How To Stay Secure
Most people are very concerned about security during their travels. We have found that our security fears were nearly always unfounded and the security risks easily mitigated by some common sense and simple precautions.
In areas where crime is present, remember that the areas you are pre-disposed to visit, those with interesting, beautiful or rewarding destinations, are also the places where professional thieves work every day. It is very important for you to understand that as a tourist, typically carrying some cash, some credit cards and highly valuable, easily sold, digital camera equipment, you are an obvious target.
It is important to remember that you cannot make yourself thief-proof, my billfold was pick-pocketed in China from a zippered pocket with a Velcro flap. Instead of trying to make yourself their-proof, your goal is to make yourself less of a target than the next tourist. If you look like a more challenging or poorer target than the next tourist, you are less likely to be a victim. If your bike is more secure than the next one, it is less likely to be bothered. This seems callous, but it is the law of the jungle. As in the jungle, you don't have to outrun the lion, you just have to outrun the guy next to you. There will always be victims, but they don't have to be you.
In general, the danger and potential for crime during adventure travel is dramatically over-rated. In traveling to 36 countries I have experienced two instances of crime. With a few simple precautions, you can nearly eliminate this concern and focus on learning about and enjoying your destination.
∑ Make copies of all documents. Before you leave, make two color copies of the photo page of your passport, inoculation card, domestic driver's license, international driver's license, the front and back of each credit card you are taking, your airline tickets and receipts (if paper tickets) or confirmation email, receipt & record locator number if an electronic ticket, any and all hotel room confirmations, rental car confirmations, tour confirmations and itineraries, local guide and contact information, travelers check stubs and the carnet, title and registration of any vehicle you are shipping to the destination country. Leave one copy of everything in a safe place or with a trusted person. Take one copy along and secret it away in a very safe place (inside the lining of a suitcase, inside a hidden zipper compartment, etc.).
∑ Become a slave to habit on location of items and documents. Put everything in the same place EVERY time. Develop a habit of patting yourself down EVERY time you leave a cab, bus seat, train seat, restaurant table, etc. Confirm: local cash, credit card, money belt, passport, camera. Do it EVERY time. Put your camera battery charger, batteries, memory cards, etc. in the same place EVERY time. Put your journal in the same place EVERY time. When you take something out, put it back as soon as you are done with it in the same place EVERY time. The greatest risk to valuables in travel is not theft, it is forgetfulness. More items have been inadvertently left behind than stolen.
∑ Obtain global inland marine property insurance. This insurance covers all of your cameras, video camcorders, etc. wherever you are in the world and is very low cost. Make sure you provide receipts, serial numbers, etc. to your insurance company and obtain, in writing, specific coverage including a list of the covered equipment.
∑ Do not dress like a tourist. Avoid baseball caps, white knee socks, athletic shoes, shorts, and cameras around your neck. Wear subdued clothing. Dress conservatively, especially for women. Observe and respect local traditions and requirements for head coverings, long sleeves, dresses or outerwear, etc., especially in holy sites or religiously significant cities.
∑ Awareness. If you are in tourist areas or tourist attractions, be aware of your surroundings and of who is next to you.
∑ Discretion. Do not visit risky areas alone or at night. If at any time your gut says no, then stop.
∑ Consider K&R for truly dangerous places. If you are going to a particularly dangerous place, i.e. one known for banditry, political unrest, kidnappings, etc. you may want to consider K & R (Kidnapping and Ransom) insurance. Rent the movie "Proof of Life" to learn how this insurance works. I've used it. It is very expensive, but can provide some peace of mind for some destinations. After what we learned in traveling to some of the world's "most dangerous places," I probably wouldn't spend the money for it again. The world is about 180 degrees different than what you'd expect from watching TV and reading Western media. Places you'd expect to be horrifying, such as Syria, turn out to be among the world's friendliest and most welcoming destinations.
Cash, Travelers Checks and Credit Cards
∑ Spread the risk. Keep your valuables and some U.S. cash spread out in different places. Break the cash into $200 bundles and put them into snack size Ziplock bags. Put one under the pads of your riding jacket. Put one under the liner of your helmet. Put one inside a compartment of the bike, i.e. tool box, battery box, fairing, etc. Put one in your money belt. Put one in a secure or hidden pocket in your camera bag. Etc.
∑ Money Belt. Use a money belt and keep your passport, some local and U.S. cash, travelers checks and one credit card in it. Wear it all times. I only take mine off for two things: showers and Ö
∑ Discretion. Never access your money belt in public.
∑ No Billfold. Avoid carrying a billfold if possible. If you do carry one, keep it in a zippered pocket.
∑ Use ATMs. Unless you are traveling to the remote developing areas of the world where we've spent a lot of time, there will be ATMs available. Bring along a few hundred dollars of traveler's checks for emergencies and at least two Visa or Master Cards that you can draw local currency from at an ATM. Avoid debit cards, as they are often not recognized in more remote areas. Get a little cash out of the ATM when you need it and don't carry a bunch of cash unless you are headed out into the bush. Donít get a load of cash from an ATM and then go directly to a tourist site. Return the cash to your hotel and put it in the room safe, hotel safe, safety deposit box, spread amongst your cash stash spots (highly recommended) or a hiding place in your room (not recommended as itís too easy to forget it when you leave). Things don't cost much in developing areas, so you won't need to carry a ton of money. When my billfold was stolen, we stopped by an ATM to stock up for leaving civilization and then went directly to a crowded tourist attraction. It contained about a year's earnings for a typical Chinese laborer. I was carrying way too much cash and was stupid about how I went about it. I deserved to get robbed.
Bike and Bike Systems
∑ Bike Lock. Use a strong, compact Kryptonite type disc lock to prevent easy roll away theft. You will need a good cable or chain lock to attach the bike to solid objects.
∑ Bag and Accessories Lock. Use a helmet lock extender or other cable lock to lock your bags and accessories to the bike when you make quick stops.
∑ Bag Locks. You will need small padlocks for your bags. Buy padlock sets that share a common key for your bags. This lowers the number of keys you need to carry on your key ring and greatly speeds and eases access to your pannier boxes, tank bags, tail bags, etc. Give a spare key to a traveling companion.
∑ Alarm. You may want a bike alarm system. They provide extra peace of mind, but if you have one, you are fated to accidentally set it off at the most embarrassing possible times.
∑ Bike Cover. Most importantly, you need a bike cover, which is probably the single most important thing to secure the bike and its contents. Cover the bike whenever you leave it, even if you are just visiting a tourist attraction. Any time you cannot physically see the bike at all times, such as eating lunch at a cafť, cover it. In some cultures, motorcycles are viewed as community property and people will climb on it, move the controls, etc. Weíve had our bike tipped over and damaged in this scenario. Weíve never once had the bike tampered with or damaged when it was covered. Lock the cover to the bike.
Electronics and Cameras:
∑ Awareness. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of who is standing next to you. Be aware of tightly packed crowds. Be aware of where your camera equipment is at all times.
∑ Strip the bike. Never leave anything exposed on your bike. This includes GPS, iPod or MP3 players, radar detectors, radios, cell or satellite phones and exposed cameras. Always take these items with you or put them out of sight in a locked bag that is locked or otherwise physically secured to the bike (not just zippered on). Unless someone you know and trust is watching the bike, you cannot walk away from it with expensive, easy to steal and fence electronics adorning it, even for a moment.
∑ Diligence. You must practice constant diligence with cameras and electronics. If you want to return home with your camera system, then it must be essentially attached to your body from the point you leave home until you return. You must sustain constant monitoring of your digital camera equipment. You cannot leave it unprotected in your hotel room. You cannot set it down on a chair in a restaurant and walk away to use the restroom. You cannot lay it on a counter in a store while you make a purchase. You cannot leave it dangling while you bargain in a market. If you want it to remain with you, you must treat your digital camera system like a defenseless infant surrounded by a swirling sea of bloodthirsty kidnappers. The upside is that this gets pretty easy after a while. Like a child, you develop a sixth sense about danger and built-in radar as to the location of your camera.
∑ Good locking systems. We utilize a locking steel net system (pacsafe, www.pac-safe.com) to lock our camera bags to immovable pipes or objects in our hotel room. After weeks of keeping our bags at your side day and night, there are times when you just need a night off. Having the capability to safely secure your bag can make this possible. Having been with a group whose rooms were invaded by a cat burglar as we slept, we also secure our bags with our pacsafes at night while we sleep. While a pacsafe will not stop a determined, well-prepared thief, it will stop the casual, petty theft by a hotel worker or burglar. We also use padlocks on the zippers of our camera bags in areas of high pickpocket activity. This includes any monument, holy site, crowded market or other area where tightly packed crowds are expected. A determined pickpocket cannot be detected or stopped. Again, your goal is to make yourself a more difficult victim than the tourist standing next to you.
∑ Discretion and stealth. Dress in subdued clothes and avoid typical tourist looks, such as shorts and white athletic socks and shoes. Avoid the standard-issue photographer vest. In areas where there are suspicious circumstances or characters, donít pull out your camera. If the image you desire requires you to shoot from under a darkened bridge at 2 AM, ask yourself just how much that image is worth. At a minimum, in dodgy surroundings, use your small pocket camera to grab a shot rather than set up a tripod and bring out your most expensive camera and lens. Avoid spending hours waiting for the perfect light in a location where you may be vulnerable. You might get away with a quick grab shot, but news travels fast when thereís a rich target available. In areas that seem risky, never shoot solo. Take a group of people with you, and if you feel outnumbered, leave immediately. Most importantly, if your gut tells you that something isnít right, then exit immediately. Your best defense is your sixth sense.
∑ Camera Bag Stealth. Cameras are natural targets for thieves. Donít advertise yourself and your camera system as a target by picking a brightly colored bag or one adorned with large camera manufacturer logos. Dark and muted colors with non-descript markings are a better choice. Donít be afraid to cover or remove any identification that signals that your bag is carrying photographic equipment. One reason camera backpacks are so popular with traveling photographers is that to the uninitiated, they look like just another backpack. Keep in mind that your goal is to make yourself one or two notches less of a likely target than the next camera toting tourist. A little camera bag stealth goes a long way towards that goal.
∑ Isolation. Separate your images from your gear. The first lesson I was taught as a professional photographer was to keep my exposed film in my pocket and not in my camera bag. The gear could be replaced, but the pictures couldnít. The same lesson applies to your hard-earned travel images. Once a memory card is filled, place it into a secure, zippered and Velcro-ed pocket in your clothing. Avoid easily accessed outside pockets.
∑ Understanding. If you are carrying and using a valuable camera, consider yourself marked with a bullseye and act appropriately paranoid.
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