If you travel with or without a camera, you need to take precautions against having your camera, valuables and other belongings stolen.
Alice, a Rome theft victim relates, “Hah! Well our camera was stolen last March (2007) from between our 'bottoms' in the middle of a mass in a church in Rome where we sat in a pew!…While the camera was not at all valuable, the first half of our trip's pictures were all gone.”
Here’s some precautions that travelers should take when anywhere, plus some for those engaging in travel photography, and since I’ll be in Europe later this year, I’ve included a few tips specifically for European travel.
- Be aware of your surroundings — Don't just look, see! Study your surroundings for things that make you uncomfortable, and go elsewhere if it doesn't feel right. Don't stroll blindly into a crowd.
- Research the areas to which you’re traveling, for safety — Know what areas in the city are safe and what areas are not. Know where it's alright to go during the day and where to avoid at night. Check with the concierge at your hotel. Talk to your travel agent. Use travel books. Review the US State Department’s “Country Specific Information”.
- Blend in as much as possible — Wear clothing similar to the locals; no shorts or jogging suits, sports team clothes, baseball caps, white sneakers, shirts with funny sayings or political opinions, and absolutely no flashy jewelry.
- There are pickpockets in major tourist destinations like Rome, Florence, and Barcelona — Day or night, locations like Barcelona’s "La Rambla" are both a great place to take photos and a major pickpocketing area. Consider carrying your valuables (money, passport, credit cards) in a sturdy, below-the-belt security wallet. Don't carry them in your back pocket. At least use your front pockets. Keep your passport, separate from your cash, and credit cards. Take 2 different credit cards on your trip. Carry one, and leave the other in a safe at the hotel.
- Secure valuables left in your hotel room when out — Use the room or hotel safe. Put excess equipment and valuables in a concealed bag secured with a steel locking mesh.
- Minimize the amount of cash you carry on the street — Leave your excess cash in the hotel or room safe. Use ATM’s, carefully protecting your PIN number, to obtain cash as needed.
- Don’t advertise your camera — Keep your camera in a bag, preferably a plain non-neon bag, not one that has Nikon, Canon or Kodak plastered all over it. It's much safer for the camera and you.
- Make sure your camera and equipment are insured — Then if something happens you won't be inclined to save it, at your own peril.
- Leave your used memory cards in your room — If your equipment is unfortunately stolen, your valuable photos will be safe if you don’t have them with you.
- Watch out for cut-snatch-and-run thieves for cameras around your neck, sling bags and shoulder bags — Thieves grab at cameras and bags, then with a very sharp knife cut off the strap and quickly disappear into the crowd with your equipment. Use a steel cable reinforced neck strap on your camera with a steel cable. Consider using an anti-theft camera bag to carry your extra lenses and other equipment.
- Don’t put your camera and equipment down when you rest or eat — Avoid snatch and run theft at sidewalk cafés and while resting on park benches. Put the strap of your bag around chair legs or your legs, and keep the bag in between your legs, or just keep them on you. Don’t put your equipment on the café table top.
- Watch out for the little motor scooters weaving through areas heavy with foot traffic — They’ll be eyeing your camera bag. If you hear or see them "be aware of them!" Hold onto your bag tightly and be prepared to kick the bike away, if it's not going too fast. Let go if they've managed to grab on. Whatever's in there isn't worth losing an arm.
- Watch out for the “Cardboard Gypsies” — They’re the unwashed kids coming toward you carrying a piece of cardboard with gibberish written on it. The cardboard is to distract you while they pick you clean.
- Beware of women with over-swaddled babies in the heat of summer — If you're on a crowded subway next to an overdressed woman holding an equally overdressed toddler, it's likely the excess cloth is hiding her wandering hands. Don't be distracted by the cute, sweaty kid. Move away from them.