How to watch your back (and bag) when traveling

You’re walking down Calle de Alcalá in Madrid with your three friends and a cool traveler guy you met at the hostel. Everything is beautiful, peachy, and even the weather is on your side. Suddenly, the purse that has practically become part of your body from always being on you seems lighter—as if someone is trying to take out the heavy wallet of foreign coins from the last city. You turn around and sure enough, there is someone behind you.

Ok, the “you” is actually me, and here is what happened.

When I turned around, I saw a short, blond woman with a map of the city in her hands right behind me. She held the map over my purse as she superstitiously slipped her slimy hand into my purse!

At first, it did not occur to me that she was a thief. She just looked like a simple woman exploring the city. I made eye-contact with her, saying, “What are you doing?”

She acted as if nothing happened and walked with her three accomplices towards the corner of the intersection. I was still confused, and didn’t understand what happened.

At that moment, I asked my three friends if they were missing anything.

One friend said that her purse was open and that one of gypsy women returned her wallet, claiming that she dropped it—impossible seeing that the purse has closed before with the wallet buried deep down. The accomplice managed to steal a 50 euro bill before she disappeared and before we figured out what really went on.

Long story short, there are people who you would not expect doing things you would not expect at times you would not expect. If that previous sentence screams out “repetition, repetition,” it’s for a reason: always be prepared. These people are experts who roam touristy areas. They know what they’re doing and they know how to disguise themselves and how to behave themselves.

So here are a few trips for you travelers.

1. Be cautious even if you think you won’t be a victim

As we learned, you can’t expect that nothing will happen to you. You can even get pickpocketed in the open air, like I almost did, so watch your back.

2. Be careful in crowds

Be especially careful in crowded places like subways and buses. When people are jam-packed and moving, it’s like double trouble, and you are more susceptible to being robbed without noticing anything.

3. Don’t keep things in your pockets

Girls, don’t keep valuables in your pockets (not your jeans, not your coats) even if there are zippers. I had my phone stolen in a Paris subway (what a cliché!) from a covered coat pocket that was hard to notice and difficult to open because the zippers were janky.

4. Wear your purse across you

In tourist hubs, I do not wear my purse over my shoulder. Maybe it’s not the most stylish way to showcase your travel accessories, but everyone already knows you’re a tourist—locals can spot you out, so just embrace it and be careful.

5. Don’t hang your purse on your chair

When you go out to restaurants and cafés, for example, don’t leave your purse hanging around your chair. People are sneaky and will do what they do to steal. Keep it under the table or on your lap. I know this may sound a bit neurotic but take it from me, things happen. And yet another cliché: better safe than sorry.

Be safe and have fun.



  1. Organized Scenery · June 5, 2013

    Great tips. The excact same thing with the map happened to me in Barcelona. Luckily I also noticed before anything was gone. Also experienced a couple pretending to have a loud argument in the tube in Barcelona to attract peoples attention while two other people were stealing wallets from other passengers. Very sneaky!

  2. Anna Spanos · June 7, 2013

    Yes, the same thing happened to me as well at the Plaza Mayor when I was living in Madrid! I think it must be a rite of passage in Spain :).

    • Nika · July 29, 2013

      Oh no! That must have been horrible, but a rite of passage nonetheless!

  3. The French Turtle · June 16, 2013

    Hi Nika! I nominated you for the Liebster Award on my blog. Please see my post below for details and I hope to see a response 🙂


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