8 Tips to Avoid Pickpockets During Travel Abroad
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
On a crowded, standing-room-only bus a little boy tried to squeeze past my 300-pound uncle. At the time I thought what a crazy little kid trying to get past that big man. It wasn't until we got home that we realized that little kid was a pro. My uncle was a victim of a pickpocket.
Popular cities all over Italy are filled to capacity with tourists and professional thieves are there as well looking to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers. Stay safe and keep your peace of mind with these few suggestions to avoid pickpockets in Italy.
Do your research. Know what the current scams are being used by the thieves in Italy. Ask others who have been to Italy recently. Ask your travel advisor. Ask in travel forums. There are plenty of people who have been victimized by pickpockets in Italy. They are happy to share what happened so it doesn't happen to someone else. For example, in the past few years, I have noticed that trinket vendors will try to get you involved in a purchase by forcibly handing you a “gift” while another picks your pocket.
Know the areas the pickpockets target. This is an easy one. All the crowded tourist areas are easy targets for pickpockets. Think Vatican City, the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain in Rome to name a few. The Ponte Vecchio, Piazza Duomo in Florence. St. Mark's Square in Venice. Another targeted area is train stations. Pickpockets know you are distracted collecting tickets, your belongings and trying to figure out where to arrive or depart so they know you are vulnerable. When you are in these places or come across a large crowd, be extra vigilant about where your belongings are on you.
Backpacks. I always carry a backpack because it keeps my hands free for other things like protecting my pockets and keeping my phone ready for pictures (I am always ready for a potential photo op when I travel). But I don’t keep my valuables in my backpack. Unless you have locks on your backpack, it is not a good idea to keep valuables there. If you do need to keep them there, move your pack from your back to your chest when in crowded areas. It is more secure in front of you than on your back.
Opt for a cross-body bag instead of a backpack or purse. Bags that can be placed across your chest also allow for hands-free travel. Purses you carry with your hand or on your shoulder are too easy for thieves to grab and run. Crossbody bags should sit on your hip in front of you not to your side so you know what's going on with your belongings at all times
Pack your valuables in interior pockets. For early spring, fall and winter this is easy as lots of jackets have inside pockets that you can secure items inside. Even my denim jacket has interior pockets deep enough to put a camera in. Pickpockets go for the easy snatch and target outside pockets on clothes, purses, and backpacks. In summer you can opt for a money belt or purchase travel pants and skirts that have interior pockets sewn in.
Situational Awareness. Think about where you are at all times. It is fun to eat "al fresco," but if your table seems to be beside a street where lots of bikes or Vespas pass by you might want to think twice about laying your camera on your table. It is an easy target for a thief on a bike to swoop by and take your camera with them. The same is true for purchasing souvenirs at an open-air market or kiosk. When making a purchase don't leave your wallet and/or purse open while you wait for change from a vendor. A pickpocket pro with the slightest nudge will empty your wallet without you even knowing. If I know I am going to make a purchase, I take my money out (the closest denomination to the purchase) and immediately return my wallet to my purse. Then I put the change in my pocket (hopefully minimal amount) until I can get to a quiet more secure place to transfer the change back into my wallet. If it's a few coins or a few dollars, I don't even open up my wallet to put it away until I return home. If there is more in my wallet than in my pocket it is not worth opening.
Leave your valuables at home. I know it's nice to look fancy when you travel, but for me, it is not worth my peace of mind. Shiny expensive items on your person, make you a target. I leave my expensive jewelry and bags at home (partially because I pack light but that's for another blog post). Buy a smaller, less expensive model of your favorite camera. This way, whether lost or stolen, it's way less expensive to replace than your favorite.
Take only what you need each day. Most hotels have in-room safes. If you feel they are secure, leave most of your money and cards securely locked up and carry with you only one credit/debit card and a few euros to get you through the day. If you don’t like using the in-room safe you can easily hide valuables in unsuspecting items that housekeeping wouldn't even touch - like a dirty laundry bag or under a removable inner sole of a shoe. I use Airborne VitaminC plastic bottles (plus it helps the environment to reuse plastics) for hiding extra cash.
I hope these suggestions for avoiding pickpockets work for you. The most important objective of any adventure is to have a good time. By incorporating a few of the suggestions you can ensure that you and those around you do just that.
Now it’s your turn. What is a tactic you use when traveling to keep your valuables safe? I would love to hear them and I am sure it would help other readers. So, please use the comment section below to post your best tips.