When I was out with my hostelmates in San Sebastian, we met two guys who were staying at a nearby hostel. They were in a dorm room of about 6 people, and last night their entire room got robbed. Apparently their hostel security was horrible and someone must have made a copy of the keys and let themselves in. While everyone was asleep in their beds, this person (or perhaps two people) went to each guest and stole their valuables right out of their packs. One of the people in the room even woke up during this time, but they assumed that the robber was staying there since he was standing in their room and he went back to sleep. Thankfully no one was hurt, but that night at least two rooms were robbed.
I felt so bad for these guys when I heard that story. It was the first time I backpacked, and also the first time I traveled alone, and getting my stuff stolen was one of my fears. Even now I’m excited for my next backpacking trip, but I’ll admit I still get a little nervous when I think about losing my stuff. I feel blessed that nothing major went wrong when I was traveling, but what if the next time I’m not so fortunate? And I know a lot of people have these fears when thinking of backpacking and staying in hostels, especially those that are looking to travel solo. The crazy thing is that San Sebastian was one of the safest cities I’ve visited, so you really never know when you might be a victim of theft. I think its important to remember that while certain things are out of our control, there are some ways we can better prepare ourselves and minimize our risk, especially when it comes to hostel safety and keeping our stuff from getting jacked:
1) Purchase the right gear
I think this is a bit of a no brainer, but it is so important that it needs to be said again: you MUST have a good lock. No actually, you should have several good locks! Before my trip started, I went to my local REI and stocked up on a few combination locks and a cable lock, and even still I felt like I could have used more. Depending on how much stuff you have, I would have one combo lock for each bag (this includes your daypack), and the cable lock because its great for locking your bags together, or maybe to your bed (or yourself!) if necessary. My first night in Madrid, my combo lock malfunctioned and I had to cut it – not a good start, but at least I had some backups so I didn’t need to worry about buying more while traveling. And another no brainer: make sure to keep the majority of your stuff in your bag when you’re sleeping or when you go out – some of the people that got robbed had left their stuff out of their bags for easy pickings.
2) Research your hostel wisely, and know what to look for
The brilliance of hosteling nowadays is that its pretty easy to get a good feel for the type of hostel that you are looking at before you book. There are so many great websites (two bigger ones are Hostelworld and Hostelbookers) and you can skim through hundreds of reviews from people who recently stayed there. When booking my hostels, I tried to make sure that each room had a large enough locker to fit my backpack, and also that each room had its own key. Sometimes hostels don’t have room keys which I find completely bizarre (a few in Japan had this, and the one those guys in San Sebastian stayed in didn’t have a room lock either.) These two things should be first on the list of what you look for when choosing the right spot, and I would also keep an eye out to see if they have people working the lobby 24 hours a day. In addition to general cleanliness and location of the hostel, the hostels that I always picked were the ones that had top safety ratings. In an upcoming post, I plan on listing the various hostels I stayed at in Europe and whether or not I recommend staying there.
3) Keep an eye on your stuff
Ok, here I’ll admit that I may be going a little overboard, but better safe than sorry! When my rooms had lockers (and the majority did) I would keep almost everything in there before I slept. But there were a few times when my room didn’t have lockers, or when the locker provided wasn’t big enough to fit my pack. Those were the nights that I got pretty close to my pack because we spooned in bed together. Ok, maybe not, but if I wasn’t 100% comfortable in my room I would keep my pack at the foot of my bed, or on the inside of the bed so it would be difficult to get to. Even with a lock, if on the off chance a stranger does get into your room (or you happen to have a bad apple hostelmate with no conscience) then they could just take off with your pack while you’re catching some zzz’s. You don’t have to do this, and I’m sure you can somewhat gauge the safety of your situation by seeing if the room you’re staying in has locks, if people are able to easily enter the hostel whether or not they’re a guest, etc, but I always felt better having my stuff closeby. Oh also, I used my cell phone as an alarm so I made sure to keep it under my pillow when I slept. Let me just say that my hostelmates were great, and many of them I became friends with and still keep in touch with, so this post by no means is meant to make you wary of who you share a room with. In fact, the majority of people I roomed with had great hostel etiquette and all of them respected my space and my things. The best way to meet people at your hostel is through who you room with, so I would generally suggest a multi-person room over a single anyway.
I think overall its important to have a good attitude about things should something go wrong. While these guys in San Sebastian were telling us their story, I was listening increduously at how unphased they were. When I asked them how they were able to be so OK with what happened, they responded that there was nothing they could do it about and they wouldn’t let it ruin their vacation. I think that is the key to having a successful trip. It reminded me of a story about one of my good friends – a few years ago she was backpacking in Europe and was on the last leg of her trip. During a long wait at the train station, she got her backpack stolen which was full of photos and memorabilia she had collected during her trip. However, she didn’t let that ruin the backpacking experience for her, and she went on another backpacking trip the following summer, and even traveled to Thailand alone after that. Just think of all she would have missed out on had she let that bad experience keep her from further backpacking adventures. I wish you the most incredible, stress/problem-free trip on your next getaway, but if you do encounter problems I hope you’re able to roll with the punches. After all, that’s life and it’s all part of the experience – and most likely the great experiences you have will outweigh the bad.