All experienced travelers have a few key hacks in their back pockets.
Packing light, knowing how to use a needle and thread, and the art of haggling are all habits of expert travelers that can save a lot of time when embarking on an adventure in a new place.
While it’s fun to interact with locals and immerse yourself in a different culture, it’s important to remember the less-awesome aspects of traveling. Namely: pickpockets.
You may have traveling hacks in your back pocket, but do you have pickpocket-avoiding knowhow in there too?
These 10 smart tricks will help you avoid becoming a target to thieves, so you can hold onto your cash and enjoy a stress-free trip.
- Know their scams
There are plenty of popular scams that thieves use as distractions. Being aware of such schemes will prevent you from being a victim.
For example, if you’re in a crowded area like a train platform or on a bus, pickpockets might try to do the "crush and grab," where they take advantage of your discomfort and grab something from your bag. In another instance, they could use another distraction technique like spilling something on you, and lift your wallet from your pocket while they “help” you clean up.
Being cognizant of these pickpocket techniques will help you pay a little more attention and keep your belongings safe.
- Don’t react
Warning signs concerning pickpockets are a helpful reminder to be alert. Unfortunately, these signs can sometimes work in the pickpockets’ favor. After reading a “Beware of Pickpockets” sign, it’s natural to check where your valuables are stored to be sure they’re safe.
Don’t do this.
Pickpockets are watching in these areas, and touching your pocket directs them to the exact spot you’re keeping your things. They’ll proceed to follow you out of this area and strike at a time when you’re less attentive.
If you see one of these signs, don’t react in the moment. Once you’re in a more secure location, quickly and discreetly check that you’re still holding onto your belongings. Then keep moving.
- Keep it all up front
The back pocket is known as the “sucker pocket,” because anyone who keeps their goods there and thinks they won’t have it stolen is in for a rude awakening.
Keep your phone, wallet, and keys in your front pockets when possible. A skilled pickpocket can swipe your stuff in many ways, but it’s more difficult for them to steal from the front pocket than the back pocket.
Another more secure place to conceal your stuff is the inside of your jacket. A pocket that buttons or zippers closed will provide added security and peace of mind.
- Be modest
If ever there was a time to be humble, it’s when you’re traveling abroad. Wearing your most expensive jacket or carrying a designer bag might be a fun way to express yourself, but you’re basically putting a sign on your forehead that says, “Please rob me.”
Don’t display your wealth. Put your cash away before leaving the ATM. Avoid overfilling your wallet so that all of your money isn’t revealed every time you open it. Get a fully functional and unbelievably thin wallet that securely holds the essentials. Wear something stylish but nondescript. Looking cool matters a lot less after you’ve been pickpocketed.
- Divide your money
There’s no need to carry all of your money at the same time.
Dividing up your cash and credit cards into two different stashes will prevent you from losing everything in the event you get pickpocketed. Keeping some money in your wallet and the rest in a separate location, like in your hotel room’s safe, ensures that you’ve got yourself covered.
Pickpockets can’t steal what you’re not carrying, so don’t give them the chance.
- Know where (and when) to go
Thieves are most likely to target overcrowded places, as they can depend on most patrons being distracted. They’ll lurk around tourist attractions, public transportation, bars, museums, train stations, restaurants, and retail stores.
Obviously, these places are tough to avoid. Look into the peak hours or busy seasons of each location so that you visit at a slower time, thus lessening the likelihood of pickpockets in the vicinity.
- Secure your belongings
It’s easy for a pickpocket to simply lift your bag from the back of a chair or swipe a phone from a tabletop. Before you know what’s happening, they’re gone, and so are your valuables.
At a restaurant, keep your purse in your lap and your phone in an interior bag or coat pocket to thwart sticky fingers. You can also loop the bag’s strap around the leg of your chair so it can’t be easily snatched. For extra security, use a retractable cable lock to secure the bag’s straps to your seat’s arm rest or to the luggage rack while you’re on a train (especially on overnight trips).
- Promise yourself that you won’t lose anything
Make yourself a promise that you won’t lose anything on a vacation. It sounds silly, but the idea that you’ll be constantly aware of where your things are will make it harder for them to become misplaced or stolen.
When leaving things in your hotel room, it might seem like you’re being extra safe by hiding your valuable items, like passports or reading glasses, in “secret” spots. There’s just one problem:
If these items are so out of sight that they do, in fact, go out of mind, you might accidentally leave them behind at the end of the trip.
While sightseeing, be aware of how exposed your wallet is when capturing the perfect landscape shot on your camera or following directions on your phone. A pickpocket won’t single you out if you appear to be paying attention. Make it a habit to be conscious of your stuff. Knowing that you’ll still have your valuables at the end of your trip will allow you to enjoy your visit that much more.
- Use your own tactics
Two can play this game. Implement some tricks of your own to stop pickpockets.
Wrap a rubberband around your wallet to cause some friction should a thief try to yank it from your pocket. This will buy you a little extra time to catch them in the act, or cause them to give up on robbing you entirely.
You could also carry a dummy wallet that holds only a couple of dollars, with your real wallet hiding deeper in your bag. Most thieves won’t take the time to dig once they’ve found what they believe to be the grand prize, so they’ll leave you alone. You’re only out a few dollars, kept the important stuff, and can feel good about tricking the trickster.
- Prepare for the worst
Despite your best efforts, you can still become a victim of theft. However, you’ll be happy (relatively speaking) that you took precautions prior to the event that made dealing with it easier.
Before you leave for a trip, email yourself your credit and debit card information and the international toll-free service numbers for each card to call in case you're a victim of theft. You’ll be able to cancel the cards before a thief can do too much damage to your account.
Make copies of your passport and driver's license as well. If you don’t have a scanner, use an app like Genius Scan to scan your IDs and save them on your phone and in your cloud storage drive just in case. If either of your IDs are stolen, you may be delayed in getting home, but the process will be smoother if you have proof of the stolen documents on hand.
Until invisibility cloaks become a reality, a little extra planning and awareness can help you become practically invisible to pickpockets.
Planning on turning your quick excursion into a long-term stay?
Pack your camera, your Svelte Wallet, and an extra sweater, and leave the rest to MakeSpace. They’re a full-service storage company in NYC (also serving Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, DC) that will pick up your non-travel-friendly bags and the shoes that wouldn’t fit, store them, and deliver them back to you when you return.
Dodge the pickpockets, but never let them make you skip the trip.