Life as a digital nomad is filled with adventure. Unfortunately, getting robbed is one of the scariest adventures you can live during that life – and it happens. In my case, it happened while in Bogota, Colombia. It was scary and intense and I am sharing everything about that horrible experience here.
I am also going to share with you some tips on what to do if you get robbed in Bogota – or anywhere else in the world. We all hope it will never happen, but it’s best to prepare for the worst.
How did it happen?
I had a gut feeling that something bad was about to happen. I was walking up a hill, alone, during my second day in Bogota. The place was beautiful and I considered it safe.
It was dark outside, although not too late. There were still people roaming around and you could still see police patrolling the streets. But I ended up in a dark spot, alone.
A group of 5 or 6 individuals was coming down towards me. It was intense. As soon as they saw me, they started staring at me. At first, I though that they were maybe drunk and looking for trouble. I felt like turning away and running, but my stupid “it will look ridiculous” concept kicked in.
I took a deep breath and ignored them. I couldn’t ignore the fact that there was nobody else on the street. Millions of thoughts were going through my mind, as the group was casually closing in to me. They were saying nothing, but kept staring at me. I was worried for my life. But I kept pushing, one step at a time.
“Just a few more steps and I’ll get past them.”
I kept saying that as I was walking up the hill, somewhere in Bogota. Then all hell broke loose.
Even more casually, one guy broke off the group and crossed the street towards me. My heart skipped a few beats and I knew something bad was about to happen. He said something in Spanish and I simply froze. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. My mind wasn’t working, nothing was.
A few moments later – and it’s all a blur for me – the guy had my back squeezed to a wall and a blade pointed at my neck, just like in the movies. The other people were around us, looking away, probably on the lookout for police or other passers by. We were all alone.
Around my waist, there was a fanny pack that I used to carry around with money and other minor stuff. I also had a bag full of groceries that I had dropped somehow when they attacked, but they didn’t seem to care about it. The man with the blade was dark skinned and much shorter than I was. However, I was totally petrified.
With one expert hand, he took away the fanny pack, saying “Callate!” (Calm down). Over and over again. Probably I looked like I was about to start screaming, or faint. Or die. Or all at the same time. It was horrible.
“Telefono,” he demanded asking for my phone. He didn’t even look inside the fanny pack, he was looking straight into my eyes, but I couldn’t look back.
With trembling hands, I barely managed to pull the phone out of my pocket and hand it over. I raised my hands upwards as if saying that I had nothing else left. It was true.
Just a second later, the men were running down the street. They said something in Spanish before leaving, but I had no idea what. My heart was pounding, by head was hurting and I was still glued to that cold, wet wall, unable to move. I probably stood there for 1 minute – or more – it seemed like an eternity anyway.
Then I started walking. My feet were trembling. I probably looked like a dead man walking. I definitely felt like one.
After turning on a few corners without really knowing where to go, I was lost but finally found a police officer. I don’t remember how things happened exactly, but they escorted my back to the hotel. There was a long chat between them and the hotel lady who was translating my story. Of course, I was not expecting to get my stuff back. Everything had happened so fast and I wasn’t even able to describe how the attackers looked like, what clothes they were wearing… I was a wreck. It was a nightmare.
I was lucky that I wasn’t carrying much with me. I lost the equivalent of maybe $20 and some minor stuff in the fanny pack. Fortunately, I didn’t have my passport with me, but I was carrying one of my debit cards. I had also lost my phone, which was extremely painful. I’m never buying the latest models available, but I had my new phone for just a few month. It was a big blow for me, especially since I had many photos that I didn’t have the chance to save as well as many contacts that were lost forever.
I also lost my bag of groceries. The thieves didn’t take it, I simply let it there – I was too shaken to care about it, pick it up or even notice it. I am now smiling when I think about this, but I don’t want to think too often, because chills quickly start up my spine. The robbing experience was horrible.
What to do if you get robbed?
I am sure that all travelers, especially if they go to places which are considered a bit on the unsafe side, know about all the safety measures they should take in order to avoid getting robbed. But just a minor mistake – like the one I did – is enough to see it happen. So what to do if you get robbed in Bogota, Colombia or anywhere else in the world?
1. Try to stay as calm as possible
In my case, it was easy. I was calm because my body simply stopped working. If I had tried to run or scream or fight back, maybe I wouldn’t have been here to tell my story. I know that your possessions are important, but your life matters more!
2. Contact the police ASAP
I ended up meeting a police officer on the streets and he was extremely kind, escorting me back to the hotel. Call the police – or find somebody who can help – and do it as soon as possible. Chances are usually low that they’ll be able to get your stuff back, but it has to be done.
3. Cancel credit cards / phone contracts
If they manage to get your card(s) or phone(s), try to cancel those as fast as possible. Chances are slim that they will be able to use any of them (always use a PIN for your phone!), but it’s better to be safe than sorry! Also, since the contactless technology is now available worldwide, they could still make multiple minor purchases off your money without needing a PIN!
4. Reassess your situation
I was lucky that I wasn’t carrying my passport with me and I still had a backup card and some money stashed at the hotel. Others might not be that lucky. So assess and reassess your situation and make the required moves:
– if you are left with no money, find somebody who can lend you some to live off them. Or call friends back home and through a Western Union transfer, you will be able to get your hand on some much needed cash.
– if you also lose your passport (really, try to NEVER keep the original with you!), things are a bit more difficult. You will have to call the Embassy and ask for guidance. Things will get sorted out, but it will take some time and probably even more money.
5. Take some time off and relax
The day after this nightmare ended, I simply collapsed and was exhausted. I spent the entire day laying in bed, stress eating and doing basically nothing. I watched a few of my favorite series and tried to take my mind away from what happened. It helped a lot, so try to find some time for yourself and try to relax. It is difficult, but you have to get back on track and keep your adventure going on!
I am not trying to scare people away from Bogota or Colombia in general. I’ve been there two times after this unfortunate event and I never felt that there was any sort of danger.
Follow the common steps to prevent this and no matter what happens, don’t get cocky and do what I did: if you see a dark alley with no people on i, ignore it. Stick to populated areas and try to never walk alone during the night when things might be a bit more unsafe.
Bogotoa – just like the other popular places in Colombia – is beautiful and the people there are great. Every country or city has its own set of bad people and this could basically happen to you anywhere in the world. Take all precautions needed to prevent this from happening, but if does happen, cooperate with the attackers and live to tell your story to others.
Bad things like this happen to digital nomads and travelers all the time. It happens to people all the time. These things simply happen. We can do our best to prevent them from happening and we can do even more to minimize potential damage if they do happen… but that’s life and we should not let these types of things stray us away from the path we want to follow.
Did you have any similar experiences while traveling the world? Share them with us in the comment section below!