When traveling in big cities, particularly in Europe, you are constantly surrounded by beautiful views, famous landmarks, and—unfortunately—pickpockets. They prey on tourists in particular, so the risk of being pickpocketed while traveling in Europe is not negligible. I would know. I’ve gone through it twice, first when my mom’s phone was stolen in London and then when our passports and cash were stolen in Paris.
Beyond the problems that come with having your money stolen when traveling, losing your passport or other identification while traveling internationally can be a big problem. As an experienced victim of pickpockets, here are a few tips on how to avoid becoming a victim yourself and what to do if the same unfortunate fate befalls you—in particular if your passport is stolen while traveling internationally.
I traveled to Paris with my mom this summer. Right after we arrived at the airport, we boarded a bus to head towards our hotel in Paris. The RER train that would have brought us directly to our hotel was undergoing construction, so we were forced to take a longer, more unfamiliar route.
While switching onto a train that would bring us into the city, we were attempting to crowd into a train car. A young girl yanked on our suitcases as if trying to help us squeeze on, so we got on. In the process, people were ramming into us from all directions, so we couldn’t tell what was going on.
The girl who brought us on the train then ran back out, which we initially thought was because there wasn’t enough space. Turns out, it was because she’d gotten what she wanted—our money. This tactic is very common for pickpockets, yet we fell victim due to multiple mistakes along the way.
Most Common Ways Pickpockets Work
Ask To Sign Petition/Provide Email
Sometimes, pickpockets will ask you to sign a petition or provide your email to distract you. While you are preoccupied, someone else they are working with will steal your bag from behind you. It’s much easier than you’d think.
If you see someone nearing you with a clipboard in hand, walk in the other direction. If someone asks you to sign something or fill out something, quickly walk away without responding and make sure to keep a close eye on your belongings.
Grab And Run
This method for pickpockets occurs most often on trains, buses, metros, etc. Pickpockets will quickly steal cash or wallets right as doors are about to close at a train, bus, or metro station and run away before you can stop them or even realize it. If this occurs, don’t chase after the pickpocket—chances are, they will have already handed the stolen goods to someone else they are working with. If you run up to them and find that they don’t, in fact, have your possessions, you’ll be in trouble.
How To Avoid Becoming A Victim
Keep Bags In Front
It’s common to keep your bags to the side or even slightly behind you, but to avoid pickpockets hold them in front of you and close to your chest.
Always Keep Bags Closed
Keep your bag closed at all times. It’s so much easier for pickpockets to steal from you if the contents of your bags are easily accessible.
Don’t Be Flashy
Pickpockets are after people who look like they are carrying a lot of cash on them. Don’t purposefully wear flashy clothing or jewelry, which will attract unwanted attention.
Don’t Look Like A Tourist
Even if you’re lost, don’t act confused. This will only make you a target for pickpockets, who in particular love going after tourists because they are in an unfamiliar environment and unused to pickpocketing. Look confident in where you are going.
Don’t Talk To Strangers
Even if they act like they are asking for directions, there could always be someone else sneaking up behind you to steal your belongings. Don’t stop if someone starts talking to you on the street and don’t be afraid to look cautious and wary.
Don’t Keep Everything Together
Separate your cash and credit cards when traveling. Don’t keep all of your most important belongings in the same bag—while that may be more convenient for you, it’s also more convenient for pickpockets.
Carry As Little As Possible
When traveling, carry only one credit card, one form of identification, and at most fifty dollars in cash in your bag. Leave the rest in your hotel safe. This way, even if you are pickpocketed, you won’t lose everything.
Leave A Sticker On Important Items
Pickpockets are only after your cash—there isn’t much they can do with your passport, credit cards, etc. Sometimes, pickpockets have been known to return other belongings if they know where to find you. Leave a sticky note with your hotel’s number so they may find you to return the other items.
What To Do If You Are Pickpocketed
If you are pickpocketed, it is always good to first file a report at the police station. This is not required but something you should do if you have the time. If you have absolutely no money left, you definitely have to go to the police station so they can arrange a solution for you. Afterward, cancel your credit cards if they were stolen so the pickpockets cannot use them.
In my case, my passport was also stolen. I was in France, so to return home I would need an emergency passport. As I’m a United States citizen, I had to head over to the United States Embassy in Paris, where they issued me an emergency passport within a few hours. Wherever you’re coming from, you should do the same—go to your country’s embassy near where you are staying and ask them to give you an emergency passport.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that if you are under the age of 16, you are considered a minor. This means that, at least in the United States, you need consent from both of your parents in order to receive an emergency passport. If your parents are there, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you are traveling alone or with one of your parents, you will have to ask them to fill out a consent form.
This form must be filled out and notarized, which can be done at a bank or a UPS in the United States, so it’s best to do this as soon as you can. Specific details on this process may be different for other countries, but there will likely be extra requirements to protect the safety of minors.
And there you have it! A guide on how to avoid pickpockets when traveling and what to do if you become a victim of pickpocketing. And most of all, remember to stay calm.