Robbed In Panama City!

Robbed in Panama City
This is How I Feel Right Now…
Panama City, Panama

Two nights ago I was robbed by women here in Panama. It was pretty damn embarrassing. The effects have been far more devastating than I ever thought they could be.

A year ago when I was planning this trip, before I sold everything I owned to start traveling long-term, my good friend Ferenc posed a question to me:

“Before you leave, ask yourself, are you prepared to lose everything? Because there is a good possibility it could happen”.

I told him I was prepared. Now I´m starting to think I answered a little to quickly…

A Chain-Reaction of Mistakes

Last week I spent 5 days exploring the remote villages & jungles of Panama´s notorious Darien Gap with my friend Gabriel from Brazil. We both shot a lot of photos & video from our challenging and eye-opening experience there.

On Friday night, we decided to meet again at a Cuban bar in the Casco Viejo area of Panama City to share our footage with each other.

I brought my laptop computer along with me for this purpose. Mistake #1.

As we were finishing up, the bar/restaurant got really busy as a large group of locals & expats started celebrating someone´s birthday.

The festive live Cuban music in combination with a venue packed full of beautiful dancing women enticed us to stay and have a couple drinks before we left. Mistake #2.

Like I always do, I strapped my day-pack to my chair so no one could just grab it and run off. My laptop was inside. Unfortunately, the reusable zip-ties I normally employ to secure the zippers of my pack had been left at the apartment I was Couchsurfing at. Mistake #3.

Eventually a group of local women walked in. We watched them scan the bar, pause and whisper to each other when they saw us, and proceed to take seats next to us.

Based on their overtly strong advances toward us, it was pretty obvious they were prostitutes looking to conduct business with a couple of foreign tourists. We were their targets.

Gabriel and I were slightly amused at the situation, but chose to ignore them, and continued on with our conversation about what we had just experienced in the Darien. Mistake #4.

Maybe an hour or so later I suddenly noticed that the girls were gone. I didn´t see them leave. We assumed they gave up on trying to get our attention and went searching for new targets. I didn´t think to check my bag. Mistake #5.

After we finally left the bar, I noticed that my backpack felt a bit light. Upon closer inspection, my heart sank…

My Life Was On That Computer!

For those of you who don´t know, 100% of my income comes from working with my computer. Sometimes I build websites for other people, sell information products (aka eBooks) and work as a freelance travel writer/photographer.

I use specialized software programs to create graphics, process high-resolution photos/video, and build websites. That´s how I earn a living, and I do it all from my computer.

Luckily I have backups for most of my information. My travel photos and videos have been saved from disaster. But there is a problem.

Lately the company I buy advertising from, Google AdWords, has made some changes which have effected part of my business in a pretty negative way. I have been forced to update my websites, or risk my whole business going under.

Without my own computer, I´m effectively unable to make those updates, and it´s a time-sensitive situation. There were also some important files on my computer that were NOT backed up yet, and it’s going to take a few months to replace all that work. Mistake #6.

Recovery Not Looking Good…

Planning ahead, I installed tracking software called Prey Project on my laptop, just for this type of situation. But to track it, the computer must be turned on and near a WiFi location.

After 2 days, I´ve received zero reports from the tracking software. The thieves may have been smart enough to keep the computer turned off, and they possibly could have just replaced or reformatted the hard-drive.

It´s not looking good that I´ll recover my computer this way. The Panamanian police can´t do much about the situation either. I filed a police report with them, but they didn’t seem very optimistic. Panama City receives over 1,000 stolen property reports a month.

And to top it all off, my travel insurance was not up to date. My policy expired not too long ago, and I was in the proccess of conducting research to locate a new provider when all of this happened. Mistake #7.

Living On $30 A Day

A lot of people who read my website assume I must be independently wealthy to travel constantly like this. That´s definitely not the case.

After almost a year living on the road (next week was going to be my 1 Year Travelversary), my savings are running low. It will take a few months to resurect my business, and it´s going to be pretty difficult (if not impossible) to accomplish this without a computer.

While I´m embarrassed to say it, this perfect storm of disasters will force me to postpone my travels until I can put all the pieces back together.

How You Can Help

I hate asking for help.

But for those who would like to, I´ve reluctantly decided to offer a few simple ways you can help me get this blog going again as fast as possible.

Travel Photography
Travel Photography Prints For Sale

Purchase A Travel Photography Print

Many of my travel photos are available to purchase as fine art prints. My image galleries contain unique landscapes, historic buildings, funny animals, and interesting people from around the world.

If you or someone you know could use some new artwork in a home or apartment, or if you are looking for a great gift idea, consider purchasing one of my photography prints.

[button label=”Browse My Travel Photography Here »” url=”” color=”#f05134″]

Any sales will go directly towards the purchase of a new computer so I´ll be able to continue producing this travel blog. In the rare case that I exceed that amount, or if the police miraculously happen to recover my computer a few weeks from now, the money will go directly to some local charity projects.

Not to mention you´ll get something special to hang on your wall!

Share This Post!

Maybe you don´t need any photo prints, maybe you can´t afford them, or maybe you don´t think I deserve any help because I´ve been careless & irresponsible. In all 3 cases, I completely understand.

But if you´re on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, I would be forever in your debt if you would at least share this post with your friends.

If nothing else, it´s a great example of what NOT to do. Hopefully my story will help other people avoid these same mistakes…

Thank You

The whole ordeal has been just another learning experience for me, among the many I´ve had on this journey thus far. I´m a strong believer that all experiences, good and bad, end up being positive in the long run. I´m not going to let this setback stop me from my goals.

“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” ~ James Joyce

UPDATE: Computer Recovered!

After 3 months, I was finally able to recover my stolen computer using the Prey Project tracking software that I’d installed earlier! It’s actually quite a ridiculous story… go check it out!

READ NEXT: Tracking My Stolen Laptop


Here are a some travel articles that I recommend you read next:


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (64)

  1. Sorry to hear about this man. I believe your story but are you seriously asking people to just give you money to travel? I think thats pretty low, and its really sad to see. Man up, own up, and don’t go around looking for handouts, its a bad look. Good luck in growing up.

    • That’s definitely not what I’m doing Firas. I had a bad experience, so I’m simply reminding everyone who reads this blog regularly (entertainment/advice which I provide for free) about my professional photography prints for sale. I’m asking people for their business. Business transaction ≠ handout.

      A good number of readers asked directly through comments & via email to provide a PayPal link as well, so I did.

      I’m going to continue traveling whether people purchase prints or not. If you don’t like it, don’t buy a print. No one is forcing you to do anything.

  2. I think that you are scammer yourself, you want people to give you money so that you can buy a new laptop that you said would do the job anyways because it had to be coming from your original laptop?

    Basically you came up with this crap sob story and hurt the image of Panama for your own gain (sounds american). I hope that you not only get robbed, but that you fall off a cliff while walking through the country side, people like yourself are for yourself and I hope no-one gives you one red cent!

    • Sounds like some rock-solid logic Manny! You’ve got me all figured out.

      I’ll email you a copy of the police report. I hope your Spanish reading skills are better than your grammar.

  3. Sorry to hear that…I just came across your site and this is the first post I read. I remember last year I lost all my things in Puerto Natales. My fault, I was being stupid. But I lost ALL of them. Clothes, everything – but I did have my passport, thankfully. And in Argentina a few years ago I was physically jumped. That was not fun and was scary.

    My point is, you’ll get through it! Chin up, man.


  4. Matt — if this could happen to you, it could happen to ANYBODY. Those girls may not have technically ROBBED you, but they must be pretty damn savvy ROBBERS. We sent you a little $$ and hope it helps you get back on the road as soon as possible.

  5. Hate to hear that the lady thiefs stole from you, but glad that’s all they did. Women can be evil, so be careful not to get yourself killed. Like my pappy used to say to us when we were growing up, “Always be aware of your surroundings, the devil can come at you looking like an angel.”

    Stay strong, I’ll see if I can help before Christmas.

  6. Wow, I’m so sorry to hear that Matt. I’m working on big project (travel documentary) next year in March and if you wanted to make some money within 5 months while traveling let me know… Trip itinerary: Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia! Looking for a photographer, blogger, and cameraman who is very good at editing videos too…

  7. Hey Matthew, sorry to hear about your misfortune! I hope you start feeling a litle better about it soon. The question you ask at the start of the post is something I always struggled with – am I prepared to loose everything? I think as much as I like to think I am, I’m not. I was mugged in Vietnam on my first solo trip years ago, and although I didn’t loose anything as precious as my computer, I felt pretty silly and vulnerable afterwards. I thought that was the hardest thing to get over moving forward as a traveller. Best of luck getting back into action for your online work. Nic

  8. I absolutely hate reading this kind of blog post. So sorry that this happened to you Matt and I hope that you get back on track soon. Life on the road is far from the glamorous jet set life that people think of when they think of travel. You’re living proof of that. Believe in Karma and that you’re on the right track. As you can see you have a lot of people in your corner who believe in you.

    Best wishes and safe travels!

    • Thanks Ken. I’d also like to point out to everyone that I’ve been traveling through Central America for the past 12 months, and this is the very first crime that’s been committed against me.

      I don’t want anyone to be scared off from traveling here because of my post. Panama rocks! :)

  9. Just found this blog through another tweet. Holy cow. You’d hate for this to happen to anybody. This reminds of the time when Adventurous Kate experienced a shipwreck and pretty much lost everything. Hopefully you’ll bounce back from this… Spreading the word.

    • I remember when that shipwreck happened too. Luckily I only lost a single item, my problem was I relied on it for way too much! Thanks. :)

  10. Matthew, best wishes during this difficult time. A ‘perfect storm’ of events caused me to get fired from my teaching job in Korea and 10 days later I’m on my parents couch at home without a job and nearly four thousand dollars less in my bank account. I think that life overseas can sometimes challenge us in ways that stretch us to our limits. I think though that being as resilient as you are you’ll figure out a solution soon and you’ll be back on the road again before you know. Best wishes along the way.

    • Damn! Sorry to hear that Samuel… but you’re correct. These challenges are just part of the experience. We’ll both find a way to overcome them. Good luck to you as well!

  11. Wow this post hurts.So sorry this pile of problems has landed on you. Other travelers (including us) can learn a few lessons here, including how to keep your chin up and your perspective intact when the worst case scenario becomes real. We know you won’t let this stop you and your positive attitude is inspiring and worth sharing.

  12. I’ve been completely overwhelmed with all the support I’ve received the past week. A big thank you to everyone who has purchased a print, made a donation, or shared this blog post. I really appreciate it! :)

    Still no luck from my computer tracking software or the police, but I think I’ll be back out on the road sooner than I thought.

    I’ve learned some great lessons from this whole fiasco, and will certainly be sharing them with everyone soon.

  13. As you said in a reply….don’t get complacent! That is when disaster strikes without fail. I am really sorry this happened to you. I know it must be a worse than awful feeling.

  14. Sorry to hear about the mishap, my friend. After lightening killed my laptop in Sumatra this year I also realized how important my laptop is!

    Hope you get it all sorted out. Karma will deal with the thieving women…

  15. Sorry to hear about your loss Matt. Your post does serve to remind everybody to be security conscious while traveling. Things can happen fast and when you least expect it or if you drop your guard for even a moment. I’ll be sure to spread the word to everyone I know.

  16. A travel bloggers (almost) worst case scenario. Really sorry to hear Matt and hope you can get back to work and travel blogging soon.

  17. I am so so so sorry! This is awful. A similar thing happened to me in Spain and it took me a while to get over. I send you hugs and I know that when 1 door closes another one opens and it’s even more magnificent!!!

  18. I’m so sorry to hear this. I had my camera and my iPod stolen while travelling and even that was devastating. I don’t know how I’d feel if my laptop was stolen. It’s so frustrating too because it seems to happen before your eyes without you seeing it. At least you weren’t harmed or attacked in any way.

    Your photos are amazing so I’m sure you’ll have enough money in no time.

  19. I’m picking up a bunch of prints! You have some images from my trip in August that made my heart just ache. I didn’t realize just how much I missed Antigua and Granada. I’m sorry to hear of your theft, and I hope that you get enough donations that you can pick up a new computer.

    My thoughts are with you. I hope that everything is resolved before the big deadline.

  20. This does suck. And yea, it could have been worse. They could have raped you and stolen all your money ( just kidding.) Of course its horrible, and I have also spread the word. I heard about your ordeal through Jaime and I’ve shared on Twitter as well. See if you can get a used laptop from anyone, and I wish you luck. Sometimes the only way to learn is the hard way. But now it will never happen again!

  21. Thanks for sharing. It stinks when something like this happens, but hopefully you’ll find lots of support from the travel blogging community and readers everywhere. Re-tweeting and stumbling now…

  22. So sorry this happened, You know it’ll be ok in the long run–but the short run can be a pain in the ass, can’t it? I’ll definitely repost this for you. Good luck.

  23. So sorry to hear about your troubles. The great thing is that you were not physically harmed. Ojects can be replaced but life can not.

    Hope you can get things sorted so that you can continue with your very inspirational travel and blog posts.

    Good luck


  24. Hey Matt. Pleased to see u are not going to let this beat u! Send us paypal details. A bit of cash from a lot of people will soon add up. Will share your post on twitter tonight.

  25. Matt, I am so sorry for what happened to you. I really admire what you do and can really feel your pain now. Be strong and stick to your plan, I am sure things will recover gradually!

    Best regards!

  26. So sorry Matt. I feel for you man. Let me know if you can take some paypal action. I’d love to help with the cause of getting you back up and running.

  27. I am really sorry and embarrassed that this happened to you in my country. My friend Joel, from El Salvador, told me about your story and, as I told him, Casco Viejo may not be the safest area in the city, but you can still take a walk at night without being robbed… A lot of areas in the city are free wifi areas, so there’s a chance these women may be close to one, but it is a longshot.
    How long are you staying in Panama? There may be a chance for you to contact expats or the American Chamber of Commerce

    • I´ve spent many nights walking through Casco Viejo (and even Cinco de Mayo) with no problems. This event won´t stop me from doing it in the future, either.

      Because the work I need to do is so time-sensitive, I´m leaving this week unfortunatley. Luckily it´s Autumn in New England! It´ll be nice to see the colorful leaves again, been a while since I´ve seen them.

  28. Bad news Matt. Love your photos, but I’ll be in Central America in a few months taking some of my own pics (most likely not as good). Is there another way to get a donation to you, paypal or other?

  29. Matt, I’m so sorry to hear that!! It seems like you have better luck in Darien Gap than in Panama City. I’ll share this post around…
    (I’m glad that your photos are backed up. I can’t imagine I lost our photos)

  30. SO sorry to hear the news. Glad to hear you’re alright though. As bad as it sounds, things could have been worse. Good luck getting yourself back up on your feet. Safe travels…

  31. Sorry to hear the news…hope you get back up and running soon. Robbery or theft, whatever you call it, it still sucks.

  32. I’m so sorry that you had to experience this in Panama. I live off on the internet too but don’t have such an arsenal of programs as you. I do hope you get back on your feet soon!
    I had a couple of close calls too in Panama, but mostly just people trying to screw me over with prices.

  33. We are really sad to hear this happened to you. We really hope things pick up soon for you. We have shared your story on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

  34. Oh no matt! I am so so so sorry! I can’t imagine losing my laptop. I will definitely share this story. I hope it turns around for you.

  35. So, while you lost a piece of important property, you’re still alive and kicking and have all your extremities and senses – well most of them, anyway. Hookers! What kind of establishments do you frequent? I need photos. I don’t recall any photos of comely wenches. Where have you been hiding them? While I’m waiting, I like the look of the photo of the cigar smoking lady. “Light ’em if you got ’em”. That’s what she wants to say. She also wants to say, “Don’t worry, be happy”, things will get better.
    Adversity will build character. All characters know this. So I’ve been told.

    • LOL. Actually, even though the neighborhood can be a bit sketchy in some places, the bar we were at is nice! It´s directly across the street from the Presidential Palace. There are heavily armed Presidential guards right outside the door…

      But hookers frequent all types of establishments down here.

  36. Ugh, what terrible luck. Hope you can recover what you’ve lost! Mike and I are each going to pick out a print- your photos are so gorgeous!

  37. Qué lástima! Sorry to hear all of this happened. I’m certainly trying to decide which one of these prints I like best…beautiful shots!

  38. Sorry to hear! Although I’m getting rid of everything to travel, I’ll get the word out. Also happy to just help out if you’ve got paypal. Any of us could end up in this situation.

    Best of luck to you.

  39. That is awful matt. I’ll make sure I spread the word! I’m in Europe and traveling and can’t buy one of your pictures at the moment as I have no space where to store them but send me an email with some paypal details or something where I can transfer some money too. I want to help you mate!!!

  40. Ahh Matt, I’m sorry this happened to you. When I read it on your Facebook my heart sank for you and now after reading this my heart has sunk even more. I can’t not imagine how I would feel if someone stole my laptop. What happened to you could happen to anyone so don’t be to hard on yourself. I myself don’t need a print but I will share this on Twitter and Facebook and see if anyone else may need one!

    • Thank you Jaime. I didn´t realize how important that computer really was to me until this happened. Doesn´t seem healthy that I depend on it so much, plan on trying to fix that in the future.

  41. So sorry to hear this!! I’ve been robbed before, but the worst I’ve lost was a camera. I am also dependent on my computer for an income and it would be a similar disaster for me. Holding out hope that you can still track it down!! Will definitely spread the word.

    • Thanks Phil. I thought I was prepared for this sort of thing, but the timing was just really bad. The lesson is: don´t get complacent!

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