How to Outsmart Pickpockets

Updated June 17, 2020.

Pickpockets are a fact of travel. They prey on travelers and tourists alike, and while they may work in teams or on their own, it only takes one pickpocket experience to ruin your whole trip. But never fear! I’m here to give you some tips on how exactly to outsmart that pickpockets of the world. This week we’re looking at ways to prevent becoming a pickpocket target, and next week we’ll look at some tricks of the trade so YOU know what to look out for!

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1. Don’t Constantly Check for Your Valuables

Pickpocketing happens, but it doesn’t have to happen to you! Don’t be afraid, and don’t act afraid. If you’re paranoid or visibly afraid of your own shadow, you’re just the person a pickpocket will target. Don’t constantly check for your phone, wallet, etc., because that will call attention to where those things are!

Be cool. Be confident. Walk with purpose. Do not act like a target! Be aware of your surroundings and your valuables, and you’ll be fine.

Be confident: act like you own the place!

2. Don’t Bring Unnecessary Valuables

The easiest way to avoid being pickpocketed is to simply not bring things a pickpocket might want! As if the Kim Kardashian incident from a few years ago wasn’t warning enough, please leave your nice jewelry, designer scarves, and expensive handbags at home. You don’t need to look like a hobo, but this is not the time to show off your most desirable items either! Yes, this includes your engagement and wedding rings on your honeymoon. Get a cheap wedding band to wear in its place. Silicone bands come in all colors!


3. Choose the Right Purse

Now that you’ve committed to leaving your $2000 purse at home, choose one that’s nondescript and harder for someone else to get into. At the very minimum, make sure your bag has a zipper and by all means keep it zipped! A cross-body strap is better than a one-shoulder strap, and a chain strap is even better. A leather or fabric strap can easily be cut or ripped off, but a chain is less likely. There are many “anti-theft” options out there with wire or metal in the strap as well.

Pockets: If your bag has an outside pocket that is open or can’t be zipped, DO NOT keep your phone or camera in that pocket! Or your money, or your passport, or anything else you don’t want someone to reach in and get when you’re not looking. Travelon makes a great anti-theft messenger bag with locking zippers, RFID-blocking fabric, and slash-proof material.

4. Keep It in Front of You

And please keep your bag in front of you. If it’s too far to the side or if it’s behind you, a pickpocket well-practiced in accessing bags unnoticed (even zipped bags) will have no trouble lightening your load, if you know what I mean. Keep it in front of you, and with your hand on it if you feel like you’re being watched. They already know that’s where your valuables are, so in this situation it’s okay to keep your hand on it if it makes you feel safer.

Whoops! My bag is kind of behind me, but notice how the cross-body strap is also under my jacket. Use extra precautions if you’re the forgetful type who doesn’t always remember to keep your bag behind you!

5. Backpacks Are Gold… for the Pickpockets

So you’re going somewhere hot and you’ll need to keep a water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray, maybe a change of clothes, etc…. Or perhaps you just prefer a backpack to a purse. That’s fine, but if you’re in a crowd or on public transportation, please keep it in front of you. It doesn’t look stupid, it looks like you’ll be keeping all your stuff where it should be: with you. If it’s on your back, you will never know when someone slips your wallet out.

Alternatively, get a good anti-theft backpack. Don’t let yourself fall into a false sense of security, though!

6. Dress Conservatively

I don’t just mean to dress modestly, but that is certainly a factor. Drawing attention to yourself with fancy clothes, bright colors and patterns, or super short shorts and most of your top half hanging out will catch the eye of many people—including pickpockets. Dress according to your surroundings and blend in with the crowd.

Dressing conservatively doesn’t have to mean you’ll be too warm. It might even be cute!
Need some inspiration?
Check out all my packing lists on my Packing Page!

7. Don’t Look at Your Map in Public

Have a plan before you leave your accommodation! Know where you’re going, and do not hold your guidebook or a map in your hands because guess what—that’s what tourists and travelers do. It will make you a target. If you need to check your book or map, duck into a restaurant or public bathroom to do that, not in the middle of the sidewalk or on a busy street corner. Again, walk with confidence!

Find out where you need to go and keep moving!
Need to know how to read a map? Check out this post!

8. Don’t Carry All Your Cash

It’s a good idea to hide cash in more than one place. Keep some on you, but also keep some with your luggage. I keep some cash in my wallet, some in my luggage, and sometimes I keep a little bit in a different location in my purse. That way, if my wallet is stolen, I still have cash somewhere. And always be able to get more cash out at an ATM with your debit card as well.

Please don’t flash your cash like this!

9. Credit Cards and RFID-Blockers

Credit cards are the safest form of payment. Period. If they get stolen, you pause transactions on your bank’s app or call to have it cancelled or suspended. If your cash gets stolen, you’re out of luck. There are a few things I like to keep in mind about credit cards and travel:

  • Put the phone number on the back of your cards into your contacts. This way, if your card is stolen, you still have the number to call.
  • Have more than one credit card. Just in case one doesn’t work or gets declined for suspicious charges, you will be glad for a backup.
  • Have a debit card so you can get cash out of an ATM. Do not use your credit card for this because that is classified as a “cash advance,” and you will be charged an exorbitant amount for doing this. Trust me. It’s an expensive lesson I wish I hadn’t had to learn!
  • Get a credit card without international fees. You’ll save a bundle!

Additionally, you will want to keep your cards as safe as possible from pickpockets. Keep your wallet in a secure place, and get an RFID-blocking card case or wallet. This keeps high-tech pickpockets from scanning your card without ever actually taking it. The material in the cases below will block RFID scanning devices!

Essential info: A Beginner’s Guide to Credit Cards for Travel

Do you have more tips for avoiding pickpockets? Leave a note in the comments and let me know!

Get all my safety tips on my Travel Tip Page, and solo travel safety tips on my Solo Travel Page!

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19 responses to “How to Outsmart Pickpockets”

  1. In Beijing, the males were encouraged to keep our wallets in our front pockets. To our teachers in Lipscomb’s MBA program, international travel was old hat.

    1. Same principle as the ladies keeping their purses in front of them!

  2. This is a pretty useful post. Always have to be cautious of pickpockets while traveling or otherwise!

    1. Absolutely! Safe travels are happy travels!

  3. Great tips!!! I got pickpocketed in Barcelona and could have used this guide. Having the right bag is so important!!! Thanks!!

    1. Wow! So scary. If you could have done something different to prevent it, what would that have been?

  4. Great tips. I have a fantastic travel purse lined with wire mesh to prevent slashing and clips to keep the zippers shut. It’s nice to feel a little more secure.

    1. Wow! Where did you get that bag? Is it a brand we’d know?

      1. I’m not sure how well-known it is (I’m not a fashion person), but it’s called Travelon. I got mine as a gift, but I just took a peek at the company’s website and it looks like they have tons of styles.

      2. I’ve heard of that brand. I think it was started by some flight attendants.

  5. Useful, practical tips to follow! I’m very conscious about where my wallet and hp and camera are all the time, this one focus helps me keep my valuables safe, thankfully!

    1. Awareness is really so key to staying safe all around!

  6. […] week we looked at how we can avoid pickpockets and avoid looking like a target. This week it’s all about knowing their tricks so you know what to look […]

  7. […] usually so exhausted from the day that I don’t want to be out late anyway! Take a look at How to Outsmart the Pickpocket and Pickpocket Tricks of the Trade for more tips to stay safe […]

  8. […] I do research on Pickpocket Tricks of the Trade and learn How to Outsmart the Pickpocket […]

  9. […] home. Don’t look like a target, and you’re less likely to be a target! And check out How to Outsmart the Pickpocket and Pickpocket Tricks of the […]

  10. […] has a reputation for having a few more of them than usual. I have some help for you with my posts How to Outsmart the Pickpocket and Pickpocket Tricks of the Trade, but here is a short list for quick […]

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  12. […] under pants. If someone you love is heading to a place worth visiting, but one that has a scam and pickpocket problem, definitely consider getting them a money […]

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