Worried about pick-pockets… no pasa nada… here are some suggestions to prevent your shit from being taken so that you don’t mentally lose your shit.
Prevention, Safety, Awareness…these things are spoken about all the time when traveling abroad. This doesn’t mean that terrible things happen to everyone who travels, but it also doesn’t mean you should get too comfortable in your new surroundings. Always be alert. Your own city or country may even be more “dangerous” than the places you are visiting (I know my hometown in NC has a high violent crime rate and I am more cautious at home than in Spain), but it is still important to take notice of your surroundings and research prevalent crimes in the area. You can research whether it is “safe” to walk alone at night, safe to take a taxi or a bus or a train, or safe to have a regular handbag/purse or if you need to carry your money closer to your body.
Here are some ways to keep safe and prevent pick-pockets:
Just like at home, try to walk in groups or with a partner at night. I’ve definitely walked home alone in both Mallorca and Madrid. Both cities have relatively low violent crimes outside of breaking and entering, and I’ve never felt uncomfortable walking home. Whenever I have walked, I take busier streets where I know more people will be out and about. I’ve also walked back to my hostel in Budapest, Prague, and a few other major cities around Europe and I have never had any issues. However, I have heard of people walking through a major plaza in Palma and being held up against a wall for money.
If you take public transport, make sure that it is official public transport. Some places have cars that may look and act like taxis, but they are privately owned. While one of my friends was in Mexico, her and her friend took a taxi that ended up driving them down a dirt road, and stopping while three men opened the door to pull her out. Luckily she had her backpack strapped on across the front of her, and her and her friend were able to run away when the men didn’t get the bag in the first go. So, again, research the safety of public transport before you take it!
Always look around, stay off your phone and don’t listen to music. Make sure doors leading into buildings close directly behind you. One time I had a guy follow me into my apartment building. I had just gotten out of a cab and I didn’t see or hear anyone in the streets. Then all of a sudden he was standing in my building while I was waiting for the lift. He didn’t mean harm, but he was drunk and wanting to talk to me
Keep items of value in a locked and secured place in your hotel or hostel. Bring your own lock and try not to use the provided locks unless you can set an individual code of the ones in the hotel/hostel. While I was in Prague my friend and I left our phones out on the nightstands and we came back to find mine was missing.
In some countries, you must keep a form of ID with you at all time. Research the laws in the countries you a visiting. In Spain, each person has to have a form of identification on them at all times. If you do not have a residence card for the country you are in, and you need to carry your passport, then make sure your passport is in an inside zipped pocket or a zip pocket that faces towards your body!
You should NEVER put your wallet or phone in your back pocket. If you have a handbag make sure you wear a cross body bag with a zipper AND flap over top. Wear it across your chest and not hanging off one shoulder. Keep it completely zipped while walking or standing around, even the smallest opening can be pick-pocketed easily. And if you have a backpack, make sure anything of value is in an inside pocket that is against your back. In a crowded area, take one strap off of your shoulder and hold the bag closer to the front of you.
(cross body handbag with built-in zipper pouch)
Just the other day in Madrid, my friends and I were walking in a very crowded street during a tapas festival when I felt my bag move from beside my body. I grabbed onto it as fast as I could and turned to see a man with a backpack walking away from us. This struck me as curious so I continued to keep my eyes out on him and other suspicious people around us (usually pick-pockets work in pairs or groups). Five minutes later I noticed him around us again. And soon after, my friend leaped to close the purse of another friend in our group. The same man had tried to flip open the flap of her purse! And we turned around to see him immediately trying to pick-pocket another guy on the street! Then there was an argument, the cops were called, etc.
If you’ve researched ahead of time and the city you are going to is known for street robberies or muggings, do not wear a bag on the outside of your clothing. Wear a zipper pouch around your stomach hidden under your clothing, or a small zippered cross body bag that can easily be worm inside or under your clothing. Be aware of who is around you when you pull out your money or your phone. Is anyone watching you? Is someone trying to distract you or others around you? One of my friends told me about his friend having her phone stolen while she was listening to music! She had the phone in a zipped coat pocket with the headphone cord coming out of it. The man stole her phone and was off the bus in an instant!
I also try to always act like I know where I am going, even if I am lost. And if I feel uncomfortable in an area, or I need directions, I make sure to ask people working in a shop, hotel, or in a restaurant, someone I feel to be more trustworthy than someone on the street.
And above all….TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!
If you’re already too late finding our post and you need some help figuring out what to do because you’ve JUST been pickpocketed check out our post on what to do when it happens to you.