As Sandy and I prepared for our Mediterranean cruise and planned our shore excursions at each port of call, we considered matters of personal security and what we would need to help protect ourselves from the expected pickpockets and thieves. As our trip was to start out in Venice, Italy and end in Barcelona, Spain, between those two points we would visit several European tourist cities. Rome, Athens, Istanbul and a few others.
Curiously, the worst horror stories we heard involved Barcelona. It seemed that though we were given cautions on each city we visited, Barcelona was always mentioned as a place rife with pickpockets and thieves. Truthfully, I began to anticipate our visit to that city with some degree of trepidation. How would we manage to survive two days of trying to tour the city’s tourist attractions without being robbed of everything but the clothes on our backs? Perhaps even the clothes on our backs were not safe.
I’ve always been one to practice what is sometimes called “Situational Awareness”, that is, being alert to my surroundings and what and who is in my vicinity. I’ve never been the victim of a pickpocket nor had anything stolen off of my person and I tend to believe that I practice “safe tourism” but the tales we heard of experiences people have had in Barcelona made me a little uneasy. If I practice good common sense and don’t do things to make myself an easy victim will she and I be ok?
We spent two very enjoyable days sightseeing around Barcelona and I came to believe that though any place can present safety challenges and there is no such thing as a crime free tourist location, Barcelona has gotten a bad rap and an unfair one at that. We saw no evidence of any street criminal activity and we certainly had no problems of our own. Were there any pickpockets around in the places we visited? I can’t say yes or no but being an observant scanner of surrounding activity, I saw nothing to raise any alarm and certainly there was no known mischief going on anywhere in our vicinity. We felt perfectly safe.
Now, lest the reader conclude that we simply threw caution to the wind as we walked about the streets, we did not. I maintained the same level of cautious observation of our surroundings as I always do while in any crowd anywhere. Owing to the horror stories, perhaps we exercised a bit more caution in observing each other’s person and being more sensitive to who and what is around me and we did feel thankful that we had put some thought into the security question well before our trip began.
One vulnerability any traveler will have is their wallet or purse. On every shore excursion of this trip we did observe women casually and certainly loosely hand holding the straps of a big purse hanging down their side. How hard would it be for some kid on a skateboard to fly up beside her, snatch the purse out of her unsuspecting hands and be gone in a flash? There is such a thing as observing common sense. Pickpockets are noted for their ability to slip a hand down into any pocket and be gone with your wallet without you ever knowing that it is gone until you later look for it and find it missing.
Additionally we had read of the modern high-tech method of stealing credit card information without the card ever being removed from your pocket. Scanning devices which can pick up via RF signals and read the data embedded in the credit card strip, and that includes electronic data which may be in passports. They can do this from as far as a couple of feet away from you and don’t have to make physical contact with your or your credit card.
Apparently pickpockets in many of these tourist cities are quite young, teens and pre-teens, who do their best to blend into the tourist crowds, even to the point of carrying around tourist maps and approaching potential victims with questions regarding directions and other seemingly innocent approaches. In none of the cities we visited including Barcelona, did we see any of this. I have no doubt it occurs, but I have the suspicion that (and perhaps I’m wrong in this) the stories are somewhat overblown. I make that statement not to give any false sense of security or to keep readers from exercising good caution but to ease the fears which can end up spoiling what should be an enjoyable touring experience.
When we researched and read this information we began the search for good hidden wallets which contain RF shielding. These wallets or “security pouches” are flat allowing them to fit comfortably around the waist and under an overhanging shirt or blouse or even tucked invisibly inside the front of trousers and slacks. We bought two security wallets. They have two zipper openings to two separate compartments large enough for holding a passport, credit cards, cash and other small items and hold them securely. I wore mine tucked down inside the front of my trousers. Sandy wore hers under her overhanging (not tucked in) blouses. The pouches are secured around the waist with an elastic belt which is adjustable and it too can be tucked down behind the waist band of pants.
We found we could wear these all day long including a lot of time on and off of tour buses and much walking around and actually forget that they’re even there. That’s how well the hide away and the fabric is perfectly comfortable. I carried nothing more in my pants pocket but a small comb and a handkerchief. If a pickpocket goes for those, it’s little loss to me. Not being completely comfortable to wear an expensive watch, I kept mine inside the pouch as well. The inclusion of the watch was not enough to add noticeable bulk or to change the comfort level. Sandy kept a tube of lipstick and a small bottle of hand sanitizer inside hers.
Keep your eyes open and glance around and take note of potential trouble situations. Be very cautious when being approached by strangers asking for directions or being exhibiting suspicious behavior. Don’t accept offers by strangers to take your picture with your camera. If wearing a backpack, make sure the pockets are all zipped closed and that if it has a strap across the front which attaches the two shoulder straps, make sure that cross strap is attached. This will help reduce the chance the pack can be pulled from your back. We have learned to carry our water bottles inside the backpack rather than in the side outside pockets. Don’t carry a purse, or anything for that matter, loosely slung over your shoulder and that includes your camera. In fact, for ladies, try to avoid carrying a purse at all. The security pouches such as the Lewis N. Clark RFID Waist stash featured above should be the only purse you carry while out in potentially security risk places. Keep it hidden under a jacket, blouse, or tucked down under the waistband of your pants.
Look around you from time to time and if you notice anyone paying undue attention or appearing to watch you, be cautious. The old saying of having eyes in the back of your head is more than just meaningless advice. If you’re with others, take note of them from time to time and be alert to strangers who may be appearing to come too close,.especially from behind. Basically this means, look out for each other. It’s a good idea to keep one hand on your camera if it is hanging by a neck strap. If you’re carrying a bag containing just purchased souvenirs or other items, keep the top closed as much as possible and hold on to it firmly and be aware of your grip on it.
Barcelona is a beautiful city. We had two days to try to make the most of seeing what we could see there. The Metro (underground or subway) system is great for getting around to anywhere within the city and from our experience it seems quite safe. At least on the line we rode. The Hop On Hop Off sight-seeing bus system is an excellent way of touring the city. Ride it and stay aboard the whole route if you like, or pick those areas you want to explore more in detail and hop off to have a look around. When you’re ready to move on, the busses run every few minutes so you can be on your way to the next highlight. Once you’ve bought your ticket, you’re good for the whole day (multi-day tickets are also available) and you can hop on and hop off on any of the routes and as many times as you like. I’ll write more on this excellent way to see the city in another post. The bottom line is, enjoy all that this beautiful and historic city has to offer and don’t let the fear of petty thieves and pickpockets spoil your chance to do so.