How To Avoid Getting Pickpocketed

After four years living in different parts of Spain, mostly in Barcelona, I can proudly declare that I’ve never had my wallet or mobile phone stolen. Most English-speaking travelers have a horror story or two, especially from some wild weekend in the capital of Catalonia, about realizing their belongings have been nicked. Barcelona is among the many cities in Europe notorious not only for wild parties, but for very talented pickpockets, so this is no surprise. What’s odd is being one of the few who’ve never been targeted, despite being pretty obviously not local. Or, never successfully targeted.

The closest thieves ever came to me was at a hamburger restaurant. A friend of mine was sitting next to me, her phone adjacent to the greasy basket of fries to her right. A beggar clunked into the cafe and shoved a sign in our face that, as I remember, probably translates to, “I need money to feed all these mouths!” It was a sad sight, but we didn’t really know how to handle it, so we ignored the disheveled woman. After a moment, she left. Five minutes later, my friend freaked out, realizing the phone, a shiny Apple affair, had been swiped by the hand not holding the sign. I ran out and into a convenience store asking if the woman had passed by, but the attendant was like, “Dude, that iPhone’s been sold already.”

Soon I discovered this kind of tactic was used all the time, whether it be on the metro, in restaurants and bars, and even on main tourist drags like the Ramblas. Other European cities had similar reputations, but Barcelona was even a little proud of how crafty their thieves could be.

More than the talented cast of brigands, though, Barcelona seemed famous for tourists getting very inebriated and having all manner of expensive gadgetry and money satchels stolen. And the drunken encounter with thievery was a lot more common than sober bad luck.

I knew one girl in particular, an English lass, who enjoyed herself the occasional drunken rampage through the city. Every new party story from her was more impressive than the last. This epic lady in particular got her wallet and stolen many times, though she was only one of many fun time folks who lost items due to merriment. I have another acquaintance who got her phone stolen on her birthday, despite it being deep within her coat at the time of Herculean beer consumption.

This all shouldn’t deter you from venturing to Europe and indulging in drinks, grub, and casual to memory-wiping merriment. Actually, Barcelona is an extremely safe city, and other common euro-destinations are as well; the possibility of losing an expensive device is prevalent, but never will a weapon be drawn like in really any part of the states. Getting stuff stolen will be a sneaky affair, the realization of which is generally not apparent till the hangover subsides. From reports I’ve heard of other cities similar to the Catalan cosmopolis, this is mostly true across the board. So no need to fret. All you need to do is show basic city intelligence, and the likelihood of having valuables stolen will go down drastically.

First off, don’t listen to the travel guides that tell you to wear those ridiculous pouches that go under your clothes. They are uncomfortable, and a pickpocket may even notice a tourist’s discomfort at having to don one of these unfashionable train-wrecks. The more tourist-y you’re being, really, the more recognizable you are as a mark. So lock up the passport in a hotel, shed the very obvious attire from your home country, and blend in. A loud American or English person will call forth the sneaky thieves from every corner; a subtle shift toward looking like a local goes a long way. This goes for photography as well. Cameras are expensive, and easy to get off people, so don’t be obvious about snapping photos. If you have a selfie stick, you deserve to have your phone, and the infernal rod, torn from your grasp.

I always tried to look like a local expat. My face is definitely not Spanish, but I dressed like everyone else, and always looked straight ahead, hands always moodily in pockets, clutching the phone and wallet. This tactic worked, even before I knew it was a tactic. My first week in Spain, I was walking on the Rambla at 2am on a Wednesday – rookie mistake – when a tall prostitute glided toward me and started to ruffle up my hair. I silently strode past; she cursed me out, the end. A friend later revealed how some prostitutes steal in Barcelona, and I realized then, “Well, well, brigands of the night, I’ve beaten you at last.” And so will you.

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