How To Avoid Pickpockets In Europe

Backpacking europe

Is a backpacking trip to Europe complete without being pickpocketed? Absolutely yes! But pickpocketing is a part of many travellers’ European experience, and one that can be mostly avoided by not being the most vulnerable target for the thieves. Here are a couple of hints and tips to keep your valuables in your possession.

Some parts of Europe, often the best parts, can be hives of petty criminal activity. Barcelona, Rome, Paris, all of these cities conjure up images of culture and history and wine-filled afternoons on terraces watching hysterical tourists trying to find their wallets.

An unfortunate fact of backpacking in Europe is that it is tourists who are most often targeted. The thieves know that we aren’t as savvy as locals, that we might not be familiar with their schemes and that we often withdraw and carry large amounts of cash and fancy gadgets. But you, dear reader, are about to become wise to the scams and how to avoid them, because we’ve done the dirty work and lost enough valuables to the tricky fingers of pickpockets to know how to avoiding pickpockets in Europe.

Preventing Pickpockets

The easiest way to avoid being pickpocketed is to not have anything on you to steal. The pickpockets can’t take what they don’t have their hands on, so leave all nonessentials in your accommodation. Hostels and hotels these days are terrified of negative reviews, and no review is more negative than one that suggests that the establishment is unsecure. Use the lockers for everything bar a bit of cash, your phone and a backup card.

On that, make sure that you’ve got photocopies of your travel documents and spare credit/debit cards and that you store them separately. There’s no point keeping your passport photocopy with your passport, even if that’s the safest place, now is there?  

Recognise that the way you dress and act can identify you as a target. A drunk man in an “I ❤  BCN” shirt, wearing an expensive watch and texting on an iPad is going to be a target. We’re not saying that you should dodge getting drunk, or wearing fashionable garb, but just know how you appear to pickpockets.

Travel insurance is a great idea for many reasons, and one of them is that most decent policies will cover you if you are robbed. Just make sure you get a police report straight away and then contact the insurance company. Also don’t rely on this safety net, as it can take time to recoup your losses and replacing stolen cards and driver’s licenses is a pain in the booty.

If you don’t mind being a big dork, think about a moneybelt. These streamlined bumbags go under your clothing and make it more difficult for pickpockets to get their mitts on your wares. They also identify to the best thieves that you keep all of your valuables in the one spot, and can look terrible if you’re lucky enough to get naked with a stranger. Weigh up your options!

Avoiding Pickpockets

Just like if you don’t have it on you, they can’t steal it, if they can’t touch you, they can’t rob you. The pickpockets know this, so they try and find ways to get into your personal space without you being suspicious and then they try to distract you so you don’t feel their slippery digits sliding into your wallet pouch. Here are some common pickpocketing techniques and how to avoid them, as learnt the hard way on the streets of our native Barcelona.

Just like when a stranger calls you “my friend” they 9/10 most definitely are not, the guys trying to salsa dance with you/test your football prowess in the street aren’t just being playful. What they are trying to do is get their hand on you while sidling up alongside you to use the distraction to get into your pocket. Whenever someone comes at you like this, just say to them, “Not today, sucker”, in fact, whenever anybody comes at you for no reason make sure you keep your eyes on them and any accomplices they may have – often they will be working as a team, and while one distracts you others will fleece you. Don’t be paranoid and don’t be unfriendly, just be aware. If it don’t feel right, stick your hands in your pockets.

On crowded public transport they don’t have to try to get near to you. Everybody is forced into absolute proximity and with some many parts of your body being touched the pickpocket has almost free reign over your valuables. Jam your hands in your pockets if you can, or put everything in one pocket and keep one hand on it. If this isn’t possible, just be hyper vigilant when your personal space is compromised like this.

Be aware, on the metro especially, of guys standing next to you with jackets draped over one arm. They could be covering their other arm that is angling towards your handbag, rifling through your stuff while you’re riffing with Jennifer about the hot guys from last night.

Make your backpocket out of bounds for valuables. Having a big lump on your butt looks weird anyway. Slimline your wallet and put it in your front pocket, so it sits snug against your leg.

Many of us have the habit of leaving our phones, wallets, etc on the table while we’re having a meal or a drink. Don’t do this. Anyone can approach your table, and while you may think that you’re being hypervigilant, when Geoff points out the babe across the room the thieves will strike, often leaving the victim unaware that they’ve been robbed until after their meal.

Always, always, on the beach or in parks, or anywhere, have your bag and valuables in front of you. If it is to the side, or especially behind you, thieves will sneak up and run off with it before you even know. Again, you may think you are being vigilant, but they are masters of waiting for, and taking advantage of, momentary lapses in your attention.

This one happens mostly in Paris, but watch out for gangs of young girls with petitions for you to sign. Those petitions are crappy printouts and while you think you’re being charitable they will be charitably helping themselves to your belongings. The hookers in Barcelona have a similar scam, but they don’t ask you to sign a petition.

If you are parking a hire car in street, do not leave any valuables visible, and if you can empty the car of everything and anything that you don’t want stolen. It only takes a moment to smash a window, don’t tempt them.

Above all, don’t be too concerned about pickpockets and thieves and definitely don’t let the threat affect your trip and restrict what you do. At the end of the day, they are only things and things can be replaced, while memories never made cannot. Just be vigilant, prepared, and wherever possible keep your wits about you.

Stokie says:

“A few years ago we were riding our bikes down Barceloneta beach and watched a guy creep up behind a group of girls and snatch a bag that was sitting between two of them. We yelled out to the girls and chased the thief, which is a terrible idea, but I guess we wanted to impress the girls. While we were chasing the thief one of our friends stole HIS bike and he threw his mobile phone at us to try and slow us, as well as dropped the bag. So not only did he not get the bag, but he lost a mobile phone and a bike, and we didn’t get the girls either, but we got a pretty cool story, and that’s worth way more.” Wayne, Copywriter, 32

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