"I wonder where the mother bear is."--famous last words of travelers in bear country
"Are you feeling lucky, punk?--you know who

Protecting Yourself and Your Valuables with a System
(From The Mindful Traveler)

The best way to protect yourself and your valuables is to develop a system that accounts for most contingencies. What you need to plan for depends on where you are going, the risks you are dealing with, your gender, age, nationality and ethnicity, your speed of foot, whether you are traveling alone or with partners, as well as your visibility and presence in public places.

Remember that humans are not as swift as bears and not nearly as intimidating. (On the other hand, we can't easily blend into a crowd.) In developing your system, differentiate between critical and non-critical valuables and place the highest priority on the protection of critical ones. These should include your passport, a credit card, cash, important prescriptions, travel tickets, passes (e.g., Eurail Pass). These, I usually store in an enlarged money belt (or fanny pack). Wallets and purses are simply too easy to rip off.

Non-critical valuable might include a day's worth of working currency, maps, a back-up credit card, most of your paperwork, your watch, inexpensive jewelry. These can be stored in your large pack. You should be very conscious of where critical items are at all times and develop your own system for protecting them. This should include steps to follow in case of emergency.

In developing your system, consider absentmindedness, the possibility of theft, potential water damage, and personal convenience and access. Always build some redundancy and back-up into your system, possibly bringing along a few traveler's checks to supplement credit cards and cash.

Expect some kind of system breakdown and develop a procedure for emergency response. Your breakdowns might include loss or theft of money, ID, or other possessions. Water damage can be protected against by placing important papers in ziploc bags.

I find that routine is the most effective preventive measure. For example, let's say that you store your critical valuables in your money belt (fanny pack). In your routine you might check for contents every time you remove your passport, before you leave your hotel, get on a train, plane, or boat. Your checking procedure should be akin to a pilot in pre-flight: "Wallet--check," "passport--check", and so on.

A word about critical valuables: don't assume that a locked hotel door insures protection. You simply can't afford to take the chance that someone will break in, even if you are only down the hallway at the restroom. In fact, the only time I remove my money belt is when I am showering or sleeping (as opposed to hibernating), and even then it is within arm's length.

Money belts present problems of their own. Many of them are unbalanced and will easily spill your valuables if you mistakenly leave them open. On other occasions the zippers will break under stress. Make sure to invest in a belt that is both well-balanced and sturdy. You can't afford the grief.

In developing my security system, I expect that at some point during my trip I will be in a crowd and someone will try to rip me off. One of the most common m.o.'s is a two-person operation whereby someone distracts you (perhaps by bumping into you) while another cuts away your waist pack.

The savvy bear or human is prepared for this. He connects a safety strap from his regular belt to his waist pack: if someone cuts away your waist-band, you don't lose your money belt. This can foil an amateur operation. It should go without saying that you should always conceal a money belt beneath clothing (this can be difficult for those of the ursine persuasion.)

Where you go, at what hour, and with how much weight are additional factors affecting security. Big cities at night can be especially hazardous to the solo traveler, especially if you are in the wrong neighborhood.

Weight is important because it will limit your ability to escape and will also sap your energy. You are always more vulnerable when you can't move quickly or when your vision is impaired, for example, when you are hooded in the rain or you are crying with joy after eating your fill of fresh salmon.

Take advantage of train-station lockers to lessen your load when you are looking for lodging. You can always return later and pick up you pack after you have found a room (or warm cave).

When you store your pack in lockers, avoid connections with strangers. Scam artists may help you with a key-lock and then switch keys with you. If you are traveling by car never leave valuables inside the car or trunk. These are easy targets for rip-off artists.

Remember that anonymity and invisibility are among a bear's (and human's) best friends. Never advertise yourself with bright and expensive clothing, wear minimal jewelry, and whenever possible blend into the crowd. Likewise, avoid removing money from your money belt when you are out in the open or in a crowd.

Only if you really want to challenge your warrior skills will you advertise the fact that you are an American human (or bear). Brits, Israelis and other westerners have similar problems to deal with.

On the other hand, if you want trouble you might consider wearing a loud Chicago Bulls' t-shirt, Air Jordan Nikes, and spouting loud Americanized English. Also make it known that you are loaded with cash by fumbling with a large wad on a train platform. Showing the effects of a few beers and taking a few swigs will also add to your magnetism.

Your plan should include contingencies for the loss of important documents. More than a few trips have been taken a foul turn from the loss of a passport or visa. If you do lose a passport and need to replace it, you will need a copy of a birth certificate and other I.D. You will also need two spare passport photos. The U. S . Passport Office also has information available that you should familiarize yourself with to account for passport or visa loss.

In most cases your first step after losing a passport should be to report the loss to local police. They will usually provide you with temporary ID. A call to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy should be made to replace the missing document and apply for a replacement. See Passport Office Publication M-264 regarding visa requirements in foreign countries.