When it comes to protecting our stuff while traveling, such methods as chaining our backpack to our train seat, using a PacSafe when leaving our bag in our hotel room and hiding our valuables in random places, go a long way in easing our minds. We certainly don’t want to take any chances as the thought of having our computer, camera, favorite sandals and boxes of extra contact lenses stolen remains permanently in the back of every traveler’s mind.
Just like home owners who don’t want their property broken into, the above tactics of travelers are the equivalent of those “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted” and “Private Property, Keep Away” signs.
And those signs and those chains do tend to scare some would-be criminals from thinking about stealing something from us. “Don’t even think about it”, is the message we’re trying to send and to an extent, it is effective.
But is there another way to deter people from wanting to steal our stuff?
A VIRGIN KEEPS THE TROUBLEMAKERS AWAY
A few months ago, during my stay in Mexico, I was invited to spend a week on a beautiful 1000-acre ranch in the Mexican state of Queretaro. The property was amazing, with endless rows of Paulownia trees, hills covered in Agave, free-roaming horses, creatively designed cottages and offices, an intriguing worm manure operation, endless fruit trees and more. But in terms of security, what surprised me was that the only thing separating all of this from the outside world was a simple chain-link fence bordering the property. None of the buildings were ever locked, the horses were never tied down and the fruit trees were in plain view of everyone walking by.
Yet despite being surrounded by a poverty-stricken, rough and tumble village, according to the owner of the ranch, nothing had ever been stolen and nobody had ever been caught trespassing. In fact, quite the opposite had occurred. Despite the massive gap in wealth between the ranch and the village, the two existed in incredible harmony.
This confused me as it just seemed impossible that nobody would be tempted to jump a fence and grab a handful of oranges or peaches instead of having to spend a good chunk of their monthly salary to buy the same fruits from a shop.
And it was not until I embarked on an extensive walking tour of the ranch that I began to understand what was happening. Scattered all throughout the property, on fences, on trees and on posts stuck into the ground were a variety of colorful signs. But these signs did not issue the familiar stern warnings of “Keep Out” and “Stay Away”. Instead, alongside such positive statements as “Thank you for respecting our property” and “Love your friends and neighbors” was always a large picture of the Virgin of Guadeloupe, an image of the Virgin Mary that is widely cherished and celebrated among Mexican Catholics.
While the owner of the ranch is far from being a religious man, the people living around him are devout Catholics. And so he forms a connection with them through religion. Unlike a “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted” sign, which creates a division, the pictures of the Virgin of Guadeloupe combined with the positive sayings, creates an all-encompassing community. And when people feel as if they are a part of a community, they tend to avoid wanting to create any problems.
HOW DOES THIS HELP TRAVELERS?
After pondering the above concept, I realized that I often use a similar method while traveling. For example, you’ll never find me in India without a large sticker of the Hindu god Ganesh slapped onto my backpack. Likewise, whenever I’m in a Muslim country, I tend to always carry around a small book of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed. And whenever I leave my bag unattended, I place that book right on top. I also tie Buddhist prayer beads to my backpack when I’m in Thailand and often times I’ll put a sticker of the country’s flag, as I did when backpacking around the Czech Republic, on my backpack. (That last one doesn’t have to do with religion, but it works in the same way.)
Why do I do this? To create a connection with the people around me.
And then I hope that such a connection, no matter how tiny and seemingly insignificant it may be, will dissuade the infamous pickpockets of Prague from stealing from a fellow Czech citizen or someone in Mumbai from grabbing at my backpack while Ganesh is closely watching their every move.
Now, does the fact that I’ve never had anything stolen from my backpack during 11 years of travel have anything to do with these tactics? I have no idea, but I’m quite certain that they have helped dissuade at least a handful of people from trying.
Think about this. If you were wandering around your home town and you suddenly stumbled upon two backpacks leaning up against a wall, would you steal the one that had a picture of Buddha (or any other religious figure that is important to you) on the front or the one that didn’t? Sorry, that was a trick question as I know that you wouldn’t steal either! At least I hope that’s the kind of readers I have! But let’s imagine, for a brief moment, that we could commit this crime. In that case, given my fondness for the Buddhist religion, I would take the Buddha-less backpack, as the picture, and the connection to my life that it creates, would make me think twice about taking the other one.
Of course, there’s plenty of people out there who don’t care at all whether or not they are connected in any way to the owner of the goods they want to steal. And they’ll just ignore the prayer beads or the Ganesh sticker, grab what they can and take off. But I’m willing to bet that such methods are effective to the point where it’s worth putting them into action.
Besides, there’s also an entirely different reason to try this out…
THE EXTRA (AND MORE IMPORTANT) BENEFIT
Even if this attempt at creating a meager connection with a particular country and its people doesn’t reduce the risk of running into any problems, it will undoubtedly become the starting point of many interesting conversations and experiences. As silly as it may sound, such a simple move as placing a sticker on your backpack does make a statement, telling local people that you have an interest in their country and in their culture. This small act will pique the curiosity of those you come into contact with, enticing them to not only ask questions, but to provide you with a rewarding opportunity to interact with the local population, to be a part of that community.
What are your thoughts? Do you do something similar when you’re traveling?
Photo credit: J-Cornelius