Pickpockets, and How to Avoid Them

Pickpockets, and How to Avoid Them

If nothing else, this blog is making me humble. So far, I have shared three of my biggest travel blunders:  know the exchange rate before you buy, check the weather for your exact destination, and do your research. The fourth mistake, however, is far more painful to discuss because it made me feel so stupid: on my last trip to London, I was the victim of a pickpocket.

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After sightseeing at Westminster Abbey, my son and I hopped on the Tube to head back to our hotel and freshen up before dinner. It was rush hour and the trains were quite crowded. Standing room only, in fact, and I was one of the ones standing. I had my wallet in my camera bag, the long strap of which was draped diagonally across my torso.

At one point in our Underground journey, I noticed a man standing in front of the train doors, looking at me. We made eye contact. Something about him made me uneasy, so I looked away. When I looked back again, he was gone, but the train hadn’t yet made any stops. I thought it was odd, but since I had already moved within the car a couple of times trying to get a more comfortable/less crowded stop, I didn’t think much of it.

We finally got back to the hotel, and I opened my wallet to get the key card out. That was when I realized that the wallet was gone. It had been removed from my bag and the bag had been zipped back up so that I wouldn’t even notice until the pickpocket was long gone.

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What it cost me: $400 cash, my drivers license, the airport parking lot ticket, and my credit card. Not to mention an awful lot of time!

After the fact (of course) I recognized all of the things I had done wrong. Here are simple things you can do to void becoming the victim of a pickpocket. (I only succeeded at three or four of them.)

  1. Keep passports in a safe location at the hotel. You won’t need them while you’re out and about, just at the airport.
  2. Only take one day’s worth of cash with you when you’re out.
  3. Write down your credit card company’s phone number to report lost/stolen cards. Keep that number in your hotel room (not, for heaven’s sake, in your wallet!)
  4. Have a backup credit card that you leave in the hotel room. Trust me, once the stolen card is reported stolen, it will be easier to use another card than to navigate the procedures for getting a replacement card sent to you. And while we’re on the subject, be sure to notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling out of the country before you leave so they won’t decline your charges as suspicious.
  5. Carry your cash in the front pockets of your pants. No one can pickpocket those without it looking like a sexual assault. 🙂
  6. For ladies, use a handbag with a long strap and wear it diagonally across your torso. This will prevent anyone from grabbing your purse and running away with it.
  7. If your bag zips, make sure that the zipper is in front where you can see it. Never leave the opening of your purse behind you.
  8. As much as possible, avoid crowded places where people will be bumping into you so much that it would not cause you to be alarmed. (For instance, the subway at rush hour.)
  9. If signs are posted telling you that pickpockets operate in a certain area, take them seriously. They aren’t posted there just to scare away the tourists.
  10. If you forget to do #1 above, enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). (Actually, this is a good idea even if you don’t forget to do #1.)
  11. Be aware of where your wallet/money/bag is at all times.
  12. Pay attention to your instincts! If someone’s appearance or actions strike you as even mildly suspicious, put as much distance between them and you as you possibly can.
  13. Finally, assume that you will be pickpocketed rather than assuming you won’t be. A little paranoia can be a good thing sometimes. 🙂

 

 

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