Safety & wellness

Avoid Pickpockets Like a Pro: Tips for a Safe Vacation

January 1, 2024

< back to blog home

Did you know that the phrase “How to pickpocket” is searched 3 times more than “How to avoid pickpockets?” Seems like the bad guys are looking for lessons. So if you want to stay safe on your vacation, you need to learn how to avoid pickpockets and thieves.

Traveling is usually safe, and pickpockets are generally not violent. They rely instead on petty crime in crowded places that offer a quick exit. But having things stolen can ruin your trip. So, while I always advocate you expect the best, you also need to plan for the worst, develop some situational awareness, and learn to avoid pickpockets.

We think of pickpockets in crowded tourist locations like around the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Piazza San Marco in Venice, or in train and bus stations. However, pickpockets are everywhere, including in US cities, large and small.

They look for people who are distracted, burdened with too much luggage, or look like they might have something of value with them. They’re skilled, and you’ll rarely notice them fishing inside your pockets and bags.

So, no matter where you go, learning how to avoid being pickpocketed is important.

I want you to have the BEST time on your trip, feel safe and secure while you’re enjoying yourself, and return home with only the best memories to share. To do this, common sense will help, but planning ahead is your best defense.

The only time I’ve experienced theft while traveling was having some costume jewelry taken out of my hotel room in Virginia. I've never had a problem with pickpockets, even after years of travel.

But there's always a first time, so I practice these tips myself on every trip.

Prepare Before You Go

Learn about your location's risks ahead of time. That's one of the best ways to avoid pickpockets and other types of petty theft while traveling.

By taking some time to research your destination, you can learn about the common tactics pickpockets use in the area, as well as the neighborhoods and areas that are more prone to crime. You want to be aware of the potential risks.

Here are some easy ways to research the safety of your destination:

  • Look up crime statistics. Many cities and countries publish crime statistics online. By looking up these statistics, you can get a sense of which areas to avoid.
  • Read travel blogs and forums. Travel blogs and forums are a great source of information about local scams and pickpocketing tactics. By reading up on these, you can learn how to spot and avoid them.
  • Check local news sources. Local news sources are a great way to learn about recent crimes and security issues in the area.
  • Ask locals for advice. If you're staying with locals or have friends in the area, ask them for advice on the most common pickpocket techniques and how to stay safe. No local friends? Ask your hotel or accommodation host.

Insure your expensive electronics before you go. This may seem like an unnecessary cost, but believe me, you'll be happy you have insurance if you do lose something or have it stolen. Take photos in case you need to make a police report.

Tape a note with your phone and/or email address on the back of all your devices and gadgets. Maybe nothing gets stolen, but you might lose something. I’ve left my passport in a bathroom at Bangkok Airport and my phone in the bathroom at Auckland Airport. Both times, I’ve had them returned before I left the airport because a good samaritan was able to locate me.

Consider which credit, debit, and other types of ATM cards or ID cards you’ll be using on your trip and leave the rest of your cards at home. You don’t want a bulging wallet screaming, “Pick me, pick me!”

Dress Like a Local

The best thing is to look like a local rather than a tourist to avoid pickpockets.

Now is not the time for new designer clothes, expensive luggage, and irreplaceable jewelry. Instead, choose muted colors in comfortable, understated clothing, neutral-colored luggage, and simple accessories.

Don’t worry! You can still show off some style. You just don’t want to be the one to stand out as pickpockets scan the crowded streets. Get an inexpensive band if your finger feels naked without its diamond bling

Attending a special function? Save your fancy wear for that occasion. Take nice costume jewelry and leave anything irreplaceable at home. Only bring what you won’t mind losing.

Move Like A Local

Another way to be sure you don’t stand out is to plan your daily route ahead of time using digital maps like Rome2Rio.

If you need to look up directions, step into a shop or hotel off the street or move away from the crowd. Keep your guidebook out of sight, and whatever you do, don’t use a paper map in public. Nothing speaks “tourist” like someone on the street corner with a spread-out map.

Navigating with your mobile phone?  Study the route ahead of time so you know what the upcoming turns are. Then place it in silent mode, put it in a front pocket, and turn when it buzzes you. Or use your smartwatch to navigate.

And I want to stress again to be sure to research how pickpockets operate in your chosen destination. That way, you’ll know the local tricks to be aware of and the best ways to avoid being an easy target

Divide Things Up

Make a copy of your important documents, like passports, visas, IDs, and credit cards. You may also want copies of medical records, your itinerary, travel insurance, etc. Leave a copy with a family member or friend and take one copy with you.

Also, photograph these documents—front and back. Keep one copy in your photos on your phone, and email another copy to yourself. This way, no matter what happens, you can retrieve a copy if you need one.

I know it’s more convenient just to keep copies on your phone and not mess with the extra paper. But what if you misplace your phone or it’s stolen? Back your phone up to the cloud every night. Not sure how? Just look online for how to back up your phone. Practice before you leave home!

Keep your original documents in a safe place and copies in a different place. For example, if your passport is in your pocket, keep a copy in your shoe under the insert. If your credit card is in your purse, keep a copy in your suitcase if you're a solo traveler. Give it to your travel partner if you're traveling with someone else. You get the idea.

And since we’re talking about bank cards, you only need to bring two: one to use and one as a backup. By the way, be sure to let your bank know where you’re going and when. There’s nothing worse than having your card declined when you’re out of the country.

Hide Your Money

Don’t keep all your money in the same place. Put the majority in a money belt or hidden pouch (not around your neck where it’s visible). I see people with their money pouch dangling around their neck all the time…don’t be one of those people!

It's a good idea to take out the amount of money you’d need for the day. If you find that perfect souvenir or delicious lunch costs more than expected, find a restroom to retrieve the additional cash. Better yet, use a credit card or a travel card like Wise. It’s much safer, and some places no longer accept cash. Keep them in a wallet or pouch with RFID protection to avoid being digitally pickpocketed.

Don’t keep anything in a back pocketHand lifting a wallet out of a man's back pocketnot even your phone or wallet. If you don’t have a bag for it, put it in a front pocket. And don’t keep anything inside your jacket unless it’s in a pocket with a closed zipper. It’s too easy for a skilled pickpocket to snatch something without you noticing.

And make sure your wallet is slim so there’s no bulge in your clothing or purse. Some people recommend putting a rubber band around it or using a fabric wallet. Either of these makes the wallet more difficult to remove than a sleek leather one.

Want a tip to foil the bad guys? Have a small purse or wallet with an expired credit or debit card and a small amount of cash available, and keep everything else hidden safely away. That way, you have something to hand over if needed.

Here are some ideas for keeping things hidden under your clothes: a money belt for your waist, a neck wallet, a convertible wallet, which you can keep around your neck (under your clothes!) or in your pocket, a pair of socks, or a pouch that attaches to your bra.

If you want to hide things outside of your clothes, you can place a small amount of cash in what looks like a regular belt or, my favorite of all time, a SCOTTeVEST. Not only can you stash an incredible amount of stuff in one of these vests without it being noticeable, but a vest like this is also a great way to sneak extra things on the airplane without exceeding your baggage weight. You’re welcome!

Choose the Right Bag

To avoid being pickpocketed, the best bag to choose is one that’s secure and hands-free. You’ve got luggage, and a bag slung over your shoulder or one more thing to hang on to won’t work.

Invest in a good quality, anti-theft bag with sturdy zippers, hidden pockets, and slash-resistant straps. Like your clothes, it should be in a neutral color. You don’t want to have your red backpack screaming out, “Pick me.”

One solid choice is a cross-body bag that can be worn in front. Bonus if it also has hidden, zippered pockets.

You want to be sure that the straps are difficult to unclip, or your bag could be snatched right off you. Otherwise, you can attach small s-hooks or use simple zip ties to make them harder to remove. Pacsafe, Travelon, and Baggallini all have great cross-body travel bags with anti-theft features.

A fanny pack/bum bag is another good choice for a bag, worn in front, of course, as they also have zipper pockets.

I prefer a backpackPacsafe has travel-friendly backpacks in various sizes, as do Travelon and Baggallini. My personal favorite is the Synik by Tom Bihn, which comes in 2 sizes.

Lock Things Up

Pickpockets are always looking for bags with easy access, so be sure your suitcases and any bags containing valuable items are always locked.

A backpack with a lock and a Canadian ID tagIf you use a backpack, never use it in a public place without locking the zippers. If your bag doesn’t have locking zippers, you can use carabiners, straps, or simply garden wire or twist ties to keep the pockets secure.

In addition to keeping your bags locked, use the in-room safe at your hotel for anything you don’t need to carry. This includes your original passport, extra cash, credit or debit cards, computers or expensive cameras, jewelry, etc.— anything that could be stolen.

If you need any of these documents, you can take them with you for the day and then put them back in the safe when you return.

If you’re concerned about the safe in your room not being secure, ask the hotel's front desk to use their safe. Create a list of items you’re leaving and ask them to sign it. (You can say large yellow envelope instead of $20,000.)

And lock your luggage when you leave your room. Most hotel staff are honest, but you don’t want to tempt anyone into bad behavior.

Secure Your Stuff

Don’t make it easy for the bad guys!

Don’t sling your purse or day bag over the back of the chair in a restaurant. Don’t leave your phone, camera, or wallet on the table while you eat, or on the seat next to you on public transportation while you have a little snooze. Tourists have even been known to have their phone snatched right out of their hands as they were holding it up to take a photo.

Wear your day bag or purse across your body and place it in your lap when you’re sitting. Leave your fanny pack on. Put your phone on a cross-body lanyard and put it in your lap, or put it away in a zippered pocket.

Put your other electronics and gadgets away and create some type of foil. For example, loop one strap of your backpack around a chair leg or use a steel cable (hard to cut through) with a lock like this if you need to secure your bag or suitcase.

Thieves and pickpockets are looking for easy targets, so they'll move on if they see you have everything secured.

Be Alert

Pickpockets frequent popular tourist attractions and look for the easiest targets: people who are distracted. Just watch. All around, you'll see people talking to their friends with their purses dangling open by their side or their day bag sitting on the ground by a table at an outdoor café. Don't be that person if you want to avoid being pickpocketed.

Only display your cash, phone, camera, or other items if you absolutely must, and be extra aware of people around you, especially in crowded tourist areas like bus stations, train stations, metro stations, or important tourist destinations. You need to be more aware of your bags and items at these times.

And never set anything expensive on a chair or table at a restaurant. Secure it in its proper place so someone doesn’t run by and snatch it.

Be especially careful in airports and train stations where you’re trying to manage other bags and find your way around after a long flight. It’s easy to lose focus. If you have a traveling companion, one of you can watch the bags while the other finds out where you need to go.

And speaking of trains, buses, and other types of public transit, either check your luggage or keep it in sight. Pay particular attention at station stops so someone doesn’t snatch your bag and disappear into the crowd.

Woman giving directions to a manPickpockets often work in teams with one person or even a child, creating a distraction while the other person snatches your goods. They might ask you for directions or ask for money. One of them might jostle you or drop something in front of you. One might even pretend to trip and ask for help.

Our nature is to help. But in these situations, be aware! The best idea is to look for a police officer or security guard or ask another member of the public to assist and continue on your way. You can turn around and watch from afar, and if the person really does need help, you can go back to assist.

You might see someone fighting or struggling in some way, maybe even someone trying to steal something from their partner-in-crime. Make sure your bags and pockets are secure, and move on! Your job as a tourist is to avoid getting pickpocketed by keeping yourself and your belongings safe.

Conclusion

Expect the best, but plan for the worst is a good motto for avoiding not just pickpockets but the loss of anything while you travel. So, leave irreplaceable items at home. If it’s not with you, you won’t have to worry if it’s snatched.

Pickpockets are a universal concern for travelers. Whether you're exploring iconic tourist destinations or wandering through your hometown, the risk is there. But fear not, armed with some common-sense strategies, you can outwit these nimble-fingered thieves.

Remember to research your destination, blend in like a local, keep anything valuable out of sight, and stay alert in crowded areas.

I want your travel adventures defined by memorable moments, not unfortunate mishaps. The good news is that armed with these simple strategies, you can enjoy a trip of a lifetime!

Here's wishing you safe and wonderful travels! ✈️🚗🏝️

For more travel tips, sign up for Coffee and Compass, the Smart Travel Guide's weekly newsletter. Just grab a cuppa and get ready to immerse yourself in the wonderful world of travel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

search our blog for help!

Hey! Do you have any advice on...

©The Smart Travel Guide 2023-2024

TERMS & CONDITIONS

DISCLAIMER

PRIVACY POLICY