Getting Robbed in Barcelona: How to Avoid Pickpockets

I’ve been robbed 3 times during the 2 years that I’ve been living in Barcelona. That also doesn’t count the time that my friend was mugged while we were walking back to our hostel the first time I visited Barcelona in 2012. Barcelona is home to world-class pickpockets who pry on the millions of visitors the city receives each year. In this article, I will share with you the mistakes that I made when I was robbed and what you can do to try to prevent the same from happening to you. Two of my stories are more innocent in nature, and the other… not so much; it was quite a scary occurrence honestly.

Do remember, though, that victim-blaming ultimately doesn’t solve the greater issue of pickpocketing, and that the real problem is the thieves themselves!

1st Time: Being So Guiri

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Guiri is a Spanish word that you should learn, and it is a negative way of referring to a tourist.

In my first month in Barcelona, a French couple came to stay at my apartment through Air B&B. We went out for dinner in a restaurant terraza. Since this was a faraway time in which my French was actually much better than my Spanish, we were conversing- audibly- in French. My purse- which held the iPhone 5 that my mother had given to me after she upgraded herself to an iPhone 6, my reading glasses, and my wallet that contained every single one of my credit and debit cards– hung casually on the corner of my chair, out of sight as I chatted away with the delightful couple.

When we got up to go pay, my purse wasn’t there.

Lessons learned:

1. You put a target on your back by speaking loudly in a language other than Spanish or Catalan. 

Thieves target guiris more so than locals- and sometimes, they can’t tell the difference between who is a tourist and who is a foreigner actually living there.

2. Don’t keep every credit and debit card you possess in your wallet when you go out.

If you do get robbed, you will be handling a pile of gold to your thief and will pose yourself a logistical nightmare trying to cancel all those cards from a foreign country. You will then have to deal with not having access to any source of money until your credit card company or bank can ship you a new card, which, if you are only on a short trip, will of course not work.

If you are lucky enough, you can have someone back home send you money through a service like Western Union, or you could borrow money from your travel partner if you are not traveling solo. However, this is not always an option for everyone.

Thus, always keep at least one debit and/or credit card in a safe spot in your house or place of accommodation.

3. Keep your purse in your lap when you are at a restaurant.

We’re not in the U.S. anymore. You can’t leave your purse hanging on the corner of your chair. You can’t put it on the floor. You can’t put it on the seat next to you. Your purse- and not a napkin- goes in your lap.

This is something so ingrained in me now that, when I go home to California, I still do it out of habit!

2nd Time: A Not-So-Innocent, and Actually Quite Scary Story

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About four months after having moved to Barcelona, a friend from my Spanish class and I went to a bar on a Saturday night. We met two Swedish guys who were on vacation in Barcelona for the week. We decided to go to the beach with them.

It soon became apparent that my friend liked one of the guys, and I liked the other. We decided to pair off, and we made a plan to meet back right where we were sitting 20 minutes later.

Once I was alone with the guy, he and I started kissing (I can’t believe I’m telling this story on the Internet!). A little bit after, we stopped to look around to see if our friends were on their way back.

They were nowhere to be seen. There was no one else on the beach.

Looking through my purse to grab my phone to call my friend, I discovered that both my phone and my wallet were missing. 

I suddenly realized the gravity of the situation. I was alone on the beach late at night with a guy I had just met, I didn’t have a phone or wallet, and I had no idea where my friend was. 

I honestly was afraid that this guy was going to assault me- and I worried that a similar fate had befallen upon my friend.

The guy decided to look around the beach for my phone and my wallet. He somehow miraculously found my wallet; the cash had been taken out of it, but the cards remained. We didn’t find my phone, though. I asked if I could use his phone to try to contact my friend via Facebook. However, given that he was on vacation, he didn’t have data. He thus kept trying to connect to Barcelona’s shoddy city wifi.

He eventually was able to find a working connection, and I logged into my Facebook account and asked my friend where the hell she was. Her response?

“Oh, I’m on the metro on my way home already! We wanted to give you guys some alone time.”

The guy and I eventually got on the metro and went to our respective homes. He was very apologetic the whole time, but I did not trust him. All in all, I am very thankful that nothing worse happened.

Lessons Learned:

1. Do not leave your friend alone on the beach with a guy she just met! Especially without telling her beforehand that you are going to leave!

2. Keep your bag physically on yourself even if you are kissing a cute guy. 

3. Without wanting to victim-blame… maybe think twice about going to the beach alone with a guy you just met. 

3rd Time: Getting too Cocky

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The previously described incident happened a year and a half ago.

I thought that I had become more street-smart since then. I thought I knew how to always have control over my belongings. I thought that since I have learned how to navigate the city of Barcelona like a true expert that I don’t stick out like a lost guiri anymore. 

I even felt bold enough, last week, to chat excitedly in English with my friend on the metro and simultaneously whip out my phone to send a text message- and subsequently leave my phone in my hand. 

We exited the metro and went up to the street, when I discovered that my phone was gone. 

I don’t know if I left my phone on the seat or if someone grabbed it out of my hand without noticing. However, I was distracted by my conversation and thus was not paying too much attention to my phone in my hand.

What sucks is that I had just bought that phone a few months prior!

Lessons Learned:

1. Even when becoming more of a “local,” you are not invincible.

Yes, you may give off a more confident air to your potential ladrón, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t still need to be vigilant about your belongings.

2. Keep your phone in your bag when you are not using it.

After writing that text message or looking up those directions, resist the temptation to leave your phone in your hand as you go about whatever you are doing. Put it away!

Other Tips:

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  1. Use a purse with a proper zipper closure.
  2. If using a backpack, don’t put your phone and wallet in obvious, easy-to-reach places like a front zipper pouch.
  3. If you’re truly paranoid, you can think about using a money belt. I would recommend this for traveling, though, and not for living your daily life in Barcelona.
  4. Always be physically touching your bag/belongings in some way. 
  5. If you are using your laptop at a café, do not leave it and ask someone to watch it for you while you go to the bathroom. Put it in your bag and take it with you.
  6. Leave your passport in a safe place in your accommodation. Also resist the temptation to bring every single one of your expensive/important belongings with you when you go out.

It would be nice to live in a world without pickpockets, and I wish we could come up with a solution to combat the problem. Until then, all we can do is be extra vigilant with our possessions.

Have you ever been the victim of pickpocketing? What happened? Share your stories in the comments below!

 

 

3 comments

  1. Alise, how sad that this has happened. But I do know that it’s common. Glad you’re learning from it. It’s unfortunate that the best lessons learned are those learned the hard way. Bummer!! Stay safe.

    Like

    1. Hi Carol, yes it is sad that these things have happened to me! Hopefully I have learned by now and can be safer in the future.

      Like

  2. Once, many, many, many years ago (in Disneyland no less) somebody used a razor blade to slice a dollars worth of pennies out of my front jeans pocket (some place only had pennies and a few nickels left for change). I never use a fone in public unless I’m in a café or similar, then it goes immediately into a zipped pocket. Hostel addresses etc., get written down in a small notebook I always carry and I refer to that, sometimes writing the directions down beforehand. Other than that I’ve been quite fortunate Alice.

    Like

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