Do you hear the beach calling you? That soft white sand. The beautiful blue ocean. Waves rolling in or maybe it’s just a tropical sea gently lapping against the shore. There may be crystal clear water waiting for you to go snorkeling.
I really love going to the beach. But if I’m alone or I want to do something together with my loved one, or the friend I’m traveling with, then leaving things on the beach is a risk, especially in less-developed countries such in Southeast Asia and Latin America, but not necessarily any safer in richer nations.
Beach theft is common across the world, from Malta to Mexico to Australia. I don’t want to have to avoid going to crowded sandy beaches for this reason, but there’s always a chance of beach theft. So how do I reduce the chances of this happening?
There are a few things you can think about that can help you with this.
Reconsider What You Really Need to Take Along
I usually leave valuables somewhere safe and that is not on the beach. The hotel where I’m staying is the simplest, though I have to be sure to double-think how safe the hotel is and prepare accordingly (oh the things to worry about!). I then think about what I need to take. I might need some money to cover the cost of the sun lounge rental, or some lunch, or a cold drink or two during the day, so I have a small cash wallet I use. I only take the money that I need so that if it goes then I have other money elsewhere.
A camera’s nice to have, but do I really need to take a DSLR? True I might miss my chance at a killer sunset shot, but I may also get sand in the body and I have to worry about safeguarding it. I have a LUMIX GX850, which I love, and that’s one way to go, as would be a point-and-shoot, but these days a cell phone often does just as well (and I don’t use iPhones, too fussy, too expensive). Obviously it’s not as good as a bigger camera but if I want to take better beach photos then I will usually sacrifice the swimming at that time.
Also, it might be best to use a cheap older cotton bag to carry things rather than a very bright and fancy looking new bag. Sure, it would be nicer to have a really nice bag for your things but it will stand out like a beacon for somebody looking for valuables. Something like a LOCTOTE Flak Sack is also a terrific option for tossing in a whole manner of stuff, and standing little chance of getting slashed, though it’ll run upwards of $100.
Use a Waterproof Bag
There are many different waterproof bags (also known as dry bags) you can use that will let you go swimming and keep your valuables dry. If you have a camera you can even put it in a waterproof casing. I have who’s taken a waterproof bag snorkeling and it worked fine. But test it first without your valuables to make sure it’s watertight. It will float on the water alongside you so it is a bit limiting and makes it difficult to dive but at least you have peace of mind. If you’re going swimming in the waves this might not be very practical. Some good makers to check out are UltraDry and Aquapac.
I’ve used a small dry bag for some cash, credit card and my mobile and not taken a big camera. I made sure that it was well attached with a strap. I’ve also heard that waterproof wallets that you are able to strap to your leg or arm (or arm and a leg!) are effective as well but I have yet to try one.
Use a Locker
There are places on the beach that might let you hire a locker if you hire something else from them. I was at the beach in Bali with a friend and we wanted to go snorkeling together. I found one shop on the beach that had lockers, but they would only rent you a locker if you hired something else from their shop. So we chose the life jackets because my friend was not such a confident swimmer and we could then store our things in the locker. The peace of mind was worth the additional hire cost of the life jacket. We were able to snorkel without distraction for over an hour together, and there was no feeling of concern about the safety of our belongings. Otherwise we would have had to take it in turns to go out into the water which just is not as much fun.
If there is a key with the locker then you will need to put it somewhere safe. I have board shorts with a zipper pocket. For women you are able to buy bikinis with small pockets in them. I have heard of people burying the keys in the sand and I would suggest that you know exactly where that is. Perhaps you might do it under your towel. Or if you do not have anything outside the locker then you may need a stick in the sand or some other identifier or you could end up searching for a while.
At Bondi Beach in Australia they have lockers in the pavilion with a security code which you just pay a set fee for. In Europe there are beaches where you can hire chairs and umbrellas and some of these will provide you a locker as part of this arrangement.
Talk to your hotel about these types of things or a local contact as they might have knowledge of where to go to find lockers, even if it is in a shop near the beach and not directly on it.
Ask Somebody to Keep an Eye on your Things
I also realize that there are other people like me who want to swim. Look at the people around you and see who looks like someone who would like to be able to swim while you watch their things and they can then do the same for you. I would suggest choosing someone who looks more mature, such as an older female solo traveller.
There have been times when I have gone to the beach solo when I have made a point of putting my towel down near an older couple. It is especially good to choose a couple who don’t look like they are spending a lot of time in the water. Then when I have wanted to go for a swim I have asked them to keep an eye on my things while I swim. I have never had any difficulties with this approach. I think most people are understanding of the need to be careful.
You can use sealable plastic bags to store your things then bury them in the sand and place your towel over the top. Obviously you need to be less obvious about burying your things. If somebody is watching you with the intent to steal then they still might see this. But once you put your towel over the top nobody will know there is anything under it but sand.
I’ve seen special sunscreen storage bottles. They look like sunscreen but they are for storing small valuables like cash and keys.
One of the more unusual approaches I have heard of is using a disposable diaper/nappy that looks like it has been used to wrap up valuables and leaving it lying beside other items. It seems very unlikely that somebody is going to steal that.
You need to remember that none of these options is going to be 100% safe but if you reduce the risk then it is much less likely you will have your valuables stolen. If you take something to the beach then there is always a chance it will be taken, so the best option is to take the bare minimum with you, and preferably things you can afford to lose. And there is travel insurance available that will help you out if your things get stolen. But the important thing is to enjoy that time at the beach. I know that it’s like a form of therapy for me and I always feel much better after a relaxing swim in the ocean. I hope that you’ll get the chance to do the same.