Barcelona has earned a terrible reputation as a haven for thieves. I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard about people having their belongings stolen from tourists and locals alike. Passports, money, credit cards, cameras, mobile phones — they’re whisked away as fast as you can blink. Maybe you’re quickly glancing at a tapas menu in a restaurant or briefly pausing to take a photograph at Las Ramblas. Your mind is simply on enjoying your trip. Unfortunately, instances like these are great opportunities for getting robbed.
I’m no stranger to petty theft either — even after two years of living in the city. A few years ago, my backpack was stolen while I was having lunch with my toddler and some friends at a restaurant by the Sagrada Familia. Who would steal a kid-sized backpack off a stroller?
So after going through the seven stages of loss and grief, I got a little smarter. Here are some tips to avoid getting pickpocketed if you’re visiting Barcelona:
1. Carry a purse that you can wear across your body.
Like the next gal, I can appreciate a cute purse. But if it has straps just long enough to be worn on one shoulder, forget about it. With one quick tug, that purse is being whisked away to be scoured for euros and a nice digital camera.
The purse I carry has a strap that is long enough to be carried on one shoulder and is slung diagonally on my body. It always has a zipper so that its contents are less accessible. No button closures with wide openings.
2. If you’re just carrying a wallet, keep it in your front pants pocket and not your back pocket.
When you’re busy getting around in the city, you’re sitting down, standing up, squeezing through tight spaces, and getting brushed by strangers. With so much contact, you’ll naturally lose sensitivity on your bottom that you couldn’t really feel your wallet sliding out. Plus youcan’t see behind you! My husband always keeps his wallet in his front pants pocket and keeps his hands close to it.
3. If you must bring a backpack, wear it on the front and not your back.
A backpack has a way of announcing “I’m a tourist!” But when you’re out roaming the streets, you have to put your sweater and water bottle somewhere, right? The risk of carrying one on your back is having that pesky blind spot behind you. But if you wear the backpack frontwards while you’re navigating crowds, at least you’ll have a better view of your things.
4. Don’t leave valuables unattended even if it’s at an arm’s distance.
At a restaurant, I always keep my purse on my lap and/or still strapped on me. Don’t hang your purse around the back of the chair. I did that once at a cafe by MACBA, and a man came close to me and pretended to admire the artwork on the walls. I glanced at him only to realize he was eyeing the goods.
Another time, a relative casually left his iPhone on the table while having dinner. It disappeared faster than he could post a Facebook photo of his tapas.
5. Pay extra attention while on the metro.
I use the metro all the time. When you’re on it, you’ll notice how the local women sitting down wear their purse. More than likely, they’re having a casual ride. But their purse is usually on their lap still strapped to their bodies with their arms resting on top of it.
One time, I saw a woman sitting by the doors, falling asleep. Just as the doors were closing, a man grabbed her bag and headed out, not giving her enough time to react. I’ve seen this happen with a fancy smartphone as well.
Another tactic I’ve also seen is a group of fake tourists holding an unfolded large map and pretending to study it. They try to slip their hands out in hopes they can grab something valuable.
6. Be cautious while talking to strangers even if they seem friendly.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to anyone. Just be aware that pickpockets often dress like tourists so they can blend in. And they talk to you! Here are some other situations that I’ve heard of or seen:
- A few people who supposedly work for a charity campaign asked a couple if they could sign a petition. In the meantime, someone was stealing their wallet.
- A playful stranger approached a friend’s father and said, “Hey, dance with me!”. My friend’s dad thought it was funny but didn’t realize there was an alibi near him who stole his wallet from his pocket and ran.
- An acquaintance was at a bar and found himself surrounded by several women who struck up a conversation with him. He had his wallet in his jacket pocket but realized later he’d been robbed. (Not to mention, his pride was a little hurt.)
Getting pickpocketed can happen in any big city, really. It’s just very unfortunate that weak law on pickpockets prevails in Barcelona. Me – I’m very relaxed when I go out, even when I’m with my two small children. I don’t necessarily sweat it, but I’m a little more cautious of my belongings. There’s no reason to avoid the buzzing energy that is Barcelona!