Unfortunately, pickpockets and other petty thieves are a fact of life in many locations worldwide. Barcelona, Rome, and Paris are often cited as the top three European cities for pickpockets. I have spent time in all three of these and found them to be safe as long as some precautions are taken. You should be cautious when traveling, but don’t let fear ruin your trip.
Before you leave on your trip, make copies of your passport, insurance cards, and any other important documents such as plane or train tickets. I pack a copy in each of our suitcases and also scan them into a file that I store on a website that is available to me from any internet access. I use Apple’s Mobile Me, but free sites such as Dropbox can also provide this service. I keep an additional color copy of our passports in my wallet. I also record the international phone numbers for all of my credit and ATM cards should I need to contact customer service for any reason. Some people carry an extra passport photo to facilitate replacement if theirs is lost or stolen.
The best way to avoid thieves is to not make yourself an easy target and be alert to your surroundings. Blend in with the locals by dressing conservatively; dark, muted, or neutral colors and no shorts in the city. Denim is fine as it is ubiquitous in mostlocales. Fanny packs scream out “tourist”, as do white athletic shoes.
Use a security pouch or money belt to carry cash, credit cards, and important documents. Keep only a small amount of money in your purse or pocket. Keep your passport secure, with a color photocopy readily available. In places such as Spain where legally you are always supposed to have your passport with you, authorities will accept a color copy; when using rail passes, color copies are also acceptable as identification.
I have a wonderful security pouch that I have used for years. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. It is a muslin pocket that is just the size of a passport and I wear it around my waist, tucked inside my skirt or slacks. It is so compact that it is never visible, even when wearing clingy material. Remember that security pouches are supposed to be hidden; I’ve often seen tourists wearing neck pouches outside of their shirts or jackets, a practice that is not very safe.
Wear your purse across your body and never put it on the back of a chair or on the floor. If you are particularly concerned about security, PacSafe makes a variety of “anti theft” travel products. Their handbags and straps are purported to be slash proof and the zipper clips shut. Because I do a lot of walking by myself off the beaten path, I often don’t carry a purse. Yearsago, I purchased what could best be described as a long zippered cloth wallet on a cord. I wear that across my body, inside of a sweater or jacket. Sometimes, I have just pinned cash in a pocket for my early morning jaunts. If I know I am going to stop at a street vendor, bakery, or other establishment for something, I estimate how much cash I will need and keep it in a pocket rather than having to dig out my wallet.
Daypacks should should never contain valuables; use them just for items like umbrella, jacket, water, guidebook. For cameras, there are metal camera straps available or PacSafe makes a cloth one that is slash proof. I change memory cards in my camera every few days. Should my camera ever be lost or stolen, I won’t lose all of my pictures. Consider putting your name and local contact information on your camera. If it is lost someone just might return it. Hard to believe, but I’ve actually heard of this happening to some travelers in Switzerland.
Pickpockets tend to operate in markets, transit stations, crowded buses or subways, near street performers; any place that crowds and tourists gather. They often work in teams and may do something to distract you. Infamous ploys are squirting mustard on you or telling you there are bird droppings on your back and then offering to clean it off.
In stations and terminals, keepyour bags close. If you are concerned that you might doze when traveling on a train with a bag, clip it to the luggage rack. If you leave your bags in a luggage compartment, consider tying the handles together; that will certainly dissuade a thief trying to make a quick getaway.
In a rental car, the obvious precaution is to not leave any valuables in it and don’t leave anything (including maps) in sight. Consider putting a local non tourist newspaper in plain sight. When in the car, always lock the doors and keep your purse or valuables out of sight.
Traveling is wondrous. For me, part of the joy of travel is exploring new places and cultures. Misfortunes can occur anywhere. When you read guidebooks for other countries, there is usually a section on safety. Don’t let the cautions immobilize you. Remember, those same safety sections are also present in guidebooks for locales in the United States. Preparation, commonsense, and precautions are universal and help ensure that your trip is problem free.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.