In the last five years, I have travelled at every available opportunity. In all of this time, I prided myself on never having fallen victim to pickpocketing. That was until Porto anyway.
As all of you women out there know, there seems to be a huge reluctance from clothing brands to put pockets in women’s clothes. For some strange reason, humanity has evolved under the impression that women don’t need pockets because we all love carrying flashy handbags. I’m not convinced. As a direct result of me having no pockets, Tim crammed everything we needed for the day into his. The lack of zips and a crowded tube journey made us easy pickings and before we knew it, we had lost €50 and a bank card.
Whilst I suppose it technically wasn’t me that was pickpocketed, it may as well have been when you consider that half of the stolen money was mine! With this rather unfortunate experience under our belts (and out of Tim’s pocket), I have formulated the ultimate guide to avoid pickpocketing and what you should do if the worst happens.
Invest in a bum bag/money belt
This was the very first thing that we did after getting pickpocketed. I actually ordered our [amazon_textlink asin=’B01HLHMVCE’ text=’bumbag’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’wingtheworl-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’c22b7f63-a613-11e8-9051-99160c990549′] (that’s a fanny pack for you Americans) while we were still in the airport! I personally prefer a bum bag to a [amazon_textlink asin=’B010U13F50′ text=’money belt’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’wingtheworl-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’e48104d2-a613-11e8-a010-e55f9ca36057′], the main difference being a bum bag goes over your clothes whereas a money bag goes underneath. Whilst a money belt is good for hiding your valuables, they can get very sticky in hot countries and the sweat patches can give away its location!
Make sure you keep valuables in zipped pockets
This is a very basic but effective step in helping you to avoid pickpocketing. If you have to keep belongings in your pockets, choose ones with zips as these are harder for thieves to open inconspicuously. Likewise, choose to fill your front pockets over your back ones as these are easier to keep an eye on.
Don’t put expensive items on display
If you have expensive jewellery or flashy technology, it is probably best to cover it up or leave it at home. Your new Apple watch may be the envy of your friends but you are much more likely to attract the attention of thieves if you parade your expensive items around.
Keep valuable items in your hotel if you can
There will always be some items that you need to carry on your person but it is often surprising how much you could leave in your hotel. Tablets don’t usually need to be carried on a daily basis and keeping money split over different accounts means you can leave some bank cards at your place of accommodation. Many hotels will provide a safe to help you avoid pickpocketing. Use these for storing your valuables whenever possible.
Be aware of your surroundings
You are far more likely to become a victim of theft in busy areas so always keep an eye on what is going on around you. In order to avoid pickpocketing, pay particular attention to gatherings and protests in public spaces as these can be good camouflage for unscrupulous individuals waiting to make you a victim.
Find out the theft hotspots in your area
Although these places will vary depending on where you go, you will tend to find that you are more at risk of being pickpocketed in certain locations. The main four are:
1. Tourist attractions
2. Transport Hubs
3. Restaurants and bars
The busier an area and the more tourists that go there, the more likely it is to become a pickpocket hotspot. Also, pay particular attention to your valuables in bars and restaurants when you may have had a few glasses of wine.
Act confident (and try to look like a local)
One of the best tips to avoid pickpocketing is to try to blend in with the locals. Whilst there is only so much you can do if you stand out physically (I had to give up on this idea pretty quick with my ginger hair in China), it is naturally assumed that as a tourist you will easier to rob. Not knowing the area makes you vulnerable so avoid using maps in public or looking lost-even if you are.
Don’t give the game away
When you travel, you may come across signs that say, ‘beware of pickpockets’. It is also common to be warned of theft hotspots during guided tours as well. In this instance, resist the urge to check you still have your valuables on you. It is very common for pickpockets to watch from the outskirts of tourist areas to ascertain where your valuables are.
Treat distraction with caution
If somebody comes over and makes the effort to engage you in conversation unexpectedly, keep a close eye on your valuables. There are many tricks to try to make you vulnerable to losing your cash but they all involve an element of distraction. Common ruses are being approached by children or people trying to get you to sign petitions. These all have the sole aim of drawing your attention away from your belongings.
Consider buying an anti-theft bag
There is a whole range of bags which have been specifically designed to foil the attempts of pickpockets and other thieves. My bag of choice is the Flak Sack Coalition by Loctote. It’s made with slash resistant material and cord and also has an RFID blocking pocket to prevent my credit card data being hacked remotely. A decent bag is perhaps one of the best ways to avoid being pickpocketed.
Carry a decoy
A clever thing to do if you have space is to carry decoy versions of the most desirable items for thieves. An old phone or empty wallet can be the perfect snare for a thief and can prevent your real valuable items from being taken.
Don’t leave belongings unattended
This may seem obvious but we are all guilty of doing it. I, like many others, am in the terrible habit of putting my phone down on the table when I’m in a restaurant or bar. Leaving valuables like this in full view means that they are much easier to spot and then to swipe. Essentially, you can avoid pickpocketing by always making sure that your belongings are in safe place, out of other people’s reach.
Divide your valuables across your person
Sadly, this is not a prevention tip but a damage limitation one. After Tim and I got pickpocketed, the only silver lining was that we had divided our money and bank cards up. This meant we only lost a portion of what we were carrying. Make use of all of your bags and always keep a little money hidden away on your person in case of an emergency.
Keep copies of any important documents
When it comes to travel, it is always good to keep both electronic and hard copies of your important documents. Store these remotely to a cloud system like Dropbox that you can access from any PC. It can be difficult and time-consuming to replace travel documents so having a copy of your originals can help to speed the up the process.
For more tips on preparing for travel abroad, check out this post.
Never assume ‘it won’t happen to me’
I should never have assumed that I was too clued up to get pickpocketed. No matter how many places you’ve travelled or where you’ve been, it could still happen to you. Don’t get cocky and remember that prevention (and damage limitation) is always better than cure.
What to do if you get caught out…
Cancel your bank cards
The first thing you should do if you have your cards stolen is to notify your bank and credit companies. By notifying them that the card has been stolen, they will be able to put a stop to any transactions before the pickpocket has the chance to get too carried away.
Report to police
Depending on what you have had stolen, you may want to report the crime to the local police. When Tim and I were pickpocketed in Porto, we never bothered reporting the incident to the police because all we lost was a small amount of cash and a bank card which we later cancelled. However, it is worth bearing in mind that travel insurers will usually not pay out for theft unless there is proof that a police report was filed immediately.
Have you ever been pickpocketed? What are your top tips to avoid pickpocketing?
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase any of the above items using the links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Let’s be honest, if any of these items help you to avoid pickpocketing, the cost will be worth it! Thank you.
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