Anyone can be pickpocketed. But travelers are a good target, either because they look lost, they are lost or because they’ve got a lot of stuff with them. No matter the reason, I’ve collected a handful of cautionary tales over the course of my travels.
So come nearer friends, gather ’round the monitor and I’ll tell you stories that’ll make you clutch your purse a little closer tonight…
The Good Samaritan
My mom and I were traveling in Paris and met up with a nice older couple on the train from the airport. They chatted to us about how excited they were to be visiting the city of lights for the first time. When we said goodbye we thought we might see them around again as they were staying near us.
Towards the end of the trip, we did see them, and asked how they were liking their stay. To which they replied that they spent a lot of it dealing with paperwork as they’d had their wallet and passport stolen on the second day. Standing at a crosswalk, examining a paper map, someone came up to help. By the time directions were given and he was gone, so was the woman’s wallet and passport – stolen out of her bag that didn’t even have a zipper!
Lesson 1: Sad to say, but you should be wary of good samaritans when you travel. Also, always wear a purse cross body so it can’t be easily pulled off of you, and bring one that closes securely with a zipper.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
Years ago, my ex-boyfriend took a train trip with his friend around Europe. On one part of the trip, they were on an overnight train in a sleeper car, just the two of them, with a locking door. To be extra secure, his friend suggested that they pool their money and put it all in a pouch that he had strapped to his chest, under his shirt. This way they could be sure it would be safe while they slept.
Unfortunately, this friend was a heavier sleeper than they thought. The next morning, the pouch was gone, and with it their dream of a problem free trip. They ended up getting their parents to Western Union them some money.
(Remember Western Union!?)
Lesson 2: Split your money up. Bring what you need for the day in small enough bills that you aren’t showing off a bunch of money when you try to pay for something. Always keep a stash of emergency funds hidden somewhere in your other things so you’re not SOL if you get robbed/pickpocketed.
See Something, Say Something
When I was traveling Europe with my friend Angela, I noticed some strange behavior when we got off the subway and were moving in the crush towards the escalator.
A man and a woman were walking in the same direction, near us. When we got to the escalator the man rudely pushed in front of Angela to get on first. At the same time, the woman stepped back and gestured for Angela to go ahead of her, then promptly jumped on after, cutting me off and sandwiching Angela and her backpack tightly in between the two of them.
It was a strange enough interaction that I called out to my friend in a voice loud enough for them to hear “Watch your backpack, I think this couple might be up to something.” After which, the woman gave me an ugly look and stepped back one step to give her more room.
When we exited the escalator the man went left and the woman went right but when I turned around a few paces later, I saw they’d met back up together and were making no move to exit the subway like the rest of the commuters. Too suspicious to be coincidence in my book. But regardless of whether or not they were trying to – they got nothing from Angela!
Lesson 3: Pickpockets thrive on stealth and anonymity. If you think someone is trying to pick pocket you or a friend, don’t be shy about announcing it. Chances are they’ll move on to a more unsuspecting target.
This story isn’t really about being pickpocketed, more like plain old robbed (or burgled?). On our last night in Budapest, we were staying in a ten bed all women hostel room. I always sleep with my valuables in a locked container in my bed but my backpack was just tucked under it.
That morning I woke up to a persistent rustling sound. I could have gone back to sleep, thinking it was someone rummaging through their own things but something told me to roll over and open my eyes and I am glad I did!
Crouched next to my bed was a wiry man, very intently and not so stealthily rooting through my backpack. I croaked out a surprised “What are you doing?” to which he looked up with wild eyes and said one word: “Cannabis?!” I yelled “No!” and he took off running. Unfortunately he’d already pilfered a lot of things from the other girls and they spent the day at the police station trying to get it sorted.