Preventing a Pickpocket Ruining Your Trip

Pickpockets have been around since the dawn of money. A skilled pickpocketer can have relieved their victim of money, watch, passport, identification and credit cards and have moved on,  before that person has noticed anyone is close to them.

Pickpockets have a large variety of ways of operating and are always coming up with new schemes, so it’s almost impossible to totally protect yourself.


There are some things that can reduce your risk

  1. Assume you may be next. Many people travel thinking they will be exempt from losing stuff but experiments have shown that we tend to overestimate our ability to know if we are at risk of being pickpocketed.
  2. I have found looking like a local always helps. Harder for me in Central America, Asia and most of Africa
  3. Always look confident. Pickpockets seek out people who look lost or confused. If you are lost, slip into a hotel or store to find your way
  4. Carry stuff in non-descript looking bags. Instead of a smart laptop case, a scrappy shopping bag may throw someone off the scent
  5. If someone calls out “pickpocket” or you see a sign saying “beware of pickpockets”, do not pat your wallet and touch your passport to reassure yourself it is still there. You have just told a pickpocket where your valuables are
  6. Try and use an ATM inside a branch. Count your money in the branch and never in the street. Place your cash in three different places
  7. Make it hard to get to your valuables. I am stunned people put their phone or wallet in their back pockets. It screams the message “steal me”. If you carry a purse or a handbag,  hold it under your arm or in front of you.
  8. When sitting at an outdoor cafe, avoid putting your valuables on display. It only takes a moment for someone to run or ride past and grab wallet, handbag etc
  9. In some places, I have openly carried a fake wallet which can distract a pickpocket from my real wallet.
  10. Keep your cash, credit cards and identification in different places, so you’re less likely to lose everything at once. I keep one card in my hotel room, one card with my phone and the others in my wallet
  11. Do not keep your PIN numbers or passwords in your wallet
  12. Upload pictures of your Credit Card numbers ID cards, passport etc to google docs or dropbox or email them to yourself
  13. Know the number of the police or tourist police in the country you are visiting
  14. Have your embassy and consulate information recorded
  15. Do not spend your vacation obsessing over pickpockets

Worst cities in the world for pickpocketing

  1. Barcelona: I won’t even take a wallet on Las Ramblas
  2. Prague:
  3. Rome:
  4. Madrid:
  5. Paris: the one city where I almost got robbed and embarrassed my thieves into stopping
  6. Buenos Aires
  7. Florence
  8. Amsterdam
  9. Hanoi
  10. Athens

I have been to all of these places (except Athens) multiple times and other areas I would deem high risk and so far (touch wood), I have never been pickpocketed.

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  1. I just got back from Athens last month. Stay away from metro if you are not staying close to Acropolis area. During busy seasons, they worked together and swamped you on the metro making everyone is close to one another. That’s when they started hunting! I was victim of that but thankfully I didn’t lose any. I decided to walk instead and took taxi to stay away from Metro. It’s a shame that their Metro is so convenient, but turns out a place that most pickpockets happen.

  2. 16. Avoid trains at rush hours. Pickpockets target “the crush” when everyone’s elbow to elbow and it’s easiest for them to do their job.
    17. If stranger compliments your child, or engages you in banter, or says “hey look it’s the Goodyear blimp!” assume they are the pickpocket’s partner. This person is to distract you, so you are looking away.
    18. If someone has their coat over their arm…IN SUMMER….it’s probably a cover for what their other hand is about to do.
    19. ZIPPERED POCKETS are where you should stash money.
    20. When you catch a pickpocket fumbling at you, just smile and stare into their eyes. Don’t raise alarm. Watch them melt away, and get off at the next stop.

    I’ve been forced to violate #16, and stopped pickpockets cold in bus and train with attention to 17-20 in Rome several times. And in Paris just a few weeks ago. It happens, let them go on their way.

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