For the most part, Colombia has managed to shake the poor reputation it gained through a past of drug trafficking and violence. As a solo female traveller, I was pleasantly surprised by how safe and tourist friendly it is. Sadly, though, petty crime is still a big problem, as I found out when I was robbed travelling in Cali.
ROBBED TRAVELLING IN CALI
Cali was my last stop in Colombia and I’d been having a fantastic time. I’d just come from the stunning Cocora Valley and was feeling smug that I’d survived exactly 4 weeks of independent travel without any mishaps.
I’d just arrived at the Pelican Larry hostel and discovered that the entire troop of guests was heading out to a Pacific coast-influenced free music festival that night.
The pressure was on to get showered and eat in time.
I shoved my passport in a locker and hurried to meet two of my new friends in reception.
FINDING A RESTAURANT
We didn’t have time to be too picky, so we settled on a pleasant enough looking Italian on the road around the corner. The only seating was outside on the street, but it was a little set back from the main pavement and seemed ok.
Under a false sense of security, I placed my bag on the floor between my feet and the table legs. It was pretty wedged in and I must have figured I’d see anyone approaching.
During our meal, the only people who approached our table were the waiters and one old woman who came to ask for money. By the time the bill came, my bag had vanished.
The restaurant wasn’t particularly helpful. They gave me their address and contact details when I asked for them and sent me on my way.
Back in the hostel, we had to use a hammer to break into my locker because my key had been in my bag. Over the next few days I kept having moments of realisation about what else had been in the bag. I’d lost cash, a camera, my toiletry bag, a head torch and – most distressing of all – my mother’s engagement ring, which I had worn since she passed away. I’d meant to leave it in the UK and, when I’d realised it was still on my finger at the airport, I’d put it in a small SD card pocket of the bag for safekeeping.
FILING A POLICE REPORT
Aside from having lost so many valuable items, the most painful process in making an insurance claim was getting hold of a police report.
Here’s a brief run down of our day:
1. The hostel gave me the address of a ‘nearby’ police station. We walked for 30 minutes. It didn’t exist.
2. We asked a friendly police man where the nearest police station was and he pointed us a few blocks in the opposite direction to our hostel.
3. We walked another 30 minutes and the streets became increasingly more dodgy. A shop assistant told us tourists never came to this area and it was ‘really dangerous’.
4. We hopped in a cab to an existing police station, where we talked to police staff, but they said they couldn’t file a report. They gave us the addresses of two other police stations where reporting was done.
5. A cab took us to the first on the list, but it didn’t exist either.
6. A cab took us to the second one. Finally someone agreed, reluctantly, to file a report.
At no point did any police officer ask me for details of what actually happened or offer to look into the crime.
MAKING AN INSURANCE CLAIM
I had comprehensive travel insurance with World Nomads and they were fantastic. They accepted evidence I photographed while still overseas and they paid out in good time too. They even accepted a photo of my mother’s ring as evidence I had had it with me in the bag.
Since this experience I’ve always bought policies from them. They give me the peace of mind that if I was ever robbed travelling again, I’d at least get some kind of compensation. Aside from great customer service, they allow you to extend your policy while still overseas, and they have a tool to check which backpacker activities are covered.
Use the tool below to search for a policy to suit you.
TIPS TO AVOID BEING ROBBED TRAVELLING OVERSEAS
- Think really carefully about whether or not you need every item in your bag every time you leave a hostel. I had more than usual because I was in a rush, but in hindsight a few seconds emptying my valuables into a locker would have been well spent.
- Wear your locker key on a band around your wrist, so if you do lose your bag you can still access your other belongings!
- Never let your guard down. Disguise money bags as well as you can and keep larger bags on your knee with the strap around your body.
- If a beggar asks for money, don’t just ignore them and hope they go away. Stare them down and be extra vigilant of your belongings.
- If you are robbed travelling, call the police immediately, or ask the establishment you are in to do it.
- Do your research about the location of the local police station before you head out into a dodgy city.