Nothing can ruin a vacation faster than having your pocket picked. One minute you're enjoying the sights and sounds of a new city, the next minute you're on the phone canceling credit cards.
Unfortunately, pickpocketing is a fact of traveling life, and several popular cities have earned themselves a reputation as a place where wallets go to be snatched. Our sister site, TripAdvisor, just released a list of the World's Worst Pickpocket Destinations. The list "based solely on TripAdvisor site data calculating the number of times travelers use the term pickpocket in their TripAdvisor reviews in the last 12 months." Take a look and see if you agree:
- Barcelona, Spain
- Rome, Italy
- Paris, France
- Madrid, Spain
- Athens, Greece
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Costa Brava (Alicante Province), Spain
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Tenerife, Spain
- London, England
(Wow, what's going on in Spain?)
What we have here is a case of cities suffering from their own success. The list includes some of the most popular destinations in the world, full of attractions travelers flock to in droves. And nothing gets a pickpocket salivating like a throng of enchanted tourists.
So what is a concerned traveler to do? The good news is that utilizing simple common sense is 98 percent of the battle. Here are a few basic tips to protect your wallet:
Carry as little as possible: The less you carry, the less someone can steal from you. In most places, all you need is a debit card and maybe some ID. Leave the passport, credit cards, and any other sensitive documents or cards in your hotel safe. Even better, just carry cash.
Don't put anything in your back pocket: Your back pocket is an easy target, especially in crowded areas like subway platforms and escalators. Assuming you're carrying as little as possible, put it in your front pocket.
Wear a purse or bag that goes across your chest: It's much harder (though not impossible) to make off with a bag when it's strapped across a person rather than hanging from a shoulder. Sling it across your chest and hang on to it in crowded spaces.
Secure your bag when sitting: Whether you're dining al fresco or simply resting on a bench, make sure your bag is attached either to yourself or your table or chair. A bag sitting on a table can be easily snatched by a thief running past, and it will be long gone before you're out of your seat.
Pay attention: Pickpockets prey on distracted travelers, so be aware of your surroundings. Make sure your belongings are secure and accounted for before you enter a crowded space. Watch out for obvious schemes, like if a stranger comes up and pretends to be brushing something off your sleeve, because his or her buddy is probably trying to grab your wallet.
Don't overdo it: The flip side, of course, is you can't let paranoia over pickpocketing ruin your vacation. The goal is simply to be smart about your valuables, and not take any unnecessary risks. For example, I heard plenty of warnings about the pickpocketing in Barcelona, TripAdvisor's number one pickpocketing destination, before I traveled there this past May, but thanks to a few minor adjustments (carrying less, not using my back pocket), I felt like I was in control the whole time. After a few hours there, I stopped thinking about pickpockets entirely, and simply enjoyed the beautiful city.
SmarterTravel reader teachertraveler sums it up nicely: "I read on many travel sites that Barcelona was the purse-snatching capital. Horrific stories seemed to litter every forum on the city. I seriously considered backing out of my trip. So glad I didn't listen to the travel sites! Barcelona was lovely and it all came down to being a smart, temporary local. I carried a non-cheesy across-the-body purse without a wallet that had a hard to reach zip pocket where I kept minimal cash. My arm was always resting on the top zip. We stayed in a residential area full of families and pensioners, avoided shady alleys and always knew where we were going before leaving the apartment so the map never made an appearance. The same travel smart rules that apply in any major city, applied here as well."
Prepare for the worst: If 98 percent of the battle is common sense, the other 2 percent is luck. Even well-prepared travelers can fall victim to an experienced pickpocket. Make sure you have contact information for your bank, and bring photocopies of important documents, such as your passport.
Readers, what tips do you have for keeping your valuables safe while traveling? Any tricks for spotting pickpocketing schemes? Tried-and-true methods of concealing your wallet or cash? Share your thoughts below. Thanks!