A SIW's Guide to Avoiding Pickpocketry

I decided we needed a noun for the act of pickpocketing that isn't so long or jumbly to say. So I settled on pickpocketry. You're welcome Merriam-Webster. 

We've all heard it before. The dreaded pickpocketer story of your friend backpacking through Europe who got her phone and wallet stolen by gypsies on her first day. Pickpocketing is a real issue, and these people are actual professionals. I just watched a documentary about a professional pickpocketer in Naples who stole money out of a guys sock without him noticing. WTF?!?!

KNOCK ON WOOD. But I've never had anything stolen or pickpocketed from me in my three years living in Europe. Phew. Let's not jinx it, but I have to say it. But it requires constant vigilance, and can be stressful. And I definitely have slip-ups where I probably/definitely should have been robbed AKA every time I go out drinking. 

We are not weenies. We do not let the world rob us of our iPhones and credit cards and passports (actual worst nightmare). We are SIWs (STRONG. INDEPENDENT. WOMEN.) who don't stand for that kind of shit. 

So here's a few hacks that I use to protect myself as much as possible from getting my valuables gleeped by strangers.

Pickpocket.jpg

Song of the Day: Sorry by Justin Bieber (Because I'm literally not sorry for listening to Bieb's Bangers....)


Blend In

Prevention is always #1. I've probably written about blending in with the crowd in every post I've ever written. But it's so important. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a tourist. In fact, I encourage it. But if you've got 8 cameras around your neck and a fanny pack (or bum bag for my Brit friends), you're probably going to be targeted right off the bat. So cool it on the I HEART NY t-shirts, as stylish as they are. 

Have the Right Bag

SCANDAL. My bag isn't fastened!

SCANDAL. My bag isn't fastened!

I'm a big fan of the cross body bag. You'll notice I'm wearing one in most of my photos, because I'm even hesitant to take it off just for a second. But it's not just the cross-body bag itself that is the savior. It's the way you wear it. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS keep your bag in front of you at all times. When I'm in America, I tend to get in the habit of letting the bag swing back and forth, and it even sometimes moves itself far enough behind me that I can't even see it at all, or I have to do the weird arm reach around to acquire it from near where my butt is. 

DO NOT DO THIS. Keep in front of you, and keep one hand on it, especially when you're on public transportation, a crowded tourist area, or grinding it out in the club to Pitbull. Make sure the bag has more than one method of closing aka a zip and a snap, or a buckle and a zip etc. So that it takes a little more work for a sneaky cheeky to get into your essentials. 

Wrap Said Bag Around your Feet

Lolz. Not in every day life. But in a restaurant. Never leave your bag on the back of your chair as you would at home. I take this for granted because it's so convenient, but it's really important not to leave your bag behind you ever. Someone can just so easily snipe it off of the back of your chair without you seeing. A trick I use is to wrap the strap of my bag around my ankle, and keep my food solidly on the floor. You don't have to wrap it so many times that your ankles start turning blue (obv), but enough so that if someone tries to pull on it or move it, you can feel the strap tightening around your ankle. It sounds silly, but if you leave it on the floor in between your feet, and you have a long strap, it can so easily be pulled out from beneath you without you noticing.

If You Do Have a Handbag, Keep the Zipper in Front of You

Not sure if that phrasing makes sense. (How do you English??) But when you're wearing your handbag on your shoulder, make sure the zipper is zipped shut in front of you, not behind. If you leave if behind you, you're keeping an easy entrance for pickpocketers to open the bag a tiny bit to pull something out. 

Assure Your Bag is a Durable Fabric

This sounds like LOLZ but it is an actual thing that I've heard of happening. If you have a thin material bag, a pickpocketer can easily cut through the bottom. Remember, these people are professionals and have thought of everything. 

Keep Your Phone in your Hand

Phone in hand. Even when pillar hugging. 

Phone in hand. Even when pillar hugging. 

People have disagreed with me on this one, and I'm not saying that you're immune from robbery if you keep your phone in your hand. But especially when I'm out at a bar or a club, I keep my phone glued to my hand. I know that if I put it in my bag, I feel like it's so easily susceptible to being stolen if it's swinging around by my hip. I've even had people ask me if my phone is hot-glued to my hand, and that's for no other reason besides me trying to make sure that I know where it is always. UNLESS I HAVE A CLUTCH. 

EXCEPTION: I do not keep my phone in my hand when I'm standing on the edge of a street. Recently in London, there has been a recent increase in motorcyclists snatching phones out of the hands of innocent pedestrians on the side of the road and driving off quickly. Be so so careful and hyperaware of this! 

Get a Clutch!

Clutches are clutch. Because you literally clutch them in your clutches all night long. Now, like my bags, my clutches always have a thousand zippers and snaps to make them impenetrable. And I try not to bring them out to dinners, because there's no strap to wrap around my leg. But if I know I'll be standing all evening, I have no problem holding one to hold all my stuff.

(for the love of God) Ditch the Money Belt

*COUGH* DAD *COUGH* 

Nothing puts a target on your head more than an ugly, khaki colored money belt. Please. There are so many cuter and safer ways to keep your belongings secure, and the second a thief spots you lifting up your shirt or DOWN YOUR PANTS to get your money, you now have a label on your head that shouts "I'M A TOURIST STEAL ALL MY SHIT." Please. They're like crocs. I don't care how practical they are and that you use them for gardening. They're ugly as hell. 

Don't Leave Your Belongings on the Table

My friend Anna's first week of living in Spain, she left her phone on the table in a cafe. A group of gypsies ran in, caused a commotion, distracted them, and as soon as they left, Anna went to reach for her phone, and it was gone. It's so easy to get your stuff sniped if you leave it out in the open for thieves to spot. 

Watch Out for Shenanigans Like Mentioned Above

Speaking of gypsies running in and causing a commotion, this sort of thing is extremely common in countries like Spain, Greece, and Italy (and I'm sure many others). I've seen it happen on several occasions, where a group of people will swarm a table, yelling and shouting things, or even trying to get you to look at a book, magazines, or sign a petition. These are ploys to get you distracted and not pay attention to where your valuables are. Do not fall for said shenanigans, and do not cave in to said petitions. 

Nix the Pockets

Don't put anything in your pockets! Ever! The only time I ever put my phone in my pocket is if my hand is also in my pocket with it.

Avoid Crowded Places

If there's a really crowded subway car, and I know that I won't be fully able to pay attention to all my belongs, I simply don't get on and just wait for the next one. There's too much risk involved in visiting a super crowded places. Aim to visit really touristy locations in the early hours of the morning. There will be guaranteed far less people there, and you'll be able to fully enjoy yourself without stressing about the crowds and holding on to your stuff! 

Don't Get Belligerent  

Getting out of your mind drunk may sound appealing at the time, but for people who think it's cute that they "hehe left the bar without my credit card and I went back and it was there!!!!!!" should realize that it's not cute. And that you're not at home anymore. You're likely in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar language. If you decide to walk home by yourself and you get lost, you are automatically a target. I'm not saying don't go out and drink, because that would make me a hypocrite. But keep your wits about you, and always be aware. 

Don't Bring Your Passport Out (IF POSSIBLE)

Sometimes, it's necessary to have your passport out with you. However, don't just bring it out to the clubs to use it as a substitute for your ID. I've heard rumors that some bars will turn you away if you don't have a passport because they aren't familiar with foreign ID's. I've never had this happen, or really actually heard of it happening. And even if there is a bar that asks you to bring your passport, it's just not worth it. Leave the passport at home, and find another bar that WANTS YOU FOR YOU AND NOT JUST FOR YOUR PASSPORT. 

Leave Some Money/Cards at Home

If you do get pickpocketed, you want to make sure you're not completely left without any money in case of an emergency. You should be doing this anyways, just in case! 

Look Out for Your Fellow SIWs

If you see someone getting pickpocketed, say something about it! If you see your friends bag is open, or their pocket is unzipped. Watch out for your friends, and they'll watch out for you. 

Realize Some Stuff

It's important to realize that you can take all of the right measures, and still have something happen to you. Someone can just snatch your handbag and take off running. You may slip up. It's okay. Take a deep breath. You know that you've done all you can do, and unfortunately human selfishness can obstruct your plans. Everything will be okay. Don't let it stop you from continuing to enjoy yourself. 


Be smart. Always be aware. It's annoying. Trust me, it's frustrating to have to be thinking about it all the time. But you'll get to a point where it's just second nature, and you won't have to think about it anymore.

If something does happen:

  • Contact the local police department right away. They may not be able to do anything, but if something does turn up, they'll be able to return it to you immediately. 
  • Contact the embassy. But not for things like stolen phones or wallets. If you passport gets stolen, contact them immediately to try to get a replacement passport. If something serious happens, like you've been mugged, robbed, or beaten, contact the embassy. 
  • Call your bank and credit card companies right away to report a missing card. 
  • Do not panic. I know it's far easier said than done. But no one died. It's all replicable stuff, just frustrating and upsetting at first. 

So here's to being SIWs who get to keep our belongings! 

Have you ever been pickpocketed? I want to hear your stories!