This is not the kind of travel post I usually write, as I like to focus more on travel information that helps you guys. However, I decided that this is an experience worth sharing. And there is an important lesson in it. I have shared it with some travelers verbally, so why not put it into written form.
We all know shit can happen during travel. To travel is to embrace uncertainty. And I mean travel, travel. Not go to Paris with a planned 3 days itinerary kind of vacation travel. Although sometimes bad things can happen even then as well. Then you are either not street smart enough or downright unlucky.
All long-term travelers have their share of bad luck. This is a story of how I lost my laptop, electronic devices, and cash after my room was broken into. The story, however, is not the main point. The main point is…. near the end of the post 😉
The story begins…
This story is set in the ancient city of Cusco. Perched in the Andes high lands, Cusco is a popular tourist destination and said to be the 2nd oldest city in South America. Its most famous attraction? The world-renowned ruins of Manchu Picchu. I had just finished my 4-day Classic Inca Trail hike and decided to stick around for a while.
Peru is a paradise for hikers. However, I was getting a little tired of trekking after doing hikes in Huaraz and also Ecuador. Having booked my Inca Trail expedition 5 months in advance while I was still in Europe, I had to keep up a certain travel pace to get to Cusco in time. If you guys don’t know me yet, I prefer to keep my itinerary flexible. But the Inca Trail is so popular; you just have to book it way in advance.
A cozy family-run hostel, equipped with fast wifi and interesting travelers, beckoned me to stay on for a while. I would end up sticking around for a month, with my departure triggered by the need to find a new laptop.
Although I typically hang out in the common area, I got myself a private room in the hostel in anticipation that I would stay for a while. I also decided to hit up a local gym. After all, it is not every day that I get to work out at a high altitude. It’s a naturally challenging environment for physical activities. Maybe I can reap double the benefits for the same effort; who knows.
(P.S. You should definitely acclimatize first before doing any intense physical activities)
The day of the break-in
On the fateful day of the incident, I went about my usual routine. After a fulfilling hostel breakfast, I hung around the common area to clear some emails and then headed to the gym. It was a walking distance away so I only carried my phone, and a small wallet storing a card and some Soles (Peruvian Currency).
After a great workout that triggered a hunger pang, I was really looking forward to going back to Netflix and chill (literally, not the slang for you-know-what) over a satisfying meal. The local market is my go-to place for a cheap and satisfying meal. Plenty of options await as a range of vendors try to tempt you with their local specialities. I grabbed a lunch “para llevar” (take out) and headed back to the hostel.
When I got to my room, I routinely tried to use my key to open the door. However, there was an instinctive feeling that something was wrong with the way the door “unlocked.” I went searching for the laptop that I casually hid under my blanket but couldn’t find it. There was a brief moment of disbelief when I tried looking in other places to see if I had remembered it wrongly and placed it somewhere else.
Looking around, I discovered my whole bag of electronics had disappeared, and the foreign currencies in my wallet were missing. I came to the realization that someone had broken into the room and stole the valuables.
Travel Mindset and Mentality
This is the main point.
Once upon a time, Rax would have been pissed, stressed, and gone around cursing. However, at that moment, I would turn out to be relatively calm and practical. I just accepted what had happened and decided on the next steps to fix the situation.
After enquiring with other guests in the common area and the hostel owners, we figured out the potential culprit (another dodgy guest from Lima who had fled by then) and concluded it was unlikely to get him.
It was annoying having to sort out the administrative issues and all the inconvenience of getting new equipment. However, that was just that and what had to be done. I was consciously aware throughout the time that I didn’t have the unhelpful, negative emotions that I fully expect my younger self to have. I wasn’t even angry with the culprit because raging at some random guy wouldn’t help the situation anyway.
It also helped to be grateful in the little things and channel in positive thoughts:
- The culprit had not taken my passport
- I still had my credit cards in the wallet (except for one that I stashed with my electronics bag, which he took). I assumed he was more of a traditional thief rather than a data thief. In some sense, I am more concerned about the misuse of data on my laptop, hard disk, etc, than the devices themselves.
- With the items that I still have, I wasn’t rendered totally helpless and was equipped enough to continue my travels.
- I had backed up all my photos/videos to the cloud, so I still had them even though my hard disk containing all of that was taken.
Being consciously aware of your emotions is a constant practice, and traveling definitely provides a good training environment. It doesn’t need to be in such a dire scenario and can simply be in daily activities, such as practicing patience when queueing. Being aware of negative emotions surfacing is the first step towards clearing your mind for actions that matter.
To travel is to embrace uncertainty. A clear mind works way better in adapting and resolving problems than one clouded by negativity.
Practical Travel Tips
Apart from the main point about mentality, here are also some practical travel tips to know.
Get Travel Insurance
Insurance is the kind of thing you get but hope not to use. However, unfortunate incidents like this is why you get Travel Insurance. The Travel Insurance covered part of my loss, , although not all of it, since I was on a cheaper plan that did not cover cash loss/theft. It’s always good to keep some form of receipt for any valuable items you are bringing around your travels (e.g. laptop, camera etc)
For nomads wandering souls who don’t know which part of the world they’ll show up in next month, check out SafetyWing. They have the flexibility to purchase online anytime, anywhere, for any desired period and location.
Backup your photos, videos, documents to the cloud
I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t want to lose your precious travel photos and videos due to theft or other unfortunate incidents, back them up to the cloud. I bring a hard drive to store my photos/videos and also put a copy in the cloud drive. I use dropbox for this.
Remember to also keep a copy of your important documents. I have a copy of my passport, encrypted on the cloud, and I also carry a hard photocopy of it.
Stash your cash/credit cards in different places
I keep my debit/credit cards separately in 4 different places and my cash in 2-3. This is so you don’t lose everything in one shot if you get robbed or have your room broken into like me. Always keep some in convenient places for your daily use, and stash some in unassuming places. I have one in my underwear and socks pouch (Shhh….). Just make sure you store them carefully, so they don’t bend and break during travel.
If you use a Macbook, beware of potential inconvenience
If you use a MacBook like me, note that it is not cheap or easy to get a replacement in South America. The MacBooks in the official retail stores are way more expensive than in most other continents, AND they come with a Spanish keyboard layout.
I ended up purchasing a new one from a contact who imports Apple products from the United States. This was also through a recommendation by a Peruvian friend that I met in Cusco. I still ended up paying significantly higher than what I could have gotten back home, but at least the keyboard layout is what I am used to.