Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes
As high-tourist season is peaking in Europe, popular city streets are lined with foreigners that have virtual dollar signs on their foreheads and physical dollar signs in their pockets. Thieves know this, and it makes for the most exciting and lucrative time of the year for them.
First off, no one is really immune to pickpockets, because even the most seasoned travelers fall victim to them. But as I’ve been traveling and living abroad for 2 years collectively, and have had approximately 0 things stolen from my possession *knocks on all the woods* I feel qualified enough to share some tips on how I’ve beat those little bastards at their own game.
I felt most compelled to write this while on the metro a couple weeks ago and in the span of ten minutes, I saw three separate pickpockets happen, with only one quick enough to snatch it back.
WHEN IN BARCELONA: If you go to the beach and want to take a 5-minute dip in the Mediterranean, and you leave your phone by your towel and somehow expect it to still be there when you’re back, I’d love to visit the alternate universe you live in. There is never a happy ending when leaving your things unattended, anywhere. Not only is this common sense, but beaches are incredibly crowded during this time of the year, and a good percentage of the people populating it are those scouring the sand for unattended belongings to claim. Don’t make their jobs any easier.
1. DON’T KEEP ANYTHING IN YOUR POCKETS
Now this might sound fairly obvious or maybe even incredibly paranoid, and I know, I know, you’re literally going against the very reason pockets even exist! But it’s called “pickpockets” for a reason. This is always their first target.
You have no idea how many people I see with loose phones or wallets hanging out their back pockets. It’s a shame, because they’re one crowded metro away from playing Santa Claus and gifting someone with a brand new mobile, or at least the funds to buy one.
This is the easiest target for thieves, and I will never forget witnessing my first pickpocket in Rome. I met two other Americans heading to the Colosseum and the metros were ridiculously packed. Somewhere in the 10 seconds of one batch exiting and the new batch coming on, somebody had gotten into his pocket and ripped his entire wallet off him. I felt the pain with him, it was just so sudden and unexpected.
It’s one thing to have it happen to you, it’s another thing to have it happen right in front of you, and not even notice in the slightest bit. Needless to say, they had to reroute back to their hostel and call his bank to cancel all his cards. I never got to hear how that story ended, but it’s one that’s all too common.
2. ZIPPERS AND BUTTONS ARE YOUR FRIENDS
If your purse has a zipper or multiple buttons, use it! Forget about the convenience of reaching in your pocket when you need your phone and take the extra 3 seconds to safely store it in an enclosed bag. And only store your phone or wallet inside the innermost zipper of your purse on top of that. So even if a hand did slip in there at some unsuspecting point, they can’t reach your phone because their hand will draw towards the center, and won’t have time to unzip another zipper inside. But hell, if they do, I’m sorry, but they deserve it then. That’s pure talent.
3. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO CARRY A PURSE, KEEP IT IN YOUR BRA
I would say this is for women only, but it’s 2015 and I don’t judge. So if you wear a bra and don’t want to bring a purse with you for a night out, keep the bills inside your bra or inside your sock/shoe. When your money is touching your skin, it’s practically impossible for anyone else to have room to tamper with it.
4. NEVER STAND NEAR EXIT DOORS OF A METRO
There’s a youtube video that’s been making its way around for years about a man who, almost effortlessly, times the closing of the doors so that in the 1.5 seconds before the final alarms go off, he has time to snatch a phone from an unsuspecting victim and exit right at the moment the doors will close on her. You can see the video HERE and it’ll make you never even want to pull your phone out on the metro again. It happened in Hungary, but I’ve seen this exact incident happen in Barcelona.
5. BE CAUTIOUS OF THOSE KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON YOU
If you see someone making eye contact with you over an uncomfortably long amount of time, chances are they’re waiting for you to have a distraction — like opening your purse or pulling out your phone so they can mentally map out how they can snatch and dash on the next exit.
These people often look very uncomfortable because there’s so many factors that go into a successful metro-robbery that they’re constantly calculating things and scoping out their surroundings. Make awkward eye-contact back, pull out a book, put your phone in your inner zipper pocket, and carry on. He’ll move onto the next victim in no time.
6. KEEP PURSES SLIGHTLY IN FRONT OF YOU
Especially when walking down a busy street, always be sure your purse pockets and zippers are always in eyes’ view. I’m really fond of those long, sling bags you see to your left, and they often accidentally end up on our hips or backs as we walk, so make sure you’ve either got a hand over the main zipper as you walk, or just casually swing it to the front of your body.
7. AVOID WALKING SALESMEN (ESPECIALLY IN TWOS)
Those pesky street walkers that come up to you and try to sell you their crap goods are usually up to no good. Especially if they approach you in twos, one will more than likely try and distract you, while the other reaches for your pocket, purse, or anything they can get away with. I’ve seen it happen and they are GOOD.
There’s also a popular trick in Paris where a man will pick up a golden ring in front of you, and pretend that it belongs to you, forcing it in your face. Tourists are usually so confused and distracted, that it leaves space for person #2 to explore the victim’s pockets and by the time the tourist is able to shake them off, the two ring men have already gotten away with a phone or wallet. As crazy as it sounds, they only use tactics that continually work for them, so as long as people keep falling for it, they have no reason to change their methods.
P.S. A guy tried to pull this stunt when I took my mom to Paris last summer and I never cussed a man out so quick. LAWD HAMMERCY. Words I hadn’t used since my sailor-mouth middle school days came right to the forefront. Don’t mess with the moms, bruh. Homeboy learned his lesson. #HeTriedIt
8. NEVER KEEP YOUR PHONE ON YOUR TABLE AT A RESTAURANT
Again, this sounds so obvious, but I can’t tell you how many outside tapa bars I’ve seen where vacationers just freely sip their mojitos in between snapchats, turn away for 30 seconds, and poof, it’s gone.
I love dispelling the myth that the world is a dark, mean, and scary place. It’s the furthest thing from that and I’ve put my trust in so many strangers before, but it’s just a completely different story when it comes to phones and wallets. You simply can’t take that risk of being lackadaisical with your belongings in foreign territory anywhere.
Have a friend traveling abroad this summer? Be sure to share this and help keep them aware! And feel free to reach out on any of my social networks with comments or questions about anything mentioned above. Happy (and safe) traveling!