TRAVEL TIPS · 04 OCT 2016
Stories about getting pickpocketed in Europe are rampant. Everyone has experienced something crazy, or they know of someone with an epic thievery tale. In fact, just yesterday, I saw a young woman robbed of her iPhone from one of London’s infamous motorcycle gangs (more on that below). Unfortunately, all over Europe, from Paris and Barcelona to London and Rome, pickpocketing and petty theft is as prevalent as ever.
But all hope isn’t lost. I’m crossing my fingers I don’t jinx myself with this post, but I’m fortunate enough to say I haven’t been a victim to pickpocketing since living and traveling in Europe. I would attribute this mostly to luck with a dose of New Yorker paranoia and disdain for large crowds. Also, listening to troublesome tales from fellow travelers made me much more alert on what to look for when spending time on the continent. I hope the following travel tips are as helpful to you as they are for me. Bon Voyage!
I wish I got a Euro for every time someone told me a Parisian theft story (not really, that's just mean spirited, but you get my point for often it happens). The majority of incidents I've heard about were on the Metro and it’s easy to understand why. The Metro can be quite crowded and it's easy to get distracted when the doors open and close. I've also frequently heard of thieves targeting handbags in Parisian cafes.
*StyleBomb Travel Tip: If you're heading to Paris, bring a good tote bag with lots of internal pockets. My favorite travel tote is from Parisian brand Stéphane Verdino. Their light leather totes make carrying around all your travel essentials (camera, passport, travel documents) much easier than your typical handbag and it’s much more discreet than a backpack (code for tourist).
Whenever I'm out and about I zip my wallet and phone in the internal pocket of the bag. Then, I zip the main compartment and place the strap over my shoulder with the main zipper towards the front. When you’re sitting down at a café, I recommend placing your bag in your lap or slipping the strap onto your leg so it’s tethered to you. I’ve heard a few stories of slipping the strap under the chair, but the thieves ran up, then grabbed the bag and knocked them onto the floor at the same time. Talk about insult to injury.
A side travel tip: Many French grocery stores don’t offer free plastic bags, so these Stéphane Verdino tote bags are ideal for stocking up on croissants and baguettes and a bottle (or two) of wine before you head out for the afternoon.
Theft gangs in Spain are good, better than good, they're pros and they target everyone. I know very few people who haven’t been robbed in Spain, and that’s a crazy statistic. My best friend has sworn off ever going back to Spain after being robbed three trips in a row. On his very last visit, he took an overnight train and shared a cabin with his longtime mate. Taking into consideration their previous theft experiences, they placed their money into Ziploc bags, then inside their pants (British version, not American), and drifted to sleep on their stomachs. When they awoke the next morning, they discovered all their money had been stolen along with everyone else's on the train. The slippery little bandits gassed all the personal cabins. While I know a handful of people this has happened to, it appears that incidents are happening a lot less than in previous years.
Barcelona is also notorious for “ring gangs” where seemingly innocent bystanders act as if you lost jewelry in the street. Then, when you explain that it’s not yours someone sneaks up and steals a wallet, phone, jewelry, et cetera. There’s also the lost tourist and flower lady, but I’ve seen these interactions in every city across Europe. It’s always best to avoid these conversations if possible.
Personally, I adored Spain and felt incredibly safe while in Barcelona. The only incident to happen to our group occurred in the early morning after dancing the night away. A few decided to go swimming and left everything on the beach, but when they were in the water, a group of guys walked up and stole a friend’s iPhone. Though, as luck would have it, he ran after them quite aggressively and they dropped his mobile.
*StyleBomb Travel Tip: It's always best to be extra vigilant when traveling in crowds or visiting markets. I recommend keeping nothing in your back pocket and carrying a good tote with lots of internal pockets. Keep the side with all your valuables under your arm so thieves are discouraged to slash the side of your bag.
In regard to going out, I brought very little with me: phone, two credit cards, and 20 Euros. I carried a small clutch that I always kept in my hand (even when dancing, and if you’ve seen my dancing, you know how bonkers I go). It’s best to never leave your bag down for a moment, cause it only takes a few seconds to get distracted.
London is known for many things: delicious night markets, an energetic music scene, and cozy pubs at nearly every corner. The city is also known for its infamous “Apple Picking” motorcycle gangs. You can credit these aggressive hooligans with one thing: they are completely anti-discriminatory. It doesn’t matter if you’re a young woman, a dad with his two children, a giant bodybuilder-looking type, or a retired couple doing their weekly shop, if they see an iPhone in the hand they will attempt to snatch it. In a nutshell, they typically target people in the mornings going to work and in the evenings after leaving large office buildings. They see a smartphone in someone’s hands, then drive a motorcycle up onto the sidewalk, and then, drive off in a tizzy. Unfortunately, it also happens that your phone can be stolen in less expected ways, such as a young boy running up and grabbing the phone from the hand (yes, I’ve personally seen this happen) or someone grabbing a phone that’s sitting on top of a table at a restaurant (I know a handful of people this has happened to).
*StyleBomb Travel Tip: Use headphones whenever and wherever you can. Avoid walking and texting, though you should to try to avoid this anyway, as it’s a social snafu. If you’re going from point A to point B and need to type away try standing near/towards a building with both of your hands on the phone. Of course, there are no guarantees, but hopefully this will help to deter someone. Lastly, for your reference, this happens all over London, not just in Shoreditch, Hoxton, or Hackney, but in all the pretty parts too.