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I Caught a Thief in Zipolite – Lock Hotel Room Door Tip

Always Lock Hotel Doors, Theft of Opportunity is Everywhere ZIPOLITE, Mexico- I had previously written about theft in Zipolite, Mexico as a general precaution for traveling anywhere — as theft is more often an action of opportunity than something premeditated and plotted. But I wrote this piece a touch removed from the source, as I [...]

Always Lock Hotel Doors, Theft of Opportunity is Everywhere

ZIPOLITE, Mexico- I had previously written about theft in Zipolite, Mexico as a general precaution for traveling anywhere — as theft is more often an action of opportunity than something premeditated and plotted. But I wrote this piece a touch removed from the source, as I generally follow a pretty strict standard opperating procedure that greatly limits people being able to steal from me easily. But this was until someone tried to rob me in my hotel room.

Close and lock hotel room door when leaving the room

It was early morning, and my wife awoke and got out of bed before me. The room was dark, the windows were still draw shut, my daughter was still fast asleep, and I rolled around, staring at the ceiling a little before getting ready to face another beautiful day on the beach. It was probably around seven AM, and a Mexican guy walked by our room. I recognized him as a guest staying a few doors down the hall. I watched as his body quickly blipped out the light that shown through the crack which had been left open between the door and its frame when my wife exited the room to go and use the bathroom downstairs in the hotel.

I don’t stir — it is normal for people to walk by rooms in a hotel.

Then the guy walked by again — this was funny.

Then again, this time bumping my door open a little more — I was alerted, though not alarmed.

I was laying in bed awake, there was not too much to worry about: I truly doubted the possibility of a forced entry and violent encounter in these circumstances. I looked at my camera that was laying upon a table near the now very much ajar door.

The guy then returned a third time, opened the door, and stealthy made for my camera.

I jumped up from bed, yelled, and forced a quick retreat.

All my possessions remained in tact, the failed thief ran for his room and quickly shut the door.

Travel tip: if you leave your hotel door open, be prepared for people entering.

It is my impression that this guy thought that the room was empty or that the people in it were still sleeping. The room was dark, I am sure that he did not have a vantage point that would allow him to see me awake in bed. What this guy more than likely saw was my wife exiting the room leaving the door slightly open, my camera through the opening, and a dark and quiet room beyond. In point, an opportunity for easy theft was presented.

“If an American is robbed they can just buy new things.”

The thief went for the gold, he failed.


Upon getting out of bed, I thought of filing a complaint with the hotel owner, but, ultimately, did not bother.

What is the penalty for a failed attempt at theft?


This guy was staying in a room a few doors down from me, his aliby was all too perfect: “Oh, sorry, I walked into the wrong room.”

This, ultimately, was his biggest offence.

Theft does not begin until an item is seized, up until that point it is all speculation, and a thief has little to loose.

I figured that I would let the owner know if we passed by each other and it came up. It didn’t.

It was not my impression that this Mexican guy was a professional thief hiding out in a hotel robbing people on holiday. No, it is my impression that this guy saw an opportunity and went for it — it probably seemed far too easy.

Most tourism theft is “by opportunity” rather than by plan. If a camera is left sitting out by a campfire and someone takes it, they are taking advantage of a presented opportunity; if someone jumps out from a dark alley and puts a knife to your throat, then this is by plan. It is somewhat easy to avoid planned theft — staying out of certain parts of town at certain hours, not flashing valuables in the street, and staying away from bars late at night is often enough to do it. But opportunity theft is a little more difficult to avoid, as it can come from anywhere, from almost anybody.

It is difficult to be on guard against theft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when traveling — it is truly a lot of work. The military uses something called a standard operating procedure to enable soldiers to take the proper course of action in the proper circumstance without needing to think too much about it: they just do the same thing every time, no questions asked. I do not want to always think about people robbing me, so I follow a standard operating procedure that inhibits theft all the time, no questions asked.

SOP for preventing hotel theft

  1. Unless someone is awake in my room, up and about, I always close and lock the door. Even if I am just going to the toilet across the hall or for a stroll out to the balcony, I lock the door.
  2. I try to keep valuables away from any open window or doorway.
  3. I try not to have my valuables visible from outside my room. I do not want people peeking in to see where I stash my money or the bag that I lock my computer up in. I do not even want people to know that I have anything more valuable than the shirt on my back and the boots on my feet.
  4. Prior to leaving the room, I lock up my valuables inside a thick messenger’s bag, lock this bag to the bed frame, and stuff it under the bed and out of view.
  5. I try to choose a room that is deep in the hotel, has working locks on doors and windows, is difficult to access from the outside, and does not have widows facing the street where people can look in and see what I have.

Note, I say try for a few of my suggestions above. I admit, that all hotels are structured differently, and it is sometimes difficult to accomplish this entire standard operating procedure. But this is what I shoot for when traveling and living in hotels, and I am usually able to meet my security criteria wherever I go.

As I have written elsewhere, theft by opportunity is everywhere, and it is a real buzz kill to always be on guard against theft, but I am sure that it is even more of a buzz kill to be robbed.

The above incident shows that a person will enter a hotel room with the door left ajar if it seems as if it is unoccupied. These people will also steal whatever they can get. It is difficult for me to call these people thieves, as it is my impression that stealing is not their prime occupation, but they are opportunists.

Shutting and locking your hotel room door cuts down on these silver platter opportunities for theft.

Note: I do not fault my wife for this attempted theft. She did not violate the above standard operating procedure: she knew that I was awake in the room, the thief, apparently, did not.

Filed under: Travel Safe, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 87 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3348 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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