time you travel. Important things to lock up are money, a passport, jewelry, a watch, and anything else you don’t want to lose. 2. Make copies of your passport before leaving. Give one copy to someone you trust at home and take another two with you. Just in case you lose your passport you have some proof for the US embassy in the country you are in.
By the end of my stolen items spree, there was really nothing else to rob. I didn’t have a necklace, an iPod, and a phone. I was no use for the theft karma anymore. The only thing valuable that was left was my camera and after everything happened I took it with me everywhere!


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