There’s so much to see and do on your vacation! But while you’re sizing up the Eiffel Tower for the perfect shot, peering through your viewfinder to frame the city’s sunset, or browsing through the stalls in a crowded marketplace, pickpockets may be sizing up your backpack, peering into your handbag, or browsing through your fanny pack.
What’s a tourist to do?
The first piece of advice any seasoned traveler would offer is always to be aware of your surroundings and try not to look like you just fell off the tourist turnip truck. However, even if you look like you stepped off the fashion page of Travel + Leisure, truth is, you are a tourist and there are myriad details that will give you away. Again, you just have to keep them to a minimum. (Smart travelers, by the way, leave the bling and designer monikers back home.)
The idea is to look more like a traveler than a tourist, i.e., avoid the matching tracksuits, emblazoned t-shirts, and puffy white tennis shoes (a dead giveaway) in favor of stylish, comfortable clothing and shoes to match, while—we’ll repeat it because it’s that important—being aware of your surroundings. If you’re taking a picture, keep your bag on you and in front of you. If you’re in a crowded marketplace, keep your bag on you, in front of you, and, if possible, with a hand on it. And if you’re walking and a nice lady approaches you asking you to participate in a survey… Trust us, it’s better to nod politely and keep walking than to risk her friends fleecing you while you’re concentrating on her questions and heavy accent.
While all this might sound a bit harsh, it isn’t: it’s just all about using your common sense. The United States and Canada are fairly safe from the picking of pockets, but Europe and Latin America… not so much.
OK, so where/how do you stash your cash?
Money belts are a great option but are highly impractical for the day-to-day of your vacation. Think of them more as in-transit options. The last thing you want to be doing is fiddling with a money belt to pay at a museum entrance—totally defeats the purpose of having a hidden stash!
And while it may feel safer to have all your cash with you in one neat little money belt packet, if you get mugged that’s the first thing the thieves will go for—and all your money/credit cards/ID will be gone. That goes double for your purse.
Many travelers swear by the “divide and conquer” rule: divide your cash and credit cards among several “safe spots”—money belt, front pocket wallet, bra pocket, zippered bag—so all won’t be gone in one fell swoop. If you carry a purse, make sure it’s zippered and keep your valuables (not all of them, right?) in the innermost, hopefully zippered, pocket. Speaking of purses, hanging one over your shoulder as casually as you do at home might be a casualty: strongly consider a crossbody bag with separate zippered compartments, and never hang your bag over your chair in a restaurant.
Gentlemen who would rather do without a “murse” (a man’s purse) will want to consider keeping their cash in separate stashes, including a front pocket wallet—never in the back pocket where it’s easily accessible. Pick-pocket proof clothing is another great alternative for both men and women.
Oh, and a fanny pack is not, we repeat, not safe. Unless perhaps you lock the zipper and turn it around so the opening faces your body. Which would be pretty uncomfortable. Not to mention a fashion faux pas.
As for your phones (and cameras, while we’re at it)… Smartphones are a favorite item for thieves. If you’re walking alone at night and decide to whip out your mobile to check out where you are, it might not make it back to the hotel with you. And keep it off the table while you’re eating—it’s an easy walk-by snatch.
A quick note on the ATMs: this is a perfect place for practicing the “keep your wits about you” advice. Make sure you keep the pin pad covered and don’t pull out your entire travel budget at once. It’s better to make several trips and have smaller amounts handy than make one big trip and risk losing it all to a thief. Don’t talk to anyone, just take your money and walk away. And, of course, always use an ATM in a transited public area, preferably in broad daylight.
The purpose of this article is not to stir paranoia, simply to raise awareness (that word again) and shake up some common sense (those, too). Travel light enough so you can handle your bags easily and travel simply enough to not call undue attention to yourself—and always be sure to travel with an open mind and an open heart so you can enjoy the marvelous gift of traveling to distant lands.