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Thursday, December 3, 2015

My perfect travel handbag

I've just been in touch with a friend who was pick-pocketed recently in Hanoi. She was carrying a backpack which, of course, was just inviting someone to sneak up behind her in a crowded street, reach in and take her wallet. In it were all her cash, credit cards, and more importantly, passport. She had to extend her stay to wait for her embassy to issue special travel documents, incurring extra costs which she didn't have the means to pay. All in all, a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through.

I think that when you travel, you have to take on the mindset that you are a moving target for pickpockets. Of course we hear the stories of street urchins roaming in India and other Asian cities, and gypsies who prey on unsuspecting tourists throughout Europe. But really, it can happen anywhere, even what you would consider a "safe" city. A friend was pick-pocketed in Melbourne, considered to be one of the friendliest and safest cities.

Perhaps it's where I live and what I've experienced that makes me especially wary when out and about. Where I come from, there are stories of snatch thieves and pickpockets who prey on unsuspecting women anywhere and at any time. In broad daylight on the streets, in busy shopping malls and even right in front of the women's homes. Of course, if you're out at night, especially alone, you'll prove to be an even more irresistible target. Assailants have been known to smash car windows, reach in and snatch handbags.

So when I'm traveling, no matter where I go, I don't let my guard down one bit. In cities like Singapore and Tokyo where I've seen women just leave their handbags unattended on their seats in a restaurant to go to the ladies' room, I'm the one clutching my bag close to me. Because, yup, you guessed it, my handbag was once snatched from behind me on my seat in a restaurant in my hometown. Call me paranoid, but I've learned the hard way that it's better to be safe than sorry.

So here's my tip for the kind of handbag to use when traveling. Try to bring a cross-body bag that's not so easy to snatch. Not the casual sling-over-the-shoulder tote, and definitely not a clutch or backpack. I had the perfect bag that had a flap and, for added security, a zippered closing on the inside. It's best to keep it small enough so you know exactly what you have in it and are not rummaging around inside it for stuff all the time.

Zippered bag with no flap just invites preying fingers
The one I had fell apart after years of accompanying me on my travels. My new one with just a zipper and no flap failed me when I was on a crowded bus in Barcelona recently. A young woman was standing next to me, and when I felt a hand reach into my bag, I knew that she had somehow unzipped my bag and reached in. I yelled at her, of course, but cool as a cucumber, she just asked if I was all right like I was some kind of demented psycho. She quickly exited the bus at the next stop, and others around me commiserated. Thankfully, she didn't have a chance to grab anything but I was still shaken up by the episode.

So now I have to find another bag that has the zipper and the flap, which I figure is another level of deterrence to would-be pickpockets. It's not so easy to find, especially the kind I'm looking for, which is lightweight and waterproof, with a few compartments but doesn't look too much like an outdoorsy adventure pouch. I've looked at a few brands including Derek Alexander, Baggallini and Kipling, but couldn't find one that I really liked. I'll let you know when I find the perfect one!

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