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Here’s How to Avoid Getting Pickpocketed While Traveling

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Here’s How to Avoid Getting Pickpocketed While Traveling

Lori ZainoHere’s How to Avoid Getting Pickpocketed While TravelingMillion Mile Secrets Team

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INSIDER SECRET: To avoid being targeted by thieves, leave your passport in the hotel safe, carry your valuables in front and beware of distractions, especially in crowds.

Getting your wallet, phone, purse or passport swiped can really ruin a vacation.

You shouldn’t stress too much about the possibility of being robbed, but taking precautions to avoid losing your personal belongings to thieves might prevent you from being targeted. Follow these tips to ensure your belongings stay safely where they belong — with you.

Madrid is a beautiful city but beware of thieves. Photo by R.M. Nunes / Shutterstock.

Ways to Decrease Your Chances of Being Pickpocketed

Research your destination and note emergency numbers

Although most European cities are safe, pickpocketing is a problem at some destinations, so be alert and follow the tips below.

Before traveling, read up on your destination and jot down local emergency/police phone numbers and the address of the nearest embassy or consulate. Chances are you won’t need to use this information, but it’s easier to have it before your phone gets stolen, leaving you no way to Google the information.

Of course, you can be pickpocketed anywhere, but these are the most common cities where it occurs, according to TripAdvisor:

  1. Barcelona, Spain
  2. Rome, Italy
  3. Prague, Czech Republic
  4. Madrid, Spain
  5. Paris, France
  6. Florence, Italy
  7. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  8. Amsterdam, Netherlands
  9. Athens, Greece
  10. Hanoi, Vietnam

Spread out your items and money

Carry valuables in different spots, and don’t put all your money or credit cards in one place. Having cash in your wallet, in your pocket and back in the hotel safe could be a lifesaver if you are the victim of petty theft. You’ll still have money and cards to fall back on if you’re robbed. If you’d like to go a step further, hide cash in an empty lipstick, sunblock tube or an eyeglass case. You can also use a money belt or special passport carrier that tucks underneath your clothes.

I swear by a ‘travel wallet,’ which is a smaller change purse for a few key credit cards, an ID and some local currency. I leave my larger wallet or other cards and cash in the hotel safe, or at home. This way, my whole life (or at least, my vacation) won’t fall apart if my wallet gets stolen or lost.

Using a money belt can help keep you safe from pickpockets. Photo by Mike Focus / Shutterstock.

Put your items in front

Don’t carry your phone or wallet in your back pocket, especially when walking around crowded areas. If you wear a backpack, put wallets and phones in a hard-to-reach compartment. I usually carry my wallet inside a zipped purse inside my backpack to make it harder for anyone trying to get in. If you’re on public transportation, carry your backpack in front or sit with it on your lap instead of putting the bag on the floor.

Don’t flash your cash

Don’t make yourself a target by wearing expensive items or counting cash in public. If you change currencies, ask for small bills that you can pull out at markets to avoid flashing around large bills.

Don’t leave your phone on the table

One of the biggest scams in Europe is swiping phones off tables at restaurants — especially when diners are seated outside. Keep your cell phone tucked away. If someone comes to your table and sets a map or anything else down that’s not a plate of food, make sure they aren’t taking your phone, wallet or something else of value along with them when they leave.

Keeping your phone off the table will ensure it won’t get swiped — and maybe you’ll enjoy your meal and company better too. Photo by By View Apart / Shutterstock.

Don’t hang your purse on the chair or put it on the ground

When dining (especially al fresco), don’t hang your purse on the back of your chair or put it on the ground. As annoying as it might be, keep your purse in your lap or find a way to sit on it or hook the straps around something secure.

Leave your passport in the hotel safe

Unless absolutely necessary, don’t take your passport with you when walking around your vacation destination. Lock up this important document in the hotel safe and leave it there until you’re ready to leave. If you need to take it out, have a photo or paper copy in a safe spot — this will make it easier if you have to replace it at the embassy or consulate.

Don’t leave your belongings exposed at the beach

If you plan to swim, bring a waterproof phone case, or at least make sure none of your personal items are left exposed on your towel. If you can, keep an eye on your belongings from the water. Better yet, zip up your valuables and tuck them under a towel. It isn’t foolproof but it’s better than leaving your gear in full view.

Beware of distractions

Many pickpockets work in groups. One distracts, one swipes. Beware, especially in crowded places — a slight push or bump, someone spills something on you or drops something. Maybe someone asks you for directions, for a donation or offers to help with your bags. Not everyone is ready to steal your belongings, but stay alert when you’re approached for any reason.

Be alert in crowds and be ready for distractions. Photo by Feel good studio / Shutterstock.

Be extra vigilant in crowds

If someone is too close on a crowded subway or in a long line, pay attention to your wallet make sure it stays with you. Thieves prey on distracted, unsuspecting travelers in airports and train stations.

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Be careful with the “leave your passport at the hotel” suggestion.

I was arrested in Mexico for 26 hours for not having my passport on my person.

Our tour bus was stopped while visiting the pyramids in Mexico City. I did not have my passport on me. I left it and my extra cash/valuables at my in-laws residence so they wouldn’t get pick-pocketed.

My brother-in-law had to travel 10 hours round trip to retrieve it and then all the paperwork still had to be “processed”. This left me “on-the-inside” for 26 hours total I’m a general population area with around 300 arrestees.

This might be a one-off event, since it was just a bit post- trump becoming president.

Best solution in my opinion is to have both a passport and passport card.

Hi Jake,

Sorry to hear that happened to you. Hopefully, it was just a rare, one-off exception. Do you think if you had a copy of your passport things would have gone more smoothly?

Thanks for the tips.

I wear a scottevest everywhere I travel. It has been the best investment. It has so many pockets. pickpocket proof. I don’t even need a purse.

One more thing. Try to blend in. If you look like a local the chances to be robbed are less. Tourists, especially Americans, are the primary target.

Great tip. I especially like the one about not wearing flashy expensive things. Usually not a problem for me since I wear ugly shirts on vacation anyway since I figure I won’t be seeing anyone important lol!

At a Paris metro I was traveling during busy time, at the train stop, when the doors opened, 5-6 young women around me started pushing me as if they are trying to pass, but they were not passing either. I had a stroller and backpack, distracted by my kids and my wallet in my front pocket; somehow I realized I was being pick pocketed and was being pushed just as a distraction; I caught the pickpocket’s hand in my pocket already touching my wallet, she was ready to pull it out. Saved my wallet by milliseconds maybe; immediately went to the center of the train, and pointing at her yelled ‘this women is trying to steal my wallet’; of course the thieves didn’t know English, within seconds, before the subway doors closed they all got of the train. I realized, while the train was at the stop they probably got more aggressive (or brave) and tried to steal my wallet because if they were able to get off with my wallet, once the doors close, I would have no way of getting my wallet back.