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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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!