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How to avoid pickpockets

Save yourself from the panic of realizing your wallet's been snatched.
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Heather Cleland, July 2, 2013 9:40:59 AM

Realizing your wallet or camera is gone when you’re in a foreign country is a devastating feeling. We all know that pickpocketing happens around the world but many of us think we’re too savvy or cautious for it to ever happen to us. But pickpockets are very good at what they do and some can even take a wallet out of a zipped front pocket without the owner ever noticing a thing. Here are a few dos and don’ts to follow to reduce your chance of finding yourself empty handed abroad.

Don’t draw attention to yourself as a tourist. This means being subtle about checking out maps and guide books in places where pickpockets are known to operate.
Don’t rifle through your money and instead keep small bills handy so you don’t show off how much cash you have on hand.
Do keep your money in different places. Don’t take all of it with you when you go out for the day so if you do get pickpocketed, you won’t be totally broke.
Do have a backup credit card just in case you lose your wallet so you don’t have to go through the hassle of getting a new one shipped to you in a foreign place.
Don’t carry your passport around with you all the time and instead leave it in a hotel safe. Passports are much more difficult to replace than cash or credit cards.
Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket, where it’s easy to see and easy to grab.
Do beware of distractions. Some pickpockets work in groups and while one distracts you by falling, speaking to you, spilling something on you, or some other distraction, another could be making a shady move.
Do have travel insurance. This is always important but it could help you out if a camera is stolen, for example.
Do be especially vigilant in crowded areas. Carry your backpack on your front if you need to.
Do make sure your purse or bag has zippers for secure closure. Same goes for pockets on your jacket. Use inside pockets if you have them.
Don’t keep your wallet in an outside pocket of your purse or backpack and instead place it in a main pocket, zipped away, and not on top.
Do put your camera in a bag when you’re not using it rather than letting it hang around your neck, which could attract attention.
Do consider placing a decoy wallet in your back pocket with nothing in it. Don’t be showy about it, but if a pickpocket notices and goes for it, it could prevent them from pursuing your real wallet.
Don’t wear flashy jewelry or watches that advertise the fact that you may have a lot of money on you.
Do follow the advice of guidebooks or your local guide and know the areas that are more prone to pickpockets.

What about a money belt?
Money belts are considered by some to be a nice additional security measure for travellers. You can slip your cash into this flat nylon pouch and then wear it under your shirt or waistband. Your cash and cards won’t be visible and you’d most likely notice if someone touched you in that part of your body. But money belts have their downsides as well. Because they stay hidden under your clothes, it’s not that easy to subtly get anything out of them. So if you do travel with a money belt, use them for instances where you won’t need regular access to cash, or keep a small amount of cash in a separate bag or purse. Money belts can also be a bit uncomfortable to wear, especially in hotter climates.

It’s also important to wear a money belt properly if you decide to use one. Wearing one outside of your clothes (it’s more common than you’d think!) defeats the purpose entirely, while wearing tight or revealing clothing can make it pretty clear to a passerby where your money is.

Have you ever been pickpocketed? Do you have other advice for travellers? Share your advice in the comments section below.

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Heather Cleland

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