10 Helpful Ways To Avoid Getting Pickpocketed in Europe
January 12, 2020
Help! How Do I Avoid Pickpockets in Europe?
I lose my phone all the time, leave my purse on the backs of chairs at restaurants, and can’t find my car keys on a daily basis. That being said, I have spent almost two years total living in Europe, and I have only been attempted pickpocketed twice. Well, there was also that time in Dublin, Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day where I left my phone in a jacket pocket at a bar and it was stolen. That doesn’t count though because that was just pure stupidity. You shouldn’t leave anything in your jacket pocket and put your jacket down somewhere. Pickpockets steal jackets too and they get an extra bonus if you have items in the pockets of your jacket!
Nevertheless, pickpocketing is rampant in many European locales; but, I am here to tell you that even if you are terrible about keeping track of your belongings in everyday life, there are ways to help prevent you from being a victim of a thief. Here are 10 helpful tips and tricks to help you avoid having your “pocket picked.”
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1. Wear a Money Belt
Wear a money belt to and from the airport. Once you get to the hotel, lock your passport in a safe or keep it hidden in your luggage. Most hostels hold your passport as a sort of room deposit which is actually quite nice because then you don’t have to worry about losing it yourself. You can continue to wear a money belt throughout your trip if you like. Personally, however, I don’t like having to lift my shirt up in public every time I need to pay for something so I only use the belt when I move locations.
2. Carry One Travel Card and Minimal Cash
You will want to bring two cards — ideally both will have no foreign transaction fees — that you can use for the majority of purchases on your trip. I take my credit card along with approximately 20 euros in my anti-theft travel backpack and leave my debit card and the rest of the euros back in my accommodation. You only want to carry the maximum amount of money you plan to spend with you that day and nothing more and luckily, you can pay for almost everything with a credit card. I carry cash for one-off expenses where a card can’t be used and for small purchases like water, coffee, or gelato. If you do get pickpocketed, you’ll be losing at most 20 euros and a credit card which you will need to cancel immediately. And, you’ll have the backup in your hotel, so you won’t need to worry about having them ship you a new card overnight.
3. Practice Proper Hand Placement for Crossbody Bags
For anyone who chooses to wear an anti-theft crossbody bag, wear your crossbody bag backwards with the zipper facing you. Then, place one hand on top of the zippered portion of your bag and one hand on the strap at all times. Many anti-theft bags are made with materials that are slash-proof but why find out if what these companies purport are true? Placing your hands in this particular way will decrease the possibility for someone to open the main zipper or cut the strap of your bag. Eventually, this travel stance will become second nature to you.
Crossbody bags are great because they are hands-free the perfect size for fitting a phone, camera, map, cards, and cash. I wore crossbody bags for the first 10 years of my travels until I switched to an anti-theft backpack because of a herniated disc. I needed the weight to be distributed evenly. But you need to be careful using backpacks, especially if they are not anti-theft. I advise against using a standard backpack for sightseeing. If you are in a crowded area, I recommend wearing the backpack in front of you with a hand placed on the zipper.
4. Be Extra Cautious in Areas Frequented by Pickpockets
Be aware of your surroundings when you are in areas frequented by pickpockets. These areas include train stations and other public transport areas where there is high foot traffic and unsuspecting tourists, markets, shopping malls, retail shops, tourist attractions and beaches.
If you are in a crowded metro, bus, or train, try to forge some personal space for yourself. If you feel someone get too close to you, make sure you are holding tight to your belongings. Similarly, if you are on a crowded street, speed up or slow down if you see someone walking suspiciously. You are seeing incredible sights and its so easy to become distracted, but you must remain vigilant at all times.
Pickpockets are prevalent in markets, shopping malls, and retail shops because they know people are coming to spend money. They suspect you have cash to spend, so you should suspect any lurkers you see around you.
Don’t ever under any circumstance leave your stuff on the beach while you go in the water! If you do decide to go for a swim, make sure your travel partner is watching your belongings at all times.
5. Keep Your Wallet in Your Front Pocket
Men or women who have a habit of keeping their wallet in their back pocket should change it up for the duration of their trip and store their wallet in their front pant pocket. A wallet in a back pocket is so visible and very accessible. Contrastingly, the front pocket makes it much more difficult and invasive for a pickpocket to reach.
You can also put a rubber band around your wallet. This creates friction which makes it nearly impossible for the wallet to be removed from a pocket.
6. Coverup in Winter
If you are traveling in cold weather, zip up your jacket over your purse. You may look like you have gained a few pounds, but you can enjoy your time sightseeing without having to worry that some “tourist” in the museum isn’t more interested in whether or not you have the American Express Platinum card than the Mona Lisa.
You can also wear a hidden pocket scarf in cold weather to hold your cards and money while touring Europe. These scarfs are not only fashionable, but provide a secure spot for your valuables.
7. Don’t Pack Any Unnecessary Licenses, Cards, or IDs
Before you head to the airport, take out any licenses, cards, or IDs that you know you won’t need in Europe. That frozen yogurt punch card with only one more stamp needed for a free one? You won’t find a franchise in Europe so why bring it to potentially lose it. Triple AAA card? We have tons of IDs and credit cards that we use in our home country that are utterly useless on a trip. Why bring these with you when there is an opportunity for them to be stolen? Leave them at home or if you forget before your trip…add them to your safe collection.
If you do have a student ID, I recommend bringing that because many attractions offer discounts for students. Otherwise, two credit/debit cards and a passport are your mainstays. If you feel more comfortable having a second form of photo id, then go ahead and bring your driver’s license but it’s not necessary to have. And, always keep in in a separate place than your passport. I also would not recommend carrying your passport around with you everyday; instead, keep a copy of your passport in your wallet and in your suitcase.
8. Keep Your Phone Concealed Whenever Possible
Phone snatching is a problem in Europe, so don’t walk with your phone in your hand down a busy thoroughfare like Las Ramblas in Barcelona or the Champs Elysees in Paris. If you have brought both a phone and camera to take photos, I would suggest using a camera to take pictures in crowded, tourist spots. As much as it would absolutely suck to lose your expensive camera, I would rather that then have my cell phone stolen along with all of my personal information.
Also, don’t leave your phone out on the table while you’re dining in one of those beautiful European plazas. You grab a slice of bread, the pickpocket grabs your phone from the table while “passing by.”
9. Know the Different Pickpocketing Scams
Pickpockets don’t “look” like they are about to steal your belongings. They can be women with children, teenagers, or other “travelers” rolling empty suitcases. But, a lot of the tactics they use will be similar. Any sudden events like a fight breaking out may be a group of people using that opportunity to distract you with commotion while someone in that group swiftly grabs your wallet. You might also have someone come up and ask you for directions. While you’re typing that person’s destination into Google Maps, their friend or child is swiping your cash from your pocket.
I was in Barcelona this past year and heard about a popular pickpocketing scam that occurs while you are checking in or out of your hotel. Here’s the scenario: After 15 hours of travel, you finally arrive at your hotel. You roll that suitcase to the front desk and place your bag on top of the luggage. While the front desk welcomes you to the hotel and hands you a room key, the pickpocket has grabbed your purse and left the premises. The same thing goes for when you’re checking out and settling your hotel bill. Hotels are aware of this scam, but they are not liable. Many have signs in the lobby area alerting travelers about this scam.
Also, don’t get in an elevator by yourself at an airport or in the metro or train stations. Someone might run in as the doors are closing and rob you as soon as those doors do close. I always take the escalator and make sure that there is at least one stair between the person in front of me. Then, I place my roller suitcase on the stair behind me to keep some distance between the person who got on the escalator after me.
10. Don’t Look “Rob-able”
We all know what happened to Kim Kardashian…
I completely understand wanting to wear your best items on your European vacation. But those large diamond earrings and that Chanel purse are an invitation for a pickpocket to rob you. Don’t put a target on your back by wearing expensive items. You can dress well without the obvious extravagance! And, if you do buy some Louboutin shoes or a Birkin bag (first of all, go you!), head directly back to your hotel to discretely put the item in your suitcase instead of flaunting your purchases while you tour the city for the rest of the day.
Hopefully these tips will keep you protected from pickpockets in Europe! Do you have any other tips to avoid getting pickpocketed? Please share in the comments below!