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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 [...]

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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.


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Filed under: Travel Safe, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

16 comments… add one

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  • Bob L January 4, 2011, 10:09 pm

    “Do give people the opportunity to steal from you, ”

    Ummmm, sounds like welfare.

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 5, 2011, 12:06 am

      Haha, a typo, will fix. Good catch.

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  • Dave from The Longest Way Home January 5, 2011, 12:41 am

    Good tips as always. But the priceless thing is the disclaimer at the bottom of the post about it not being your wife’s fault. Made me laugh well this morning!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 5, 2011, 6:39 pm

      That was more to save myself, if you know what I mean haha.

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  • Andy Graham January 5, 2011, 5:27 am

    One time in Aeroquipa, Peru a women talked to me, trying to distract me while a small boy or man came up from behind and jumped me. I could not see the person, and thought it was a friend joking around, because he was not strong enough to pull me to the ground. Finally, I was tired of this person hanging on my back and toppled to the ground to relieve me needing to carry the bugger.

    Out ran a neighbor screaming at him, I still thought is one of my friends playing. When I finally saw him, I had one regret….

    Seldom is theft clear, and direct, it is always done in confusion, and not easy to say, who the thief or culprit is, in this situation I was 100 percent sure, and had the moral high ground. I had the right to beat him to a pulp, and did not take the opportunity.

    Oops. Now, Mexico is one of the most corrupt nations on the planet, you cannot beat up a Mexican and allow him or her to know. However, you now have the right to quid pro quo…. hehehe My advice, take his photo and put on your blog, or send to me, I will do so. Opportunity is no excuse for theft, and the last thing any person on the planet wants is their photo shown as a criminal. There is a reason I stopped traveling in Mexico, come to Africa where all they do it cheat, theft is not common.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 5, 2011, 7:08 pm

      Yes, I believe that I probably should have taken more proactive action on this guy. I was just a little exasperated — it is funny experience having a front row seat to someone trying to steal from you haha. If I had reacted quicker I would have chased him down the hall, but in the moment I could not see what good it would do.

      Should have taken his photo. Perhaps we should do a photo gallery of thieves haha.

      Link Reply
  • mike crosby January 5, 2011, 3:10 pm

    Wade, it’s interesting that you and Andy stay in contact. You two are two of my favorite blogs.

    I assume you like my commenting on your blog, but sometimes I’m not so sure. I don’t have the experience you or Andy have, and sometimes when I make a comment I get what I think are unwelcome return comments. Not so much from you, more so with Andy.

    Anyway, what Andy said about confusion during a robbery made a lot of sense. I wish it could be clear cut, I could think, and then follow up with the appropriate action. But in a situation like that, instincts take over.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 5, 2011, 7:12 pm

      That is funny Mike, as Andy was sort of my mentor in this web publishing fiasco. We meet up from time to time when our paths cross around the world, something which I always look forward too.

      It is looking like I am going to need to go to Africa this year to meet him though. Man, a Cameroon to the east of Africa journey could be on the books.

      Don’t worry so much about the commenting, I love to hear from you! Comment as much as you want — please do, as it really helps the discussion grow. Mike, you are an essential part of the VJ community, please keep the comments coming.

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  • Caitlin January 5, 2011, 4:31 pm

    Aw, man. Just think how good it would be for your readers if you had beat that guy up! But I’m Canadian, and I think a sporting match (read: hockey game) is boring without the fistfights…

    On an unrelated note, have you ever been to a bullfight? If not, consider going in Mexico City. It would make for some interesting blogging. I went and it was the most emotionally scarring and supremely entertaining thing I’ve seen.

    Hmmmm sorry I haven’t gotten back to you about that email… still waiting to hear back about that job (which if i get, would start in five days. Not annoying at all…) and that is a big factor.

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 5, 2011, 7:15 pm

      We really need to be in Mexico City so we can share the Stanley Cup finals together. I grew up playing hockey even in high school. Well, until we got in too many bench clearing brawls and had our team dissolved.

      I am going to have to record these incidents of theft better next time for their entertainment value.

      Would love to also go to a bull fight.

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      • Caitlin January 5, 2011, 8:05 pm

        Shouldn’t have made myself sound like that much of a hockey fanatic…. although I do enjoy watching a good game (especially if it’s the Stanley Cup or there’s a good fistfight!)

        Awesome! Bullfighting is interesting to see… I just wish they wouldn’t give them cutesy names like “Buen Amigo” or “Juan Juan.”

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  • Tim December 9, 2011, 7:39 pm

    Just began my first bout of world travel a few days ago and I must say much of your advice has come in handy. This one in particular, the standard operating procedure really gives some peace of mind. Thanks!

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    • Wade Shepard December 10, 2011, 7:56 pm

      Seriously, it is really great to hear when some of the “how to” information here really helps other travelers. It is feedback like this that really keeps this project going. Thanks!

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  • Erik May 30, 2012, 5:59 pm

    Good post. I try to do the same things–I figure it’s better to be overly cautious.

    On a somewhat separate note, I just wanted to at least state the counterpoint to some of the more self-righteous comments about beating up or posting photos of thieves. There is a tendency by a lot of travellers (namely, ones from middle or upper middle class western backgrounds) to assume that anyone from a less ecomically well-off country (or from “one of the most corrupt nations on the planet”) they suspect of theft is indeed guilty (and deserving of either being beat up, publicly reported of being a thief, etc).

    I’m not saying that Wade or any of the comments posted here are based on false assumptions. But, if one of the biggest justice systems/bureaucracies on earth can mistakenly condemn the wrong people ( such as by putting them on death row for 17 years, which has happened, for example, in the USA), then individual travellers can even more easily make the mistake of thinking innocent behavior is theft. There’s a reason why the nations where many of the commenters are from have due process in their legal systems–and even that is not 100% reliable. Individual perception is even less so.

    Again, I am not saying that is the case here (so don’t feel the need to post angry comments in response–it’s unnecessary). I just wanted to state a different perspective. Our perceptions are not always as accurate or reliable as we think.

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    • Wade Shepard May 30, 2012, 8:10 pm


      Thanks for this comment and for sharing another perspective. But it’s my impression that when you’re a first hand witness to someone attempting to rob you it’s pretty safe to accuse them of it.

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  • matt June 10, 2014, 8:01 pm

    This is one of the worst things I’ve ever read. The advice is sound, but the writing is droll, repetitive, and horribly boring.

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