For some, staying in a hostel is the only way to go. For others, it is a necessity particularly when it comes to stretching the travel budget.
Whatever your reason for staying in hostels, some of your best travel memories will be because you did.
Staying in a hostel can present some challenges for keeping your possessions safe, especially if you are not using a private room. If you are staying in a shared room with strangers, you need to think about theft risk.
Not all hostel stays involve theft but sharing accommodation with strangers can increase the risk.
So how can you protect your belongings against theft? The answer largely lies in preparation.
Here are our top tips to help you manage hostel theft risk.
- Pre-trip research
The internet is a wonderful resource for pre-trip planning. Not only can you research hostels and make bookings, you can also find out what (if any) security measures are available to guests. Some hostels provide lockers for guests to use – sometimes for an additional charge. It is not a given though and some hostels provide no safe-keeping receptacles for guests to use. Some will allow guests to store valuable items in the hostel’s safe but in some cases, this is not permissible. Check with the hostel before you book to see if there are lockers, safety deposit boxes or similar for guests to use. Also ask if there is any CCTV or other security systems in use.
Consider too how many people might be in the room you are booking. Can you stretch to a private room where only you will have access for the duration of your stay? This room type will offer more security for your possessions than a dormitory or share room.
If you are travelling in a group, it’s sometimes possible to book a room for 4-6 people. In that case, can you all stay in the one room?
What sort of access will other guests have to your room? Some hostels offer guests lockable rooms whereas others have no locking doors with access being available to everyone who is in the hostel – this can sometimes include non-guests too!
Look for reviews left by previous guests of the hostel you are looking to book. There are many online travel forums where travellers detail their experiences and warn other travellers of risks. Some hostels have a history of theft incidents and online reviews should help in identifying these establishments.
- Valuable property … take it or leave it?
We always recommend you carefully consider whether you need to take valuable items on your trip. Whilst it may not be necessary to travel with your finest jewels, most of us take a smartphone, laptop (or tablet) and sometimes a camera or watch.
Often it’s a simple case of removing temptation and not leaving valuable items in a position where it is easy for them to be stolen.
It stands to reason that for at least some part of your stay, your belongings will be unattended in your room. This could be while you are using communal facilities in the hostel or out sightseeing. This is when your belongings are at their greatest risk of being tampered with and/or stolen.
Most valuable items are small and easily transportable – hence why they are particularly attractive to thieves. Their size also means that you can easily carry them in your daypack or handbag. Do yourself a favour – when leaving your hostel room, take your valuable items with you. This increases the likelihood that they will remain in your possession and safe from potential thieves. It is better to be safe than sorry!
OK, so you’re off exploring for the day and taking your valuable items with you. What about the rest of your belongings?
Whilst your dirty laundry and toiletries wont appeal to many thieves, unattended property can still be tampered with. How does a thief know that you haven’t buried money or jewellery at the bottom of your backpack?
When leaving your backpack behind in the hostel, put all items away, zip it up and pop on a padlock. While a padlock wont ensure your property is safe from thieves, it will minimize the potential.
Consider using a combination lock over a keyed padlock. Combination locks are less easily picked. Also, you wont have to worry about keeping a key safe.
- Exercise discretion
It’s a simple but effective risk mitigation strategy – don’t flaunt your belongings. There is no need to highlight that you are travelling with the latest iPhone or top-end laptop. If thieves are in your midst, this is simply flagging you as a potential victim.
- Sleep risk
Have you thought about how you are going to safeguard your valuables while you’re sleeping? Just because you are in close proximity to your property does not mean it is safe from theft. Again, we are talking here about your cash, credit cards, passport, jewellery and other small but valuable items.
When sleeping, keep them close. Consider placing these items in a money belt, neck pouch or similar and having this on your body (preferably inside your clothing). There is no guarantee you will wake up if someone is messing with your stuff and if you are a heavy or restless sleeper, putting something under your pillow for safe-keeping may not ensure its security. If you do plan to use this form of defence, put the items in the pillowcase and seal it. Assuming you keep your head on the pillow, stealing something from you would then involve lifting your head and removing your pillow. It’s not perfect, but it is better than leaving items under your pillow.
If possible, always try to put your stuff in a locker. If not possible, use a money belt or neck pouch for small and highly valuable items and pack the rest of your stuff away in your backpack / suitcase and lock it. Also think about getting a chain which you can use to secure your bag to the leg of your bed. It wont ensure its safety but it will deter an opportune thief.
If you do suffer the misfortune of having property stolen, having a loss mitigation and recovery plan is essential.
Make sure you;
- Have copies of your important documents (eg passport and drivers licence) and a separate record of your debit and credit card numbers etc. It’s a good idea to leave this data with someone at home and/or save it electronically so that you can access it while overseas.
- Have access to money which is not dependent on the bank cards which have been stolen. Some travellers carry cards in separate locations and/or stash a small amount of cash somewhere for this purpose.
- Know where the closest embassy / consulate is. Remember your consulate might be able to help with emergency funding (which you will need to repay once you’ve made it home safely).
- Have your travel insurance details handy – and notify your insurer of the loss as soon as possible.
- Report the loss and get written acknowledgement (ideally from the local police).
- If your bank cards have been stolen, contact your bank and request they block access to your accounts.
- If your phone has been stolen, contact your provider and request they block your phone. You will need your IMEI number to do this.
When it comes to travel insurance, it always pays to read the terms and conditions before you travel. Each insurance company has their own perspective on what constitutes reasonable care to safeguard your property from loss / theft. Some policies only cover certain types of property which has been left “unattended” and most have limits on the cover provided in these circumstances. Please, read the policy document to ensure it meets your requirements and if you have any queries about the cover, contact the insurer to clarify.
LAST WORDS …
Theft can happen anywhere, not just in hostels. There is no reason to shy away from staying in a hostel – in fact hostels offer great accommodation at very reasonable prices. They also offer the opportunity to meet and form life long bonds with fellow travellers. Some hostels will be better than others but that can be said about many things in life!