Travel is amazing. The world holds so many wonders, and it is such a treasure to be able to experience them. A big downfall, however, is that many of these wonders are populated by people who live in poverty. Poverty can breed crime, and tourists are often an easy target for petty criminals hoping to make a quick buck. Of course, I’m talking about pickpockets. Read on to discover how to avoid pickpockets while traveling the world.
What Are Pickpockets?
Pickpockets, although rare in the United States (outside of big cities and the subway), are extremely common in most other parts of the world.
They are skilled thieves whose goal is to steal your belongings without you noticing. Some pickpockets will slit your back pocket so that your wallet slides right out without you ever even noticing. Others will reach into your purse while your head is turned, quickly snatching your valuables while you remain unaware. Some will even go so far as to steal your purse or handbag if you set it down for a second.
Pickpockets are good at what they do. But there are steps that you can take to protect yourself.
How to Avoid PickPockets
1. Don’t Wear a Back-Facing Backpack
A backpack that you wear on your back is a pickpocket’s dream. It is incredibly easy to cut the bottom out of a backpack and steal everything inside. Wearing one is practically asking a skilled thief to come rummage through it.
Sometimes, though, like when you are actually traveling from one destination to another, you need your backpack with you. That’s understandable. But there are steps you can take to ensure that you don’t lose your valuables while wearing one.
Keep your wallet and any other valuables (to include important travel documents!) in your front pockets. When in a crowd, reverse the backpack so that it’s on your chest rather than your back. This has the added bonus of letting you sit down easily.
2. Keep Your Back Pockets Empty
Back pockets are another easy target for pickpockets. Some are skilled enough to take your wallet without you noticing. A more common tactic is to use a crowded place as an excuse for touching you. If you are packed into a train or bus like sardines in a can, you expect to be touching others. Would you notice if the person next to you was purposefully lifting your wallet rather than accidentally rubbing it against you? Most of us wouldn’t be able to tell the difference when there are so many people pushing against us.
Some pickpockets will even go so far as to slit the pocket with a knife so that all of the belongings fall out. Not only will you lose your stuff, but your pants will get ruined in the process. Keeping valuables in your front pocket will greatly reduce this risk.
3. Use The Right Purse
I used to use a small purse that strapped around my shoulder, so I didn’t have to worry much about purse snatching (however, in some countries, you have to be aware of the drive-by purse snatch, where someone will cut the strap while driving by on a moped, taking the purse with him). The purse has a top portion that folds over the inside compartments which a pickpocket would have to lift before being able to get to my wallet. I ensure that it stays to my front, to prevent people from slicing it open. When I’m in a crowded place, I like to hold onto it (Just a tiny bit of paranoia!).
Now, I generally use my Hip-Klip, which is a cute little purse that literally clips to your pants. The great thing about a Hip-Klip is that it takes a ton of pressure to get it off unless you purposefully unclip it. That means it’s not going anywhere if someone tugs on it, trying to snatch it.
There are tons of options for purses and handbags that help prevent theft. Make sure you use one on your next trip to keep your valuables safe!
4. Use a Wearable Neck Wallet
These are small plastic wallets that you wear around your neck under your clothing. The strap is generally adjustable, so you can also wear it over your shoulder like a traditional purse. They come with a plethora of pockets, so you are easily able to carry your passport, credit cards, and some extra cash.
I don’t particularly like neck wallets as I find them to be rather uncomfortable, but some people swear by them. They are exceptionally good at preventing pickpockets, especially if you wear them around your neck and under your clothing. If you will be traveling overseas to a region where pickpocketing is rampant, a neck pouch is a solid choice.
5. Look Like You Know Where You Are Going
Move with a purpose, even if you are lost. Don’t stand on a corner staring down at a map and then up at the street signs, looking all confused. Even if you are lost, try not to appear lost.
Pickpockets and other criminals often prey on people who are lost. If you do get lost, find the nearest restaurant or coffee shop, grab a table, and check out your map while enjoying a drink. You won’t be seen as a target in a coffee shop, and you have a place to relax and gather your bearings. Also, if you can’t figure out the map, you can always ask the staff for assistance.
Be sure to always know where your valuables are while in the restaurant or coffee shop though. A thief could easily grab a wallet out of an open bag sitting next to you if you aren’t paying attention. I like to keep my purse strapped to me or on the table within my site at all times, even when I’m relaxing.
6. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Watch people. Notice the folks who are watching back. They may be looking for their next target. If you are in a heavy crowd, hold on to your valuables. Simply being aware of who and what is around you can greatly reduce your risk of being targeted.
7. Dress Appropriately
What you wear can either make you an easy target or too much effort for pickpockets. Avoid wearing fancy jewelry and watches, so you don’t look like you have a lot of money. Dress appropriately for the region and the culture so you don’t stand out. Wear comfortable walking shoes so that you can keep up with your group and move around with ease.
Do the Best You Can
It is impossible to prevent 100% of all crimes. Sometimes you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and sometimes the criminals are incredibly brazen. However, minimizing your risk is the best way to avoid becoming a victim. These steps are all about minimizing risk.
Do you have any additional advice for warding off pickpockets? Let me know! And for more travel safety tips, check out our post on preparing for the worst case scenario before traveling. International travel isn’t dangerous if you plan ahead and follow common sense to stay safe.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.