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How to Avoid Getting Pickpocketed in Europe and Abroad

Updated: Jun 3

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It's Easy to Get Robbed

Back in the late '90s my family and I were really green travelers. I was still only around 10 years old and my world wasn't much bigger than my friend circle and the boy band of the week.

The whole gang of us packed our giant suitcases and headed to Europe - my parents, my brother and my aunt, who often joined on our 2-week European adventures back then. We were just like the Griswolds - really plucky, very American, and super happy about life. I have to imagine we stuck out like a sore thumb.

One fateful evening after a pasta and gelato dinner, we journeyed back to our hotel on the subway in Rome. Dad, the patriarch with hands securely in his pockets protecting his wallet, stood stout, dark-haired and confident that his Italian heritage made him blend in. I'm sure in reality with all of us in jeans, white sneakers and above the ankle socks, we screamed "rob us!"

The train jostled for only a moment as we sped through a dark tunnel underground and smoothed out as we entered the next station. Piles of people started filing off as Dad patted those protected pockets and said,

"My wallet is gone!!....Get him!!"

The family tale doesn't end there, as my entire crew went chasing after the potential perps (something I do not recommend), but the deed was done and the money was still gone at the end of it all. And it happened in an instant. Just one moment of darkness is all it took.

Another time in Spain, we were robbed at a gas station in broad daylight. My dad has his back to the gas pump, filling up the rental tank and within the few minutes we were all gone and in the restroom, someone snuck into the unlocked vehicle and stole everything they could.

When I was in Vietnam a girl traveling with me was mugged by a motorcyclist driving by. He grabbed the bag off her in seconds, and it was a cross-body bag. The guy got all her money and her passport, too.

bag snatcher warning sign

We've had a few blunders and some close calls, but it's easy to get robbed, even when you think you're being smart.

Always be aware of your destination's safety reputation, and don't assume you are safe because you are in a nice area. Never let your guard down, ever.

Smart Tips to Avoid Being Mugged

I can't tell you how many times I've seen women board trains or airplanes with a tote back lazily left open, one strap slipping, revealing laptops and tablet, giant wallets easy for the picking, expensive looking sunglasses, etc.

It's just THAT easy. You need one bad seed to see the treasure literally out in the open in that handbag, and it all goes to pot.

Be smart.

  • Lock your car door when you leave it.

  • Don't stand out as a tourist.

Don't look lost. For the love of all things, put the paper map away. Put the brochures away. When you are navigating on foot with your phone, be casual about it.
  • Travel in groups for safety, and don't go looking for trouble.

  • Stay in well lit and populated places.

  • Avoid busy subway or train cars and wait for the next train if need be.

  • Be vigilant in crowds.

  • Don't trust anyone. That means don't hand people your camera to take a family photo, especially if they offer.

  • Beware of scams and distractions (is this your wallet? as you say no, thinking what a kind sir, someone else is picking your pocket).

Be smart!!!

You think it would go without saying, but here's some additional tried and true tips to follow to avoid getting pickpocketed.

How to Avoid Getting Pickpocketed

Make Your Bags Pickpocket-Proof

Always guard your belongings. Never watch anyone's belongings and never let anyone watch yours. Never leave any of your stuff for a moment - to go to the counter to grab a coffee, to run to the garbage pail, etc. Again, NEVER trust a kind stranger to watch it for you.

Use bags that zip up. Get in the habit of zipping immediately after opening. Things tend to fall out on their own, like passports and cash.

Money belts and money 'necklaces' are fine, but you stand out like a sore thumb when you go rummaging for them at a vendor or kiosk. You've just made yourself a target as a tourist.

Cross body bags and cross body fanny packs are great, and always keep a hand on them in crowded places.

Even better, check your bags into a luggage storage facility for a few hours if you know you'll be walking around with luggage. Bounce is a globally recognized company connecting people to safe and secure luggage facility at over 10,000 locations around the world. Click here to find the nearest luggage storage facility at your destination.

Make Your Outfit Pickpocket-Proof

Pickpocket proof clothing and accessories are key for hiding away your treasures. Check out my review of SCOTTeVEST gear - an example that is perfect to ward off pickpocketers!

Leave your flashy and expensive jewelry at home. It's marks you as a target for thieves. Instead, bring fakes like CZ or silver, or silicone wedding rings.

Don't stand out as a tourist. Try to fit in as best you can for your destination.

Manage Your Money Wisely

Make sure the family funds are spread out across the whole tribe.

Have multiple credit cards (with different numbers) per travel group. If you need to cancel your stolen cards, you need to be sure there are other cards to use in the group. Practice smart money management!

Distribute your money around different bags. Keep a stash in your toiletries bag, your purse or backpack and your luggage.

Don't go out touring for the day with all of your stuff. Leave your passport, important docs, and 2/3 of your cash at the hotel, preferably in the safe.

Notify your cards (ATM and credit) before you travel. If something suspicious pops up, they will cancel the card for you.

What to do if you are Mugged:

  • Call your card companies. With the internet, finding these numbers is easy if you've lost them.

  • Cancel everything. You don't want anyone to have access to your info.

  • If you lost a passport, contact the local US embassy. Official searchable list for US locations abroad:

  • Use your emergency stash until you can get to an ATM or find other means of money.

Play It Safe

Just remember to follow these tips and play it safe so as not to be a cautionary tale yourself! Be smart, blend in, and understand how not to stand out as a tourist. Understanding different customs in your destination is key to this. Whether understanding the etiquette in Asian countries like Japan, or navigating some of the differences in Europe, being aware is key to staying safe and to avoid getting pickpocketed in Europe or abroad.


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Aug 01, 2022

I now always have another person (mom) walk 2 steps behind me to watch my back. She stopped a guy in Madrid unzippering my back pack on a crowded sidewalk. Don't carry anything you can't stand to lose or don't have a back up plan if you do lose it.

Maria DiCicco
Maria DiCicco
Aug 04, 2022
Replying to

Good tip!


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