It’s a sunny day in Barcelona. You decide to visit the famous marketplace of la Boqueria. Suddenly, someone sprays paint on your clothes. A kind local alerts you about the mishap. You set down your backpack to attend to the stain on the back of your jacket, and the very same local steals the bag you just set down. Now you are stuck in the police station in a rotten mood, looking for items you will never find, instead of enjoying your day.
Seasoned pickpockets can also snatch your phone and wallet while pretending to help you clean your jacket. While nothing can be done about the stain, if you are aware of certain tricks, your valuables can be saved. What if your phone and wallet were tucked safely under your clothes? What if you had known you should rapidly walk away the moment you see a stranger approaching you?
Certain demeanors make you a tough target for pickpocket and thieves. You can also use some antitheft gear while traveling, which when compounded with certain preventative measures, minimizes your chances of being robbed. Let us discover all of these, one by one.
Behaviors That Repel Pickpockets and Thieves
Staying on guard against the possibility of theft is primary. But that alone is not enough against an experienced crook. You need to use some tactics to make yourself less vulnerable to pickpockets on the streets of a foreign city. These methods will ensure that you don’t become an easy target by sticking out like a sore thumb.
1. Style of Dress
- Blend in with the locals by dressing in a culturally appropriate fashion. Do not wear something that you don’t see people around you wearing.
- Avoid flashing your wealth through expensive outfits, cameras, or jewelry. Do not make expensive purchases publicly.
- Carry nothing on your person that you cannot afford to lose. Keep only basic items in your bag.
- If you carry something expensive like a DSLR or mobile phone, use a hanging case to strap it around your neck or hand. Chain wallets are also useful.
- Keep a fake wallet in your back pocket to deceive the thief.
2. Public Places
- Always wear your backpack/daypack on your front, where you can see it.
- Never put down your valuables (phone, wallet, bag, etc.) anywhere in the public. They can be swiped easily. Keep them attached or close to your body.
- Travel with your back against the wall on public transport. This gives you 180° vision.
- Steer clear of places where you sense a crowd forming.
- Act confident, like this is your hometown. Looking lost, scared, or distracted is going to attract thieves.
- Never stop on the road to interact with a stranger, no matter their age or gender, or how innocent or reliable they look.
- Take cognizance of people who bump into you out of nowhere.
- Always walk with your hands in your pockets if you are carrying something important.
- Never check your pockets immediately after you hear someone yell “Beware of pickpockets!” or something similar. This can be a ploy, as it lets pickpockets know exactly where you have kept your important items.
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How to Make Your Items Pickpocket-Proof
Apart from employing tactics to outsmart pickpockets, you should also arm yourself with some antitheft gear in case they still manage to get close to you. This list of antitheft gear can make it challenging for any thief to rob you.
1. Money Belt
A money belt is a little zippered fabric pouch with an elastic band that fastens around your waist. It is meant to be worn under your clothes, and store only the most priceless possessions like your passport, visa, essential documents, most of your money, credit/debit cards, etc.
A money belt is not a replacement for a wallet. You cannot start digging under your clothes every time you need to pay for something, as that can alert surrounding crooks. So, you still need to keep small amounts of money in your wallet. You can go inside a bathroom or any other secluded space to access your money belt if needed.
2. Slash-Proof Bags
Sometimes, pickpockets slash bags open with a blade if they cannot open them easily. Slash-proof bags make it difficult to do so. While there are several varieties of antitheft bags, it is important not to get caught up in all the bells and whistles. When buying a slash-proof bag, make sure it has the following properties:
- Slash-resistant material – specially designed material that is impossible to cut through with ordinary knives and blades
- RFID-blocking technology – prevents skimming of sensitive information from the chips on your cards
- Cut-resistant shoulder straps – inlaid with lightweight flexible steel cables that cannot be slashed
- Hidden compartments – for hiding high-value items
- Zip locking clip – makes it time-consuming to open zips with ease to retrieve valuables
Remember that all of this is useful only if you wear your bag at all times. If you place it somewhere unguarded, someone can easily grab it.
3. Luggage Locks
This one is not for day-to-day traveling, but for those times when you board a train or plane with a suitcase. This safeguards your luggage from opportunistic baggage handlers and casual thieves. Here are some ways you can effectively lock your luggage while traveling:
- Buy a suitcase with a TSA-approved combination lock
- Use TSA-approved padlocks for suitcase zippers
- Carry zip-ties and scissors (alternative)
Thieves indeed know how to break locks. However, having a lock makes your suitcase more problematic to open than the next person’s. It aims to discourage petty thieves.
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4. Antitheft Clothing
These are specially made clothing items for travelers which make it challenging for pickpockets to frisk and rob them. It means that you don’t have to carry a separate daypack, since you can just affix what you need for the day to your body. This implies that the pickpocket is going to have to get very close to you to steal, which is bound to alert you. Antitheft clothes usually have the following features:
- Slash-proof, durable fabric
- Multiple pockets of varying sizes
- Secret compartments on the underside
- Zippered pockets with flaps that close with a button
- Belt pouches that are discreet, but easily accessible
- Removable and convertible parts
5. Wrist Wallets
A wrist wallet is a medium-sized compartment that attaches to your wrist. It is just big enough to carry your mobile phone, money, credit/debit cards, and passport. The utility of wrist wallets is their psychological impact. Since they are on your wrist, it is an extremely intimidating proposition for any pickpocket to steal from it (you would most definitely know). And simultaneously, everything you need is readily accessible for you. Wrist wallets offer convenience and protection in one.
Safety Precautions to Take
Remember that all these antitheft items are mere tools. They cannot replace awareness and vigilance. Staying prepared for the possibility of theft and loss is going to secure you more than anything else. Let us look at some precautionary measures that smart travelers utilize.
- Take nothing valuable on the trip that you can do without. Leave expensive gadgets and jewelry at home.
- If you have to take something pricey (like your laptop), keep it in the hotel room. Keep your hotel key at the front desk so that you don’t lose it.
- Divide your money into separate stashes (hotel safe, wallet, belt pouches, tight pockets, secret bag compartments). You won’t be completely broke if one source gets robbed.
- Research the common scams and sketchy areas of the city you are visiting. Do not visit any dark and deserted places, especially when you are alone.
- Backup your mobile phone data to the cloud, and set up a “find my phone” or equivalent application, to stay prepared in the event of loss or theft.
- Get travel insurance to protect your finances in the unexpected event of theft while traveling.
- Make both hard and soft copies of important documents (travel itinerary, passport, visa, vaccination documents, credit/debit cards, and bank information).
- Avoid sharing any personal information (hotel name, room number, relationship status, travel information, etc.) with strangers.
- Disguise your valuables in ways that their worth can’t be estimated. For example, keep your money in empty pill bottles, or your laptop in a cardboard box.
- Walk away rapidly if you see someone suspicious approaching you.
- Carry items that can be used for self-defense if necessary. These can include a ballpoint pen, keys, a pocket knife, or pepper spray (where legal).
- Be mindful of belongings. Always check for your stuff multiple times before leaving a place. Lost items can be easily stolen.
Have a Safe Trip
Getting robbed can ruin anyone’s day. It’s all that much worse when it happens in an unfamiliar place where you don’t know your way around. With the tips and tricks in this article, you can make life difficult for potential pickpockets. However, you must account for the possibility of robbery nonetheless.
In case you do get robbed, be sure to have travel insurance. And remember, the immediate panic of realizing you’ve become a victim will subside in time. Report it to the proper authorities, and do your best to enjoy the rest of your vacation with a new sense of vigilance.
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