I read the sign in the waiting lounge while waiting for the bus from Bangkok, Thailand, to Phucket. It said ” keep your valuables with you.” I sighed, and considered it for a moment. I have seen this sign in every tourist lounge, so why not here? It was probably a way for the bus company to deny responsibility should anything happen. Logic dictates that if you keep your valuables with you, no one is taking them. Once someone takes them, they are no longer with you. Your possessions were stolen? We told you to keep them with you.
The seats on the bus are comfortable and recline more than a coach airplane seat does. The bus is air conditioned, with individual controls. This is called the VIP bus, and it’s fairly comfortable for a 10 hour journey. They tell you to put your larger bags under the bus, and you feel comfortable doing so. This is your mistake.
Three days later, pawing through my rucksack for my well-hidden cash stash, I found myself a thousand dollars short. I let out a few choice swears, and recall all the times since I last checked on my cash when I had let my bag out of sight and not locked securely. The bus! D’oh.
Many VIP busses will have a person go under the bus in the luggage compartment and spend the duration of the ride opening all the bags, searching for cash and small variables. Sure, you may immediately notice your expensive camera or laptop missing, but it could be days before you check on your emergency cash. People have had hundreds of dollars stolen from places they may otherwise think to be secure, such as within the frame of the backpack. You may think you can trust a person or organization because they deal with so many travellers, but your trust is the reason they can scam you. In fact, the bus company nearly has a monopoly on your business, being the easiest deal for non-Thai speakers.
There is no way to absolutely protect yourself from every possible robbery, but you can protect yourself from many situations. For instance, a money belt will make it difficult for thieves to pickpocket you, but it may be less helpful if you become drunk or drugged. It’s good to keep your documents on your person at all times, but if you invite a new friend back to your room or become careless while staying at a dormitory, it can take seconds for you to become a victim. You cannot foresee every possible situation, so your best tools are your suspicion and your common sense. People know travellers often carry extra money and are unfamiliar with their surroundings, so you will be targeted for theft more so than the locals will. Be vigilant, be suspicious, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself.