Getting targeted by pickpocketers puts a damper on if not ruins any vacation. My Oma got her purse stolen in London 30+ years ago and to this day refuses to go back to the city. While to me seems a bit extreme, the experience clearly left a bad taste in her mouth. So here are some tips to help you keep your belongings, as well as how to minimize the damage if you do get hit.
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1. Don’t use backpacks! Yes I do understand how convenient they are when traveling, but they make you an easy target. In Paris last summer I got to witness first hand an attempt to steal from my step dads backpack. There was two people working together, the first one bumped into my step dad and then his partner got angry, making it seem like my step dad was at fault. Being a normal person, my step dad immediately apologized to the man. The man then said oh it’s okay, I am not hurt and put his hand around my step dad in a seemingly good natured hug…with his hand on the zipper of his backpack about to open it. Luckily for my step dad, my mom was standing behind him and thinking quickly put her hand on the guys hand so he knew she was on to his plan and that was the end of the situation. But had my step dad been alone it could have been an entirely different situation. If you insist on using a backpack, try this anti theft one.
2. Keep zippers closed! On a busy subway car or bus it is very easy for a pickpocketer to grab out of your purse without you even noticing. Make it harder for them by keeping your purse zipped up and in front of you. Personally I like cross body bags because they can’t be taken off your shoulder easily and you can have them turned to the front without looking like you are clutching your purse to you, which to me draws more attention and maybe that you do have something of value in there. Watch the locals, you won’t see most of them doing that with theirs.
3. Split things up! If you are traveling with a spouse, don’t have all your cash on one person. In London, my Oma had most of their cash in her purse. Had my Opa had some more in his wallet, the theives would have gotten away with less. Also make copies of your documents and give them to your travel buddy, then if something should happen at least you have a starting point. Traveling solo? I like to keep copies of my documents in my suitcase at the hotel as well.
4. Don’t use your pockets! Don’t keep anything of value on your pants pockets, front or back. In a crowd, whether it’s on a busy street or on public transportation, it is easy to be bumped and not notice something is missing until it’s too late.
5. Be aware at all times! Theives look for opportunities when you are distracted, possibly at your hotel lobby when you are juggling extra bags, or when you are taking pictures or watching a street performer. One good example, the Bellagio fountains in Vegas. It’s crowded, possibly dark depending on when you are there, there’s loud music, and everyone is looking at the show probably taking videos or pictures. Are you aware of who is around you and where your purse is? Always be conscious of your surroundings.
6. Don’t trust the helpful stranger! Tricks they use include brushing lint off your jacket or helping wipe off the drink they just spilled on you. Meanwhile you are getting your wallet lifted. Don’t be concerned about being rude, you can just back away from them. It’s really not normal for random people to be touching you.
7. Don’t look like a tourist! Depending on where you are this can be hard, but avoid pulling out maps and gawking around. Phones are great ways you can subtly look at a map. But it’s best if you have a rough idea of where you are going. If I get too lost I duck into a cafe and grab a drink while I figure out where I’m going. Especially when using subway stations, walk with purpose and confidence. Even if you end up taking the wrong exit or getting on the wrong train, it’s an easy fix and you will avoid irritating the local commuters by staying out of their way.
8. Keep little in your wallet! Keep only a small amount of cash and one credit card in your wallet. I do not carry much cash when I travel anymore. But when I did I would keep the majority somewhere tucked on my person. (#1 choice was my bra.) Now I use a prepaid Visa from my bank which comes in a number of different currencies that allows me to load more cash onto through my online banking (be wary of doing this on unsecured wifi) and I withdraw from ATM’s when I need more cash. I try to hit up ATM’s in banks rather then the ones you can find in the streets or stores because the fees are less. I have never used a money belt in my life and I have no intention of starting anytime soon. Refer back to point 7, don’t look like a tourist. Do you wear a money belt at home? Most likely not, yet there are pickpockets at home as well. I keep most valuables in my hotel safe, and if it is a travel day then I keep my passport and extra credit cards in a zippered compartment in my purse. If you feel more comfortable with something money belt like, why not try the FlipBelt originally designed for runners. Then you will look athletic instead of chunky from your bulky money belt. I kid, but like I said, I’m not a fan. If I was going to convert, this would be my first choice.
9. Be careful around subway doors! Most of the time pickpocketers are trying to be subtle, however in subway stations they may not have to be. One of their tricks is to wait until the doors are just about to close and they will grab your purse of your shoulder or your phone right out of your hands. There is nothing you will be able to do as the doors will have closed and the train is on its way. Try to avoid having your phone out if you are standing by the doors and also be extra aware of your other belongings.
Don’t assume it won’t happen to you, because it happens a lot. And they are professionals at what they do. To recap the important points: leave as much at home as you can, try to blend in and be aware of your surroundings. But don’t forget to relax and enjoy your travels!