Travel Tip Tuesday : Best Ways to Prevent Pickpocketing

You and Donna Summer both work hard for your money.  You are diligent about saving it in hopes of taking a nice vacation.  You deserve it after all, right?

Yeah, you do.  But nothing is worse than scrimping and saving just to be ripped-off and left penniless in the middle of a place far from home.

Many an unsuspecting traveler has fallen prey to pickpockets. They are quick, unobtrusive and well-trained.  This Travel Tip Tuesday, I offer you the best ways to prevent pickpockets.

  • Be aware. The best advice I can offer you is when traveling – be aware.  Aware of your surroundings, aware of large groups of people, aware of the guy that dropped his wallet on the floor next to you hoping that you will bend down to pick it up for him.  And when you do…Bam!  You’ve been pickpocketed!  So avoid all distractions and be aware.
  • Don’t talk to strangers. I know, I know, it’s not in your nature.  It goes against what your mother taught you.  You think it’s mean not to be friendly. But being friendly can also cost you.  Be wary of people who stop to ask directions or other general questions.  Not making eye contact in the first place is another good way to avoid being approached.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you.  I can’t believe I still need to explain this one, but as long as travelers continue to carry lots of cash, I’ll continue to harp on the fact that you shouldn’t.  Often travelers are afraid to leave cash behind in their hotel room or afraid to just use credit and ATM cards for purchases and instead opt to walk around with wads of bills in their pockets. Don’t give your life savings away – the less cash you have on your person, the better.
  • Wear a money belt.  They are ugly, sweaty, uncomfortable and annoying. Did I mention ugly?  But, simply put, they work.  Enough said.
  • Refuse to wear a money belt?  Secure cash another way. Guys who carry wallets should put them in their front pockets.  Ladies – leave the handled purse home and instead opt for a day pack.  Find something long enough to fit over your body, so that you can keep your hands free.  Something with zippers is best and keep it zipped closed at all times.  A bag with a flap that hides all the zippers is an added bonus. Keep your hands on the bag and hold it close to your body at all times.
  • Don’t make yourself an obvious target. Dressing like an out-of-towner, walking around looking like a lost soul and whipping out any sort of map are surefire ways to draw attention to yourself and scream, “Hey, pickpocket me!”  Could you make it any easier?  Instead, blend in, act like you belong, walk with a purpose and plan your route in advance – or at least not in the middle of a crowded city sidewalk.
  • Know before you go.  When you know where you’ll be traveling, do some research on the Internet. Check travel forums and on-line guidebooks for the latest up-to-date information on current pickpocket scams.  Take extra precautions in known pickpocket areas and read other travelers helpful suggestions on how to avoid the destination specific scams.  And double check your travel insurance to find out if you’ll be covered if you fall victim.

Have you fallen victim to a pickpocket? Do you have helpful suggestions for avoiding pickpockets?

Share in the comments!

  • User Gravatar
    Tara Bradford
    April 13th, 2010

    Good points, but in Paris, guys wearing their wallet in their front pockets are still pick-pocketed. I know of at least five examples. Also, people giving directions shouldn’t be discouraged. Tourists usually NEED directions. You’re right about not standing out in terms of dress. In Paris, do not wear white shoes, tennis visors or fanny packs, please! The French hate this and will treat you with disdain if you need directions or assistance. Using the ATM, rather than carrying around lots of cash is sound advice.

    The biggest scam pickpockets in Paris use is to try to distract tourists by putting pre-teens or teens on a metro train, then have them stand close to you and pick a fight with each other. They push each other around, bump into tourists and while you’re distracted, will try to grab your bag. Vigilance is key! If someone acts weird or suspicious, get off the car at the next stop and either move to another car or wait for the next train.

    Thanks for your thoughtful tips Tara :)

  • User Gravatar
    April 13th, 2010

    I recently read in Real Simple mag that you should take photos of any local maps with your mobile phone. This way, people will just assume you are looking at your phone, instead of obviously looking at a map. You won’t look like such a nerdy tourist and pickpocketers won’t know what you are doing either.

    Thanks for the excellent tip! :)

  • User Gravatar
    April 13th, 2010

    I agree with all of the above… when in Paris I hardly had any cash on me, I also used a bag which went over my head and close to me. I used one of these .. http://www.thomson.co.uk/edito.....-card.html last time I went to Paris and they are brilliant.

    Here is a link to my friend Leesa , who has a pick pocket story and she lives there in the suburbs… http://islandgirl4ever2.blogsp.....metro.html

    Thanks so much for sharing Anne ;)

    .-= anne´s last blog ..Bonjour à tous mes amis à Paris… =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences
    April 15th, 2010

    Great tips. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a… something of the cure. In other words, go in prepared!

    Though that is not an excuse to be so scared as to not enjoy places that are rife with pickpockets, nor is an excuse to be lazy in supposedly safe places.

    Keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine.

    Andy, it sounds like you have just the right attitude!

  • User Gravatar
    April 17th, 2010

    “Be aware” and “Know before you go” are my two favorites. I think following these two tips alone will save you from a world of hurt. The big schemes in Paris I recently witnessed are:

    1. Gypsy women in train stations or elsewhere walking up to you and asking if you speak English. Your reaction is to say, “yes!” Don’t.

    2. People dropping things (I’ve seen gold rings, for example) along the Seine, picking them up, and asking you if they’re yours or asking for your help in finding the owner. Ignore.

    Oh, those Paris gypsies. I had read online before my first trip about the red bracelet scam on the steps of Sacre Coeur. When I came across them, I made no eye contact and kept my hands buried deep in my pockets. Foiled again! Thanks so much for the Paris pickpocket tips, Tanya!

  • User Gravatar
    April 19th, 2010

    The crazy thing about this is that I have traveled to some very, very dangerous and notorious places and have NEVER had a problem (and I do scream target). BUT, the only time I’ve been robbed is in Madrid, Spain where I definitely did not expect it. Great tips!!!
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..India: Day 1 =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Barbara @ Hole In The Donut Travels
    April 20th, 2010

    I SO disagree with much of this! Study the map before leaving the hotel room??? Seriously, I am a totally seasoned traveler and even I couldn’t memorize a map of Paris. Don’t talk to strangers? Really? Then how are we supposed to actually learn about the culture?? Some of my most rewarding experiences have come from interaction with locals. Don’t dress like an out-of-towner? Well guess what – I AM an out of towner, and no amount of “dressing right” is going to disguise that to a savvy pickpocket. I take normal precautions, don’t flash a lot of cash, don’t wear jewelry, and stay alert at all times. Aside from that, I rely on my gut to tel me when I am in a situation or place I need to get out of. But I don’t travel in a state of fear.

    Barbara, I wasn’t suggesting traveling in a state of fear, nor was I suggesting never talking to locals or trying to memorize a map and I’m sorry if that is what came through. But I do you think wearing cargo shorts, white sneakers and a fanny pack in Europe and unfolding a large map on a crowded Metro makes someone more of a target. All of your suggestions are very good ones, but keep in mind you also stated you were a *seasoned* traveler and you listen to your gut. Not everyone can consider themselves seasoned and some people are not very intuitive by nature – so I hope that the tips help those people. People travel for all sorts of reasons – and there are lots of different travel personalities – I wouldn’t expect everyone to conform to the same mold. That’s the great thing about travel :) As always – thanks for your thoughts!

    .-= Barbara @ Hole In The Donut Travels´s last blog ..An Adventure In Copper Canyon, Mexico, Chapter Fourteen – Semana Santa Celebration in Cerocahui on Good Friday =-.

  • User Gravatar
    April 25th, 2010

    General awareness, money belts, and trying to blend in are good tips, but I don’t agree with not talking to strangers. This is one of the fundamentals of travel, interacting with people. People are what make place, and if there is no interaction with locals or even other travelers, what’s the point? Just to go look at a waterfall? Lie on a beach? How can we begin to understand the rest of the world if we don’t talk to anyone?

    You responded to a comment saying you weren’t suggesting traveling in a state of fear, but what message are you relaying by advising people to not talk to strangers, period? I would rather something like “be cautious when dealing with strangers and be aware of these common scams: (list common scams)”.

    Or at least pointing out that it depends where you are…being in the middle of an over-touristed area of downtown is very different than being in a small village out in the country.

    Otherwise, very practical tips…and I like your opening sentence ;)
    .-= Carlo´s last blog ..20100220-cuba5 =-.

  • User Gravatar
    August 23rd, 2012

    If you are carrying a shoulder bag do not drape it so that it hangs behind your body, I was wheeling a suitcase and had my bag hanging sort of at my lower back, I was walking through a crowded metro and luckily someone stopped a guy who was trying to reach into my bag. The guy just disappeared in an instant. I was lucky.

    A friend in Barcelona told me alway hang your bag right in front of you and keep a hand on it.

    Good tip Rodrigo. I’m glad it worked out for you!

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