For many, vacation time is right around the corner and the thought of the perfect getaway does not include being a victim of crime. While most vacations will go as planned, some will fall victim to petty theft: mainly purse snatching and pickpockets. Thieves target tourists because they are the ones with the money. In Barcelona alone, it is estimated almost 6,000 incidents happen daily–that is 1 out of every 4 tourists. So how do you protect yourself from becoming part of the pick-pocketing statistics? Here are 10 sure-fire ways to better your odds.
1) Wear a money belt – This is the most important thing you can do to lower the chances of being pick-pocketed. A money belt is worn under your clothing; this is where you keep your passport, extra credit cards and cash. Keep that day’s cash and a credit card in your day bag or wallet for easy access. You want to think of the money belt like a safe deposit box, and only get into your money belt when replenishing your wallet. When getting into your money belt, do it in a safe area like your hotel room, a bathroom stall or a changing room.
2) Do not put anything in your back pocket – The outline of a wallet in the back pocket is advertising to pickpockets to rob you, especially in crowded areas like metro platforms and escalators. Place your wallet in your front pocket and put an elastic band (like the rubber band that you find holding the broccoli in the grocery store) around your wallet. This will create friction in your pocket and make it just that harder for a thief to steal from you.
3) Valuables need to stay in your hotel room – Laptops, tablets and such are much safer in your hotel room than in the bottom of a bag on the streets. When leaving valuables in your room, put them away so as not to tempt the hotel staff. Better yet, leave them in a hotel safe or at the front desk.
4) Walk with purpose and confidence – Pickpockets look for the confused tourists–the ones constantly looking at a map, taking hesitant steps, having a “deer in the headlights” look on their face. Before leaving your hotel, restaurant or metro stop, check your surroundings and directions. If you do need to look something up, stop somewhere with a wall to your back. If that is not an option, get to a place that is wide open so you can tell if someone is approaching.
5) Secure your belongings – When sitting or eating, never put your purse/bag on the chair behind you or on the ground. Countless bags are stolen while people are in cafes and restaurants. Loop a strap of your daypack/purse around your arm, leg or chair leg. If you are in an airport or on a train and want to sleep, use a cable lock to secure your bags to the seat, luggage rack or even yourself. If you have a camera or smart phone don’t place them on tabletops where they can easily be snatched. Thieves are always looking for the easy mark, so even the most minor obstacle (a strap around a chair) can be an effective deterrent.
6) Carry a purse or bag with the flap against your body – You want to cut down the number of entry points into your bag so thieves’ fingers have fewer places to wander. If your bag has a long strap, carry your bag across your body. Never keep important items in any outside pocket.
7) Get to know your new money before heading out – If you’re traveling out of the country you will be confronted with foreign money. Become familiar with the local currency before you hit the pavement. Pickpockets observe travelers shopping, and then later know exactly where to lift their wallets. Count your change and put it away right there and then, and don’t be rushed by cashiers.
8) Stay clear of commotions and avoid crowds – A fight breaking out, someone dropping items, even people falling down are most likely a smokescreen for bad guys wanting to separate tourists from their money. Crowds anywhere, but especially on public transit and in markets, provide thieves with plenty of targets, opportunities and easy escape routes. Sometimes you cannot avoid a crowd, especially during rush hour on a subway. Try to go to the first car or the last car where there are typically fewer people. Avoid standing near the doorways of trains, as groups of pickpockets can rush at you when the doors open.
9) Know how they work – Get to know the local scams thieves use to rob travelers. Most guidebooks will have a section just on this. You will then recognize situations to avoid and keep your attention focused on your valuables, not on their intentional distractions.
10) Be unpredictable – If you get the feeling someone is following you, change directions. Go into the nearest shop/hotel/restaurant and wait a few minutes. Most likely they will move on; if not, call the police.
From the well-dressed businessman to the group of children with outstretched arms, it can be difficult to recognize a thief. But travelers can prevent the majority of common thefts by arming themselves with these 10 tips. Follow these time-tested tips and soon you will be enjoying your vacation and not worrying about pickpockets.