“They have the most pickpockets in the world,” one friend said.
“Everyone I know who went there had something stolen,” said another.
But of course, pickpockets don’t deter the over 7 million tourists from going there every year. And that included me.
The whole time I was in Barcelona, I had been extra careful about pickpockets. A quick Google search will tell you that Barcelona is the #1 city in the world with the most number of pickpockets. I did my research about them before going to Barcelona, and thought I knew every trick in the book.
I always kept one hand on my bag, and clutched it even harder when I was anywhere really touristy, like at the Sagrada Familia or walking down Las Ramblas.
The amount of pickpockets in Barcelona is no joke either – at every hostel and restaurant, there’s signs telling you to watch out for pickpockets. Hostels in Barcelona are especially strict with security since you have to show your key card to enter (I’ve been to lots of hostels elsewhere where you could literally walk in and sleep in an empty bed without anyone suspecting a thing!)
Also at every hostel I’ve stayed at, I’ve heard people complain about having their wallets, passports, iPhones, etc stolen. Seriously, with the amount of iPhones I’ve heard get stolen in Barcelona, these thieves could team up and open their own Apple Store.
Here’s a few real-life situations of what happened to some of the travellers I’ve met:
Scenerio 1 – The overly touchy prostitutes:
A bunch of prostitutes come up and chat up a young man and starts groping him. He thinks it’s all in good kinky fun until he walks away and realizes that his iPhone is gone.
Scenario 2 – The very friendly local:
A guy walks up to a local man with a map and asks him for directions. The man comes closer and helps him examine the map, while asking him questions like “How are you enjoying Barcelona?!”, “Have you tried the tapas?” The guy walks away thinking, “what a friendly local!,” only to later realize that his iPhone is gone.
Scenario 3 – The swift encounter:
A girl puts her iPhone on the table in the restaurant. A man rushes across the room, grabs her iPhone, and runs out the door.
And then there’s me:
Scenerio 4 – The two-man team:
I was sitting in a cafe with my tote bag in front of me. I was drinking a latte and reading a book when a man around his late-40’s comes up to me and mumbles something in Spanish. I swiftly told him I don’t understand, and went back to reading my book. He kept talking and talking until I finally looked over again, and said that I can’t speak Spanish and that I can’t help him. He gets up, and walks out.
I thought that was strange, but went back to reading my book. Suddenly, my mind goes into “pickpocket alert” overdrive, and I quickly looked up and realized my tote bag was gone. I ran out of the cafe to chase after the bastard, but he was already gone.
The bad – I had been in Barcelona for 2 weeks without anything going wrong. Of course during my last night there, I would get all my shit (including my passport!) stolen. Later I kept cursing about what a simple scam I’d fallen into – one guy was the distraction, while another must’ve snatched my bag from behind.
I’d also just bought a book about an hour ago that I was really excited to read, and that was in my bag too. Those thieves couldn’t even speak English. Oh the irony.
The good – Luckily my iPhone was safe in my jacket pocket, and I only had 8 euros in my wallet. I was also able to cancel all my credit cards immediately.
For any of you going to a pickpocket heavy destination, here’s a few tips to protect yourself!
1. NEVER let go of your belongings. Your bag should be attached to you at all times. I let my purse sit in front of me for 10 minutes before it got stolen – that’s seriously how bad it is!
2. Never put electronics (such as your iPhone!) on a table (unless it’s chained down to it).
3. ALWAYS leave your passport in a locked storage area preferably in your hotel or hostel. Also make like 100 photocopies of it just to be safe.
4. NEVER keep too much cash on hand. Rather try to withdraw small amounts from your credit card at a time. You’ll never get your stolen cash back, but a stolen credit card can easily be cancelled, and your money reimbursed.
5. NEVER keep anything in your jean pockets, especially in the back pockets.
6. If prostitutes try to grope you, they’re not doing it because they’re turned on by your good looks. RUN!
7. If suspicious middle-aged men try to talk to you in another language, kick him in the balls and run.
8. Try out to look too much like a tourist. Pickpockets LOVE tourists.
If you’ve been pickpocketed, the first thing you should do (other than possibly cry and curse at the world) is go the the nearest police station and file a police report. Yes, some cops in Barcelona are incompetent and claim to not speak a word of English despite working on the most touristy street, with English speaking tourists flocking to their station to report their stolen belongings….but do it anyway.
Check out my next post in a couple days called “Shit! I’ve been robbed! What to do when you’re abroad” to hear about what I did in such a situation, and what it’s like to spend a whole day at a Spanish police station.