Why You Should Always Keep Your Backpack On You While Traveling

Backpacking can be a formative experience for any traveler and provide powerful life lessons ... even when things go awry.

Yes, between the amazing moments of seeing ancient historical sites, making new friends from every corner of the world, and discovering new cultures and cities, there are the less glamorous moments of backpacking. Moments where you lie awake at night, unable to sleep because a fellow backpacker is snoring up a storm. Moments when you get lost in a city with a dead phone and can't find your way back. Moments when — scariest of all — your things get stolen, and you're stranded.

Luckily, there is a way to keep your bags and belongings safe when you're traveling — and you don't have to learn it the hard way! The rule is simple: Always keep an eye on your bag. While it might seem like overkill, following this rule will reduce the chances of having your belongings stolen.

Keep your eye on the prize

Always watch your bag is crucial advice for places where pickpockets and thieves hang out most often — airports, train stations, public transportation stops, busy thoroughfares, and tourist hotspots. This is where you're most likely to get disoriented or distracted. Thieves take advantage of these moments when you're more focused on a map or a beautiful building than keeping your wits about you.

But theft can also take place when you least expect it, such as on a train, bus, or taxi. Though you might believe your bag is safely stowed in a luggage compartment or the backseat of a car, it's not uncommon for people to take advantage of your unattended items, even when the area is heavily monitored by cameras. If you can't keep your luggage with you, always put a lock on it and take a smaller bag with your most important items to keep on your person, either literally on your lap or in front of your feet. It might be uncomfortable for a long trip, but it's a whole lot better than having your stuff stolen.

If you're taking a taxi and your backpack is in the trunk, stay in the car until they get out of the driver's seat to help you. Don't feel like this is acting entitled. This will ensure they don't drive off with your stuff!

What to do if your bag gets stolen

First and foremost, do not under any circumstances pursue the thief. Whatever is in there, it's not worth your life or your safety. As inconvenient as it will be to have to get a new passport, phone, or credit card, it's a lot less stressful than having to go to the hospital in a foreign country.

Do your best to stay calm until you can get to a safe place. A hotel or hostel lobby, even if it's not where you're staying, is a great place to find help. Typically, employees will speak English and can help you call the police or find a nearby police station. Make sure to report the theft as soon as possible. This is important since you will need a police report when you go to get an emergency passport at your closest consulate.

Finally, don't feel bad if it happens to you. It even happened to the well-known travel writer Rick Steves in Paris! If it can happen to him, it truly can happen to anyone. While this experience can be upsetting and leave you feeling vulnerable, we encourage you not to let it totally upend your big trip. Take the necessary steps to get back on your feet and try to enjoy the rest of your backpacking adventure as much as possible.