Things go wrong, accidents happen, situations come up. Disappointment is part of life and, unfortunately, sometimes part of the travel process. Sometimes disappointment comes in the form of a missed flight. Sometimes it comes in the form of a poorly located hostel. And sometimes it comes in the form of a pickpocket.
I have never been pickpocketed. But I can say that I have met a number of travelers and tourists who have. I can also say that people I have been traveling with have been pickpocketed while traveling with me. And I will also admit that I have almost been pickpocketed several times. Throughout my travels, I have compiled a list of tips to avoid such mishaps. Check it out.
Don’t put your money in your back pocket
This is common sense. When I was traveling around Europe with my at-the-time-boyfriend, we went out in Germany one night. He put his money in his back pocket. I had argued with him several times thus far on that trip about doing so. I told him it was reckless and foolish. Needless to s
ay, by the time that we got back to our hostel his pockets were empty and I ended up having to pick up the next few expenses. Guys, this is simple: Your money is easier to steal when it’s in your back pocket than in your front pocket. In crowded bars or markets, people bump up against each other all of the time. You probably won’t think twice about it until you go to pay for your next drink and your wallet is gone.
- Be aware of where you are. I live near a bridge. At night this bridge has a bad reputation for thieves. I have almost been pickpocketed on this bridge several times walking home from work. Men will stand on the corner and come up behind me when I start to cross the bridge. There is busy oncoming traffic and there is nowhere to go. The pedestrian path crossing the bridge is narrow and passing people is difficult. They will try to reach into my bag or my pocket and take out my money or my phone. I turn to face them directly, look them in the eyes, turn back around, pull my things close to me, and then cross as quickly as I can. I remember before I moved to this bridge I was in a taxi one night and the drive said while crossing, “Be very careful on this bridge. There are many thieves.”
Keep your things where you can see them
This means not carrying a backpack in a crowded location, keeping your money in your front pocket, and keeping your bag pulled in front of you. Never put your phone in your back pocket. And if you have a jacket, I recommend one with zippers or buttons on the pockets. Awareness is easy to identify, if you are aware of where your things are then it will show. There is nothing more deterring for thieves than the possibility of causing a scene. A couple of months ago my landlady was walking down the street. She was talking on her phone. Someone grabbed her phone out of her hand and started walking down the street. She ran after him screaming, “Thief!” at the top of her lungs. He was so shocked by the commotion that he dropped the phone and took off running down the street. Granted, she could increase her awareness factor in the future by not talking on her phone in the street.
Be careful of public transit
This is probably the most common place that I have heard of for things disappearing from pockets. This goes for any country, local or tourist. I had students inPeru who had had their cell phones stolen on the local buses as much as three times. I have known tourists who have had their wallets disappear. I had a coworker last week have her camera taken out of her frontpocket as a man was getting off of the bus. In many countries and most major cities, public transit is crowded. This makes for an easy snag. I try to pick a place up against the wall so that I have a good view of my surroundings. I am also conscious of who is around me. If I notice someone uncomfortably staring at me I return their gaze with eye contact, which brings us to our next point…
- Make eye contact and acknowledge
I have mentioned it twice now. I talked about it on the bridge and I talked about it on public transportation. It is what I believe to be the single most important thing that you can do to prevent theft. It is, in my opinion, the only thing that has kept me from being pickpocketed personally. Let’s face it. I am not a big person. I am a relatively small female. I am not physically intimidating and I am a foreigner. I therefore offer no immediate incentive for not messing with me. However, I have found that letting the people around you know, even in the subtlest way, that you are aware of them, can prevent fiscal catastrophe. By looking someone in the eyes or giving a slight nod of the head, you are letting the other person know, “Hey, I am not oblivious and I see you.”
- Don’t be a fool
There is no need to carry your passport and all of your credit cards on you all of the time. You are already a target just being a foreigner. You don’t need to make yourself a bull’s eye by carrying more than necessary on your person. If you do have to transport important travel documents and credit cards, try to avoid things
like public transportation while doing so. There are under-the-clothes travel belts that can be purchased to hold your passport and money securely if you do have to have a substantial amount of money on your person.
There is one thing that I have learned about people in recent years, and it’s that they don’t listen. I can offer you all of the advice in the world, but the bottom line is that taking extra precautions are up to you. Westerners tend to deem me paranoid, I prefer the term aware. In the last six months of relocating to a lesser developed country and doing some traveling, four fellow exPats who have called me paranoid have been robbed or pickpocketed-two of them twice. And I am not talking about cell phones. I am talking about things like 100s of USD, camera, and laptops.
Does that make me paranoid or them unaware?
I like to take this time to thank Tina Stelling for helping me with this amazing article. Check out her works at www.tinastelling.com
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