The Day When… We Had $1,500 Stolen

Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Before October of last year, we had enjoyed over 4 years on the road with only very minor theft issues. Then, while we were travelling on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, we had $1,500 US stolen from us. That’s no small sum for a couple of English teachers / travel bloggers trying to travel the world. The worst part is that it was likely stolen by a person who we had considered to be a good friend.

It all started in the small city of Murghab which is along the Pamir Highway just inside of the Tajik Border. We were travelling with 2 other backpackers whom we had only known for a few days. The four of us weren’t having the best experience with our driver at the time so, instead of continuing with him for another 2 weeks, we decided to head to META Travel Agency to find a new driver / guide to take us the rest of the way along the Highway.

That is where me met our new driver, a young, friendly, English speaking Kyrgyz man who lived in Murghab. He knew the mountains inside and out and his excellent English meant that we would have a driver and a guide all in one. We all liked him instantly and we were excited to have such a great guy with us for the trip.

New Friends On The Pamir Highway
New Friends On The Pamir Highway

Over the next two weeks, the 5 of us became great friends. We were in the car for about 5 hours / day together, but never had any arguments. Our driver turned out to be the best guide we could have asked for. He went everywhere we did, showing us mountain passes, natural hot springs, stone carvings and secret lakes. We were all enjoying the trip so much that even after 2 weeks of driving, we didn’t want it to end.

Dariece, myself and the two other travellers were together the entire time. Sometimes, our driver would stay back at the car and watch our stuff while we went for a hike or a walk around the local villages. We fully trusted him with our gear and he assured us that the mountains were safe, as long as we kept our things close.

Because there are no ATMs on the Pamir Highway, Dariece and I were carrying about $2,000 in US currency so that we could afford to pay our guide for his services, pay for rooms along the way and have USD left over for our future travels into Uzbekistan and Iran, where our ATM cards wouldn’t work. We always locked our bags and made sure that the money was tucked away somewhere that it couldn’t be found…. except for one time.

Beautiful Hot Springs... Perfect Distraction.
Beautiful Hot Springs… Perfect Distraction.

It was the second to last day of our trip and we had decided to stop at one last hot spring. We had to soak quickly because the airport was closing in Khorog, and we still needed to book our flights back to the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.

Our guide said he would stay back at the car to watch our things and although he had always come into hot springs with us in the past, we thought nothing of his decision. We were happy that someone would be watching our gear.

Men and women soak in different areas at the Garam Chashma Hot Springs, so the girls headed one way, while us guys headed the other. We stripped down and hopped in the springs and we were only soaking for a couple of minutes when our driver appeared. We told him to hop in for a soak, so he did, but he only stayed in for about 1 minute before rushing to put his clothes back on and heading for the car.

We all soaked for about 10 more minutes before getting dressed and ready to go. The girls got to the car first and Dariece noticed that our driver was in the back seat rummaging around. When he saw them, he quickly got out and hopped in the driver seat. After spending 2 weeks with him, Dariece thought nothing of it. He was probably just looking for something in his own bag, which was piled up next to ours in the back of the car.

Jason and I came out a couple of minutes later, got into the car and the five of us started driving towards Khorog to book our flights. It was on that ride that things got a little suspicious, and we should have probably clued into it then.

Our driver stopped at his friend’s house on the way, ran up the driveway, spent about 5 minutes there, and then ran back down to the car. We then carried on to Khorog where we all decided to take our driver out for a big farewell dinner and tip him generously for his amazing guiding and driving skills.

Our Delicious Farewell Dinner Of Indian Curry & Nan Bread
Our Delicious Farewell Dinner Of Indian Curry & Naan Bread

The next day, we boarded the helicopter and bid our farewells to our driver before taking off to Dushanbe.

It wasn’t until we woke up the next morning that we realized we were missing $1,500 US. We looked in our money belt and there were only $20’s and $10’s. I asked Dariece if she had moved the money and when she replied “no”, we both began to panic. We tore apart are backpacks again and again looking for the stack of 15 crisp 100 dollar bills, but they were nowhere to be found.

At that point, we were in such denial that we didn’t dare blame our driver, and now good friend. We asked the hotel if anyone had been in our room, which was pointless because our bags were locked and nobody could have gotten into them without the combinations.

We even called our driver and his calming voice assured us that he had no idea what had happened to our money.

Dariece cried, and I could barely contain my frustration. The worst part was that we yelled at each other, fully knowing that this disaster was both of our faults.

Later that night we went over the entire trip together and it became painfully obvious where the money had disappeared. We had literally locked our bags every time that we were away from them except for that one trip to the hot springs. There was never a time when our other travel companions were not at our side, and it was only our driver who was ever around our bags without us.

Visiting a Temple With Our Buddy our driver
Visiting a Temple With Our Buddy our driver

Note: As we didn’t physically see anyone take our money, the following is based completely on logical analysis. our driver could be innocent, but given the circumstances, we believe that he is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

How it went down…

That day we had stopped at the hot springs, he decided to stay back when he saw that the bag was unlocked. He watched us all enter the enclosed area where the hot springs were. Nervous, he came to check on me and my friend to make sure that we were soaking in the springs and couldn’t possibly get to the car and catch him in the act. When we told him to come in for a soak, he did so as to not seem too suspicious, but he left with such haste that I should’ve known something was up.

He then rushed to the car, unzipped our money belt, which was stupidly left unlocked in Dariece’s purse, took out all of the 100’s, but left the 20’s and 10’s to ensure that if we had looked inside, we wouldn’t notice the theft right away. Dariece came back to the car early and almost caught him in the act, but he got out of the back seat before anyone could fully see what he was doing.

Money Belt

The kicker was the stop at his friend’s house. Our driver was on the phone speaking Kyrgyz to a friend for a few minutes before pulling over and telling us he had to go in for a quick visit. He went inside, gave his friend the money so that he could retrieve it later, then came back and drove us the rest of the way to Khorog. Had he kept the money on him and we realized we were missing it, he would risk getting caught if we had decided to search him. Smart move…

That night he seemed uneasy, quiet and distant, but he managed to keep his composure through our farewell dinner and gratuity, right until our goodbyes the next day.

You may be thinking that it was the other two travellers who stole from us, and for a brief moment, we did too. We’re always the first to say that it’s usually travellers who will steal from other travellers, not the locals. But in this case there was simply no way that our backpacking companions could’ve committed the crime. They were always with us and the only time the bags were left behind was when our driver was staying to watch them.

On top of that, we’re still in touch with those backpackers and we’ve since become great friends.

Dariece and I had a hard time getting over this incident, but I think we managed better than most people would. Instead of beating ourselves up over it, we looked at our behaviour and tried to figure out why something like this would happen to us. Had we been too flashy? Too careless? Were we not appreciating enough of what we had?

We strongly believe that the universe tells us things from time to time and in this case, the universe decided to take our money and kick us in the junk. There’s always a reason for everything and although it still pains us to think about losing that money, by far the hardest part was that we had to accept that a friend had stolen it from us.

our driver

After the incident, we eased our thoughts by thinking things like “our driver needed the money more than we did”, and “We learnt a lot from the experience”, but the fact is that stealing is never justifiable and no matter where you’re from or how you live your life, you should never take advantage of people who trust you.

Our two weeks with our driver were undoubtably some of the best times we’ve ever had while travelling. We had felt so lucky to not only experience the wonder of the Pamir Highway, but to have also made a new local friend along the way. Unfortunately that was not the case and while we still look back at our trip fondly, it will forever be tainted by the theft of both funds and friendship, as well as our subsequent revelation that some people just can’t be trusted.

Because we didn’t actually see our driver take our money, we have no right to tell you not to hire him as your driver. He was a great driver and a great guide, but there is little chance of his innocence in our minds. No matter who your driver is, and no matter who you travel with, always make sure to keep your valuables locked away.

Have you ever been stolen from? Did you ever get over it? Please share with us below and help prevent other travellers from making the same mistakes.

Note: We wrote about our journeys in Tajikistan on this blog, but decided to omit this very personal incident. After receiving many emails asking us who our driver was and how to get a hold of him, we decided that it was our duty to write this post. We hope that some of your read this post and it reminds you to be careful with your things when travelling. Even when you feel 100% secure.

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Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Written by

Nick Wharton

Nick is the co-founder, editor and author of Goats On The Road. He contributes to numerous other media sites regularly and shares his expert knowledge of travel, online entrepreneurship and blogging with the world whenever he can. He has been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and has more than 10 years of experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship.

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48 thoughts on “The Day When… We Had $1,500 Stolen”

  1. Wow, so sorry this happened to you. $1500 is no small sum of cash! It sucks when we trust others and then they take advantage of that trust and steal. Can happen anywhere to anyone and is especially crushing when it’s someone you considered a friend. But looks like you guys have a good attitude about it and like you said, he probably needed the money more than you did.

  2. Guys – I’m so sorry to hear this happened to you! And it must have felt like such a betrayal from someone you respected and trusted so much. On our honeymoon, admittedly, my husband once forgot to put his travel wallet in the safe in Zanzibar – when we came back to the room, we noticed it was gone. We searched high and low (and we NEVER lose valuables) and then realised, it was stolen. We reported it the staff didn’t seem convinced (I think they assumed we just lost it). They helped us look and told us to go on the half day trip we planned. When we returned, we had to log it with police as stolen and even made arrangements and booked flights to Dar Es Salaam to get a new passport sorted. Someone big in the security world came to speak to us and the next morning – whilst we were by the pool, the wallet reappeared right on top of the safe with everything intact. I can only assume that hotel management/security had a “stern word” to the staff and whoever stole it panicked and put it back but needless to say, it was all made to look like we had just lost it all along – fortunately, it was honeymoon so we were able to be quite casual about it and we still loved the trip!

  3. wow you guys that devastating. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Did you try calling his agency to at least let them know they shouldn’t trust him… ? Not sure it’d do any god anyways with no proof, but if they heard it from a few people maybe they’d stop sending him on tours. Anyways, I’m happy you can look back without too much hate- you’re better than me, I’d be forever pissed about it!

  4. This was heart-breaking to read, theft is one thing but it must be so much harder when you have so much trust and friendship with the person who stole from you. So often when you are travelling you have to put your faith in people and most of the time it is wonderful. The thing I feel for you the most is that the trip sounded incredible, memories to treasure forever yet they will always be marred by this betrayal of friendship.
    I’m so glad that you still look back fondly and I hope that it wasn’t too hard writing up the earlier posts. I think you were right to document it, and even better in a separate post.
    It’s certainly a wake up call for us, I know how complacent I became 😉

  5. That’s sad – not just because you lost money, but because someone you enjoyed spending time with in the end betrayed you.

    I lost $3,000 getting scammed in Bangkok. Stupidest thing I ever did and not something I would ever fall for today: But I believe in karma – these people will get retribution of some kind in the future.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  6. It’s funny, at the time, we called the office and actually were thinking it was someone from the homestays (this was immediately after we realized what happened and were still in denial, also before our detective work), the woman at the office said “Do you think it was your driver?” at that time we said, no….

    So it makes us wonder if others had complained before as well?!

    It’s in the past, but still hurts a bit.

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

  7. Thanks Rachel,

    It’s true, it was very much a wake up call for us both to be more aware of our finances and valuables. We still trust people and have amazing experiences, but we definitely lock our doors and bags 🙂

  8. Oh wow, that sucks…I’ve heard about the gem scam in Bangkok, but luckily I’ve never been in the market for gems, diamonds or anything like that, so I’ve never been in the situation where I may get scammed.

    I’m sure you’ll never fall for it again 🙂 Cheers for sharing.

  9. Yes. My husband and I fell prey to two scammer/pickpockets in Barcelona several years ago. We had the same kicking-ourselves-reaction the two of you did, although we lost considerably less money. We learned a lot about keeping our valuables safe and wits about us from that event. Of course, what was harder for you was the betrayal. Thanks for the post.

  10. What a downer! After four years of traveling incident-free, though, I think you guys are still ahead of the game. =)
    There was a while during our last trip when we were carrying a load of US cash so we could exchange on the “blue markets” in Argentina. Pretty sketchy to be walking around so vulnerable!

  11. Oh dear! That is so horrible 🙁 And from someone you considered a friend too!
    We had some cash stolen from us earlier this year but it wasn’t nearly as much, approx. $300 Australian dollars. The problem was though that he came into our room, while we were sleeping, and stole the cash out of the wallet. So he must have been there for a while peeking through the window trying to figure out where it was so he could get in and out quickly.
    Ick! It makes me feel sick at the thought of it. Southeast Asia can be pretty dodgy but we NEVER thought that would happen in happy little Thailand on the quiet island of Koh Lanta. Anyway, lesson learned, in the peak of summer ALWAYS opt for an air conditioned room so nothing needs to be left open overnight!

  12. Getting money stolen is always hard, no matter the sum. I’m sorry that it seems to of been perpetrated by a friend. I was staying in a guest house in Vietnam, on my way home after spending a year teaching in Cambodia with all my saved salary in my bags. I went out for a quick drink with a friend and came back to my bags being slightly messy and $500 being gone. The kicker was, they only took $500, not the whole $1900 that I had, plus another $200 in Viet dong. Management didn’t believe me, accused me of lying and trying to ruin their reputation. I was in tears because they were yelling at me, and so I went to the police about it all. Of course, nothing happened but it made me feel better for some reason. Long story short, it sucks but you get over it. I think you two did a great job of looking at the silver lining, which is that you had an AMAZING trip. I am grateful that they didn’t take ALL my money, I would of been screwed. Keep on keeping on and I look forward to following your adventures!

  13. Definitely sketchy! That’s what was so hard about Central Asia – having to have all that USD on us all the time! We had been so good too up until that point 🙁

    Glad to hear you two didn’t have any $$ stolen or lost. Cheers!

  14. Oh my that is creepy!!! I got shivers just thinking about that! There have been many times in Thailand and other places in SE Asia where we left our windows wide open all night too.

    Lesson learned!
    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Hi Adrian!

    Thank you so much for sharing your story 🙂 It seems like they only took $500 because they didn’t want you to notice right away, just like with us – he left some money behind. I’m so glad to hear that you weren’t left stranded with no money! Lesson learned for sure, but it’s still hard to deal with.

    Cheers and happy travels.

  16. That really sucks! I’v been lucky enough not to have had anything stolen (yet). I have always been trusting leaving things out and unlocked and relied on karma but this might be a woke up call to tighten this shit up! Lesson learned eh!

  17. what a sad experience that someone who you trusted abused that trust in the end. It makes for a powerful, yet sad story but some of the best travel stories are often not happy ones. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Thank you for posting this real life cautionary tale. We all can be a little more on guard when traveling with our valuables, passport, and cash or credit cards. I’ve left things (camera bags w/lenses, etc.) in a car or bus that was going to be watched over by drivers but almost always take my passport, cash and credit cards with me, or I know that they are locked up in a room safe or somewhere else (like a dive shop, if I am going scuba diving). Your travels as backpackers are different in that you have everything of value with you. I am, of course, so sorry that this happened. I am wondering what “the rest of the story” is, re: what did you do from there as far as getting more funds via ATM to continue, or ?? I think it would be good to go back to that agency and report him, now that you are all but certain that he took your money. All the best to you in your future travels!

  19. I try to be as vigilant as you’ve described, but remember twice when friends were robbed in London. One of these robberies I witnessed. Heading down the tubes to the underground, I saw a sort of flash from the corner of my eye. When we reached the bottom and my friend’s wallet was gone from her backpack, we realized that the “flash” had been the fast, deft arm of the person behind me (and I was standing behind my friend) reaching over my shoulder and snatching the wallet. We confronted the trio, two men and a woman, but they denied it and walked away. We followed them, still talking and trying to get the attention of an attendant. When we realized that we’d wandered onto a very empty platform with no one else around, we grew less bold, but with false bravado (for by now they were beginning to challenge us!) backed off and ran to a ticket counter. By the time we’d reported them, the trio was gone. / I’ve never forgotten the skill of that pickpocket and have been, perhaps, overly vigilant, ever since. In my subsequent travels I’ve made many “friends”, but always with a slightly wary attitude. One never knows…..

  20. It’ true, we came to some realizations after that happened, plus, by sharing our story, hopefully he won’t be able to do it again and maybe others will be a bit more cautious of their valuables 🙂

    Thanks for the comment!

  21. Thanks for the comment Debbra 🙂

    We reported the theft to the agency, but at the time weren’t sure it was him. Now that we are sure, it’s much too late I would say. They’re some small, one man shop in the Pamir Mountains! haha. He left us with a couple of hundred dollars in US money, which was enough to get us to the capital city where we could use the ATM machine. How thoughtful of him, right? 😉

    Cheers and safe travels!

  22. Wow! That’s crazy. Isn’t it funny how you feel so brave (and furious) so you go after the theives, but then come to your senses part way through?! Glad no one was hurt and I don’t blame you for being over vigilant, I know we are…

    thanks for sharing your story!

  23. A cautionary tale for us all. Reduced to luggage only, travellers are obviously at risk trying to use that luggage as a security vault. Glad you still look back fondly on your travels and yes I too had money stolen while travelling though only a hundred or so dollars. It only happens once. Enjoy your blog and happy travels.

  24. That thought of “he needed the money more than us” is not right at all. Doesn’t matter if he needed it more, you worked hard to get it so you deserve it, you didn’t steal it from anybody, you spent precious hours of your lives working in order to earn that money. If he really needed the money (despite having a job that always has a high demand) he could have asked, so if he steals it he should just go to prison. These things make me so upset…

  25. Hi Lily,

    It was a difficult time for us, but we got through it by being positive and not letting it get us down – even though it was a huge blow. I think that putting him in prison would be a bit extreme, but I do wish we had proof that it was him so that he wouldn’t be able to work as a tour guide anymore…

  26. I’m so sorry about what happened to you guys. I’ve had small scams and thefts while travelling, but nothing so serious, or by someone I trusted.

  27. Thank you for sharing your experience. It takes a lot of courage to reveal something so personal and traumatic. I have really really enjoyed reading your posts on the Pamirs. Thank you for taking the time and energy to share your adventures with us!

  28. Thank you so much for the kind comment 🙂 It wasn’t easy to write about, that’s for sure, but we thought it would help people along the way. Plus, we’re very transparent and honest on this blog! Cheers and happy travels.

  29. “We’re always the first to say that it’s usually travellers who will steal from other travellers, not the locals.”

    Haha what a lot of PC crap. That is very far from the truth. When you’re traveling in countries where people have very little and you seem incredibly wealthy to them its only natural that you’re going to get theft.

  30. Hi Ringo,

    We have to disagree. While it does happen in some countries of course (we’ve heard stories from Colombia), we’ve travelled in so many impoverished countries and have never had any issues whatsoever (until Tajikistan), but, we’ve heard countless stories of travellers being robbed by other travellers in dorm rooms – camera equipment stolen, money, backpacks even! Budget backpackers want to keep their trips going…

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