I Survived A Pickpocketing Attempt On My First Day In Europe - Here's How
Ah Paris, the City of Love. While it’s easy to get swept up in an idealistic notion of how super romantic Paris can be while you are there with bae, that wasn’t the case with me and my spouse. We arrived in the city fully aware that we might encounter some… let’s just call it, unpleasant experiences.
Despite all the precautions we took, we were still the subject of a pickpocketing attempt on our very first metro ride in Paris coming from the airport. Was this just an exercise in futility then? Au contraire – while the pickpockets did make an attempt, and even successfully go through my bag before I realised what was going on, nothing of value was stolen, thanks to the safeguards we put in place.
Here’s what we did to stand a chance against pickpockets:
Know their modus operandi – and you only need to know one!
If you’re quite the hardworking trip planner (like me), you would have gone through countless articles and YouTube videos telling you all about the different scams that pickpockets employ to distract tourists and before you know it, voila your phone is gone.
In actual fact, while it’s handy for you to read up on the common methods that pickpockets use, these lists are non-exhaustive, and pickpockets constantly improve their methods to try and trick unsuspecting tourists. At the end of the day, their success in robbing you of your valuables boils down to one common theme – the art of distraction.
Pickpockets in major European cities work in groups and can often consist of people that we consider the least threatening (children, women and the elderly). One member of the team will distract you while the other executes the pickpocketing exercise. In our case, we were already flustered with having to juggle three suitcases on the metro, so we became prime targets for a group of two teenagers and a young adult.
Distraction came in the form of a girl asking me how to get to Charles de Gaulle airport. This sounded completely absurd to me given that they look like locals, which was why I sensed a red flag and immediately looked around me – only to see her accomplice rifling through my bag of tissues, old receipts and hand sanitisers (more on that below). The key is to stay alert at all times and not allow yourself to be distracted by anyone while on holiday.
Get a reliable anti-theft travel bag
There are a good variety of anti-theft travel bags on the market – no thanks to the thousands of pickpocketing cases across European cities. Splurge on a high-quality bag with anti-theft zippers (which would make it incredibly difficult to open).
Better yet – get something that’s slash-proof and offers RFID protection as well (so that your credit cards are safe). Ours is a Travelon bag we purchased from Amazon.sg.
Before making the purchase, if it’s possible, try testing how easy it would be for a stranger to open the bag without you realising it. That way, you would have absolute peace of mind.
Bait pickpockets with “dummy” valuables
This was where my bag came in handy. While my S.O. had an anti-theft, slash-proof bag with our valuables, mine was solely there to “lure” the pickpockets into targeting my bag since it probably looked much easier to open.
I filled my bag with tissue packets, old receipts - even a “dummy” wallet and an expired credit card (essentially nothing of value) to lead them off-course. True enough, the pickpocket spent so much time going through the contents of my bag only to find nothing of value and was forced to leave the train at the next stop after I caught her red-handed.
Travel in groups, and cover each other’s blind spots
I’ve heard so many horror stories from friends about one person straying from the group or going somewhere on their own in European cities, only to find their valuables missing later on.
While on the metro, my S.O. and I stood facing each other and we made sure our eyes were constantly on the prowl watching for suspicious behaviour. Similarly, in areas of high tourist density, my S.O. kept his eyes peeled on the people surrounding me while I focused on getting the perfect shot for the ’gram.
If all else fails, there’s damage limitation
In the unfortunate event that all the above methods fail, and something of value was stolen, you shouldn’t have to stress out over your loss while being on vacation.
It’s good practice to diversify your money pool such as splitting your expenses between cash and debit/credit cards, only bringing out what you need for the day and leaving the rest in your hotel safe, or getting a prepaid multi-currency card that you can top up and pay instantly so that even if your card is stolen, you won’t have to worry about the thief going on a spending spree.
At the risk of sounding like an ad – always, always get travel insurance, but also know your insurance coverage inside out. Check the maximum amount that your insurer would reimburse you in the event of a theft and don’t bring anything more than that amount when you’re out and about.