I’m not happy to say that I had my wallet stolen in my own country several years ago. Since then, traveling a lot with the public transportation and while visiting foreign countries, I am very careful – without becoming paranoid – about what I can do to prevent becoming once more a pickpocket victim. There are some simple tips that will help you protect against pickpockets.
I saw big warnings in Vienna telling visitors to take care and beware of pickpockets. Last month in Paris similar announcements were broadcasted in many important touristic sites, while written warnings were also visible in many places. I just read an article today saying that guardians at the Louvre museum entered into a strike since the museum apparently does nothing to help them fight these people. I am sure it was an unpleasant surprise for those visitors wanting to see the Louvre and finding it closed due to this strike, but indeed the pickpocket problem is a very important issue in many places. So, here are the simple tips:
Don’t let your purse/bag/backpack out of your sight
This means don’t ever put it behind you – keep it under your eyes. Remove your backpack from your back and hold it in your hand or in your arms if you are sitting down in a tram/train, etc. Don’t put your purse/bag, etc. on a chair next to you that you don’t constantly have under your sight. Keep your purse in front of you when in a crowd – while going with the public transportation, in a museum, at the movies, etc. This could sound complicate, but it is in fact simple. All you have to do is to either wear your purse in a rather X form (meaning on the opposite shoulder to the side of the body your purse actually is) or simply always keep a hand on your purse. Of course, you can’t do that while taking pictures, so make sure you place your purse/bag in front of your stomach (so against your body) and only afterward take pictures. Trust me, it sounds harder than it is.
Also, when you take photos try to wait for a moment when it is less crowdy. Even if you are on a guided tour – so when you have to keep up with the group – you still can manage to find such moments – either at the beginning of the explanations or at the end. When you are alone, you can simply wait for a group to pass by – and in that time you can admire another piece of art from that particular museum or another point of interest from the monument you are visiting.
Try to have only one bag
It is a whole lot easier to take care of a single bag instead of two or more. If I am alone, for instance, while traveling I always fit money, a credit card, some napkins, key/card to the hotel room, the ID card, the telephone and a map (maybe even a small umbrella – like I had to do in Paris) in my camera’s bag. Yup, I even give up the wallet, as I have no room for it in the bag. This leads me to another important recommendation: leave the content you can get by without behind in your hotel room, and only take the necessary things. The less things you carry, the fewer things you have to take care of, the easier it is to pay attention to them.
It is a lot easier to only take care of that bag. It might not be the most fancy and elegant one, but being practical is the most important thing.
Be extra careful on your way back, with all those souvenirs that are in an extra bag;).
An alternative to this is to carry your important papers – credit cards, passport etc. – in a money belt. You can find leather or silk ones that are really comfortable too. I admit I like to avoid them as much as possible, but they are a good solution and are always close to you;).
Also important to mention is another advice: don’t check constantly this belt or your purse/bag to see if everything is where it is supposed to be.
Try to have things very organized
Make a habit of organising very well your belongings. In this way, you’ll not waste any time finding that 10 euro bill or your wallet or credit card and, in the process, becoming nervous and controlling the content of all of your pockets of your clothes and purse/bag/belt. You have to know where you can find immediately everything. That is why bags/purses/belts with multiple pockets are very useful;).
Try to avoid rush hours
This only goes for the public transportation. Try to go to a specific location after the locals have gone to work – especially since many museums open at 10 AM. Try to avoid, as much as possible of course, to travel while the trams/metro etc. are really crowded.
Have copies of all of your most important papers
Yes, have copies and leave them in your hotel room of all of your important papers in your wallet such as the ID card, passport, cards, etc. You could also take in consideration having these copies stored – password protected of course – somewhere online – on your server, if you have one, or on a public service such as Google’s Drive, Dropbox etc.
Beware when people ask you for help
It is a very well known fact that pickpockets are very versatile and imaginative. They have all sorts of schemes they use to f many people: one person asking you to help them fix a bracelet (thus making you careless and leaving your purse leaning on your back, making it perfect for the partner of that pickpocket to steal your belongings). There are also the “crippled-man scam” – also involving help and, of course, the “prayer”’s scam.
Always be alert, but enjoy your time. Perhaps the most important thing is not to let these thieves rob you of the pleasure of visiting an important place you want to see. Try to take care of your goods in a very simple and natural way, and still enjoy each and every moment you have wherever you’ll go.
You should also inspire yourself from the locals: are they relaxed, or cautious? How are they handling their goods?
One more important mention: take really good care at night. The nightlife is attractive, but you should inform yourself where it is safe to go during the night.
Another tip: if possible, take someone with you. But make sure it is also a cautious person, as sometimes it is even more easy to get distracted in two than it is when traveling alone.
You could also try not to attract thieves by not wearing expensive jewelry/clothes/accessories. This, of course, doesn’t mean you have to look like a beggar, just that you should be moderate.
As I mentioned, I, unfortunately, had unpleasant experiences with pickpockets – in my own country. I managed, however, to be safe for many – many years already – and also I didn’t have any problems in my travels.
A little bit of care and caution, without forgetting that I travel to relax and discover places, people and interesting things have been my recipe for keeping safe so far.
What are you doing to prevent becoming a victim of pickpockets?