What to do BEFORE you get robbed…A traveller’s checklist you will hopefully never need

You travel a lot, I travel a lot.  International work is exciting and takes many people to the four corners of the earth. Maybe we go to similar places? Faraway places, or those close by; hot places and cold places; highly populated urban areas and sparsely peopled rural areas. North, south, east, west. You’re a planner, I’m a planner. Let’s work some scenarios.

You are travelling far from home, on another continent. Let’s say you are approximately 5, 702 kilometers from home. You find yourself in a situation where you are relieved unceremoniously of everything you have, except perhaps a small overlooked cabin-sized suitcase in the back of the taxi with some clothes and toiletries. But you no longer have your well-packed work backpack, your handbag, and your tube of flipcharts (just as an example.) You will spend several days to several weeks without some things, and the rest of your life without others.

This post is all about what to do before you get robbed. What can you do to help your future self in that situation, if it would ever happen to you, to make it a little less painful, traumatic, and confusing?

So, let’s make a checklist!

Since you will probably not read all the way to end of this mega-checklist, and hopefully you will never need to, I will put my closing thoughts here, and repeat them again at the end:

My overall advice in such a situation is: be nice, stay calm, say thank you. In the absence of the physical things that accompany us in our daily life, and in an unfamiliar environment, you will need all the new friends you can get.

Documentation and Identity

Scenario: You will have lost your passport, driver’s license, work permit, and so on and so forth. You are now only who you say you are.

  • Have the number of the local embassy that can help you.
  • Travel with extra passport photos in a separate place (or a concealed money belt).
  • Travel with copies of your identity cards in your suitcase.
  • Put copies of all these documents into Evernote or other cloud storage.
  • Update this when you get new ones (rather than procrastinating this).
  • Memorize your log-in to your cloud storage.
  • If you have 2 passports, leave one at home in an accessible place.

Money and Finances

Scenario: You will have no money, cards etc. Not. one. cent.

  • Have the telephone number to 24-hour assistance to cancel your credit cards.
  • Have the number to cancel your bank ATM card.
  • Have someone at home that can Western Union you money (in a perfect Catch22, you will need a passport/ID to get your money, but you can’t get your new passport without money – therefore you need friends who have their own id and money).
  • Use a money belt – split things into different places. Make sure it is not very obvious, or else that will go too.
  • Take out anything in your wallet that is non-essential for your trip or irreplaceable, old photos of kids, cinema card, etc.

Work Computer

Scenario: Your computer and ipad will be gone.

  • Don’t put any files on your desk top.
  • Have all files in dropbox or equivalent cloud storage.
  • An online data backup system, like Crashplan, can restore files to the latest update.
  • Update everything the night before you leave.
  • Have your computer serial number available (in your suitcase and at home).
  • Have a login and memorise it.
  • Use a cloud email like Gmail that you can access from any computer.


Scenario: You won’t have a phone or email; your Apple watch, remarkably, will just tell the time.

  • Back up your phone the night before.
  • Have an automatic upload for photos to the cloud when you get on wifi and do that before you leave.
  • Keep your Apple watch charger in your suitcase. (Having said that, it is actually amazing how long the battery lasts when it is only telling the time.)
  • On your phone have a log-in, use apps like find iphone, google maps with location sharing, find friend which might help you located your phone. Have a way to wipe your phone from a distance, and someone who knows how to do this, as well as check these apps to see if your phone is still findable.
  • Make sure you have at least 1 or 2 telephone numbers memorised – you laugh, but how many telephone numbers do you know by heart? (and your childhood home doesn’t count)
  • Make sure the people at home will answer their phones at night (as things always happen at night)- find out if they have some kind of night time filter where you have to ring three or some magic number of  times before the call gets through.


Scenario: You might be hurt, taking medication (malaria, or other) and in a Yellow Fever zone.

  • Have copies of your health insurance card and Yellow Fever card (yellow international vaccination certificate) at home and in Evernote.
  • Have a copy of your health policy in your suitcase.
  • Split any medication into 2 places – malaria medication for example as it might not be easy to get a replacement prescription where you are.
  • Have a phone number of your Doctor in case you need to change medications mid-stream and need to ask about side effects. They will ask you exactly what you were taking, so…
  • Have prescriptions scanned and a copy in your case and in the cloud.


Scenario: You will need to replace lots of things.

  • Make sure you have travel insurance to cover any loss, and enough of it to cover what you have with you.
  • Keep receipts of things you have with you in an accessible file.
  • Don’t take valuable irreplaceable jewelry, watches, etc. (remember that value is in the eye of the beholder, such as flipcharts).

Work Documentation, Paper Calendar, Paper GTD (Getting Things Done) File

Scenario: You are cursing your analogue tendencies; missing your retro paper calendar, and the lifetime to do list in your paper GTD file that has 10 years worth of “someday/maybe” items that you probably weren’t going to do anways, but now really can’t.

  • Photocopy/scan any documents before leaving that are not already digital (notes, etc.)
  • Update your online calendar with your paper one the night before you leave.
  • Keep a birthday book at home (one that has all the birthdays in it, unless you want to tell the whole story when you uncharacteristically forget an important birthday).
  • Scan your GTD file the day before you leave and put it into Evernote.
  • Don’t keep unique items in your GTD file (precious photos, etc.)
  • Scan any receipts as soon as you get them and upload them to the cloud.
  • Scan paper time sheets or keep digital ones.
  • Put pens and paper in all places (it is maddening not to have a pen).
  • Have some reading in all places (also maddening not to have anything to do or read).
  • Have an itemised list of what you are travelling with – a hard copy with you and at home, and a digital one on the cloud. You can also take a photo of everything you pack.


Scenario: You are somewhere where you don’t live, you need to get home, and you have no tickets or official identification needed to cross a national border.

  • Have your locator number in your luggage, or in a belt.
  • Have a print out of your ticket in another place.
  • Have someone at home who has access to your emails and can send these things to you (or to the new friend with the phone and computer).
  • Local contacts? They can help you get in touch with the police, give you some money, provide you with a sympathetic driver, lend you a computer to email, a phone to text on, and pen and paper. Maybe they can get you a magazine or newspaper, or a deck of cards, don’t be picky.
  • Make a packet of this travel information, and include your packing list – keep 2 sets with you in different places, 1 set on your desk at home, and 1 set in Evernote.

What the police will want…

Scenario: You will spend many hours inside a police station, watching policemen do their job which was pretty quiet until you came along.

  • An itemised list of items stolen and their approximate value.
  • Sim card number.
  • Registration number of your phone, including the make of the phone.
  • Serial number of your computer, and make of computer (and any other details you know).
  • Passport number (a copy if possible).
  • Photos for the police report (if you don’t have them you will have to go get them taken, so you will need money to get these, and a friend to give you money).
  • Proof of entry into the country (e-ticket).

What the embassy will want…

Scenario: You are at the embassy which is an hour from where you were staying, you were kindly provided a driver, and will need to produce the following:

  • 4 or so passport photos of the correct size. Make sure you know the size or you will do this twice, even for emergency passports, you cannot submit photos that are not exactly the right size. (Note: to get these you need money, and for money you need that friend).
  • Copy of your lost passport and number.
  • More money (30 Euros for example) to get an emergency passport.
  • Application (remember you have no pen – they can usually give you this).


The above list makes a good starter checklist – what would you add? You can make it with those little check boxes by each item and keep blank copies in your travel file, or geek out and laminate it and use an erasable whiteboard marker to fill it in each time. (I have not yet done this but the idea appeals to me.)

I hope you never get robbed. But if you do, these precautions will make the long days that follow a little easier. You will notice small things that you have not noticed for years. Your pace will slow down. You will read anything lying around and appropriate a pen and scraps of paper from the hotel to write things down while they are fresh in your mind. You might sit for hours trying to recreate your GTD file on little slips of paper, or play 100 games of solitaire on a spare deck of cards, or finally learn how to use Google hangouts so you can talk to loved ones 5,702 kilometers back home. This not a sad story, it is a learning story, an exercise in reframing that can be helpful when preparing to travel and setting policies on when and how to travel with work.

Oh, and let me also repeat: Be nice, stay calm, say thank you – as you noticed from the checklist above, you will need all the new friends you can get.

4 replies
  1. Pete Sparreboom
    Pete Sparreboom says:

    Gillian, I admire you for turning a gruelling experience into something so valuable for others. I have printed the list and will definitely be implementing some of these tips before my next trip?

  2. Giulia
    Giulia says:

    My lovely dear friend – chapeau for creating this constructive piece that will certainly be useful to many ! They took your computer, GTD, passport etc but not your love for learning! Love you g

  3. Gretchen Walters
    Gretchen Walters says:

    Gillian, what an excellent way to learn from this situation. Thanks for sharing. I’m putting these ideas into practice. Even after all these years of travel, I have a lot of improving to do. Thanks for the nudge to do it.

  4. Susan Hannel
    Susan Hannel says:

    Great advice Gillian. Will be implementing these tips for future travel.

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