On my recent trip to Europe, one of the biggest safety concerns was avoiding pickpockets that often target tourists. Pick pocketing can occur anywhere in the world and to anyone. But tourists are often a target since they often are carrying valuables and are in an unfamiliar situation. Here’s a couple of techniques to avoid trouble
Before you go
1. Reduce the risk. Before leaving on a trip, I like to go through my purse and remove anything that I won’t need while traveling. I usually end up taking only a couple of credit/ATM cards, my health insurance card, a photo ID, some cash and my phone and camera. This also has the bonus of making my purse very light too.
2. Use luggage locks. Most luggage locks won’t stop a determined thief but it will prevent a casual pickpocket from taking a dip into your suitcase while walking around airports and train stations.
3. Have backups. I keep copies of important documents like my passport in my luggage so that if it gets stolen, it will be easier to deal with the embassy and other authorities. It’s also not a bad idea to keep a list of bank numbers to call to cancel credit/ATM cards if they are stolen.
4. Keep your purse/wallet secure. Many pickpockets like to target purses and wallets for the obvious reason that it’s where most people keep the good stuff. For wallets, it’s best to keep it in a pocket that zips shut and to keep it inside a coat pocket or other hard to reach area- not the back pockets of pants. Consider using a cord or chain to secure a wallet to clothing.
For purses, it’s better to get a purse with a strap long enough to go across the chest. Over the shoulder style bags are easier for a pickpocket to knock off and run away with. I happen to carry this style of Baggalini purse– the fact that it’s small and flat means I can wear it under a coat and keep the purse in my lap while sitting instead of hanging it off a chair where it can be easily grabbed.
On the road
1. Spread the cash around. After stopping at an ATM or currency exchange place, it’s a good idea to spread the cash around instead of keeping it all in your purse or wallet. Ways to do this can include wearing a money belt, distributing cash among several pockets and even putting some inside your shoe. I even had a girlfriend who sometimes hid her debit card in her bra. Depending on where I’m staying for the night, I like to keep extra cash in my luggage or room safe and carry only what I need for the day. Also, stop into a restroom or other private area after an ATM stop to get your cash situated rather then doing it out in the open.
2. Be aware of your surroundings- Especially if you’re in a tourist area. Keep your hands on your stuff and be careful when getting on or off buses and trains, since a pick pocket might try to grab something and then make a getaway on the train.
3. Try to blend in- Pickpockets like to target tourists, so if you’re dressed like a “tacky tourist” in shorts and sandels, have flag logos on your bag, or are constantly pulling out a map or guidebook, you’re more likely to become a target.
4. Don’t get distracted– Pickpockets will often use tactics like tripping, starting an argument, even tossing babies at people in order to distract a target. Pickpockets may also work in teams with one person doing the distracting and the other going in for the wallet. This means be wary of large crowds and strangers who bump into you, tap your shoulder and other such distracting activities.
One near-pickpocket experience
On a visit to Paris last week, my friends and I had been warned about possible pick pocketing. One night we were taking the metro back from dinner and we were talking in English. Speaking in English on the French metro is something that only tourists normally do. So a pickpocket positioned himself by the train door and waited for us to leave. As one of my friends was about to step off, the pickpocket reach a hand into his pocket. Fortunately, since my friend was aware of what was going on around him, he grabbed the hand of the pickpocket and gave him a rather nasty glare before getting off. Even if the pickpocket had been successful, he wasn’t going to get more then a bank card that would get cancelled quickly and a few euros since my friend didn’t keep everything in one pocket.
Pick pocketing is a hazard of travel, but it’s one that not going to ruin your trip if you’re aware of your stuff and your surroundings.