An odd story of travel theft

Getting robbed while travelling is something you hope doesn’t happen but you’re always half expecting. But this tale certainly didn’t end how I imagined!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


I had only been gone about two hours – a walk around town, some dinner and a couple of drinks – when I got back to my hotel room around ten thirty. Immediately I knew something was wrong.

The key didn’t turn in the lock and, when I looked to see why, I realised the door was already unlocked and slightly ajar. Apprehensively, I pushed it open and turned on the light. What was I about to reveal?

I was in Montenegro, at the coastal resort town of Budva. Generally it felt like a safe place where the biggest security fears were my insecurities from all the good-looking and tanned Euroflesh parading unclad through the streets.

I was staying just outside the centre in – although I describe it as a hotel – what was really an apartment block. In one apartment lived the owners, a young married couple about my age with two cute toddlers and a couple of caged budgies named after characters from the movie ‘Rio’.

I know this last bit because the wife had explained it to me when she’d kindly let me into her home to do my laundry.

And so it was up the open air stairs of this apartment block that I had walked after my dinner in downtown Budva (grilled lamb, fries, salad and two large beers for ten euros, for the record). There was no security gate or front door and my apartment was the first you came to.

I think this might come to help explain what happened.

odd travel theft robbery story

And so, pushing open the door and turning on the light, I stepped inside and looked around. It confused me.

My clothes had been pulled out of my bag and thrown around. This might not normally have looked so out of place if they hadn’t all just been washed and folded neatly. So someone had definitely been in here.

I quickly looked to the bed where I had left my laptop open with some unfinished work. It was still there. Slight relief mixed with an increase in confusion.

I went to where I had left my passports and money belt, my stomach sinking slightly. But they were still there. So what had this mystery intruder taken?

Ah – my camera! My camera bag with all my equipment and lenses. I couldn’t see it anywhere. So I searched, double-checked, threw my clothes around the room a bit more for good measure, but couldn’t find it.

I had officially been robbed. Not just of equipment worth about $2000 but of vital tools of my trade. And of my innocence… for anyone hoping for some emotional depth in this story.

What do I do? What are you supposed to do in these situations?

I went to look for the woman who runs the hotel but she wasn’t home; I updated my Facebook status (of course!); I walked around outside for a bit looking for clues; and I started to research online how to make an insurance claim.

odd travel theft robbery story

About 30 minutes after I had arrived home, the hotel owner did too – it was the patter of tiny feet and incoherent gibberish from her toddlers that first alerted me to her return. As she came up the stairs, I greeted her grim-faced and explained what had happened.

She was a tall elegant woman, glamorous in a young Montenegro mother kind of way. Wearing a well-fitting and low cut light brown dress and a warm smile, she listened to my story and then started to respond.

She had only got a couple of sentences in before she began to cry. They were the kind of tears that just appear out of nowhere and don’t impede your ability to speak.

I’m not upset or angry, I reassured her. But she continued crying. Her mother is sick, she told me. And she just found out she might be pregnant again, she added. And now this!

I patted her on the shoulder reassuringly – this being the usual extent of my sympathetic abilities. Especially after I’d just been robbed.

She stopped her sobbing and I continued to explain how my camera had been taken but, oddly, not my laptop or money belt. I also joked that they didn’t take the lovely clean laundry she had helped me with.

Her eyes lit up slightly. Not at the joke, though. She told me to wait five minutes – she might know what happened. OK, I replied, wondering how this might turn out.

She reached for her phone and went off to make a call. She told me not to worry in the meantime. I wanted to say the same but I wasn’t sure if the potential pregnancy was good or bad news so I just tried to give off an air of confident concern.

Five minutes later I heard her on the phone again and then she shouted ‘super!’ excitedly. Another few minutes passed and she appeared at my door, my camera bag in her hand!

I was stunned, relieved, ecstatic and still confused. Only ten minutes had passed since I had told her of the robbery and already she was returning my stolen goods. It was time for an explanation!

The kind woman with the light brown dress and the warm smile told me everything

Apparently in the neighbourhood there is a “local kleptomaniac”. He’s a man about 25 years old with no parents who has been in and out of gaol. But he’s not violent and the locals feel sorry for him. He’s not inherently bad, apparently, just mentally ill.

She had immediately thought of him when I told her my laptop had not been taken. It didn’t sound like a professional thief but someone with a stealing addiction – albeit one who had used a screwdriver to break open the lock.

So she had called her friend who is a police officer.

This cop knows the young guy well and even looks after him and feeds him sometimes. The police officer had gone around to his house and, as hoped, my camera bag was just sitting there untouched.

He probably never intended to do anything with it – it was the excitement of the theft, not the financial reward, which he had been seeking. So the cop took my equipment back from him and had dropped it around at the hotel.

odd travel theft robbery story

The woman didn’t ask directly but suggested that I not make any official complaint. Of course, I had no desire to. I had my stuff back and it had happened so quickly. I had assumed I would never see my camera again and I was more grateful than anything else.

I joked that I would double lock my door from now on but she told me not to worry – the sick kleptomaniac had had his fix and it would be a couple of months before he would strike again. It sounds like this is a semi-regular event in the neighbourhood and the locals know where to go looking for their things.

After travelling constantly for more than two years now with no theft, I felt like I’ve been pushing my luck and something like this was inevitable.

I was expecting the perpetrators to be drug addicts or a criminal gang or victims of poverty. I never expected my first brush with crime to be from a mentally-ill man from Montenegro who is protected by his local community.

So what is the moral of all of this? I’m not really sure. The whole story seems so odd and surreal I don’t know what I can take away from it. Perhaps it’s that for every bad deed there is a good one and it’s nice when they fit together so well.

68 thoughts on “An odd story of travel theft”

  1. Wow, what luck! Having something major like that stolen is one of my major worries while I’m traveling, but fortunately I’ve never been so much as pickpocketed (knock on wood!) Glad to hear everything worked out so well.

  2. That’s amazing you got it back so fast and, because of how I imagine it, kinda cute: I picture everyone going ‘Oh, *name*, you silly boy, stealing things…now give it back’

    I haven’t had anything stolen either (nor a lost bag) and I’m always wondering when that’s gonna start happening!

    • Ha ha – yeah, that’s exactly how it felt a bit. Silly boy! I think when he takes something from a local, it’s fine because they know what’s happening. The woman at the hotel did seem very embarrassed that it had happened to a visitor, though.

  3. Wow, that’s an incredibly strange story. It reminds of one my who friends who had her purse stolen from Whole Foods. The lady called her later in the day and said she saw the purse in an empty cart and decided to take it so no one else would!

  4. What a twist to the story. Lucky you got your stuff back and that guy is lucky enough to be living in such a neighbourhood with nice people who even took care of him.

  5. Wow – what a story, Michael! Glad you got your camera back. After being robbed recently I know how it feels like – luckily no violence has been involved in your case.
    Those things always remind me to back-up everything immediately 😉

    Safe travels buddy and see you soon!

  6. You’ve been lucky to get your stuff back Michael, I can’t imagine what I’ll do without my camera. We’ve been robbed recently on a night bus in Thailand and I can understand perfectly how it feels, such a violation!

    Anyway, good to see an happy ending in this case 🙂

    • I think I would much prefer to have money stolen from me than something which I actually use every day and would be quite hard to replace in certain places. The inconvenience just adds to the violation!

  7. What a surreal end to your story! You’re so lucky you got your camera back. Mine was stolen in Java and I was absolutely devastated. I think that sometimes it’s good to have a little shock like this, a little wake-up call to remind you to keep everything safe and how important these things are to you. And a reminder how important good insurance is!

    I feel like I’ve been sucked into a Montenegro drama. What’s going to happen to the pregnant woman? How is her mother? And, most importantly, what will happen to the kleptomaniac!?

    • I agree with you Monica! It is totally surreal, and I too feel drawn in to the Montenegro drama. It sounds like it would make a good telenovela. What will become of the characters in this story? What will happen next in this close-knit community? So glad everything worked out though. We’ve been lucky enough in our travels to never have had anything major stolen, and even lost bags have always showed up eventually. Safe continued travels!

      • Well now you both have me wondering what happened to the family! Hopefully everything turned out ok for them. I wonder if she was actually pregnant… her two other kids were pretty cute so a third one couldn’t be all bad news, right?

  8. What a great, if odd, story! Really glad to hear you got your stuff back, but it’s also nice to think of a community where people are looking out for this guy despite the undoubted irritation and inconvenience his actions cause.

    • It’s the whole idea of the community that looks after a troubled young man that I love so much about this whole thing. If only that happened everywhere – imagine how different the world would be.

    • It was such a strange feeling when I realised what had happened. Although I hadn’t really been too angry, suddenly I felt relief and compassion for this young man. Oh, and a lot of gratitude to the wonderful woman who sorted it all out for me!

  9. How random – but a great travel tale to tell. I too have been lucky so can’t imagine what you were feeling, but it’s funny how all of a sudden it’s not about you, but a local person with a mental problem. Yea, I can’t get my head round it either. But…glad you got your stuff back, safely and promptly!

    • I’m pleased to hear you’ve been lucky. I’m sure travel theft is more common than people realise so I don’t know why I haven’t come across it in the past two years. Maybe thieves generally target certain types of people… and I don’t fit their type.

    • Maybe being calm and not getting stressed and angry helped in some ways. I’m not sure… although I like to think there’s a bit of karma that goes on. If you behave rationally – so will everyone else.

  10. You are so lucky! The people you were staying with sound like incredibly nice people, I like that the woman helped you out and got you your camera back!
    Fortunately, we have never been robbed but if we do, I hope it ends like this!

    • She was so lovely. Already the woman was in my good books for being nice and letting me do my laundry in her apartment. But then to help me sort this out so quickly – she was my favourite person for quite a while! 😉

  11. Hilarious – and the moral of the story is, clearly, a picture is worth a thousand words. Or he would have taken the laptop… And to avoid wasting another good cliche, all’s well that ends well!

  12. It’s really an endearing story that people rushed to help you. And that they’re tight-knit enough to help out someone who is ill. This made my morning. And you have a very good attitude about it. =)

  13. Lost cam, passport, money and cellphone once in Guangzho, China but those stuff were never returned. I won’t mind those things to be take away, except, my DLSR. You are so lucky to get the cam back. 🙂

    • That’s exactly it. Some things can be easily replaced… some can be replaced with a bit more effort. But photos and other work you might have on a laptop – that can’t be replaced and that’s what is so frustrating with a camera theft.

  14. That really says something about the community there, too. In other places this guy would spend his life in jail. So glad you got your items back!

    • But what would him spending his life in jail achieve? It wouldn’t be a deterrent, because he can’t control himself. It would stop him from stealing but it sounds like the community handles that well itself. It seems so much better that he can live a pretty ordinary life like this.

  15. Wow. After spending five months in Montenegro, I have to say I’m not surprised. I *am* surprised about the theft, but not at all about the result.

    It’s an extremely small country and everybody knows everybody. If they don’t know someone, they know a person who does.

    I actually think the size and sense of community is fantastic, and what happened in the end is a blessing and a product of Montenegrin connections and hospitality.

    Sure, there are plenty of gangsters and whatnot in and out of the country; but overall, petty crime is the problem and it’s not that common in our experience. I mean, I’m happy it played out this way, but not totally surprised.

    When we were there, a very serious (and rare) crime was perpetrated against some Montenegrins we know. Within hours, they knew who did it and had bulletins out for them all across the Balkans.

    But, if what happened to you was going to happen somewhere, I’m also not surprised it was Budva.

    Either way, I’m very thrilled that the end result was good and I think you should simply appreciate the hospitality of you landlady and other people there. The sense of community is something to be desired, even in a town like Budva, and even though there are bad apples out there.

    I hope you’re enjoying it otherwise!

    • Oh, I’m very jealous that you got to spend five months in Montenegro! It really is such a beautiful place with such lovely people.
      Hearing your description of it, I can understand even more the reaction of the woman when I told her I had been robbed. It must have been quite a shock and an embarrassment for her. But it probably also explains why she knew so quickly who the culprit was.
      Thanks for the comment – great to hear from someone else who has spent time there themselves!

      • Don’t be jealous, just do what makes you happy. 😉 You can always go back!

        I agree…we had a once in a lifetime experience there, and memories that will last forever. The people, the landscape, the food, the liquor haha…I’ll put it this way: We were supposed to be there for 3 months, and we stayed for 5. 🙂

        We look forward to going back, and hope that this story hasn’t tainted your feelings about the country as a whole. I have to say that I’m not a big fan of Budva since it’s such a destination for tourists and has a very glitzy side. But, everyone should check it out when they visit. I only recommend you spend some time in other towns the next go-around as well.

    • Ha ha ha. Do you know that Macauley Culkin and I are exactly the same age… so this could just be what he would have looked like if he hadn’t grown up into a weird drug-addicted creep.

  16. Michael, after my experiences and interactions with the charming and super-friendly, community-minded locals in Montenegro last autumn, the way your story played out doesn’t surprise me either. As Ryan pointed out: Everyone knows everyone and they all look out for each other. Respectful visitors are treated like family: Honesty abounds, meals and treats appear constantly, drinks flow freely, advice and assistance are everywhere. It’s so refreshing and a reminder how humans can live… if they want to! Btw: Didn’t Mr Clepto at least leave any interesting photos on your camera? 🙂

    • I checked the camera for photos an was really disappointed he hadn’t used it. That would have made the story even better if he’d taken a couple of selfies or something like that. Dammit!
      And I’m so pleased to hear you loved Montenegro as well. It’s such a charming place.

    • As long as it doesn’t lull us all into a false sense of security. I don’t think most travel thefts turn out this way. But it is nice to know there can occasionally be something positive from this kind of thing.

  17. Amazing! I would’ve been so freaked out and probably in tears if I had been robbed. It’s so crazy that the woman realized what had happened and was able to track down your stuff. So glad you have your camera back and that your first experience being robbed turned out so well in the end!

    • I think tears would be a natural reaction for many people but sometimes it’s probably better to keep a clear head and try to do something about it. I guess this was a very rare situation but, you never know, there may be ways to get your things back in other cases as well.

  18. Whoaaa! Glad you got your cam back. I probably wouldn’t know what to do if it happened to me. Glad you were able to retain your calm and got to talk to the owner which lead to the resolution of this incidence.


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