What Happened in Hanoi, and, How You Can Prevent it From Happening to You

What Happened in Hanoi

I was standing there in the hostel in Hanoi (New Central Backpackers’ Hostel), trying but failing not to burst out crying. Someone stole my bag. A travel nightmare, and it was happening to me. It was a pretty important bag, too. Not just the one with clothes that I didn’t care to lose. It was the one with: my laptop. My Nook e-reader. My old iPod with thousands of songs on it. My external hard drive. Two credit cards. And, perhaps worst of all, it contained emergency photocopies of all of my credit cards.

The good old days of having all three of my bags, on Lamma Island.

My heart nearly stopped when I realized those photocopies were in the bag. Sure, I still had all my credit cards – but now they were compromised.

And of course, all this happened half an hour before we needed to be on the train to Hue. All I could do was sit there and despair. “What do we do?” I asked Jeff. I yelled at some hostel staff, even at a drunk guy in the bar. Sometimes, you just cannot control your emotional reaction to something terrible. I really think it’s okay to lose your cool sometimes. Especially if your bag gets stolen out of hostel luggage storage (a “safe space” as we were assured) and then the staff starts blaming you for it.

First off we decided to just miss the train to Hue. The hostel manager arrived eventually and decided to call the buses that had recently left to see if someone had taken the bag by accident. Since there were no other similar bags I thought it pretty unlikely, and indeed there were no results there.

Then I spent a while convincing the manager to take me to the police station to get a report, so that at least I could hope to file an insurance claim. He was incredibly resistant at first but finally took me.

After spending an hour or so filling out forms at the police station we returned to the hostel only to be told there were no beds available that night and we’d have to find another place. Luckily they did offer to find us another place, and it wasn’t far and wasn’t too expensive.

That night I withdrew a bunch of cash and then canceled all my cards. Now we are sitting in Hanoi, slightly paranoid, and waiting for new cards to arrive. Then we plan to hightail it out of Vietnam and fly to Bangkok. When something like this happens, a change of location might help you feel better (well, we hope).

Anyway, I decided instead of just telling you this tale of woe I would turn it into some suggestions to prevent it happening to you. I hope nothing like this ever befalls you on your travels (especially not in the same week as horrific food poisoning), but it definitely pays to be careful.

How to Prevent This Happening to You

  • Trust no one and never let your guard down. Okay, this suggestion is a bit sarcastic. It is not, in fact, possible to never let your guard down. Sometimes, you will slip up. Mostly, that will be okay – you are pretty unlikely to be as horribly unlucky as me. Also, you can’t actually going around trusting no one. But you can be more careful, especially when: getting on and off buses, planes, and trains; carrying all your luggage; and storing your belongings. So you have a cable lock for your laptop case? Use it. Even if you think the place you had to store your laptop is safe.
  • Be less conspicuous. We are a two-laptop traveling family. My laptop was in a laptop case, you know the kind, black and rectangular and very obviously containing a laptop. Jeff’s laptop was in a regular old backpack. Both were put in the same place. But only one was stolen: the obviously-a-laptop one. In the future, I will not travel with a laptop case. Instead, I’ll get or use a backpack with a laptop sleeve in it. That way, a quick glance at it will not scream “valuable items inside.” I think in this case having a brightly colored or unique bag can help, since those sorts of bags are so much more identifiable, and your garden variety opportunistic thief might not risk stealing it and being found out.
  • Don’t keep your valuables in one place. My thinking went thusly: this is the bag I can most easily lock and so it is the safest place to keep all this stuff. However… that failed when the whole thing was stolen. Now I do still have my phone and my camera, because they were in different spots (and my passport is still with me, thankfully). But the vast majority of my valuables are simply gone. Had I kept them in more spots, I would still have some of them. This is especially true of my laptop and my external hard drive. That was just lazy. My backup habits are such that I lost nothing totally irreplaceable, but still.

Those are just simple hints that would have spared me a bit of heartbreak. Happily I am already sort of paranoid and had plenty of precautions in place to make the loss less devastating. Here are some of the things I did…

Precautions to Take That Will Make Losing Your Stuff Less Awful

  • Get travel insurance! This is important to make sure, if you do have stuff stolen, you can at least afford to replace it (probably). Remember that to file a claim against your stolen items you are going to need a police report. I use World Nomads as my insurance provider. I haven’t filed a claim with them before, so this will be my test experience.
  • Regularly back up your important files online. There are lots of ways to do this. You can use cloud storage such as Google Cloud Storage for all kinds of documents or photo storage sites like Flickr for keeping your photos. My photos are some of my most precious possessions so I happily pay $25 per year to store unlimited photos on Flickr. And because of this, I lost no photos (also, I no longer delete photos off my memory cards but instead just buy new memory cards when the others get full – I recommend this too).
  • Download Prey Project on your laptop. This can help you track and find your stolen laptop. I was convinced after reading this article from The Expert Vagabond. This tells you how to properly set up the program for the best likelihood of recovering your laptop. Note that I set it up just as it says and tested it and everything… but so far it hasn’t worked for me. The person who stole my laptop has not used it to get online, sadly.
  • Make a detailed inventory of all your stuff. This sounds like a lot of work and sort of useless, but you’d be surprised how much it can come in handy. If you’re traveling for a while, it can be pretty easy to forget what exactly you packed. When you lose a bag or a bag gets stolen, it is important to know what was in it and what was lost. I may not have remembered that I had photocopies of my cards in my bag, had I not had that in a list (and that’s a pretty important thing to realize you lost!).

There’s every chance that nothing terrible will happen to you while traveling. But when it comes to expensive possessions, it pays to be a little paranoid. Finally, never, ever stay at Central Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi.

Ever had anything like this happen to you while traveling or at home? Got any tips to add?

17 thoughts on “What Happened in Hanoi, and, How You Can Prevent it From Happening to You

    1. b

      I’m sure you’ve thought this through, but I get a really strong sense from your account that the hotel was complicit. I hope you left a note at every travel review site everywhere that you lost something out of their storage and that they are not to be trusted. Maybe revise this post to name the hotel?

      Good luck recovering from this. It sounds like you didn’t lose too much important data, and new laptops get cheaper—and lighter—every year.

      1. Rachel Post author

        I can’t really say it outright but… yes, I have definitely thought of that and find it highly likely. I have worked on leaving bad reviews and I plan to contact the Hanoi tourism complaint line too. I did name the hostel in the bottom but I think I’ll add it further up as well.

        You’re right, I didn’t lose a lot. Thanks for the well wishes!
        Rachel recently posted..This Month in ReadingMy Profile

      1. Nora

        Gosh, I’m so sorry this happened to you.

        Another tip: I dunno if it helped, but when I left my laptop (a small $250 netbook) in luggage rooms, I put it _all the way at the bottom_ of my pack under junk like clothes and toiletries. So if someone was just rifling through to see if a bag was worth stealing, they’d stop before hitting anything valuable.

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  4. c martin

    the BBC put out a series of shows showing scams in major cities all over the world….anyone who travels anywhere would be more knowledgeable about scams if they watched the shows……

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