Essential Strategies to Avoid Getting Pickpocketed
Having spent over a year living abroad and traveling I have learned several important tricks to avoid getting pickpocketed. I lived in Spain over a year and can proudly say that I was never pickpocketed. Unfortunately, my best friend, who spent 4 months living in Spain was pickpocketed about 3 times in her brief stay (sorry to throw you under the bus there Walley?).
Based off of her experience and mine here are several tips to ensure your items will be safe during your time abroad. At the end I also included a really informative video going over several strategies that pickpocketers use to rob people. I found this an incredibly useful video that helped give me a better idea of what to be on the lookout for to spot a pickpocketer or how to avoid putting yourself in a dangerous position.
You can also check our Claire Nowak’s article “18 Things Pickpocketers Don’t Want You to Know.” She quotes my advice as well as the advice from other frequent travelers in a very informative article.
1. Use a bag/purse that can be sealed shut
- All bags, purses, backpacks, etc MUST be able to close completely. Never go out with a purse or bag that is open at the top with no way to zip or snap shut. Taking out a purse or bag that has a zipper to close all openings is a start. While abroad I actually had a purse that zipped shut AND had a large buckle that snapped shut over the zipper. Was it a pain to open and close when I was shopping or eating? Absolutely. Did I ever get robbed? Nope. Moral of the story, the added time and effort to take things in an out of your bag is completely worth it.
2. Don’t keep valuables in pockets
- NEVER keep your phone, wallet or anything valuable in the pocket of your clothes. This is just asking for a pickpocketer to come and take your things. When your phone is in your back pocket or your wallet is in your shirt or pants pocket it is ridiculously easy for someone to slip it out without you even realizing it. When you are crammed in on a subway or bumping through crowds of people it is easy to think that the pressure on your side was just another person bumping into you. By the time you realize your things are gone there will be no way to tell who did it. Whatever you are not using in that exact moment must be closed securely in your bag.
3. Keep valuable items in smaller pockets
- Keep essential items like ID, money, tickets, etc inside a smaller zipped pocket in your bag. This way, even if someone does manage to unzip your bag and reach in to grab something they would still have to unzip or open another pocket within your bag to get anything truly valuable. This drastically decreases the odds that someone would have the time to take anything essential from you.
4. Keep belongings in your sight
- As often as you can, keep your belongings in view. I know many people carry backpacks while traveling abroad, but even these can be unzipped in a crowded place and things can be easily taken while in line for a tour or a restaurant or on the subway. You may be taking pictures or texting away on your phone while the person behind you is slowly slipping their hand in your backpack to retrieve whatever they can get their fingers on. This is EXACTLY what happened to my best friend. Her phone was stolen from her backpack on a subway ride. If you have a backpack, try wearing it on the front of your body, if you have a purse, strap it across your body with the bag landing on your front side rather than behind you.
5. Keep your belongings ATTACHED to you at all times.
- When eating in a restaurant or looking at something in a shop, never put your bag on the ground, over a chair or even on the table. All it takes is one moment when you look away for someone to run past and grab your items or for the person at the table behind you to slide your bag over to them. Keep them strapped to your body, on your lap or if you must on the ground, between your legs, with one leg through one of the straps.
6. Keep your hand on your bag
- If a stranger starts talking to you immediately put your hand on your bag. Sometimes pickpocketers will use a person to distract your while another comes from behind or the side to take what they can. If you follow the tips and keep your bag attached to you AND in view then they will have a hard time reaching into your bag without you seeing. But to add yet another level of protection, when someone would start talking to me I would bring my bag directly in front of my with one hand over it or even hold it with both hands against my body. This way, if they did have any bad intentions, they could see straight away that I was a poor target and would be on their way.
7. Keep your hand over your bag when shopping
- This is a great rule to follow when shopping as well. While you are browsing through clothes or trinket shops your bag may be dangling temptingly at your side or a bag of items you just bought may be over your arm. As much as possible, try to browse with one hand while you keep your other hand on your bag.
8. Bring a large, zipper bag for purchases
- When you are going out shopping, bring a bag of your own seals shut that you can put your purchases into. It is so fun to go out and buy gifts for yourself or others, but carrying around a paper or plastic bag that is open at the top is practically begging someone to come and take your items. If you have a bag of your own, you can place your purchases directly into your bag and seal it as soon as they are all in. If you find that your bag has no more room for items, I strongly recommend making a note of the shop on a map and returning later or the next day when you can place the items in a secure bag. There is no point rushing to buy something only to have it stolen 10 minutes later.
9. Be aware of your surroundings.
- I know it can be easy to become overwhelmed with the sites, wanting to take pictures and get lost in the moment. As much as you can, try to remind yourself to scan your surroundings frequently making a quick note of who is around you and where your belongings are. Try to be on the lookout for someone who looks as if they have been lurking around, maybe even someone who you noticed is following your tour group, but who may not actually be a part of the tour, young kids who may be wandering around seemingly unsupervised and overly nice strangers who seem to be trying to keep you in a long conversation.
These are just a few of the strategies I used to keep my items safe while I was abroad and I am glad to say they worked perfectly for me. You can never be too safe when you are abroad. I know some of these tactics may seem extreme, but there is nothing more heart-wrenching than having an important document, money, credit cards, etc stolen during your trip. Having change travel plans because your passport was stolen or cancel your credit cards while you’re abroad can easily turn a much anticipated getaway into a logistical nightmare.
For more incredibly useful tips on how to avoid being pickpocketed you can check out Claire Nowak’s article from Reader’s Digest titled “18 Things Pickpocketers Don’t Want You to Know.” My advice as well as the advice of other world travelers is shared in this wonderfully thorough and informative article 🙂
I hope these can help you prepare for your next trip a little better and of course if you have any other strategies, comments or questions please share below!