Bumbags scream "I'm a tourist, please rob me!"
There's an entire industry built around bad advice on how to not be robbed as a tourist. Bum bags (or the more uproarious sounding "fanny packs" to our American friends) are the prime offenders, but so are various forms of small travel pouches made to be worn around your waist or neck, or slung over your shoulders.
• Tim Roxborogh's travel bugs: Unintentionally hilarious signs
• Tim Roxborogh's Travel Bugs: When you've got your camera on the wrong setting
• Premium - Travel Bugs: Why Tim Roxborogh owes Shane Cortese an apology
• Premium - Tim Roxborogh's Travel Bugs: The problem with Uber
When I first started travelling on my own in my early 20s, well-meaning older friends and colleagues who'd been there, done that were jumping all over each other to say, "make sure you get some sort of a bum bag for your wallet!" Others would suggest that bum bags were OK, but if you really wanted to be safe from pickpockets you'd buy one of those thin waist-pouches to stash your cash.
I can even remember a guidebook warning never to leave your passport in your hotel room and to instead pouch it and sling it around your shoulder like an extremely not cool Indiana Jones. Based on friends, colleagues, guidebooks and travel gear shops, you'd be off wandering the streets of Barcelona or Rome or Hanoi (or any of the other of the globe's other most notorious pickpocket cities) with your money, phone and passport acting like a homing device for thieves. You might as well be wearing an advertising sandwich board saying, "I'm a tourist, please rob me!"
Surely the better advice is to try to blend in. You might think wearing your money in a zip-up bag underneath your T-shirt and between your belly button and groin is discreet, but if you've pulled this pouch out even once in a marketplace, you've been spotted. At worst, you've been seen by some sticky-fingered scallywags who will subsequently try to work their magic on you, but even at best, you've still been clearly identified as a tourist.
In short, locals don't ever wear these pouches, but somebody, somewhere has probably made millions selling them. I quickly learned that I felt much safer as a traveller wearing shorts or jeans with tight pockets, but not too tight that I couldn't put my hand in them over my money, phone or passport. Walking through a crowded, touristy place – the kind of area pickpockets love – I have my hand in my pocket, literally covering the very thing(s) that could be stolen.
So far, so good because here I am in my late 30s and I've never had my pocket picked. I am, however, aghast to discover that the bum bag is apparently semi-fashionable again (was it ever?) in an ironic way thanks to the likes of Prada and Gucci and big names like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian. So maybe, just maybe, if you are hot like Rihanna you can wear a bum bag and not look like a tourist - but the rest of us, steer clear!
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's Weekend Collective and blogs at roxboroghreport.com