I put myself in a certain “stay away from people” – “trust absolutely no one” zone when I was in train stations or crowded areas. I would keep a good distance from other people and not let anyone get very close to me. My awareness of what was going on around me was extremely heightened to the point of paranoia when I had my backpack with me. If I stopped in a crowded area to look at a map or for some other reason I would always try to make sure my back and backpack were up against a wall. This way no one could sneak behind me and try to slash my pack. As I walked through the train stations or crowded tourist sights I would be constantly looking over my left and right shoulder and scanning the area in front of me. There is a phenomenon known as the “Dave Hyperwalk” and I used this on several occasions in crowded areas. This involves moving at a high rate of velocity, weaving and winding in and out of the crowds. The faster I moved, the less chance anyone had of having enough time to pick pocket me.
I had read the horror stories about getting pick pocketed in Europe before I left the states, and I wasn’t about to let that happen to me. I will reiterate, that as long as you appear alert and are aware of your surroundings you will be able to spot a potentially harmful situation before it actually happens. If you appear alert pickpockets will remain away from you.
Let me share some horror stories that I heard from tourists, or that I read about before traveling. I read about gypsy mothers who throw their babies into the arms of the unsuspecting tourists. While the tourists are trying to deal with the baby, the gypsies are rooting around in the tourist’s pockets. One particularly clever story that I heard from a fellow traveler goes like this. He was shopping for a cell phone in Naples, southern Italy when he found a good deal. He bargained with the vendor and finally got the price cut by 1/3. He paid the man about $100 US and took a pre wrapped box with the cell phone inside. He walked back to the train station about 10 minutes away and opened the box. Inside was a bottle of dirty water. This infuriated the tourist so he ran back the vendor. The vendor was still there but when spoken to he insisted that he didn’t speak English, and he had never seen the tourist before. This poor tourist had to eventually leave. Naples is not a good city to make a scene in, especially in the area around the train station.
Many other stories involve backpacks getting slashed and valuables removed without even noticing the action. Time and time again I met tourists who had similar stories. Most of the time this happened because they were distracted by pickpockets posing as tourists. The pickpockets would work in teams. One would distract the tourist and the other would sneak up behind the tourist and either slash into the pack or open the zippers.
One story proves just how easy it is for pickpockets to get into unlocked large back packs. I met someone in southern Italy on my travels and we traveled together for a day or two. At one point after we knew each other a little better I was able unzip several of his zippers on the back of his pack without him even noticing. I demonstrated this to him, and told him the stories about how easy it is for pick pockets to get into packs. This didn’t seem to concern him too much. Then several weeks later I happened to accidentally bump into this person in the middle of St. Marks square in Venice. After small chit chat he told me that indeed a week after I had left him, someone opened one of his zippers in the train station and removed his valuable camera without his noticing.
Other stories involve backpacks being picked through in trains, getting robbed of money on trains while sleeping, or getting their packs riffled through in hostels. Several stories I heard were from tourists who had their packs gone through by some of the hostel staff, and they lost only small items.
Another story related to me by a fellow traveler staying at my same hotel is about getting jostled in the metro. She was in a metro train station stop, when all of the sudden a bunch of young people came in and started jostling everyone and trying to create a scene. This lady told me that she never felt in danger at all. The young people kept trying to get into people’s pockets, and by the next metro stop, they had all piled out to try their luck on another metro train.
One incident that happened to me, which was the closest to a possible horror story that I came in contact with during my latest European trip occurred in Rome. I was minding my own business walking down a crowded street in Rome when a bunch of gypsy kids holding up newspapers came up to me and several other people. They held up their newspapers and tried to get the people to look only at their newspapers. They startled me because I didn’t ever think I would see them in action. This was about 3 weeks into my trip. Anyway, several came at my pockets with their tiny hands, but I was ready for them and quickly whacked them away in the same moment as I was hurtling my body to the side to be against a wall. They could tell I was savvy to their efforts and they just moved on.
I could kick myself for not taking a picture of this. I tried like you wouldn’t believe to get a picture of pick pockets in action after this incident, for the readers of Dave’s Travel Corner, but I never saw any pick pockets again….and believe me I was keeping a sharp eye out and a finger on the camera shutter.
Fake Money Story
Because I was well read up on the possible pick pocket incidents that could happen in Europe, I purchased a cheap wallet in the states, and then promptly slashed it with a Swiss army knife. Next I purchased some fake $100 and $50 US bills from a local supermarket. I placed these in the wallet and carried the wallet and the fake money around Europe in my shorts pocket. I tried like you wouldn’t believe to get the wallet stolen at certain times. I only tried to get the wallet stolen when I didn’t have my back pack with me. However, the wallet was always in my pocket. I even unfolded part of the wallet and let it hang out my back pocket, but had no luck. I visited some real seedy places and never even had a few nibbles.
Finally at the end of the trip, I became so frustrated with all the non-existent travel horror pick pocketing stories, that I visited a bad part of Paris and sat down. During the time that I sat down, I discretely slipped the wallet out of my pocket and placed it under my leg. Two minutes later I got up and walked away. Not more then 10 seconds passed before I heard people shouting at me, “brother you’ve dropped your wallet”. This was quite unnerving, as this JUST wasn’t the plan. Having people in Europe tell me that I had dropped my wallet, just was NOT supposed to happen. At this point, I just gave up and ran. I buried myself in a throng of people who were milling in a large music store, and I snuck out the back way.