Dealing With Beggars and Theft While Traveling; for Women

Like most people, pretty much every time I travel abroad I’ve experienced someone coming up to me begging for money. Whether in India, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Cape Town, Brasil, London, Paris, San Francisco, and Sydney, just to name a few.

I always try to be nice and either give something or politely decline. This article isn’t really about whether or not to give – that’s so personal and everyone’s perspective and circumstances vary. This article is about women travelers, especially solo, and dealing with these scenarios from a safety standpoint.

As a woman and a petite woman at that, frankly I’m an easy target. I know that. So I keep my guard up and try to avoid areas where there are few people around. When someone is getting aggressive I try to get out of the situation with as little drama as possible.

It’s always very uncomfortable – every time. There’s a fine line between feeling empathy and bolting. So I have a few rules I follow, when I travel abroad.

{Samta’s Rules of Thumb for Solo Female Travelers}

Before I got married I traveled alone to about 25 countries and I had some rules of thumb, most of which I still follow:

  • never accept a drink I didn’t buy directly from the bartender
  • never get smashed enough to not have my wits about myself
  • don’t accept random rides
  • don’t venture out too far from the hostel/hotel after dark, alone
  • register with the State Department. You can inform the State Department that you’re traveling in a country and also sign up for alerts*
  • make sure someone knows where I am (country, city, hostel)
  • always have my bearings and know where I am
  • make friends

*In the United States we can register with the State Department to inform them that we are in a country as well as sign up for security alerts. For other countries register with your equivalent governmental organization.

The make friends one is important. Other solo female backpackers and travelers, in particular, are in the same boat as you and many seek the same security and safety. There’s safety in numbers and I made friends in every place I went. And I’m still connected to most of them years and years later!

You might read this list of rules and say, “well that’s no fun!”. And you’d be wrong. I have memories to last a lifetime. I had a brilliant time in every place I’ve visited and never had any issues in my 15+ years of traveling (knock on wood).

{The Most Important Rule}

If you don’t have a good international phone plan, then get one. Access to information, your contacts, and ways to communicate are key, especially while you’re abroad.

{My Travel Run-ins With Beggars}

In India I had gone to a temple with the purpose of handing out food to the needy. A young man in the crowd grabbed everything I had in my hands and ran away.

In Cape Town one woman came up to me while I was walking. After I said no, she continued to walk with me but too close for comfort as she stood right next to me, with her shoulder, touching my shoulder. I stayed calm and continued walking (though at a quicker pace) but after half a minute or so she wasn’t giving up, nor moving so I harshly told her to go away. They have nothing to lose and it becomes a short battle of wills as to who can hold out with the discomfort longest. I have to be honest I felt a bit less threatened because she was also a petite woman. I wouldn’t have lasted even half a minute continuing to walk, had it been a man.

In Zimbabwe, in Victoria Falls specifically, there’s a pathway leading from some hotels to the Falls. That pathway is lined with guys selling souvenirs and trinkets and others just outright begging. The most aggressive they got was to persist and walk with my husband and I for a while. Not so close like in Cape Town but as if we were together in a group. When we declined to buy any of his items he came up to me and asked me for my shoes, saying, “the ladies would like your shoes”. After saying no, he kept following us and asking us again and again. We said no a few more times and then the best thing was to keep walking with confidence (though I picked up the pace a little too) and just ignore the person.

In London my husband and I were eating lunch inside a Pret A Manger restaurant and a man came up with his coin cup, slammed it on our table and started jingling it around. The folks working at the restaurant didn’t say anything as I guess it was a normal occurrence. We had to ask him to leave which he did only after persisting a few more times.

{My Travel Theft Stories}

As far as theft goes, in Rome I was on the local metro with some other solo female backpackers. It was summer and super crowded and we stopped a young local girl from stealing my friend’s wallet right from her pocket, right from under her nose!

The girl in Rome actually succeeded. She had the wallet in her hand when my friend felt the girl bump against her, saw her wallet, grabbed it from her while yelling profanities at her and forced her off the train at the next stop.

In the Czech Republic, again walking in town with a few other solo female backpackers, another young local girl tried to steal items from my friend’s backpack, while she was wearing it and walking!

{Crossbody vs. Backpack}

I rarely carry a crossbody bag as my daypack. I’ll carry a crossbody for an evening out or for a specific event but usually I have a backpack. One, I typically have my DSLR with me and extra lenses etc. so I need something bigger and I don’t like carrying large crossbody bags. Plus after witnessing other girls’ crossbody bags get stolen where thieves literally come up, slit the straps and take off with the bag, quicker than they even have a chance to process what was happening – I’ve shied away from crossbody bags while traveling.

So I carry a backpack. I have little packs all the way to my Osprey Ariel 75. I like backpacks better because they’re secured on my back and they’re comfortable. In several cities, I wear my backpack on my front like a baby to minimize opportunities for the situations I described above. And EVERY time I get into a metro (whether I’m on the BART in San Francisco, the Subway in Toronto, or the New Delhi Metro), I ALWAYS wear my backpack in front and cross my arms over the top.

This is personal preference of course. Sometimes I see other females traveling, looking super stylish with their fabulous bags and for a split second I have an “I wanna look like that” moment and then it fades away when I remember what beautiful part of the world I’m in, happy, healthy and safe – I don’t really want anything more than that.

{Storing Your Bag at Outdoor Restaurant Seating}

When I eat outdoors at a restaurant I either keep my pack in my lap or wrap the straps around the leg of my chair. None of these measures are guaranteed to stop theft but perps will be deterred as they prefer easier targets and these measures buy me more time to take action.

{Storing Your Bag While Sleeping On Trains}

During my 5-week solo backpacking trip through Europe, whenever I had overnight’s on the train,  I used my pack as my pillow – simply placed a sweater or jacket on top to create some cushion. Again making it harder for someone to get to vs. leaving it unattended next to me while I slept. The first few times I did this I was pretty uncomfortable but then I got used to it.

{Going to the Beach Alone}

Personally, apart from Bondi Beach in Sydney, I haven’t encountered other beaches with lockers. When I have gone to the beach alone I follow a few simple rules:

  • grab a spot close to the water (when I intend to play in the water; otherwise anywhere else is fine)
  • stake out a spot close to families
  • keep my keys, credit card, cash on me at all times. Put them in a waterproof bag.
  • don’t take anything else that I’d be REALLY upset about or in a jam if it got stolen. That applies to the beach bag itself.
  • while playing in the water, keep an eye on my stuff on the beach
  • close my eyes and relax but open them every once in a while and check out my surroundings
  • if I can, instead of going alone try to find a few friends to go with who will keep an eye out for each other

I’ve never bought nor even looked into some of those beach security gadgets. Have you? If so, please share details and experiences!

{Do Your Homework & Be Put Together}

On any solo trips I spend time on more research about my destination(s). I know that part of the fun of traveling is the exploration of it all but by doing some research ahead of time I save time at my destination and avoid looking confused or lost in a busy metro, street, or bus station, which can make me less of a target.

Learn about the local metro, bus system: do they take credit card or just cash? Can I pay in US dollars? What different types of tickets are available? What are the best routes for me relative to my hostel and the places I want to see.

Create an itinerary: what days are the museums and other places I want to see open? Are there entrance fees? Are those fees cash only?, What are their opening and closing times? What are the restrictions on bags and cameras inside? How do you get to each place?

Attire: wear attire that won’t stick out and blends in and nothing too revealing, especially when I’m in a country where that’s not the norm. What will the weather be like and be prepared for the varying scenarios.

Put Together: refers to avoiding bags with holes or breaking, papers sticking out of your bag, carrying too many items. In places like India and Japan where you take your shoes off often, to enter people’s homes, temples and other places it was worthwhile to invest in a pair of slip on sneakers where I would still be comfortable walking for hours but that blended in too. The more confident and like you’re a natural, you look the less of a target you’ll be.

I’d say my biggest issues walking around alone, were in India. Even though I look Indian and I even speak the language fluently, locals knew I wasn’t from there, from my walk and mannerisms. I did my best to fit in at that time by matching as best I could, the attire I saw other women my age wearing. I slowed my walking pace to match theirs, and I followed the concepts above so that I was more self reliant and confident.

Part of being put together is preparation. I used to get ready and pack my daypack, all the morning of, or right before an event vs. giving myself more time. I have really long hair and wear contacts – things that just take more time to deal with. So now, every night before going to sleep I pack my bag for the next day’s excursion and I lay out all of the clothes I’m going to wear, down to the socks.

My travel life was just better overall after I started this practice. I had time in the morning to enjoy and get ready without rushing or experiencing stress. I didn’t forget stuff, especially important stuff like medicine and memory sticks for my camera. I always have  time to eat breakfast too.

At Tikal in Guatemala I carried my Lowepro DSLR bag. Inside I had my wallet, phone, chapstick, hand sanitizer, and a Clif bar. I left my rain jacket on the bus and bought a bottle of water there.


Traveling alone was one of the best things I’ve ever decided to. I learned so much about the world, myself and I challenged myself – faced my fears head on! Traveling solo prepared me for entrepreneurship and I forged friendships that I never would have otherwise.

You will encounter beggars and I hope that the info I shared above will help you next time you’re in that situation. Theft is an unfortunate reality of traveling and I encourage you to read through the techniques I mentioned above as well as tips from other bloggers to best prepare you on avoiding such situations and simple things you can do to  minimize their opportunities to occur.

I also encourage solo women travelers to do a bit of detailed research, before departing – about their destinations, sightseeing and logistics.

Happy travels. Cheers to adding more stamps in your PassportPages! And be safe!

{About PassportPages}

I created the PassportPages travel blog, to provide nuanced, detailed travel advice, tips, and hacks for traveling all over the world — from a unique and different perspective than the other popular travel blogs. There aren’t as many travel blogs geared towards:

  • nuanced, detailed travel tips and advice
  • vegetarians/vegan travelers
  • ethnic Americans, Canadians, and others
  • petite women

As a non-Caucasian there’s an additional layer to traveling abroad that other popular travel bloggers can’t relate to, like my experience on my most recent trip to Paris.

{My Experience in Paris}

I went to Paris not long after the coordinated terrorist attacks from November 2015. To be frank, I felt uncomfortable on that trip, being in the city of romance. It honestly felt more like the city of racism. The last time I was in Paris I had an absolutely brilliant time and fell in love with the history, culture, and architecture. This time I got dirty looks and stared at walking down the street, and people were not nice to me in restaurants whereas they were with other patrons.

When I spoke and they heard my American accent I could see physically see the other person ease up. It was really uncomfortable and I couldn’t wait to head back to London.

Nor can other bloggers relate to the looks of questioning and confusion when people ask me where I’m from and I say, “San Francisco”. And when they press on, and ask “No, where are you really from”? In those cases I assess each instance on its own. Some people (most) are genuinely curious and interested in chatting. Others are condescending. But if I got a dollar for every time I’ve been asked, “where are you really from?” during my travels, I’d have enough for an international flight.

{About Samta}

When I’m not traveling and/or adventuring (and even when I am), I operate my tech startup, ShaadiShop. ShaadiShop is a marketplace for Indian-friendly wedding venues in California.

During undergrad I decided to study abroad which triggered my travel passion. I lived in Adelaide, Australia for a year and after that, for the next 10 years I spent 1-2 months each year, traveling to various destinations around the globe, on my own while I managed my direct marketing company.

I think traveling solo, prepared me to become an entrepreneur – journeying into new experiences, figuring it out as I went, self-reliance, facing your fears head on, trying new things, and so much more!

Then I decided to get a Masters in Business Administration, and I met my husband. Now we travel around the globe together and often. I love backpacks, vegetarian and vegan cooking and of course planning our next trip. I’m also kinda addicted to blueberries. =p

Check in on the blog or better yet follow PassportPages to get travel info from around the world. And definitely post your questions and comments. I love hearing from our readers! Cheers!

Samta, Founder, PassportPages

Other PassportPages articles you might like:

Ideal Vegan Cross Body Travel Bag for Petite Women
Travel Hacks for Anyone Who Inevitably Forgets Some Stuff
Everything You Need to Know About The ATM Cave, Belize
Vegetarian or Vegan on Caye Caulker

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