16 Tips to Outsmart Pickpockets and Thieves in Europe

Europe may be famous for offering a whirlwind of extraordinary history, exciting activities, and delightful experiences. It is also infamous for hosting some of the world’s most ingenious pickpockets. We're unsure if a university exists where people get their Masters in Thievery before being unleashed on an unassuming crowd of tourists. But, if there is, it'll surely be in Europe.

This annoying but undeniable part of European travel is a given. You know what's not a given? Becoming a victim of it.

Prevent your European holiday from turning into a nightmare by outsmarting pickpockets or thieves.

Here are 16 of the best tips from the experts:

1. Know where the biggest threats lie

Not all of Europe is a pickpocketing minefield. Some heavily touristed cities are notoriously dodgy, but not all. Aim to know which ones they are.

The top 10 hit list:

  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Rome, Italy
  • Paris, France
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Athens, Greece
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Milan, Italy
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Budapest, Hungary

Two caveats: first, this doesn’t mean that every area of these cities is pickpocket central. The most significant danger lies in famous tourist points of interest that attract large crowds. Second, this also doesn't mean you won't have your pockets picked clean in Munich, Germany. Petty theft is part and parcel of 'big city – big crowds' life, so don't let your guard down if you travel outside these areas.

2. Research the most common pickpocketing scams

Researching the 'most common pickpocketing scams in X' is a good idea before travelling. Do this for every destination you're visiting. Aside from the usual wallet-purse-watch grabs, there are many other common tricks, including ATM distraction techniques, mobile phone robberies, scooter snatch-n-grabs and the good old ‘oh look, I’ve found a gold ring is it yours?’ scam so famous around Paris’ Montmartre neighbourhood.

The internet has a wealth of information and personal stories regarding robberies from specific European cities. Be informed, and you'll see them coming a mile away.

3. Don’t have anything on you that’s worth stealing

A good rule of thumb is only to carry on you what you are prepared to lose. That means leaving the fancy watch, waddles of Euros and expensive designer jewellery in your hotel safe.

Come to think of it…why are you travelling with a Rolex and Bvlgari ring? Leave those at home – where they'll be safest.

Travelling lighter also means you have fewer valuables to worry about!

4.Wear a money belt and split up your money

An oldie but a goodie: wear a money belt underneath your t-shirt and put most of your cash inside it. Only keep a small amount in your purse or wallet, which you can use to pay for drinks, food and transportation for the day.

5. Put your passport and credit cards in an RFID wallet

One of the newest scams doesn't involve someone taking your wallet or passport to steal your money or identity. Instead, these scammers use technology to scan your card and passport numbers without you even knowing.

Purchase an RFID wallet to protect your identity, and you won’t have to worry about a scam like this happening to you.

6. Get an anti-theft bag

Anti-Theft Bags for Travel

One of the handiest travel companions, a high-quality anti-theft bag will prevent scammers and pickpockets from ever getting to your valuables and belongings.

Anti-theft backpacks come with various safety features designed to protect your belongings. These include:

  1. Lockable Zippers: Lockable zippers provide sturdy protection against unwanted access, including a locking system that makes opening more difficult.
  2. Slash-Proof Materials: These bags are produced with slash-resistant material to help protect your backpack's contents and deter potential thieves.
  3. RFID Blocking: RFID blocking material is often included, adding a layer of security around your personal information, such as credit cards and passports. A double line of defence for your most irreplaceable item – your identity!
  4. Interior and Exterior Pockets: Interior and exterior pockets provide extra security and organisation for your belongings. This ensures that any small items are better protected from pickpockets.
  5. Cut-Proof Straps: Cut-proof straps prevent anyone from being successfully able to cut your bag off your body.
  6. USB Connector Ports: USB ports offer a convenient way to charge your device while travelling. Most anti-theft backpacks come with locked USB connector ports for an extra layer of security.

7. Be extra careful around popular tourist attractions

Crowded tourist areas are where pickpockets hunt their prey. That’s outside and inside museums (ever seen the crazy crowds around the Mona Lisa?!), monuments, churches, plazas, and pedestrian shopping strips – like Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

If you were a petty thief, you would salivate at the sight of thousands of tourists slowly meandering, distracted by the awe-inspiring beauty around them.

8. Avoid looking like a tourist

If you live in a famous city like Sydney, you will know that locals also love to stroll along the harbour at Circular Quay on a sunny Sunday. But you know what they don’t do? Wear socks and sandals, lug a heavy backpack, and look around like a deer in highlights while holding a colossal (printed) city map. Instead, locals look confident, walk purposefully, wear a small cross-over bag and maybe, carry a small water bottle in summer. That's it.

So do the same. Look around on day one and ascertain how you can best TRY to blend in. If you look like a local, you will blend in with the local crowds and be dismissed by a pickpocket. They'll be far too busy seeking someone who ultimately looks out of place. There are many ways to fake it, including heading into a café or building foyer to look at your map on Google and find your walking route. Don't make (yourself) too obvious!

9. Be extra careful on public transportation

Public transport, full of commuters in a hurry, is a thief's playground; they can capitalise on the hustle and bustle of the commuters to swoop in and make a quick getaway with any items of value. With people crammed in like sardines, it's hard to keep track of your possessions, and before you know it, your wallet is lighter, and you have zero ideas how that happened.

10. Keep your mobile off the table

If you ever want to learn how lightning-fast thieving hands can be, leave your phone on a table at an outdoor café or busy restaurant. Whoa!

Don't make it easy for them – be mindful of your surroundings, and your phone could stay where it belongs - in your pocket.

11. Be extra vigilant at ATMs

You will arguably have to withdraw cash from the ATM at some point on your European vacation. You also know these will be some of those super-vulnerable times of your trip.

What to do?

  1. First up: always use an ATM inside a bank branch during opening hours. This prevents several possible problems, including pickpocketing. If the evil machine swallows your card, you can quickly claim it with your ID.
  2. Secondly, skip the (woefully overpriced) Euronet ATMs strategically placed in all European hot spots. Only tourists use those, and pickpockets know this.
  3. Thirdly, if you are travelling in company, play tag-team on security: one uses the ATM, and one stands guard facing the other way.

If you can't thoroughly blend in and are obviously a tourist, at least you can come across as a vigilant tourist no one should mess with.

12. Never let your guard down

As your holiday progresses, it's easy to become comfortable and laid back in your new city and culture, but don't forget that pickpockets could be lurking in the shadows. Keep your valuables tucked away in a secure pocket or bag, and never leave items on display. Be vigilant and never let your guard down; a few moments of carelessness is all it takes.

13. Don’t fall for out-of-place distractions

Meeting locals and enjoying impromptu encounters are among travel’s most delightful allure. You know what’s not normal, though? Having a child literally shoved at you by a stranger while you're walking.

This is a classic distract-and-pickpocket tactic used all over Europe – alongside drink spills, loud shouting, making a scene, and bumping into you on a wide and empty footpath. You'll know an out-of-place distraction when you experience it.

Be aware, guard up, and remember this guide!

14. TRUST your instincts

For every well-known pickpocket scheme, another even more ingenious scam is being dreamed up right now. We can’t name them all. So adopt the habit of sussing out a situation for the sole purpose of figuring out if its feels right. if something feels off about a place or encounter, hold your belongings tight and make a swift getaway. Trust your instincts and ensure they are at peak-levels when you travel.

15. Be mindful

Here's a snippet of sobering irony: when travelling, you're more likely to lose an item yourself than to have it stolen. True story. People are easily distracted in new surroundings when moving hotels and in-between cities and generally live differently.

When heading to Europe, everything about your day-to-day routine will change, as will the usual places where you stash your wallet, money, jewellery and phone. So be mindful of where your stuff is at all times. Use packing cubes to keep your belongings neat and tidy, use a smaller suitcase and don’t explode in a hotel room. Keep your stuff tight and within sight. Don't use bedside drawers or bathroom cabinets (for essential medicines).

Basically, don't go to all the above effort to avoid theft, only to misplace or leave something behind accidentally!

16. Have travel insurance… just in case

Having the right travel insurance is of utmost importance. No matter where you're headed, it's best to ensure you're covered for potential losses with a comprehensive policy. That way, if anything is stolen, you won't be left high and dry with no way to regain some of your hard-earned money. Plus, having that extra financial backup can help you immensely in an emergency situation. Seek out the best policy to protect your valuables and give yourself added peace of mind while you explore the world.

Europe is home to some of the world's most spectacular sights and its most skilled pickpockets. Whether you are heading to the streets of London for a spot of shopping, planning to get lost in the cobbled alleyways of Paris, or planning to eat your body weight in pastel de natas in Lisbon, you can enjoy the time of your life – especially when armed with the right anti-theft gear, knowledge, and confidence.

So…where are you off to this year, and are there any other precautions you take to prevent pickpocketing?

Tell us in the comments!

1 comment

  • Yadvendra Singh

    An extremely enlightening article. Tips are given very practically and intelligently.

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