Being robbed is a legitimate concern for many travelers. While crime rates are often similar or even lower to what they are in your home country, you do make a target of yourself by being a foreigner, as any potential criminal is aware that it will be difficult for you to communicate with authorities, navigate the legal system, and stick around long enough to have any legal action resolved. On top of that, by virtue of having the financial ability to take a long trip just for fun, even the grungiest of backpackers can be quite wealthy in comparison to the local population. With those factors in mind, it is important to minimize the risk of theft of your possessions and cash that you carry.
First, consider the need for having whatever expensive items you’re carrying. A camera is essential for most people, and a small laptop or netbook is almost standard issue. An mp3 player for those 15 hour bus rides is nice, and these days e-readers and tablets are becoming increasingly popular as secondary devices. Whiles each of these gadgets has a use, they may be redundant and you can increase the risk of a serious financial blow by carrying too many things of value.
Similarly, cash can be an issue. Traveler’s checks are all but outdated, and paying for everything with plastic is unrealistic. To have cash on hand in a foreign currency, trips to ATMs or money exchangers are necessary. Fees are likely to be incurred with both, so carrying out these transactions as infrequently as possible will save you money. At the same time, pulling out or exchanging large quantities leaves you with the risk of higher losses if you are ever robbed. If there’s no way to eliminate the fees and do smaller, more frequent withdrawals (for this, I recommend looking into different banks in your home country as well as ATMs that don’t charge transaction fees abroad), then you’ll have to balance out those concerns.
Keeping a low profile is your best bet of avoiding being a target. There is no benefit to showing off your expensive goods or how much money you have on you. If you’re in a city and are concerned about theft, keep your purse on your shoulder or in your hand at all times, and never keep a wallet in your back pocket. On long buses and train rides, try to keep your bags within your sight, lock them to your berth, or bury them under other peoples’ stuff to make them harder to access without anyone noticing. Do research on routes with a history of theft from buses (for example, Khao San Road in Bangkok to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand) and react accordingly. Within your bags, separate valuables so that you can’t lose everything at once, or put them all in one small bag that you trust yourself to take the utmost care of at all times. Utilize hotel safes if they are offered, and don’t be embarrassed to put your own padlock on your door if there is a latch to do so.
You should certainly not be so paranoid about the risk of theft that you are discouraged from traveling, or can’t enjoy the place you’re in because you’re always looking over your shoulder. But a bit of discretion is always wise. Having your valuables or wallet stolen is an immense blow, and you should do everything you can to avoid it.