Travel Tips: Pickpocket Crime In Major Vacation Destinations and How To Avoid It

Travel Tips: Pickpocket Crime In Major Vacation Destinations and How To Avoid It

Generally Pickpockets do not want to hurt you – they just want your money, ID, credit cards, etc.  Thieves generally strike when you are distracted, in dense crowds, overloaded with bags, playing with a camera or video camera.   My husband and I travel extensively and we have been a victim of theft once in Dublin, Ireland.

We were walking through the Temple Bar area of Dublin and had to go down a narrow street.  I was carrying a backpack as we were walking I felt a light tug on my bag and pulled it forward.  I noticed one of the pouches of my backpack was unzipped – we quickly looked behind us but no one was there who stood out from the milling crowd.  The pickpocket managed to get my husband’s diabetic kit.  He was trying to get to my wallet but it was buried under my Rick Steves travel book and as he tried to get underneath it I felt the pull.  We were lucky that my wallet was not stolen as I was carrying several thousand Euros (BIG mistake!) and that would have ruined our trip.  Luckily we were easily able to replace my husband’s diabetic kit.

Below are a few tips we have for avoiding pickpockets.

  1. Always wear a money belt or a money pouch and keep your valuables and credit cards there.
  2. Avoid keeping anything in your pockets that is important.
  3. Avoid getting into crowds of people with your purse open.
  4. If you carry a backpack make sure that the backpack has something that you can hook your wallet too.
  5. Carry your backpack in front of you.
  6. Keep passports and valuables in the hotel safe.
  7. Keep your purse closed and clutched close to your body.
  8. Be careful for people trying to distract you.  In Paris thieves will drop a ‘gold’ ring in front of you and ask you if you dropped it – as you are talking to them their partner is trying to lift your wallet.
  9. Don’t count your money in public – and don’t carry tons of cash if you can help it.
  10. Don’t leave your purse unattended in a restaurant or hung over a chair.

Above are some pointers that will reduce your vulnerability to pickpocket thieves.  There is something to be aware of that we have learned from experience, reading, and talking to authorities around the world: pickpockets tend to work in teams.  There is a spotter who alerts the team to a potential mark; then there is a ‘distracter’ or two who create a diversion to draw the intended victim’s immediate attention – this can include bumping or jostling or starting an argument or loud conversation nearby; then there is the actual pickpocket who swoops in as a stealthy invader at just the right moment and grabs the goods; then the pickpocket passes the stolen property to a speedy get-a-way confederate who is gone in a flash – meanwhile the actual thief remains walking or standing inconspicuously with the crowd.

Yes, pickpocketing is a serious organized criminal activity with very minor penalties in most civilized countries, making it a popular and lucrative enterprise.  The nicest cities in the world have serious pickpocketing problems – be aware of this and help yourself to avoid an upsetting and possibly vacation ruining experience.  Remaining alert to pickpocketing and guarding reasonably against it should offer almost certain protection.   Once you develop simple safe habits you can relax and enjoy your vacation in peace.

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Robyn is one of the Travel Moms and also the founder and owner of Celeb Baby Laundry and the Mom to 2-year-old Ava. She was recently named one of 2013's most Influential Moms In Canada.

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44 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Ali August 20, 2013 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    I’m so glad you covered this travel topic, lots of great tips! You can never be too safe.

  2. Erin August 20, 2013 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips, it a good reminder of simple ways to keep possessions safe when traveling.

  3. Chris August 20, 2013 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    Easy, wear a jacket with a pocket on the inside near your chest.

  4. Allie August 20, 2013 at 9:01 pm - Reply

    Vital tips when traveling abroad

  5. Nikki August 20, 2013 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    It is always scary when you are in another country. Thanks for the tips I will try a couple of them.

  6. jody August 20, 2013 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    Next please do a post on how to choose restaurants when out of one’s familiar environment – thanks!

  7. Pamela August 21, 2013 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Best tip ever is to just look as untouristy as possible, no obvious signs that your touring, no huge SLRs that can be swiped in an instant. Also, surprised this happened in Dublin, this wouldn’t happen outside of the main city I don’t think.

  8. Jocelyn August 21, 2013 at 9:43 am - Reply

    I never walk around with a purse….that helps!

  9. DD August 21, 2013 at 10:43 am - Reply

    Carry mace!

  10. BusyBee August 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    I’ve always tried to not look like a tourist. But I fail miserably lol

  11. maurice August 24, 2013 at 5:03 am - Reply

    Yup I agree, thanks for the useful tips – i will definitely put them to good use.

  12. Suzi Shumaker August 24, 2013 at 11:17 am - Reply

    When I travel, I use a travel wallet that is like a belt and worn against my belly, under my jeans. I knew other travelers who lost wallets and passports right out of their backpacks in crowded areas – so scary!

  13. Susan Evans August 24, 2013 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Having travelled to many different countries, I definitely agree with you to keep your money under your clothes around your waist. Third world countries especially are expert at pickpocketing!

  14. DD August 26, 2013 at 11:33 am - Reply

    Great tips to keep in mind when travelling abroad.

  15. Growing Up Madison September 1, 2013 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Great tips. As a NYer we use a lot of these tips. We’ve learned never to carry anything in your back pocket and to keep your valuables very close. Hopefully these tips would help an unsuspecting tourist. Will be sharing via Twitter. :)

  16. sarah clegg September 1, 2013 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    thank you 4 the tips im always cautious when out but shocked how so many ppl r not :S

  17. Terry (My Journey With Candida) September 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    I always look like a tourist because I always have a camera. Great tip and a lot of the things I do already.

  18. amanda September 2, 2013 at 12:14 am - Reply

    definitely a concern to be aware of. i’m in india and looking to pick up pepper spray but that won’t help if they have my purse!

  19. Pam September 2, 2013 at 12:51 am - Reply

    Really great tips not only for travel but for every day living, especially if you live in a city.

    I am very “purse” aware when I am out and about in my every day life here in Los Angeles.

    I didn’t see this one on your list but be very careful hanging your purse on an inside hook on the bathroom door in a public restroom. People will reach over and snatch it before you can blink your eyes.

    • Robyn Good September 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Great tip, thanks!!!

  20. Tough Cookie Mommy September 2, 2013 at 2:12 am - Reply

    These are some great tips. Coming from a big city like New York, I know how important it is to be aware of one’s surroundings because pickpockets can be lurking around every corner.

    • Robyn Good September 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Exactly and pickpockets can ruin a vacation easily. I travel to NYC often and have never had a problem but I am careful!

  21. Akhil September 2, 2013 at 3:17 am - Reply

    I hate pickpockets and yes we should take precautions to avoid such kind of incidents. These tips are really useful for me and everyone around the world, so thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post :)

  22. Viccy H September 2, 2013 at 6:16 am - Reply

    Eek, sorry to hear about your experience in Dublin.
    The worst place I felt unsafe was Barcelona – awful, but thanks to most of the tips above, nothing happened to me. I am very handbag aware when out’n'about anywhere.

  23. Sarah Bailey September 2, 2013 at 8:10 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for these tips – so sorry to hear of your experiences it can be so scary travelling. x

    • Robyn Good September 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      I generally have good experiences, I have learned my lesson and now I wear a money belt.

  24. Noor Unnahar September 2, 2013 at 8:27 am - Reply

    Sorry to hear about your accident .
    I HATE when people are so mean to pick up wallets and stuff . I always manage to get my wallet underneath something worthless , like tissue pack or so . And I never use my luxury wallets during travel in open places.

    • Robyn Good September 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      Smart – yes we were upset when we got pickpocked – my wallet was on the bottom and they got my husband’s diabetic kit. Luckily he was able to replace it. But, it still cost us a lot of money to replace.

  25. Ondria Witt September 2, 2013 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Awesome tips! We followed rules like this when we cruised to Roatan in January. My sister-in-law and her hubby are going to Ireland in Feb., so my Christmas gifts to them will be passport wallets so they can be safely kept on their persons at all times.

    • Robyn Good September 2, 2013 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      A great idea the passport wallet. Ireland was the first place I was ever pickpocked in Dublin.

  26. Pam September 2, 2013 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Those are good tips. I tend to forget and get distracted sometimes when I am traveling so I am probably an easy target.

  27. Dawn ~ Spatulas On Parade September 2, 2013 at 10:35 am - Reply

    Good travel tips but I must be paranoid, I do these things anyway. My mom taught them to me.

  28. Michelle H September 2, 2013 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Way back in the day, my friend had her Walkman (yes, Walkman) lifted out of her backpack on the streets of Boston. Fortunately, I’ve not had any problems in my traveling. We do always struggle with the backpack on the front, though. Balancing the safety of it with putting a mark on your back that you are definitely a tourist!

    • Robyn Good September 2, 2013 at 1:13 pm - Reply

      I know what you mean I hate carrying a backpack on my front, but sadly it is unavoidable in some places.

  29. Areeba September 2, 2013 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Oh once one boy tried to stole my wallet from my bag but I’m glad he wasn’t succeeded! Thanks for your tips :)

  30. Courtney Pies September 2, 2013 at 11:49 am - Reply

    You gave some great tips! I know being pickpocketed is one of my fears whenever I go away on vacation, or even when I’m just in a large crowd period.

    • Robyn Good September 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      Gosh I know what you mean, when I was in Prague this summer I heard horrible things about pickpockets. Luckily we had no problems.

  31. Mel Cole September 2, 2013 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    I like that money belt idea. It always work for me when I go to vacations outside our town.

  32. Healy Harpster September 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Great tips! Don’t use any shoulder bag or putting your wallet at the back pocket… There are many of this “pickpocket” in Asia as far as I know.

  33. Corinne September 2, 2013 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    These are great tips. I’d also add that people should keep track of their smartphones. These are hot commodities for thieves now. Also, make sure yours is password or PIN-protected and notify your provider right away so they can disable your phone if it’s stolen.

  34. Melinda Dunne September 2, 2013 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Pick pocketing is a huge problem when you are traveling in Europe. Luckily my husband and I always paid close attention to what was going on. Many times my husband carried the backpack on his chest when we were in trains etc.

  35. Chavonne H September 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    It’s terrible that this is something we have to worry about but we do, I’ve never had it happen before but I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more on crowded buses/trains. These tips definitely come in handy. I like the idea of a money belt or pouch because it’s in front of the body.

  36. Anne | The Chef's Wife September 2, 2013 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Those are great tips for travelers! Thanks for sharing. :)

  37. Aida Ingram September 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    These are great tips! It is such a terrible feeling to find yourself dealing with something like this when you are traveling. We saw groups of pick pocketers when we were overseas.

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