If you’ve never done the “hostel” thing before you’re likely to be edgy about just how safe the experience is going to be. It might, therefore, surprise you to learn that many lone travellers actually chose to use hostels not because they’re relatively cheap (which they are), but more importantly because they’re relatively safe and secure.
The communality of living that goes with the hostel experience actually serves to limit the level of petty crime that you might expect to exist. Sharing a room with a bunch of people who you don’t know and who don’t know you can make you a bit over-protective of your personal possessions but it shouldn’t. Everyone is a little wary of everyone else, but at the same time everyone also watches out for everyone else. Suspicious behaviour rarely goes unremarked.
Besides the overwhelming majority of folk are there for precisely the same reason you are. And they’re likely to be just as tired, just as excited, just as focussed on absorbing today’s experience or planning tomorrow’s.
Add to this the fact that general security in most hostels is improving, especially in the cities where key-restricted access to many areas, 24 hour reception cover and the like are all on the increase. In the more remote areas free access is still the rule but in the more remote areas you have to wonder if it is worth the would-be thief’s trip all the way out there to rob a bunch of folk who, frankly, probably don’t have much worth anything to anyone not of a like mind. And anyone of a like mind wouldn’t dream of taking it!
Of course, leaving wads of greenbacks lying around on your bunk while you’re out for dinner is asking for trouble, but if you take the normal sensible precautions you can enjoy that dinner and a good night’s sleep without unnecessary fretting.
1. TRAVEL LIGHT
By far the easiest way to keep your valuables safe in a hostel, is not to have them there in the first place. Don’t bring them along. Of course it depends on how, where and why you’re travelling, but one of the golden rules of all trips which applies even more so to low-budget, high-experience trips of the kind that will involve staying in hostels, is to remember to ask yourself: do I really need this?
Jewellery? Computer gear? i-pod? Can I truly not survive without these things for the duration of this trip? If you even hesitate over the answer, you don’t need them – leave them at home. Or find cheaper versions to take with you. Look upon travel as the gamble it is: bet no more than you can afford to lose.
For music, why not indulge in the local scene? Scorn your favourite recordings for “local-&-live”. Hostel staff and volunteers will be able to tell you where it’s happening.
When it comes to losing your electronic connection to the world, you might be surprised. Even the most remote corners have internet cafs where you can mail home, update the blog, or simply save your diary to your home file. Or you could be really radical and revert to notebooks and postcards.
2. THE UBIQUITOUS SHOULDER BAG… OR VERY BIG POCKETS
The second tried and trusted method of making sure your prized possessions, necessary documents, cash, passports, tickets, medication and all other dare-not-lose kit is safe, is to keep it upon your person at all times.
( Is “travelling light” making more sense yet?)
It can be done. There are some things that I do insist upon having with me pretty-well at all times. Half of my available cash, my camera and my passport come to mind.
It’s not fail-safe though. You can rush for the last bus and forget your bag. You could leave your jacket in the restaurant or on the train. Worst-case scenario, you could be robbed in the street. Hence my rule about not carrying all of my available cash! It does make sense with easily divisible valuables to carry some & stow some. With documents, carry originals and stow copies.
The real downside of this option, however, is sheer inconvenience. Even on those occasions where a bag or big pockets are feasible, they’re never elegant and can simply be too much of a loadespecially if your camera is a wonderfully chunky, Soviet-era, film-use SLR!
3. THE HUMBLE PADLOCK
I remember the early days of sleeping with my passport in my pillow-case and cash in the bottom of the sleeping bag, but even then it never quite worked. There are simply times when you have to leave stuff unattended. Trying to explain to the next immigration official that the reason he can’t make out your passport photo is because you took it into the shower rather than risk losing it, probably isn’t going to cut any ice.
The solution to leaving things to look after themselves rests in the humble padlock.
If you’re travelling with a suitcase or kitbag, make sure you have a small padlock that will lock the zips and fasteners. For the rucksack brigade, if you’re really concerned about the area you’ll be travelling in, invest in a Pacsafe. This is a metal net that you can ensconce your sack in, and lock it to an immovable object (your bunk-bed?), thus preventing both removal and illicit access. Small versions are available to protect day-sacks.
Always have a spare lock (or two differently sized ones) with you. Most hostels these days provide guests with a locker, which turns out to be much more useful if you can actually lock it!
4. THE HOTEL SAFE?
It is worth asking the reception staff if they have a safe or protected luggage-storage area. This is unlikely in small or rural hostels, but increasingly common in large, city establishments. If they do, and you’re really concerned about losing anythingask them to take care of it for you. If nothing else, it will look better on the insurance claim, should anything go astray.
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So there you have it. Nice simple ways to look after your kit. As in every other aspect of travel, though, it is all a question of balance. Never flaunt your wealth and take care to look after it as best you can in the circumstances, but at the same time please also remember that if you do not have the confidence to trust the people you meet along the road (or in the hostel) your travelling experience will be much diminished. After all, it is just “stuff” and the memories will be worth much more than that.