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While looking up at the towers of the Sagra Familia in Barcelona , browsing the shop windows of Milan’s Via Montenepoleone or riding a European style trolley in San Francisco, it is easy to get distracted and far easier for a pick-pocket to get his/her job done. Tourists and new comers are not the only victims, native city dwellers fall victim to street crime every day.
In my twenty-so years of travelling, much of which I have done alone, I have had a few unsavoury experiences, nothing major, but unpleasant enough that now I am more on guard when travelling.
Once, while checking in at Barcelona airport, I placed my hand luggage beside me and when I turned around, it was gone. Now I keep bags sandwiched between my feet if I have to place them down. In Milan, my little flap-bag had been flipped open and emptied. I realized in hindsight that it must have happened when the tram jostled and jerked. In Paris , I quickly jumped out of a metro car when I realized the man in the reflection behind me had been following me. Last but not least, in Manchester , relaxing having Christmas drinks with my sister, my wallet was taken from my bag. I later found out it was the couple at the table behind us. The woman was being silly and giggly creating a distraction, while the man, scooted back and reached into my bag hanging on the chair! They left without ordering and I only realized afterward when the bill arrived. Now, I keep my bag on my lap at all times.
It can happen in any city and it can happen to anybody. The important thing to remember is that it can happen, but it shouldn’t take anything away from you enjoying your travels.
Luckily, I haven’t had any other ‘episodes’ and I plan to keep that way!
Here are some GIRLeTRIPS.com street smart tips to help keep you alert:
Street Smarts, Smart walking
Look confident and be aware of the environment around you.
Looking lost makes you an easy target for crime. Plan your route in advance at the hotel before leaving, and try not to consult your map or smartphone on the street. Google maps street view is a great way to scope out your route before leaving. You can see what landmarks you may pass along the way. For example, check that your route does not have you pass through alleyways or parks. Using a map app can always give you alternative routes. Use earphones and listen to the GPS instructions, you’ll not only look like you know where you are going, but if you decide to change route, it will automatically recalibrate and guide you.
If you really must check your map, be aware of your surroundings. Stand with your back against a long wall or stop at a bus stop with other people. It’s better to walk a few hundred feet extra and have to track back than to put yourself at risk.
Remember where you’ve been.
Along your route, keep in mind cafes, shops, hotels and other public places you may go back to in need of help or assistance. As a general rule, you will find someone willing to help and point you in the right direction. For a sure, safe bet, women’s boutiques, especially lingerie shops or hairdressers always have female shop assistants and should be willing to help.
Turn around and leave.
You may find yourself in a restaurant, or alone in a silent empty room at the museum, or perhaps it may be a crowded bar or disco; if for any reason you have that inclining of discomfort of being there, listen to your instinct and turn around and leave. Chances are, if it feels unsafe, it probably is.
Some women don’t do this because they are embarrassed to tell the waiter she has changed her mind or are afraid of looking foolish or uncouth. Do not think about it. Be aware of your surroundings, look around, and leave.
Be a good pedestrian.
In San Diego drivers generally stop for pedestrians, in Amsterdam bicycles have the right of way, in Rome the drivers don’t even see you, in London look right and then look left before crossing the road. Every city has its own traffic chaos. Watch the other pedestrians. If they are quietly waiting even though there are no cars coming, wait with them. You not only bring attention to yourself as a foreigner, but you also may put your safety in danger.
As a traveller, you can’t expect what you are used to.
Carry shoulder bags with the strap crossing your chest. Handbags should be held under your arm. Bags with a flap-opening should not be used at all. They are uncomfortable to manage while turned inward and so easy to get into by a pickpocket when turned outward. Backpacks, although practical, are also easy to get into. When using backpacks, use combo locks on the zippers, keep money and passport in a zipped inner pouch, or wear it turned around on your belly. Be sure your bag or backpack material is strong and resistant; thieves sometimes just slice the bag open with a knife or box cutter and grab what falls out. Be aware of your bag.
Sitting at a café table, keep your bag on your lap and keep shopping bags close under the table. Sandwiching the bags between your feet makes it difficult to get to and you can feel their presence.
Get to know the money
It seems obvious, but do not display cash in public. Since it is so different and colorful, using a foreign currency seems like play money. The shapes and sizes of the bills and coins are different, and can be confusing. Don’t pull out your cash and look baffled at trying to figure it out.
Learn the currency exchange rate even if approximately. You risk over tipping a taxi driver or over paying for something, especially if you let the cashier help you count.
Use a card
Popular credit cards are widely accepted throughout the world and it will save you from having to pull out cash. But, be aware – credit card forgery is not uncommon. When paying with a credit card, be sure the shop assistant runs it through the machine in front of you and does not take it to a back room. Although, surprisingly the manual carbon copy slider is still in use, even in the USA, today most businesses worldwide have portable, digital POS systems which make card cloning more difficult.
In a busy shop or restaurant, a server may get flustered, so be sure it is YOUR credit card that is returned to you.
Window shopping, window watching
While window-shopping, keep an eye on the reflection in the window, you will be able to see if someone is following you or is a bit too close for comfort. Again, a woman’s boutique or lingerie shop is the perfect escape. It is very unlikely a man will follow a woman into a woman’s store.
Be alert in crowded situations, like train stations, public squares, or waiting in line for museums; staged diversions are a common pickpocket ploy. It is not uncommon for a team of criminals to stage a fight, argument, or simply ask directions or for the time. The will use the distraction as an opportunity.
Metros and subways
Avoid walking through underground passageways or metro tunnels by yourself. Sometimes it is inevitable, there just isn’t anyone around. If so, walk in sight of the security cameras. All metropolitan cities now have video surveillance. Listen for footsteps and keep your distance from anyone approaching.
Don’t get pushed around
On a crowded bus or subway train it is not uncommon to be pushed up against others. A pick-pocket may take advantage of the train or bus jostling to purposely push up against his/her prey. Pickpockets often have a jacket or a shawl or even sometimes a real baby and blanket covering their hands.
Don’t skirt the issue
You may be tempted to leave your shopping bags or carry-on case at your feet while on the subway or train from the airport. It may seem far fetched, but all too real, that a woman with a long, large skirt can easily slip and hide things under the skirt and walk out with it between her knees!
Washed out in the wash room
When using public bathrooms, don’t put valuables on the floor. Beside it being unsanitary, it is easy to reach under and swipe a bag. Be equally prudent while washing your hands. Strap your bag across your shoulder and if you must, keep your second bag between your knees.
Do not leave luggage or bags in a taxi or car while checking into the hotel.
If you arrive by car, spend a few extra dollars/euros and park your car in the hotel garage for the first day. If you rent a car, scope out parking areas in advance for your destination. Don’t leave anything in the car that will attract a break in; jackets, phone or GPS devices, or hotel key cards.
Be discreet at reception while talking about your room number. If you are travelling alone, have them make a note of it in their log so that no one else asking for the key can get one. When checking-in ask to see the floor plan- be sure your room is not near an elevator, ice machine or stairwell. These are three vulnerable locations for women travelling alone. Also, take note of emergency exits closest to your room.
Keep your room key with you, the housekeeping have keys to get in, no one else needs the key but you.
As a general rule, you shouldn’t travel with valuables, but it is little awkward going out to dinner with your bulky photo equipment. Most hotels provide an electronic safe in the room. If you do not have this luxury, ask for a safety box or secure place personal valuables can be held by the care and responsibility of the hotel. If this is not an option, either find a secure hiding place or keep it with you.
Be careful of unexpected visitors to the room. Unfortunately, violations against woman do happen, even in the most luxurious hotels and cruise liners. A large hospitality corporation will ask women to keep quiet and settle a plea bargain rather than have the bad publicity of not having kept their guests safe. Use the chain or bolt locks if provided. Block the door with your largest suitcase. Or use a trusty rubber doorstop. It can stop an intruder from opening the door.
In the event something happens, you need the numbers, names and dates of the documents you loose. Scan your important info and save it on your cloud.
Scan and save your:
- Credit cards; front and back
- Passport; front page with name, photo and expiry date
- Drivers licence
- Id cards front and back
- Travel tickets
- Travel itinerary; ticket numbers and booking codes
If you are in a foreign country and need to get a new passport at a consulate, you have to have a police report. If you don’t speak the language it is best to just show the police what was in your purse when it was stolen.
Keep your eyes open and your bags closed but don’t let the worry of being pick pocketed take away from your enjoyment! Happy travels!
This article is from my portfolio and originally appeared on GirleTrips.com