Barcelona, street art, pickpocket, tips to avoid mugging
Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

Happy New Year everyone!

It’s trip planning time and while I was at a NYE dinner party two people mentioned that they wanted to go to Barcelona this year, so I thought I would write about what I thought was one of my most exciting travel achievements of 2014:

I didn’t get pickpocketed in Barcelona.

I shopped at La Boqueria and huddled among tourists at Sagrada Familia.

I left my stuff on the sand at the beach Barceloneta and Pep Ventura while I went for a swim and I left with every item I came with – camera, mobile phone, money, all of it.

tourists on La Rambla, Barcelona, getting pickpocketed, how to avoid getting pickpocketed
La Rambla, Barcelona

Before my trip to Barcelona, the first thing everyone said to me when I told them about my trip was to watch out for pickpockets. I was going for the beautiful buildings, gorgeous beaches, and to learn more about Catalan culture but all I kept hearing about was this person getting mugged and that person getting pickpocketed in Barcelona.

So, what did I do to avoid being a cautionary tale?

I didn’t use a money belt or a specially purchased anything. I had a purse that I bought from Primark (it hasn’t let me down in any city I’ve travelled to since – knock on wood) and a padlock that I usually use at the gym.

I was vigilant and aware of common scams

I was aware of the risk but I certainly wasn’t going to let it interfere with my trip – in fact, I didn’t even know that Barcelona was such as hotspot for thieves until I had already planned my vacation.

I listened intently to people’s stories. They often involved drunkenness, general distractions, or a failure to use common travel sense. I learned from their mistakes so I didn’t make the same ones.

I carried the minimum items necessary and knew where everything was at all times. One of the biggest giveaways of where your valuables are involves patting your pockets whenever you see a ‘Beware of Thieves’ sign. All of my valuables were zipped away in my purse (more on why this purse is so genius below).

Items I needed regularly like lip balm or my pen and notebook I carried in my pockets. That way, I wouldn’t fish around in my bag where my more valuable items were.

I didn’t make it easy

The purse I own has a small zipped pocket in the front and that’s where I keep things like lip balm and maps. This prevents me rummaging through my purse and ‘showing off’ my valuables and avoids the risk of something important falling out of my bag.

bag to prevent pickpocketing, how not to get robbed in Barcelona
Templo de Debod, Madrid

The larger part of the purse closes with a zipper and it folds over to limit access. Carrying a purse that opens at the top makes it easy for someone to lift your wallet or camera – especially if you’ve forgotten to close the zipper. A friend of mine who lives in Barcelona was talking on the phone and felt a pull on her shoulder – she looked down and a man’s arm was halfway down her purse. She screamed and he ran away but she was still quite shaken up about it!

My purse also has a long strap so I can carry the bag across my body. That makes it harder for someone to snatch from you. Saying that, thieves have been known to cut the straps in other countries (in which case I say let them have it: they have a knife).

I had a padlock – just in case

I had actually brought the padlock in case I needed it for a hostel locker but realized I could use it for other things too. Going to the beach by yourself means you don’t have someone to watch your stuff. On a couple occasions, I went with just a pareo and my hostel key card but not always.

Pep Ventura beach, Barcelona, how to get robbed on the beach
Pep Ventura beach, Barcelona

When I was at La Barceloneta, I set up camp near the lounge chairs closest to the water so that I could keep an eye on everything while I swam. This is where I would use the padlock. The zipper on my purse has a hole large enough to fit the arm of the lock so I closed the zipper and hooked it into the metal ring connecting the strap to the bag. The zipper was securely shut.

Then I locked it to the beach chair to make it difficult to just lift the bag and walk away.

Obviously a padlocked purse would draw attention so I put the purse into a yellow drawstring bag so it looked like a bag of clothes.

The only way a thief would be able to get into my things would be by cutting a hole into the bag and lifting each item (and yes, that has happened to someone I know in Barcelona). This takes longer than a standard grab and run and doesn’t guarantee there is anything in there steal.

Other Tips

  • Don’t flaunt your valuables – especially in public transport. You’re squished between lots of people and it will be hard to distinguish the ‘sorry, I’m trying not to fall over’ touch from the ‘I’ve just grabbed your wallet’ touch.
  • Keep your hand on your bag. You don’t want to look like you’re protecting something, but you should be aware of your bag pulling or feeling light.
  • Sit down somewhere to look at a map. Standing around staring at map is basically advertising “My attention is elsewhere, please steal my stuff.”
  • Keep your bag close at restaurants. I got up to go outside when out with friends and came back and my bag was gone. Luckily it was with good intentions – my friend was holding on to it because he knew that people often take bags off the backs of seats.
  • Take a cab if you’ve had too much to drink. And don’t walk around at night by yourself – muggings are common too!
  • Follow your gut. If something feels off to you, it probably is. Don’t give anyone your wallet or passport even if they are dressed like police officers.

There are no foolproof ways to avoid crime. Keep important documents locked away and definitely keep photocopies. Personally, I take a photo of them on my phone and email them to myself. Travel insurance is your best friend and if you are pickpocketed or robbed, be sure to report it to the police. You often need a report in order to make a claim.

If you strike a balance between being alert and letting your hair down you will be less likely to fall prey to unscrupulous criminals!

Now to you, dear readers: Have you ever been pickpocketed while travelling abroad? What tips do you have for reducing your risk?

8 thoughts on “I Travelled to Barcelona Solo and Didn’t Get Pickpocketed!”

  1. I’ve yet to be pick-pocketed, but I did lose my phone once while in Rio de Janeiro. Some things I have done to avoid making myself a target of pick-pocketing:
    -putting a few bills, my phone, and hostel key in an empty lotion bottle when I go to the beach; if a thief is doing a quick rifle through my bag, my hope is that they won’t have time to look too hard and will miss it. The hostel had a few left over bottles from other travellers that I rinsed out, so I didn’t have to bring one from home 🙂
    -using a cable lock for my larger luggage; this one sometimes feels a bit over-the-top, but it puts my mind at ease when I have to to go to the bathroom in an airport, take a nap on a train, or leave my bag in a hostel that doesn’t have a place to store it
    -limit the amount of stuff you carry around to just the essentials; you’ll be able to keep track of what should be where, you will be able to move quicker, and you will be more in control of your belongings and aware of what’s going on around you if you’re not hauling a purse, a tote bag, a back pack, and a suitcase

    1. That’s a brilliant idea! I’ve never thought of putting my stuff in a lotion bottle. I agree that limiting the items you carry around is important, it really helps you keep your mind off things. Thanks for sharing your tips, Jill!

  2. When I planned my trip to Naples a couple of years ago I heard all the same things you did planning for Barcelona, I only had one friend actually recommend staying in Naples because of their experiences! But I used the tips in this post, these are all some of my favorite travel tips that I give any friend who asks, and we were all just fine. I have a purse very similar to yours. In fact, I’ve been through several purses similar to that and made my travel buddy purchase one as well. The other great thing about the cross-body bag is that you can hold onto it casually so you don’t look like you’re protecting what you’re protecting. 🙂 Thanks for putting this together into such a useful post!

  3. These are great tips Alyssa. I’ve been to Barcelona many times and to Madrid once and unfortunately, the city does indeed have a pilfering reputation. I was almost caught out in Msdrid but I managed to ignore the tricksters and held on tightly to my camera and the camera of my girlfriend who had just stepped into the bathroom. We were in a sandwich cafe!
    Yes, I’ve had my pocket picked by a bunch of small kids in a souk in Egypt! I felt it too but there was nothing I could do. It was a tiny purse with a bit of money and my suitcase keys! I had to borrow some money from a random shop-keeper in order to get back to my hotel LOL!

    1. Oh dear! It was very nice of that shopkeeper to help you out – I hope you went back and bought something haha 😛

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