Photo Wanderlust – Part III: Security for “Country Hopping” Photo Adventures

Photo of Nepalese policemen by Ron Veto

Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

Nepalese policemen making the rounds in Dubar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Photo taken with a “Widelux” Panoramic Camera

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. ~Seneca

For those of you who thoroughly enjoy extended stay travels and want to keep the budget to a minimum by staying in lower cost facilities or those designed for backpackers, this kind of “country hopping” photography adventure can open the doors to a wider range of wonderful experiences, but it can also open the doors to more issues around the subject of security.

So, by all means, expand your horizons, learn about new cultures, meet new people, and have an incredibly fun time along the way, but, before you head out the door to lands unknown, it is my hope that I can prepare you and make you aware of some of the challenges you may face while traveling in foreign lands so you can have that trip of a lifetime.

Note: This article is geared toward Southeastern and Central Asia and India, but my general outlook and strategy is universal in geography.

This may be a serious topic, but I hope to still motivate you to
travel onward by sharing a few photos from my photo travel adventures.

Photo of Korean woman by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

Seoul, Korea: A plain background highlights the enchanting colors of this Korean woman’s clothing.

Lock Them Up & Lock Them Down

When I was a kid, locking my bike up while at the pet shop was a must do–lock it up, relax, enjoy watching the lizards inside the cages change color and know my stingray bicycle would still be there. So for me to transfer that habit to my traveling was very natural. I don’t think the dangers lie in travel, but in the choices we make to control that which we can control.

Overall, Asia is a very safe travel destination, but the last thing you want is to spend days waiting for a bank transfer or document replacement and experience what it really means to live at “ground level travel”.

The chances of being a victim of a strong-arm robbery are very remote, but to be careless with your gear while in public invites a snatching. Remember, locks only stop an honest person, so don’t make it easy! During your travels, your packs can be fair game and even state of the art security deterrents are no match for a determined criminal, but most thieves will go for the unsecured object of least danger and resistance first. They will disappear instantly, sometimes by a team effort, and usually by way of a motorbike.

Photo of secured back pack by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

Always secure your packs. During a long journey many a pack has been tossed off a bus or train. Waking up to theft on the road is a nightmare.

I’ve found that permanently attaching a security chain or wire rope to your day pack and backpacks is essential for active traveling—no white knuckled death grip on my packs! Like the bike lock, the sense of having some control and having done my best to secure my items gives me a feeling of security so I can relax, enjoy the view or even “catch a few winks”.

Be vigilant and possessive. Be confident and decisive. Lock them up and lock them down.

Tip: Go for the smallest high quality lock available. For the cable 1/32″ and 1/16″ stainless steel wire rope works best as it’s almost impossible to cut quickly. Consider duplicate combination locks when possible. If key locks are used always have duplicate keys and make them easily available. Store one set deep inside a second pack or exchange with a friend for an emergency. Inside my daypack I’ve added rings and snaps to attach my keys and a small LED flashlight. Remember that every ounce adds to your total weight.


Be Responsible for Your Own Property

Even with the best intentions, sometimes unfortunate things can happen. Friends may offer to watch your daypack, but people can be easily distracted. You may have gone to the restroom for only two minutes, yet some thief took advantage of your friend and your dream vacation came to a screeching halt. Don’t open yourself up to disaster.

Hotel Storage

Many times during an extended trip you may need to store your packs in the hotel storage room for pickup later down the line. I arrange storage details with the hotel staff and ask the bellman if I can personally supervise the storage procedure.

Now you need to go to work. Take your packs to the back of the storage room, out of the way of walking traffic and secure them face to face in as tight a package as possible, making it difficult to gain access quickly. Try to lock your packs to a fixed object like a shelf leg. Taking these simple precautions discourages theft and protects your gear.

Tip: Never leave your packs in the lobby for storage later. Anyone can walk off with them. No one really cares. Help the bellman bring the packs into the storage your self. Then secure them. Give him a nice tip.

Beware of Pick-Pockets

People are watching you! Pickpockets are very talented and some are extremely organized. While it’s almost impossible to defend against an organized scam or con, we can prepare and customize our travel gear to give us a better chance of success against them.

It’s important to have quick access to my camera lenses and many other backpack items, but that access can be just as quick for a pickpocket. To hinder them from unzipping my pouches, I’ve custom sewn a piece of webbing and a ring to all my zippered pouches. With swivel snaps, I can now easily connect the zipper to the ring or even connect zippers to zippers. It’s not only a good idea for security, but it’s just a good habit to acquire to prevent a lens or other items from accidentally falling out of an open pouch.

Photo of secured packs by Ron Veto

Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

On trains and buses or in large crowds, zippers are tempting for pickpockets. Don’t make it easy. Lock it up.

Photo of secured zipper packs by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

 Connecting the zippers is good for security and for general safety of your lenses.

And as an added precaution, I also put bells on the snaps. In crowded environments, the extra noise factor warns me if the snaps are being disturbed.

Asking for Directions

Getting directions around a new city can be tricky. I naturally try to find a person who speaks English, but sometimes that can be a challenge. I’ll look for a person wearing reading glasses or carrying a newspaper. The glasses are a tip off that the person is literate and may prove helpful. After asking one person for directions, walk a few yards and ask another person to verify the directions you were given. It could save you losing time and energy on a wild goose chase.

Tip: In Asia, people don’t want to disappoint you. They don’t want to say the “no” word to you. So never imply the answer in the question. Example: “Is this the way to the train station?” The answer will always be yes. Instead ask, “Which way to the train station?” Now they need to commit to a direction.

Photo of sunset at Dal Lake, Kashmir, India by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

India is magic. Sunset on Dal Lake, Kashmir, India

Fires Can Happen

Asia’s electrical system is dangerous and not up to the same safety codes that first world countries take for granted. Although some countries like Japan and Korea have very strong fire concerns, guesthouses or low budget traveler’s hotels won’t be so well equipped. In fact most are electrical nightmares, so I always request to stay on the fourth floor or below. Most fire departments can hopefully service four floors with ladders, but after that it’s up to the roof and pray for a helicopter. Plan your exit ahead of time. 

Photo of man with snake in Chiangmai, Thailand by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

Snakes come in different forms. The two legged ones are the most dangerous. Beware of hidden traps which are targeted toward the wide-eyed tourist. This cobra in Chiangmai, Thailand was harmless.


My best advice to you is to always pay attention and be aware of your surrounding, use common sense and listen to those “gut instincts”.

Your Money and Possessions

You may be on your dream vacation, but remember, criminals are not! They are working full-time.

Have all your money and documents well hidden and in separate areas. I’ve always kept my small money, the disposable money, in my left front pocket, while the larger bills I keep in the right front pocket. My passport would either be in a lightweight nylon money belt or some other secure hidden compartment sewn into my clothes or deep inside my daypack. If ever confronted, I would quickly reach into the left front pocket and throw the money away from my body as far as possible and then run away quickly separating me from the threat, all the while yelling loudly for the police. At a certain point the robber needs to commit to chasing me or going to collect the money on the ground. This tactic is universal.

Law enforcement encourages us to never physically fight over your bag or money–just hand over your stuff. That advice is for your own protection, because chances are the thief will have planned on “ripping you off”, will be young, mentally prepared for trouble, very familiar with street combat, and will know all the back alleys for a guaranteed escape. Things can escalate quickly, so don’t take unnecessary risks. Material possessions can be replaced.

If you leave your brand new white tennis shoes on the beach while you go for a swim, it’s like leaving a sign that says, “Pick me up!” Hide them under blankets or bury them in the sand so they don’t stand out. A friend of mine found that out the hard way and then found out that trying to replace his quality shoes in a third world country isn’t the same as back home. You’ll get what you get and like it.

Tip: Carry a whistle. I attach a whistle to the back of my sunglass straps. You never know when you may need to catch the attention of a taxi or the police. 

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control It.” — John Steinbeck

Photo of public showers in by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

Calcutta, India: This public laundry and bath provided a glimpse into the everyday life in India. Whenever possible, try to explore the high ground. Bridges offer vantage points to capture interesting candid moments and unique vistas impossible from ground level.

Beware of Strangers

I like to meet people and make new friends, but who to trust while on the road can be tricky. There are times when you need to trust people and the majority of those times there will be a pleasant outcome. Try to stay open to people who genuinely want to help out, but at the same time, always have your antenna up for strangers who become overly friendly too fast. 

The budget traveler’s world is a world all its own. It’s difficult to explain, but the circuit makes a kind of brotherhood–like riding in a long 45 hour bus ride through Nepal. Everyone is your pal. But see, that’s a danger right there. You need to be mindful of those fellow traveler’s ideas.

Photo of man selling cookware in Little India, Singapore by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

Little India, Singapore: Train your eye to find those magic moments of light, composition and that special subject. 

Photo of of man and baskets in Saigon, South Vietnam by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

You just have to be ready. Never a dull moment in Saigon, South Vietnam.

There is a fine line between good and evil. My grandmother used to say, “You can catch a liar, but you can’t catch a thief.” So BEWARE of some individuals, like…

1. A fellow traveler who has overstayed his visa and needs money for his next meal is desperate and quickly becomes a criminal! They can’t afford to leave and they can’t afford to stay. Your encounter with them could be a brief moment of sharing a meal or someone planning to steal what’s yours.

2. A new friend who suddenly finds you at the bus station and wants to team up. It could be a set up and you’re “his mark”. There are those who “ride the rails” in order to steal from trusting tourists. They are so slick that by the time you notice, they have moved on and left the train. Scamming is their life’s work and they have perfected it.

3. Another traveler offering to share rooms or train berths so you can both save money. This puts you in a vulnerable position. While you’re asleep, they can steal from your packs.

4. Someone who seems nervous or rather desperate could be an addict and in dire need for more drugs. They know that passports have a high dollar value in the black market—yours could be their target.

5. And then there are just the desperately poor who simply cannot resist such a soft target.

Follow–Don’t Follow! You may hook up with a stranger and feel comfortable enough with them that you would choose to walk with them. It could be a harmless tout who truly wants you to visit their Uncle’s gem shop, but there are tons of very inventive scams out there, so to blindly follow the wrong person can sometimes lead to problems. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t follow!

Note: In Asia, certain opportunities could arise which can spark your curiosity and the greedy side of human nature. Salesmen, taxi drivers and sex touts try hard to direct and herd tourist to their establishments. Just by getting you there (most in unusual and “colorful” parts of town), they are guaranteed a “kick-back” from the owner. Be alert to those scams.

Other times it may be the beginning of a very complex scam where you are “the mark”, so try to stay in control of yourself and in control of any situation in which you may put yourself.

My Tale of Woe: The Infamous Asian Card Game

Manila Bay is a great photography location, but it is also a favorite hunting ground for scammers.

This young, well dressed fellow walked up to me one afternoon while I was photographing in the area. He started a friendly conversation and then asked if I would like to join him and his family for lunch? We continued to enjoy each others company as I followed him to and thru this shantytown laced by open sewers. I quickly found out we were in the middle of one of Manila’s worst slums. The location alone should have been my first clue that all was not right, but I walked on with this engaging young man anyway. When we arrived at the his home and entered, three other men were sitting around a card table. Red flags started to flash in my head! I noticed right away that there was no lunch and no family anywhere to be found. Instead, I was offered a cold San Miguel Beer, which I declined. During this time my senses were on alert waiting for the next piece of the puzzle to unfold. I didn’t think I was in immediate danger, so I stayed and sat down to listen to the pitch given by this “nice young fellow”! He said the deal was this…. He took out the playing cards and began to explain this very complex strategy for us to work as a team to rip off some third party. We would all work together getting another traveler to the game and then cheat him. He went on and on explaining his tactics, when I realized I was in fact “their mark”. My curiosity had been more than satisfied! Before they had a chance to react and without hesitating for a second, I stood up, quickly left with a wave goodbye to the surprised con men, and hurried past the sewers out of the shantytown.

Photo of Monk in Bangkok, Thailand by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

Bangkok, Thailand: The photo says it all. Asia is rich in photography gifts and diversity–from Monks to Buddha’s Footprints Travel Services to acquiring free beer all in one shot.

To cheat others out of their trip doesn’t bring good karma. Any fellow traveler who participates in this type of scam gets what he/she deserves. Be on the lookout for this common scam.

You may be asking yourself, “How does this happen?” It’s very easy in the “country hopping” arena to fall victim and forget the world–to step too close to the edge, to lose sight of your pack, to get drawn in, to have 3 pairs of shoes stolen on one trip.

Listen to your “gut instincts” when they tell you you’re making a bad choice. When you override that warning and something bad happens the consequences can be horrible. You are the only one who can make the decision.

Note: Never ever accept food, candy, opened or mixed drinks from stranger. Be sure you feel you can trust the source. It could be a nightmare waiting to happen. Sometimes the best outcome is waking up naked and penniless with a terrible drug induced hangover. Other results have been known to be much worst.

Always Be Respectful and Don’t Lose Your Temper

In Asia, as in many countries, if you cannot control yourself, others will lose respect and literally laugh at you, so stay calm. In Thailand the locals realize the ways of the Thai and the Farang (foreigner) are different and they are very patient to accommodate foreigners who are respectful. Don’t ruin it for travelers who follow you. Having respect towards others will set the tone for the success of all of your photo travel adventures. Keep smiling and the magic will happen.


This article is not meant to scare or discourage you from getting out there to travel. It’s a tool to help the traveler become aware and think ahead before finding yourself in that awkward position. So get out there and “take a big bite of that travel apple”. Savor the feeling of discovery and the freedom which awaits you. There is excitement and life memories waiting just around that next corner, it’s just up to you to capture those moments.

Be safe and happy travels.

Photo of sunset at Ko Samet Island, Thailand by Ron Veto
Copyright © Ron Veto 2010 All rights reserved.

Ko Samet Island, Thailand: Always searching for that perfect sunset, I discovered this beautiful quiet cove. I used a coral+blue graduated filter on the top and a light coral+blue graduated filter coming up from underneath. Then I floated around until dinner time….

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Star

Read the Introduction…

Photo Wanderlust – Part I: Packing for “Country Hopping” Adventure Photographers

Photo Wanderlust – Part II: Preparing for a “Country Hopping” Photo Adventure

Photo Wanderlust – Part IV: Bus Travel for a “Country Hopping” Photo Adventure

Photo Wanderlust – Part V: “Hunting People” with My Camera

Photo Wanderlust – Part VI: “Photo Shooting Strategy”

Photo Wanderlust – Part VII: “Shooting Silhouettes”

Photo Wanderlust – Part VIII: “Serendipity”

by Ron Veto

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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