Anti-Theft Tips for Travelers – what you should know and what you should do.
I consider us pretty seasoned travelers. Between us, we have been all over the United States, Europe, Central America, the Caribbean and even Asia. So, this isn’t our first rodeo. And we have never gotten anything stolen – EVER.
Why? Because we employ a few simple but effective anti-theft techniques. But let me back up a little..
I don’t know about you, but I had always heard stories about pickpockets in just about any place before I traveled there. It didn’t really matter where I was going, someone always had a story about his (or his friend’s) wallet, purse, camera, phone, etc. getting stolen. Some of the stories were downright scary.
Spain was no different. Before we came here, we were told by friends how horribly bad theft is and how there are gangs of pickpockets targeting visitors in all the tourist areas.
First, let’s be honest. There are pickpockets and crooks everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the States, Caribbean, Europe or wherever, you will find thieves. And in my experience, the poorer or economically disadvantaged the area, the worse it is. Makes sense, right?
In the three weeks we’ve been in Spain so far, we have certainly seen some of these thieving individuals and, in a couple of cases, we felt that we were actually on their radar. So, let me tell you about our experience in this regard and share with you some anti-theft tips that work for us in our travels.
Anti-Theft Tips For Traveling: Prepare before you leave
We have a few useful things we do and items we buy before we leave. These help us keep our stuff safe. Here is what we suggest:
- Secure your luggage. Do not put TSA-safe locks on your luggage. Seriously folks, TSA does not have authority in Europe or the rest of the world and, in fact, customs agents in other countries resent it when Americans put these locks on their luggage. As a result, they will cut them off and sometimes even ruin your bag’s zipper in the process. Instead, buy yourself some zip ties (if you’re worried about your bag opening and spilling) to secure the zippers together. Or, for double protection, do as we do and use these Cross Luggage Straps along with zip ties, they work quite well and we never have any problems with them. On this trip, one of the cross straps on my bag slipped off (probably wasn’t put back on correctly by customs) but the other strap still held the entire bag together.
- Label your luggage. This is important in case the airline loses or misplaces one of your bags. This does happen and it has happened to me on past travels. I love these little sets of Luggage Tags and Grips because they not only label our bags but also stand out with the grips, so our bags are easy to find and retrieve as they come out on the luggage carousel. Just get your favorite color and off you go.
- Ladies, get a cross-body anti-theft purse. Seriously, if you’re traveling not only is this convenient because you’re not “carrying” your purse, but these are a lot harder to rip off your shoulder. You can also keep them in front of you at all times. As an added bonus – Spanish women wear them everywhere, they are quite popular here, so you don’t stand out as a target. And they don’t always have to be ugly. I love mine!
- Consider a lock for you backpack. Or a backpack that comes with anti-theft mechanism. We bought one of these to carry our computers in for our travels and it’s been working for us very well. We use it when we are out and about sightseeing or to carry our computer to Spanish school.
- If you want a tote as your personal item on the plane, purchase one with some hidden pockets (this goes for backpacks, as well). Hidden pockets are a great way to protect your valuables. But they will not protect you from the theft of the entire bag. I use tote as my plane personal item: Everest Travel and Shopping Tote, and it works great for beach outings too.
- Use a money belt. If you are transporting money to exchange at your destination or if you exchanged money prior to your visit, you may want to invest in one of the money belts. They are inexpensive and can be found in stores like Target too. Tim wore one on the plane and around town when we were going to a bank and it was quite comfortable.
- Anti-theft tips recap. The point of all this is: BE PREPARED. It doesn’t matter what you choose to buy or where, just make sure you have what you need to be protected.
Anti-Theft Tips For Traveling: Once you arrive
Always, always be smart. Here are some Dos and Don’ts for traveling:
Anti-theft Tips: DON’Ts
- Don’t leave your articles unattended anywhere, not even at an airport. But for goodness sake, do not leave your phone, purse, or any valuables alone at a beach while you go swimming. I cannot tell you how many people we have seen freak out because someone snatched their wallet or phone off the beach towel while they were swimming! Just DON’T DO IT. Yes, there are people that watch for opportunities like that.
- Do not engage random people, people asking for change for a dollar (or whatever money), or anyone appearing too friendly or eager to help you. It is likely they are crooks and they are looking for an opportunity to rob or scam you. Here’s an example that we saw in Barcelona: at a subway station, a gentleman was hanging out near the ticket machines. As soon as he saw us, he proceeded to show us how to get the tickets and was very helpful. We thanked him for his help but he waited for us to pull out money and get the tickets. Instead we walked away. When he asked why? We told him it was for “tomorrow” and kept on walking. We saw this guy on several other occasions in the same spot. He was clearly looking for some unbeknownst tourist willing to pull out money and guess what would happen? Yep, a snatch and run.
Another time, there was a guy hanging out at one of the points of interest and approached Tim asking if he had change for 1 Euro. Why would you think he’d do that? Don’t be helpful, keep on going, not even if the individual is clean shaven and looks legit. You don’t need to give them change, they can get it at a café – shake your head no and keep walking. Don’t engage them.
- Don’t get sidetracked or allow yourself to be sucked in by a friendly person offering tours or tourist advise on a street. You will most likely end up in a timeshare presentation and loose hours of your valuable vacation time and be pressured to purchase stuff you don’t want. Or you may end up on an overpriced tour that sucks. Do your research before you go and choose what you want to do before your trip.
- Never, ever engage the beggars on the street. They are quite pushy at times and hard to ignore. Don’t do it, ignore, and keep walking. An old woman came up to me and tried to push a twig in my hand here in Granada. I refused to take it, she was trying to shove it into my hand – a good sign of something being amiss. Later, I saw the same woman giving a fortune-telling to an uncomfortable-looking young woman holding that same twig. Guess what the old woman wanted? Yep, her money! Just say no and walk away – save your charity for when you’re at home.
- Don’t act like a lost tourist. It’s like painting a red sign on your back “Come take advantage of me, I’m lost!”. If you are lost, stop in at a café, bank, store or any business and ask for directions, don’t do it on the street. Also, don’t conspicuously whip out the city map and stop to look at it. If you have one and want to consult it, find an inconspicuous spot where you can look. Like a bench or a corner, where you are not looking at the map in view of everyone in the area.
- Don’t carry your wallet bulging out of your back pocket. Guys, seriously, that is the first thing pickpockets hone in on. And they are very, very good at removing that wallet without you noticing. Often, they work in pairs or small groups, one will distract you, the other will relieve you of your wallet. Don’t be cocky and think you’re too big, or too tough, anyone can be a target.
Anti-Theft tips: DO’s:
- Educate yourself before you go. Know where you’re going, what you want to see, and what the local customs are. Try to blend in. I believe education is the best anti-theft tip I can give you. If you know what to expect and what to do in case of emergency, it will really help you enjoy your vacation.
- Learn a few phrases in the local language: please, thank you, I need help, where is the bathroom, etc. In a pinch, these can really be helpful and besides the locals usually appreciate it.
- Do wear a cross-body purse. Ladies, I can’t tell you how well this works for keeping your valuables close and safe.
- Put your wallet in a front pocket or a pocket with a button/zipper. Tim got really good at putting his wallet upside-down in his front pocket (opening facing up). So, not only is it harder to get it out without him noticing but also it’s difficult to remove it from the pocket itself because it opens up and snags on the pocket as it’s being removed. This is an important anti-theft tip; I have personally seen a guy get his wallet lifted from a back pocket.
- Try to blend in. We noticed that in Barcelona, we stood out in our bright Caribbean colors, so we chose to wear darker colors while we were there to blend in. Don’t get me wrong, we are still clearly foreigners but now we don’t stand out as much. I suggest you do the same. You know what they say, When in Rome…
- Always be aware of your surroundings. People are watching you, you should also be watching them. If you see folks hanging around, avoid them. If you see someone following you, as happened to us several times in Puerto Rico and here in Granada, stop in a store and wait for them to move on.
Anyway these are our Anti-theft tips for traveling abroad. They work for us and hopefully will help you stay theft-free as well.
Do you have any helpful anti-theft tips you’ve found in your travels? Please share them in the comments.