Seven Steps To Avoid Pickpockets When Traveling Abroad

Halfway through our metro ride to the Barcelona beaches during Halloween weekend in 2010, I felt a subtle hand slide into the side pocket of my swimsuit. The disgruntled pickpocket came up empty-handed after realizing that I carried my wallet and cell phone in my hand.

He executed his attempted theft smoothly. He draped a dark, leather jacket over his left wrist. Carefully holding the jacket in place with his right hand, he reached his left hand steadily but quickly into my pocket without undoing the Velcro. The jacket acted as a shield, blocking my vision from his illicit actions.

Luckily, my swimsuit pocket has an attached bottle opener inside, which I felt move as he grabbed what he probably thought to be a valuable and obtainable asset. Alerted by the movement, I glared at the man. My large friends glared ominously behind me after I mentioned that I thought this man just tried to steal from me.

Unprovoked (but knowingly caught in the act), he cursed at me in Spanish. Coincidentally, the next stop arrived during his tirade. The doors opened and he darted through the large crowd, vanishing into the subterranean pedestrian tunnel system.

Steps To Avoid Pickpockets

1. Don't carry valuables in your pockets
It seems simple, yet unrealistic. If there's nothing in your pockets, it makes a pickpocket's craft difficult. A pickpocket may even reach into your empty pockets in hopes of grabbing the day's loot, but if there's nothing there, the thief will be sorely disappointed.

Realistically, if you must carry something in your pocket, use only the front pocket and keep your hand in it the entire time you're in a crowded area.

2. Hands On Your Stuff
Always have a hand on your most valuable possessions. Pickpockets move with deception and will often steal your stuff without you noticing its gone. If you keep a hand on your most valuable possessions at all times, you'll notice when some tries to grab it. This gives you an opportunity to catch the thief in the act.

If you do catch a thief trying to "hold your hand", a simple shout in a public place will scare the thief away and deter any more thievery from occurring in that area anytime soon.

3. Blend In
Pickpockets scout for tourists. They know that locals are well-aware of their schemes, but tourists are wandering whimsically and unsuspectingly into their trap.

By blending into the crowd and looking like a local, you'll have a lower risk of being a target for pickpocketing. This means that you don't wear your most gaudy jewelry into a crowd; that's an invitation to a pickpocket that you probably have more riches on your person. Avoid wearing shirts that say the name of the vacation city; that screams tourist. If you are going to take photos (which I do all the time), bring a smaller camera, or be discrete.

4. Zip It
When carrying a purse or backpack, keep it in front of you and don't take your eyes off of the zipper. Many travel backpacks feature clips. Loop them through zippers to make yourself a more formidable opponent.

The more work a pickpocket has to do to get into a backpack means more time allowed for being caught. Pickpockets thrive on speed, so anything you can do to increase the pickpocket's time will automatically deter a potential thief from trying in the first place.

5. Watch The Bumpy Roads
Pickpockets thrive on stealth and deception. Be aware of distractions that will give thieves an opportunity to steal. (Bumps on the train ride, distracting questions, etc.)

When you're on a train or bus, keep a special eye and hand on your most valuable possessions when the ride gets rough; this will deter the pickpocket from targeting you.

6. Poor Teamwork
Some work in teams. Be careful. Oftentimes, a pickpocket will cause a distraction in order to force you to turn your head (thus your attention) in another direction. While your head is turned, another teammate will pick your pocket.

Counteract this with your own teamwork strategy. When standing on a train, always have one person looking one way, while another buddy looks the other way. Don't be afraid to shout out "Pickpocket" when you see someone make a move.

7. Common Sense
Use general common sense. This will help you avoid most travel blunders! Think before you act and don't be an obvious, obnoxious tourist. Don't carry valuable items with you if you can help it; leave them in your room.

In short, just be aware of your surroundings, be safe, and you'll be just fine.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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