That’s right… $1,500 USD was stolen from us while travelling on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. It was a painful loss because when we think of it, we think of all of the amazing travel experiences that we could have had with that money. It was also painful because we believe it was stolen by our guide, who by the end of the journey, we had also considered our friend. Unfortunately the money was taken due to our own stupidity. In this article we’ll outline some things we learned from this experience and hopefully it will prevent travellers who read this article from having the same thing happen to them.
Never Get Too Comfortable
Tajikistan is not well-known for petty theft. In fact, the people who inhabit the Pamir mountain range are generally honest, kind and hospitable. This is part of the reason that we let our guard down. We felt so safe travelling here, that we simply stopped following our basic rules of possession safety. I’m not saying that we left our bags unattended and unlocked. But there was one time when we left them behind with our guide, we asked him to watch them, but didn’t lock them. Which brings us to our next point.
Trust In People, But Don’t Offer The Opportunity For Theft
We trusted our guide 100%. He was a nice, soft-spoken, young Kyrgyz man and after 2 weeks of travelling with him, we all considered him our friend. But we made the mistake of offering him the opportunity to steal from us. This was a big mistake on our part. Having $1,500 in many parts of the world is unheard of. Especially in cash in your bag! Before you jump the gun and say “You idiots! Why did you have so much on you?!”, I should explain that in this part of the world there are no ATMs, so all travellers are forced to carry large sums of American dollars on them to fund their journeys. An obvious tip for not having $1,500 taken from you is to not have that much cash in your luggage, but if you have no choice, be careful not to lend anyone the temptation of taking it.
The stupid thing that we did was leave it with our guide when we left the car for hikes and soaks in hot springs. While he was a good guy, he has a family to feed and $1,500 goes an incredibly long way in Tajikistan. Every time we left it with him, we locked it, except for once. We were foolish and left the money where it would tempt him and his survival instincts probably overtook his conscience.
When you’re travelling, trust those that you meet, both travellers and locals, but never offer them the opportunity to steal from you, no matter how much you trust them. It’s a strange thought to trust someone, but be careful not to let them steal from you. The main point is that you shouldn’t be weary of everyone you meet. Don’t think of everyone as a thief, because 99.9% of them are not. Just don’t tempt them with your valuables.
Always Lock Your Valuables
Just to be clear, we did lock our bags on this journey. Every night when we went to sleep, we locked our backpacks and placed them near our heads. When we left the vehicle unattended, our bags were locked and our valuables were hidden. The mistake we made was leaving the bags unlocked ONE TIME when we were heading into a hot spring. NEVER leave your bag unlocked when you’re not around it. If your backpack doesn’t have proper locking zippers, then take it with you or buy luggage that can lock. No matter how comfortable you feel while travelling, you should always lock your valuables away.
Don’t Be Flashy
We generally follow this rule very strictly. When we travelled in Africa, we hardly took any photos (even though we are travel bloggers) for fear of looking “rich” with big cameras. In Guatemala, we hardly took our camera out either. When we were in Tajikistan on this trip, we had our camera all of the time. We also had our laptops out working on our blog and while it was basically unavoidable at the time given our jobs, it was a mistake. When you’re travelling, you never want to create an image of wealth for yourself. You don’t want would-be thieves to look at you and think: “he can afford to lose that computer”. Always keep your valuables hidden away and only take them out when you absolutely need to.
Of course as travellers we all want to take photos and that is fine, but consider leaving the big DSLR at home when heading into poor villages or areas where there is a lot of theft. Use your smart phone. You may think that an iPhone is flashy, but you’d be surprised how many smart phones you see in poor areas. They don’t stand out as much as a big camera and these days, they take excellent photos.
Flying a drone, having a DLSR around your neck and reading your GPS in public is just asking for trouble. Tone it down as much as possible.
Learn From Your Mistakes
This is the biggest thing we’ve taken away from our experience in Tajikistan. If you have an incident of theft while you’re travelling, don’t panic and get angry. Look back on the situation and analyze where you went wrong. Take the necessary steps to fix the problems and minimize the chances of future robberies. It’s never excusable to steal from people, but at the same time, try to put yourself in the criminals shoes. They are likely poor. While you are budgeting for your next big trip, they may be trying to figure out how they will feed their family for the next week.
One last tip that we learned from having an iPod stolen in Malaysia is that fellow travellers are just as likely to steal from you as the locals. Keep your bags locked in dorms and don’t leave your valuables out in the open.
Whatever steps you take to avoid theft while travelling, it shouldn’t cloud your thoughts all of the time. We have travelled for a total of 5 years and we’ve only had two real incidents of theft. You’ll likely travel without any problems, so don’t think about it constantly. If you are smart and follow the above rules, you should be fine.