The year was 2014. I was on a bike tour of Bogota in Colombia. Now, I absolutely loved my time in this capital city; however, there’s no denying it can be rough, especially when it comes to thieves.
Luckily I’d considered how to avoid pickpockets before the excursion and had worn pickpocket-proof garments; one woman, though, had not. As we sat on our bikes at a standstill, listening to our guide, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.
“Thief!” I screamed, pointing as a local woman unzipped and reached into one of my fellow tourist’s pockets and extracted her iPhone — right in broad daylight!
The startled women dropped the gadget and ran off, and the phone was retrieved.
But, what if it hadn’t been?
Sure, it’s just an object, albeit a very expensive one. While the situation wasn’t life threatening, what if the robber had intimidated the woman at gunpoint? Or with a knife?Most travelers have a story or two about pickpocketing...check out these tips to make sure you never do! #travel #traveltips Click To Tweet
Don’t Give Papaya
In Colombia, they have a saying: “Don’t give papaya.”
The statement doesn’t refer to a literal papaya fruit, but the fact that in Colombia if you show someone you have valuables and make them accessible, you also make yourself a target to be taken advantage of.
While my home of NYC is a relatively safe city, it’s big, and the question of how to avoid pickpockets is something I think about 24/7, not just when I’m traveling. Additionally, as the above story shows, it’s not just something you need to think about when traveling solo, but also when you’re in a group.
Do you think that anti pickpocket garments and pickpocket-proof bags are over the top? These stories from travelers tell a different story! #travel #traveltips #solotravel Click To Tweet
Read on to hear frequent travelers share their unfortunate pickpocketing stories. Make sure to scroll to the bottom, as I’ve got actionable tips and gear to ensure you *never* get pickpocketed again!
Pickpocketing Stories From The Road
Don’t think you need pickpocket-proof bags and anti pickpocket gadgets? These stories from my fellow travelers tell a different story:
When Asking For Directions In Madrid
I had just got to Madrid and decided to take a cab from the train station to my hostel, The Hat, which was just behind the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Instead of stopping in front of the hostel, the cabbie dropped me on one side of Plaza Mayor and told me that my hostel was on the opposite gate. What he failed to mention was Plaza Mayor has nine entrances, and I spent the next 45 minutes dragging my luggage around, trying to find my hostel. I spoke to multiple people for directions — my phone’s internet was not working — and one of them pickpocketed me. It was during my six-week solo trip across Europe, and Madrid was only my 3rd stop!
-Soumya Nambiar of Travel, Books And Food
Bag Snatching in Phnom Penh
Traveling with hubby and three young kids, we had finished dinner with a Cambodian friend and our children were having a run around on the river side of the Tonle Sap. A motorbike pulls up next to my youngest blondie on the footpath, and the girl on the back picks him up, kissing him. Not entirely unusual in Southeast Asia, but of course I immediately run to grab my child back. More motorbikes appear; so hubby, who has been sitting on the bench with our backpack, runs to grab our other two children. Seeing him, all the motorbikes promptly disappear. The whole incident was over in less than two minutes, but of course we turn to grab our stuff and the backpack is gone. Thankfully, it contained little more than a baby’s bottle, a few toys and maybe $50 in cash. We always keep items with us to a bare minimum on outings and most of our cash, passports, ID and health cards were thankfully in the hotel safe. My phone was in the baby sling which they didn’t touch.
-Keri Hedrick of Our Globetrotters
In Paris Near The Sacre Coeur
I have never been pickpocketed; though I came close just outside the Sacre Coeur. Luckily, I didn’t have anything in my pockets; but a man in a big coat was just loitering and swinging his arms in a relaxed fashion. He swung one arm and it went right into my empty pocket and I just walked away as fast as I could. From now on, I always try and have my valuables in a handbag that is difficult to get into rather than an open pocket.
-Rebecca Sharp of Almost Ginger
On The Train In Delhi
I had a few extra days in Delhi before my tour started, and I had been everywhere around the city on the train. When I finally met my group, we needed to take the train to a mosque. I was confident on where we were going, and the group split up, with some us in the female carriage. Of course, Delhi trains are packed and the second I got out of the carriage my bag felt a bit lighter. My wallet was gone along with all of my cards. I only lost $40 but I then had to pay to get money wired to India for me to use. Luckily my guide lent me some money in the meantime!
-Nicole Labarge of Travel Gal Nicole
In The Metro Station In Rome
My story starts with four friends traveling around Europe by train. Young and naive we proceeded through each train station with confidence. On one particular journey we arrived at Rome Terminal, an extremely busy station. Bumping into people was almost common practice. As a sort of precautionary measure I go to check my pockets…and my wallet is gone. To be honest, it’s no surprise to me nowadays as those shorts were baggy with big pockets, so it was a miracle it hadn’t happened sooner. Our experience dealing with the police at the station was very uneventful as they seemed completely uninterested. They wrote down my name and number, I never heard from them again.
-Dean Lissaman of Life Out The Hive
While Taking Photos In Rwanda
I was in Rwanda on a solo trip. After a fabulous time with the wild gorillas, I wanted to explore some beaches, so I visited the city of Kivu. My impression of the country until then had been one of extreme safety. I had to change local buses on the way, and decided to wander while waiting for the second bus. A bunch of young boys were playing, and I started taking their pictures. Within seconds I heard a few men shouting behind me, and a policeman running fast after a young man and catching him just in time. Shockingly, the policeman then came to me and returned my wallet! The young thief had neatly pulled it out while I was engrossed in taking pictures, but thanks to the vigilant police I was saved! What did I learn? Well, lots of things. I stopped keeping my wallet in the outside pocket. I also realized how important it is to be vigilant even in a safe country!
-Siddhartha Joshi of Sid The Wanderer
On A Bus In Bangalore
When I was traveling in Bangalore on a crowded public bus, an elderly lady was standing too closely behind me. But the bus was full and I could not ask her to move. As she was an innocent looking old woman, I did not suspect anything unwanted would happen at all when she made eye contact with me a little unusually after bumping into me. Once I got to my destination, I saw that my backpack was open and my wallet was stolen. Only then I realized that I should not let my guard down even if someone looks totally innocent in such situations. After that incident I keep my bag in front of me in crowded places, and also maintain a separate wallet on my person with important cards and documents and maintain another one for loose bills and change.
-Priyadarshini Rajendran of Glorious Sunrise
By A Prostitute In Madrid
A few years back, when I was much more innocent to the ways of this world, I had just been out with a friend for a few drinks during a visit to Madrid. On the way home, I was approached by two beautiful Spanish ladies. They asked where I was from, and proceeded to tell me how much they loved English guys. Next thing I know, one of them is touching me in an inappropriate place and I thought I was having the best night ever. It wasn’t long before my wise friend grabbed me, pointing out that they were prostitutes and, disappointed, I skulked back to the hotel. The next morning I had a call from reception saying that someone had handed my wallet in and that’s when I realized I had been pick-pocketed. It turns out they didn’t care for English guys at all; the inappropriate touching was just a distraction from their other hand. Still, I do console myself that if I’m going to get mugged, I’d much rather it happens that way than at knife-point.
-Matt Hulland of The Travel Blogs
By A Man Selling Cigarettes In Cartagena
In Cartagena, there was a man who held a small tray of cigarettes and gum. I walked past him late at night on the way home from a club with a friend. Although the city square was empty at the time, he lightly brushed me as I walked past. Why? I checked my pockets immediately to find about $40 in cash missing. I immediately turned and started to swear at him in Spanish. He dropped my money on the ground and briskly walked away. That was the day I learned that if someone runs into you, there might be a reason why.
-Crystal Egan of Castaway With Crystal
At A Club In Madrid
One night in Madrid I went out with some friends for a going away party. I’d been sick with an ear infection and we were at a club playing house music, which isn’t my scene, so I left alone. On the way out I felt someone’s hand up my skirt and underwear. I took my right hand off of the zipper of my purse, where it always is when I walk, to punch the culprit. As I did this his friend swooped in and stole my brand new iPhone out of my bag. It was the middle of the dance floor and the only way to exit the place. When I told the Spanish police, they shrugged and said, no pasa nada (nothing is wrong). They also laughed when I suggested it was sexual assault. The three other times I was robbed in Spain didn’t go much better. Keep your loved ones close, and your belongings closer!
-Lola Méndez of Miss Filatelista
By A Nursing Mother In India
I was traveling by bus in interiors of Tamil Nadu, India when a woman with an infant sat next to me. She had a shawl around her and looked obscure. The child started crying and the woman covered him with the shawl and tried to feed her. I moved towards the window and gave her more space. By this time I was also half covered in her shawl. After some time, she alighted and when I reached my destination I realized my wallet — which also had my ATM card — was missing! She had done the trick using the baby to her advantage.
-Nisha Jha of Lemonicks
From The Bus Luggage Compartment In Thailand
After so many years on the road, I’m glad to say that I was only robbed once. But it didn’t happen in any of the “dangerous countries” I’ve visited like Mauritania or Venezuela. Nope, I got robbed in Thailand!
I got a “bus + ferry” ticket at my hostel near Khao San Road. When you get a ticket like this, they pick you up at the hostel, so it’s easier and even cheaper than doing the trip by yourself. However, since the bus is full of tourists, some sketchy companies take this as an opportunity to take advantage of travelers. Somehow, they must have had a guy in the luggage compartment just opening up backpacks to steal what was inside during the whole journey. Unfortunately, I forgot 100 Euros in one of the pockets inside my backpack, which they took! Other passengers had money, phones and even condoms stolen on that trip!
-Miguel of Travelsuauro
Scary stuff, right? The good news: there are gadgets and garments to help you avoid anything like the above scenarios (while traveling and at home). Here I share some of my personal favorites:#Packing for travel? Don't forget these garments and gadgets to help avoid pickpockets! #travel #traveltips Click To Tweet
Anti Pickpocket Clothing
To ensure that thieves never even know I’m carrying valuables, I often wear Clever Travel Companion’s extensive line of pickpocket-proof garments, all containing hidden zipper pockets. Specifically, I love the solid tank top— which I wear both on its own and as an undershirt — and the super soft, double-pocket boyshort underwear. I mean, you’d have to be a pretty bold robber if you’re going to go for my passport down there.
When it’s cold, I wear the striped cotton long johns, also with two hidden pockets. Along with being my secret to not getting pickpocketed, these are also a very important component to my strategy for packing for multiple seasons with just a carry-on (hello, layers!).
In terms of accessories, Speakeasy Travel Supply makes gorgeous hand-made scarves with hidden pockets that even fit your passport.
And they zip!
Made by fellow travel bloggers of Beers and Beans, these scarves allow you to travel safely without the dreaded belly sweat ring of a money belt and more stylishly than with a fanny pack. Bonus: there’s even a collection for when you’re traveling to warmer climates.
Pickpocket Proof Bags
Good news: there is an entire line of over 60 backpacks, purses and other pickpocket proof bags made just for people wanting to keep their valuables safe from thieves. Personally, I’m a fan of their super comforable 25-liter daypack.
First of all, it has zippers that affix to concealed clips, making them tricky for pickpocketers to open. Additionally, the pack features RFID blocking — meaning the more tech-savvy robbers can’t steal your identity without even touching your passport or cards (because yes, people can do that now!). Finally, lightweight wire runs through the pack to make the old slash-and-dash a tough tactic for the bad guys.
For a purse option, get the Pacsafe CitySafe 50 Shoulder Bag. Like the daypack, it’s slash-proof, has RFID-blocking capabilities and featured the concealed clip zippers. Additionally, a built-in Turn & Lock Security Hook means you can affix the bag to secure strutures to help prevent thieves from grabbing your bag and fleeing. I’m also a believer that the safest purses sit in front of your body where you can see it.
Bonus: Order using the links above and you’ll get free shipping!
Anti Pickpocket Gadgets
I’ll admit I used to carry a pocket knife around NYC for protection. As I got older, I realized how easily that could be turned on me since, let’s be real, I’m 5’2” and haven’t lifted a weight since high school gym class. Additionally, I carried pepper spray, but then my friend told me a story about how a guy was following her and when she sprayed a little in his direction it flew back into her eye and she had to go to the emergency room.
Yea, that would so be me.
On the search for some anti pickpocket gadgets that wouldn’t lead me to hurt myself, I found the TSA-friendly Vigiliant Personal Alarm. I can wear it as a keychain or bracelet, and simply push a button to have it blare as loud as a fire truck if a thief or attacker gets close. Bonus: it works on bears, too!These anti theft tips are ones every traveler needs to know! #travel #safety #solotravel Click To Tweet
Anti Theft Tips
Okay, so know that you know the possibilities for pickpocketing and what you can pack to stay safe, I want to leave you with a few anti theft tips to learn how to avoid pickpockets and help keep your valuables as safe a possible.
Know that nothing is free. That person offering to give you a free CD or who really wants to help you take a great photo will very likely ask you for some kind of payment afterward. And if you’ve given him a camera or phone to take a photo and don’t give them the requested payment, they could very well run off with it. I’m not saying don’t trust anyone, but if you can avoid giving your valuables to a stranger — especially a pushy one — then try to.
Be aware of “random” distractions. It’s not uncommon for pickpockets to cause a commotion on purpose — some even going so far as to throw you their baby to hold while they pick your pockets. The best way to avoid becoming the victim of this is to utilize the above anti pickpocketing clothing mentioned so your valuables are out of sight and zipped up tight!
Those women are not really flirting with you. A few years back when I was in Barcelona a group of backpackers from my hostel were going out. While walking along the busy Las Ramblas (street), a group of attractive local women began hardcore flirting with the guys — even touching them. I can’t say I was surprised when one of the guys noticed shortly after that his wallet was missing.
On that note, don’t ever let anyone touch you. There are even scams where an unseen bystander will squirt ketchup on your shirt, and then run over, seemingly out of nowhere, to help you clean it off. And, you know, grab your wallet in the process. Anytime a stranger tries to get really close and touch you, back away.
Hang upon on random “front desk” calls. At least the ones where they tell you they’re having an issue with your credit card and ask you to repeat the information over the phone. Instead, head down to the front desk to make sure the request is legitimate. Like calls that require you to hand over personal information, it’s best to hang up and call/ask directly to avoid being robbed.
Get RoamRight travel insurance. Of course, anything can happen on the road. While you’ll want to outfit yourself with anti pickpocket clothing and gadgets as well as pickpocket proof bags — and of course educate yourself on local scams and always be aware of your surroundings — having travel insurance provides piece of mind.
Plus, even if you don’t get pickpocketed, other mishaps may happen, from hospital visits to lost luggage, and you’ll want to be reimbursed.
RoamRight is the travel insurance I use when hitting the road, and absolutely love their customer service and budget-friendly packages.
Now, I’d love to know: what tactics do you use to keep from getting pickpocketed?