Preparation is the key to a successful business trip. We invest time, energy, and capital into making sure that our corporate travel management tools are as efficient as possible, our luggage is sturdy and packed well, and that our health is strong and jet lag is in check when we step into that important meeting. So it can come as a surprise when our entire trip is thrown off course in a moment.
Unfortunately, getting robbed while traveling for business is more common than we think. The Economist has written about thefts in business class on planes. The TSA tracks luggage theft claims at all U.S. airports, and the number of claims notably grew in the early 2010s. And Jewelers Mutual found that the number of people reporting fine jewelry being lost or stolen while traveling doubled to 20% since 2015 (although they sell insurance, so might have an interest in reporting growth). While hard statistics are hard to come by, ask any group of frequent travelers and you’ll hear at least one tale.
Of course, a sense of awareness is the first step to avoiding a travel theft, but even the most seasoned travelers can get caught off-guard. A top fashion executive told me how he recently spent a business lunch in Barcelona with colleagues where each person had a story of being violated by a European city’s theft issue. Anyone who travels has heard or personally experienced a theft—and the sense of powerlessness that follows.
I was recently robbed while arriving at an international airport for a business trip. I had my luggage organized into my favorite suitcase with my valuables stored in the small handbag that connects to the top of the check-in suitcase. I was greeted by a colleague who graciously picked me up at the airport. We walked to the parking lot while chatting about the weather and the events planned for the upcoming week. I set my handbag next to the car to assist my colleague, who was suffering from a herniated disc, in opening the trunk. It took less than a minute. I turned my back to lift my luggage inside the car and then reached for my handbag, which was gone.
This meant two things: The thief was nearby and had been watching us. I immediately ran through the parking lot, shouting as I made my way to the exit queue, stopping every car to inquire whether they had seen someone or were the "someone." I even ran after a car that tried to snake around my makeshift police stop. Looking back, the thief was probably hidden right next to the car the entire time.
While I wasn’t able to recover (most of) my many valuables, I did learn a valuable lesson in how to act fast when robbed while traveling for business. A swift reaction can help the trip stay its course, ensure that objectives are accomplished, and a sense of security is regained while on the road.
If robbed while traveling, take three deep breaths, then immediately take action. The faster you begin reporting and replacing valuable assets, the less likely it is that the thief can do serious damage. You’ll also need to factor in a few days for the processes needed to receive important cards, technology, and accessories. The event might rattle you more than you expect, so remember it’s okay to lean on a colleague in the moments when you feel overwhelmed.
The first step after any theft is to file a police report. While the police might not ever track down the perpetrator, you’ll need the police report to prove the theft happened when replacing certain items. Find the closest local police station where you can fill out the appropriate paperwork and be certain to receive a copy.
Next, make a list of everything that was stolen as soon as you realize what’s happened. This will make it easier to organize a plan of action. Here's a list of what might be in a stolen bag and what steps to take:
A passport is one of our most valuable items when traveling internationally. Outside of the risk of identity theft, a passport or official substitute will be needed to travel home. You’ll have to contact the local embassy and either make an appointment or show up to make a claim. Embassies will often be able to issue a replacement document for upcoming travel while putting a plan in place for receiving an official replacement once home. They’ll also be able to note that your document was stolen, so it can’t be used to cross borders in your name.
In a case of serendipity, I received a Facebook message from an unknown contact a few days after the theft. They said that my passport had been found on the side of the street. Within a few hours, I was able to retrieve the document and thank the stranger.
Credit cards might be the simplest asset to replace. Credit card companies are prepared for theft and will usually send you a new one, to any address, after a short phone call. If traveling with a business credit card, you’ll have to contact your employer immediately to block and cancel the card. Debit cards can be tougher. They usually take a longer time to arrive, depending on the bank, but should also be canceled immediately.
In my case, the thief was fast and made a purchase at a convenience store near the airport right away. I was able to see the address of the convenience store and call them with the exact time and amount of the purchase. I asked them to save security tapes in hopes that police would be able to access them.
One of the worst items to lose is a laptop. Not only is a laptop integral to being productive on a business trip, but it usually has months or years of saved data inside. Here’s one place where you can be proactive: Be sure to save all your computer’s data on the cloud or a hard drive before any trip. That way, you have all the valuable information saved even if the hardware is stolen.
Next, try to locate the laptop using “Find My Device” or “Find My iPhone.” If you’re lucky, you might be able to track its location. If not, lock the device immediately and contact your employer. The IT team will be able to also lock the device and erase its contents if not found immediately.
If you’re traveling to your company’s office in another city, your own IT department may be able to set up a loaner for you to work on while in town. Otherwise, you can contact computer stores, which sometimes offer short-term rentals on computers. A last resort is to have a new computer shipped to you.
Fortunately, I was holding my iPhone when the theft took place, but smartphones are one of the most targeted items for theft. They’re also often in a bag when traveling. If your laptop and phone are stolen, try to find a public computer or borrow a colleague’s to sign into “Find My Device” or “Find My iPhone,” where you can lock the device and even write a message that will be displayed to whoever has it.
An added obstacle in being robbed while traveling is the sheer amount of information we trust our smartphones to hold. For example, most people today have some form of a mobile payment card in which their banking data is available should the thief open the phone. The New York Times published a substantial guide on how to safeguard technology while traveling.
If you have phone insurance, you can contact your provider, which might be able to send a replacement within days.
Most business travelers carry other expensive technology with them on the road, such as AirPods, noise-canceling headphones, e-readers, or tablets. These are a tough loss because the business traveler is usually responsible for the cost of replacing them. Some credit cards offer insurance on stolen items purchased with the card if they’re worth a certain amount.
These are the most valuable items to cancel, block, report, and replace when traveling for business. In many cases, there are many more personal items in a bag. For example, replacing office key cards and insurance cards will not cost anything, but it will take time and patience to handle.
In my case, there were also essential oils, a new moisturizer, and a set of pearls in my handbag. Perhaps most disappointing of all, however, was a collection of notebooks that I bring with me everywhere. One tracked all my work, one held months of creative writing, and one was a planner with months of personal and professional plans laid out. Those paragraphs that I wrote in train stations and coffee shops were worthless to the thief, but the phrases and ideas that they revealed were precious to me.
Keep your eyes open and stay alert, even once in the company of beloved colleagues. While TripActions can’t prevent theft, we are ready to assist with your travel plans. Learn more here. We wish you the safest travels out there.