Misguided Feelings: Coping with Being Robbed

Though I´ve previously stated that I would be taking a break from posting, and wait until procuring a new laptop in the U.S. to continue, I´ve realized that being able to share this journey of mine is just as important to me as the traveling itself, even if there are some negative experiences to report.  However, instead of stressing out about continuity and retracing my steps from a couple of weeks back, I decided to skip ahead to present day and start writing again from this moment.

And in this moment, my normal travel routine has been replaced with one centered around coping with my feelings after being robbed in Valparaiso.  It wasn´t until today that I realized that I actually have to add a ¨clarifying detail¨ regarding the incident itself, in order for my feelings to be legitimate or socially acceptable and not characterized as overdramatic.  The detail is that this wasn´t a simple and quick purse snatching in a café or a crowded street, but rather a physical attack by three teenage boys who knocked me down, held me down and manically pulled at my arms and hands as they tried to free my backpack and camera from my now recoiled and terse body.  During this entire time, the length of which I actually have no concept, the most terrifying part was that they didn´t utter a single word to me to reveal what their true intentions were.  After they left and I realized that they only wanted my material possessions, it is from here that I found myself beginning the path of processing all that just happened and trying to determine what it meant for me in the bigger picture so that I could continue living the life I love so much.

The Initial Shock

After the three teenagers were satisfied that they retrieved everything of value from me, they calmly and slowly walked off, no doubt like kids at Christmas eager to see what new spoils awaited them in the mystery package previously known as my daypack.  I imagine they expected to find cool electronics and a wallet full of cash.  I´m sure the laptop earned a few high-fives, the journal was probably tossed aside after a brief inspection, perhaps my red scarf was saved as a gift for one of their girlfriends or mothers, and they were a bit bewildered by the calculator-looking device that is used to access my Dutch bank account online.  The one thing I was certain of though was that my iPhone and my wallet were both still in my jacket pockets and I quickly picked myself up off the ground and ran back to safety, a mere block away, before they noticed a disappointing absence of cash and a communication device common to most travelers.

Naturally, I attracted some stares from indifferent strangers passing by on the street as I haphazardly moved forward, still nervously twitching and bawling my eyes out.  I saw a bar and immediately, instinctively entered to have a beer and gather myself.  After stumbling through what felt like a neverending interrogation about all that happened with a bartender who could plainly see my distraught state of mind, I sat down with my beer and pulled out my iPhone to begin the long process of rebuilding my confidence, my trust in people and my motivation to continue traveling.

For this purpose I chose to lean on a ¨friendly¨, someone who I knew to be both care about me and who wouldn´t judge me harshly.  This was D (I´m too tired and fussed to make up fake names at the moment), my Mongol Rally teammate who has become something more than a friend over the last few weeks (another personal story which I´m too tired to explain so please go with it).  We talked at great length about the incident and it helped immensely to shield my helpless state of mind from thoughts of self-blame and doubt as his two main points were that it wasn´t my fault and this won´t stop me from doing what I loved.  I also leaned on one of my college friends and fellow avid traveler for the non-judgmental female perspective.  Together these two initial human connections with the familiar made a world of difference to me.  I can never thank the both of them enough for helping me keep it together.  Thought even as I regained the nerve to venture outside the protective shield afforded me by the bar, I quickly learned from my first shudder and recoil at the sight of a young man, that I still had a long way to go before feeling right again.

The Concept of ¨Material Things¨

As I slowly and cautiously made my way back to my couchsurfing host´s house, I began thinking about all that was lost in my backpack – the camera, the laptop and my journal, all of the main storage devices of all of my memories and work over the last seven months.

Even though I´m well aware that there are those who view my blog as insignificant and a frivolous pursuit, it still brings me great joy to share my traveling experiences with those who are interested, to interact with others who share the same passion to travel and even to hear stories from those who are inspired by what I´m doing.  Thus, losing the main tools to do that which I do meant so much more than losing a few replaceable ¨material things¨ as a few were quick to mention.  It was my livelihood and my motivation.  In my journal, I had kept all of the notes and ideas I had for achieving my ultimate dream of writing a book, something which many people didn´t understand was irreplaceable.  I also didn´t take kindly to the obvious question of ¨why didn´t you back everything up?¨  I was well aware of the idiocy of not doing that, but I couldn´t see any point of bringing up the topic other than to shame me.  For the moment I did the only thing I could think of and bought a new notebook and pen to start rebuilding my body of work.

Defending the Right to Feel

One of the things that shocked me the most about this whole ¨character building¨ experience was the reaction of others.  Some came through unexpectedly and expectedly, but others did not.  Some people also left me feeling worse either through indifference or misguided sentiments.  Indifference, I can understand.  Up until now, I dealt with my emotions regarding the situation in a very light-hearted manner.  It was the misguided, though well-intentioned sentiments that I really struggled with to understand and accept.

The first sentiment of concern was what I characterize as ¨selfish curiosity¨.  Being a victim of violence is no doubt traumatic for the person who experienced it, but it does also have various affects on those even slightly acquainted with the victim because I think it´s safe to say that all criminal acts with a human element scare all of us unbelievably.  I´ve also come to believe that the defense mechanism we as humans use to counter these fears is not actually avoiding risky situations, but rather by building up a mental case for why such an incident will never happen to us.  Here enters the ¨selfish curiosity¨ interrogations from those who mean well and may or may not be genuinely concerned.  As my friend Stefan from Puno once pointed out, ¨We need to feel like there was some identifiable reason for why a certain person was a victim.¨  Armed with such information, we can then reason that because we´re not like that person or we would not do certain things, such an incident will never happen to us.  However, upon answering endless questions probing every detail of the crime, the victim is no doubt bound to come to the conclusion that in some way it was her fault.  I automatically fell into a bit of self-doubt because I´m a foolish woman who couldn´t just live a normal life, settling down and getting married.  I just had to go traveling to South America by myself, so it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.

In parallel with this self-doubt, I also became concerned about letting down the ¨cause¨ – how would other travelers react to me perpetuating the troubled image of how dangerous it is to travel alone or travel in South America by doing something stupid like getting robbed.  Then I imagined my credibility would be shot and people would begin dissecting my character to determine why it was certain that someone like me would be robbed.  For the most part though, I´ve been able to keep these specific feelings at bay due in no small part to D´s support and encouragement.

The second sentiment of concern and probably the one with which I struggle the most, is the ¨At least you´re okay¨ statement or some other gentle reminder that material things can be replaced.  While I fully recognize that there´s something to be said about being alive and physically intact, and I know in my heart of hearts that the intention is good, all that my fragile psyche hears when someone says this is simply that I have no right to feel as upset as I am and I should get over it already.  I then start to wonder why I´m acting like an ungrateful brat all of a sudden and then feel as though I have to reveal some more juicy details so that people will give me a break.  This leads me to wonder why, we as a society, feel the need to rank each other´s emotional pain and passive-aggressively put forth an unspoken subjective standard for behavior based on how that emotional pain ranks in the spectrum.  Why is compassion in such a short supply that we feel the need to make people qualify their demand for it?  I´m sure that in the past I´ve been guilty of similar ridicule, but my experience now has made me realize that we as a society accomplish nothing by forcing another human being experiencing a raw emotion to qualify it.  Pain is pain and no one should have to fight to convince herself that it either doesn´t exist or is not valid in order to appease others.


There´s certainly something to be said about the therapeutic effects of unleashing one´s emotions.  Writing this post, even if it is about a negative experience, has helped me sort out why I´m angry and disappointed, and has given me back what was lost in my backpack, the ability to share my travel experiences again.  I´m still quite shaken up about traveling alone and still spending most of my days indoors glued to my iPhone, my last connection with a familiar world of trustworthy faces, but I expect this to be a feeling that needs time to work its way through my system.  I actually decided to cut out a few stops in my last few weeks of traveling through South America because I think the less hectic travel schedule will be conducive towards gaining back my nerve to explore.  For now, the strategy is simply to make strides each day and continue the journey of learning about the world.


26 thoughts on “Misguided Feelings: Coping with Being Robbed

  1. Wow, I hadn’t realised you were physically attached during the theft. This reminds me of the time I was attacked whilst walking to the Amstelpark tennis centre back in Amsterdam by 4 guys. I too was forced to the ground and they got away with my mobile phone which was in my pocket. At the time, I too was actually blambing myself for not being able to kicked the crap out of the 4 guys. Stupid really. For many weeks, I was very careful making sure I was walking in areas that was well lit and busy with people or traffic. That feeling of insecurity does go away after a bit. Plus, I did find talking about the experience really helped. Don’t let this little saga shorten you travels. It’ll be like caving in to terrorists. Hopefully, the experience, however horiffic, will make you a much strong person. Hugs. p.s. love reading your blogg and will be looking out for the book one day 🙂

    1. Thanks Wilson and sorry for your experience as well. It has helped a lot just putting it out there even though I don’t like the vulnerability and worry about sounding like a whiney brat. Thanks for the love and support!

  2. This was the first time I stumbled across your blog and was so sad to read what happened to you. Although I don’t know you, I’m glad that you are physically okay, but emotionally, it will take time to get over this. While I’ve been fortunate enough not to have had such an experience so far, I know that it would leave me feeling much as you do, and I’d be terribly upset at the loss of my photos, etc. I am glad that you have found the ability to share your experiences again and hope that you find the confidence in your solo travel that you once had. It would be such a shame if these boys were successful in robbing you of that, in addition to all that they have already taken.

    1. Thank you Mary. It’s funny one if the things I’m learning is the importance of interactions with strangers or even people who don’t know you so well. One of the things that is helping me is the kindness of strangers who don’t know my story, since it was strangers who shattered my confidence in humanity. It’s amazing what a long way helping someone with something as simple as bus directions or a comment on a blog can do. Thank you for readIng and wishing you plenty of memorable and safe travels as well.

  3. Keep doing what ur doing Lisa! Your traveling lifestyle and not giving into societal expectations of a woman having to settle
    down and get married, is admirable and awesome! Don’t feel like you have to justify your feelings about this incident to anyone. Don’t let this stop you from pursuing yor dreams, it’s amazing what your mind is capable of in terms of retrieving memories in written form that have been stolen from you. Can’t wait to read more of your blog and eventually your book! Pura Vida!

  4. This is a tough one to handle, Lisa, and you sound like you have it in perspective. Bad things happen to good people, so don’t overthink it. It is what it is and now you have to respond to it. Never give up your journey or any of your dreams. Nobody can take that away from you unless you let them. Take Care!

  5. I’m so sorry Lisa! Sending you a big virtual hug and healing thoughts. You are a brave woman for sharing your story, and I am so happy to see you continuing to inspire with your words. Wishing you safe travels.

  6. Yikes, my condolences. Being robbed or attacked is the underlying menace of traveling, but to address one of your worries, it doesn’t diminish your traveler chops, it increases them! It goes on the resume above the sections for border crossings and grungy accommodation.

    Unfortunately that doesn’t replace the tangible memory links, help with the profound violation of personal space that you experienced, or the damage your trust in strangers underwent. Nothing helps the first (good thing you have this great blog though), time I guess helps the second, and continuing to travel helps the third, as the percentage of shitbags who do things like this is thankfully quite small, though as always with shitbags, they are disproportionately visible.

    To my mind it is obvious that you have zero fault in it, and I’m guessing/hoping the people who say “at least you weren’t hurt” don’t mean to invalidate your feelings, but to express gratitude that you’re okay. Or maybe some of them are just butt-nuggets. And what you said about people needing to find a proof for themselves that it can’t happen to them is right on, but pity the fearful among (and within) us.

    Anyway, I give you a traveler’s salute, best wishes, and owe you a beer/taco/choclo/plastic baggy of coconut milk…you get the point.

  7. After traveling alone with no incident in a few Latin American cities, I was just mugged tonight on the way to the laundromat half a mile away from my home in Chicago. Your post was the first to come up when I googled “emotional release from being mugged”. I took a hit to the face and lost a whopping $10 in laundry money, but I’m alright. I just feel like something is unfinished, like “what do I do now?” Thanks for posting this. Traveling is cool and I hope to do lots more of it. Have fun on the rest of your journey!

    1. Hi Sean – Thanks for your comment. I’m really glad this helped. I get at least 10 hits a week from search engine terms “feelings after being mugged/robbed/burgled”. It’s a weird feeling because being mugged is definitely not a “sympathetic” crime in most peoples’ minds. I’ve spoken to several people who have been mugged in South America, the US and Europe and it’s no picnic for anyone afterwards even if they didn’t get physically hurt. It seems the emotional toll and feelings of guilt and stupidity are the biggest stress inducers, but nonetheless real than a physical scar. The important thing, and my boyfriend who was also mugged says this too, is to surround yourself with positive people – people who don’t tell you “to get over it already” or what have you. People react differently and you’ll probably find that you may not react as you would have imagined. So what you do now is entirely up to your own whims. I would say to let things unfold naturally and be kind to yourself and your ego about it. Hopefully you can take some comfort in knowing a bunch of other people out there have the same feelings of uncertainty and confusion about these situations. Take care!

  8. Hi Lisa, apologies for resurrecting an old post, and sorry hear about what happened to you last year.

    A couple of weeks ago I was mugged at knifepoint (not whilst travelling, at home in manchester, uk). I was not physically hurt and I didn’t lose a great amount in terms of what it will cost to replace what was stolen.

    I thought that I was fine and didn’t think I was too shaken, however after having returned home after visiting my parents, I now feel VERY vunerable at night and I have lost the feeling of confidence and security I used to have walking around my own area.

    Now that you are a few months down the line, I’d be REALLY grateful for any advice you could give me about the best way to deal with this and rebuild my confidence. I am sure that that time, as per, will heal all wounds, but would you recommend any action for me to take now?

    Many thanks, let me know when you write that book!



    1. Hi Dominik,

      So sorry to hear about your incident. It’s so weird how being mugged affects people differently. It’s one of those incidents where it’s not the worst thing that could have happened so sometimes you feel shame over feeling as shaken up, but then some people aren’t affected at all. Who knows? I do hope however you find some comfort in knowing that this post is actually the most popular on my site and it’s because of search engine terms like, “feelings after being mugged”. A lot of people out there feel messed up after being mugged and I think it does help to hear other people’s stories. I don’t really know what you can do except just take it one day at a time. I was rather depressed and agitated and lost my motivation to travel at all. I hung around the hostels far more than usual and just bided my time before I could return to the US where I would supposedly feel safe. I took little steps in terms of going outside and eventually felt better. I thought that when I returned to the US though, that everything would feel fine and it wasn’t the case. I came out here to Fort Collins to live with my boyfriend and I was freaking out over little things like him leaving his iPhone on the table on the sidewalk side, making sure doors were locked and groups of men shook me up the most. I even had a couple of meltdowns over the incident. But like you said, time healed the wounds and I feel more normalized about everything. It’s been about 8 months now and the last time I really thought about it was 5 months ago. I’m now planning a trip to Guatemala with a friend and still feel apprehensive, but we’ll see. My advice to you is just to not be too hard on yourself with “getting over it”. This is something you just have to let run its course. I hope this helps. Feel free to e-mail or whatever if you’d like to talk more!

  9. Hi Lisa,
    I also found your blog after googling about coping with robbery. Two days ago my boyfriend and I were robbed in bright daylight under the nose of the police in Rio de Janeiro. Before leaving i had read hundreds of pages on safety in Rio and how to stay safe. And honestly, i thought about the violence in Rio as something that happened to other people…the people we saw with big cameras in their hand or speaking english loudly. But no, it was us and i thought about millions of ways of how we could have avoided this or should have reacted. However, the reality is that we did everything right. It all happened so fast we had no way to go, we were not harmed physically and we actually didnt loose anything valuable because we had prepared for it by carrying almost no money, no credit cards in the bag and an old camera. But simply because i thought it would ‘happen to other peopld less careful than us’, i underestimated how heavy it is emotionally to cope with being threatened by a knife. And because we know that our stuff has no value it hurts when i think about our old camera, my little bag and our carefully marked rough guide being somewhere in the trash because they have no use for it.
    We tried to deal with it by leaving Rio and moving on to a small town . Everyone here says the town is super safe and that if something gets stolen from a tourist, it makes the local news. But we feel anxious and suspect every teenager of being another mugger. However, after two days we already feel slightly better, much of that has to do with your blog. It made us feel supported and less alone. It is comforting to know that even seasoned travellers are sometimes at the wrong place at the wrong time and that it has nothing to do with stupidity but just bad luck.
    We dont know yet if we ever come back to south america or brazil. In all honestly, we have never met so many friendly people on a trip as here in brazil, but those three thugs seem to overshadow that now. Hopefully it wears off and we can remember the other 24 days of our trip during which we saw beautiful things surrounded by friendly strangers wanting us to go home with a good image of they gorgeous country.
    Thanks again for writing such an honest post in your blog. I cant wait until i read the rest of your adventures!

    1. Hi Ellen,

      I’m really sorry to hear about what happened to you and your boyfriend, but glad you were able to find some support on the interwebs. I hear everything you’re saying and that was really the driving reason for why I shared this story. It’s always bothered me to hear from seasoned travelers that erroneously “guarantee” someone else’s safety as long as you use common sense and don’t do anything “stupid”. It’s really a disservice to people who are robbed and then feel terrified and embarrassed because they’re now associated with these careless travelers. It’s nonsense. Being robbed can have just as much to do with bad luck as any other factor and in my opinion, it is more likely to happen in Latin American countries than other countries in the world.

      I’m glad you shared your story as well as I think the more stories out there, the more it helps people who have had the misfortune of being robbed. I hope you enjoy the rest of your travels and feel better each day, but don’t feel ashamed of being traumatized by this just because you weren’t physically hurt. Some of my friends who’ve been robbed as well as myself still get nervous. Take care and safe travels wherever you go next!

      1. Thanks for the reply Lisa! We’re a couple of days further and we do feel better. We started looking through our photos and we saw amazing things which we are starting to enjoy again.
        Enjoy your travels too! The world is too beautiful to stay at home 🙂

  10. Thank you for sharing this, it has really helped me feela little less isolated in my (what feels like over dramatic) feelings about the fact i was robbed of everything (iphone, ipad, bank card, cash, go-pro, sunglasses) by 4 men on a bus in Ecuador 4 days ago. I’m a 33 year old single, white female traveller and am trying to deal with the fact I now, very out of character, feel very fearful & upset & when I venture out of the hostel have mini anxiety attacks about being outside & feel so exposed & vulnerable and I hot foot it back to the hostel every time. I feel like it’s so over the top to feel like this, but I can’t seem to help it. I’m noramlly so rational. The most difficult part for me is that I’m still travelling alone but have no feeling of safety or security and the idea of having fun & exploring, which is what I’m here to do, is the last thing I am capable of right now. Hoping time will heal & give me my confidence back. But again, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this, it’s given me some solace whilst I try and sort my head out. Fi.

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