How to ensure that my cash stays on me?
September 26, 2006 8:04 PM   Subscribe

In about a month I'm spending 2 weeks in Europe with my girlfriend. We'll be in Dublin, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Rome. Most of my research on these places mentions pickpocketing as being problematic (in some moreso than others)- what trademark methods should we watch out for and what are the best strategies for keeping our money safe?

Here in the US I don't have a problem carrying my wallet in my back pocket, but I can see this as being a bad idea in some of the places we're going. What are some good ways to carry money that are more secure from the light-fingered?
posted by baphomet to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Get a travel belt with a pouch that tucks inside your pants. Keep the bulk of your money and travel documents there. Have a wallet with USD ~20 in local currency in your pocket for little expenses and (god forbid) muggings as nobody will believe you have no money.

For pickpockets, the usual rules apply, keep your stuff where you know where it is. Be wary of diversions, anything that attracts attention will be inevitably used as a distraction. When you see a "Beware of pickpockets" sign, don't immediately check that all your stuff is there. Don't flash cash, don't act too out of place, don't loudly pretend to be Canadian.

Oh and don't leave your luggage next to the rental car while you go and finalize your paperwork.
posted by Skorgu at 8:26 PM on September 26, 2006

Watch out on public transportation.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:29 PM on September 26, 2006

This seems to be a decent overview. Everything I've ever read says a money belt and a decoy wallet are the way to go.
posted by maxwelton at 8:32 PM on September 26, 2006

It helps to not be their target audience. Not much control over that, but a middle-aged couple on their first trip to Europe gets the pickpockets salivating. A standard backpacker, not so much.
posted by smackfu at 8:33 PM on September 26, 2006

Heres a site with a long list of people's experiences with street scams (often entertaining) from Barcelona and beyond, all I think in europe. Spend a half hour reading through them, and it'll give you an idea what you're up against.

But I wouldn't worry too much, it is simply a matter of keeping your wits about you, paying attention to the world around you. The sort of scamerss and pickpockets you fear are looking for clueless types with their head in the clouds, just don't be them: always be conscious of where your valuables are and who is around you, and don't display your phone, wallet or bag somewhere easy to snatch.
posted by MetaMonkey at 8:38 PM on September 26, 2006

I travelled all through Europe and had no problems. Keep most of your cash in a money belt and keep your wallet in your front pocket. Put your hand in the pocket with the wallet in it when on public transport, markets, and other sketchy areas. Be aware of your surroundings and appear observant and with it. A harried, dazed tourist makes a much more attractive target than an alert one.
posted by lemur at 8:39 PM on September 26, 2006

I saw a guy get the crap kicked out of him on the Praha Metro this summer after trying to pickpocket an older dude. He went for the guy's wallet right as the train was coming to a stop - a tell tale time to go for the goods and split. Everyone on the packed train (another scenario pick-pockets thrive in IE easy to get "bumped"), watched the old guy pummel the pick-pocket - I guess subway justice at work.

So mind your pockets as the train comes to a stop. Also don't keep the proverbial eggs in a single basket - split your cash up and stow it in various places just in case someone does lift your wallet.

Oh, and obviously never leave your bags unattended.
posted by catfishjohn at 8:41 PM on September 26, 2006

Put money in underpants.
posted by oxford blue at 8:50 PM on September 26, 2006

I've always been the standard backpacker, but have never had any trouble with pickpockets. I just kept everything in my front pocket. You shouldn't run in to any more trouble than in similar places and situations in the US.
posted by jaysus chris at 8:52 PM on September 26, 2006

First, try to distribute the money. Keep the largest bit of money somewhere very safe- in a secret pocket or in one of those passport wallets that go inside the waist. Refresh the money in your wallet from this stash in the bathroom or other non-public places.

Second, get bags with multiple barriers to entry. I was recently pickpocketed on the Moscow Metro, and the attack was very simple. On a crowded train, the pickpocket unzipped the exposed zipper of my bag and pulled hard on the flap, which hinged on the bottom. All of my things fell onto the floor. They got my phone and maybe some other things while I scrambled to recover the rest. I could have prevented this with a small lock, (maybe even a safety pin in the zipper) or a bag that had a heavy flap over the zippered pocket. (I have that now, and the flap sticks down with noisy velcro, preventing zipper access).

Third, consider a "muggers wallet". I don't know where the idea originated but a friend told me about it. It's just a second wallet, kept in the usual place, with a few expired CC's and 20$ in it. When someone attacks/threatens, you just hand it over.

Beware of non-pickpocket techniques. If something seems to be too good/too strange, it is. In Moscow there is a very common scam where a man will drop a roll of money in front of you. Should you pick it up to give it to him, he will accuse you of stealing it, and the man behind you will back him up. Eventually, you'll pull out your wallet to prove you have nothing of theirs, and they'll take that, too. Other scams commonly involve money changing- someone offering great exchange rates. Furthermore, sometimes, at least here, buskers are in on it. If you pull out your wallet to drop a dollar on one street, someone knows where your wallet is on the next. Put another way: Don't help people, especially in tourist attractions.

About restaurant and bus stop situations, don't hang your bag over the chair, keep it on you, and keep nothing valuable in your coat at all.

Finally, the really ugly thing about pickpocketing is it often involves women and children. Having witnessed a swarm of street kids descending on a guy in the Metro, I can tell you it's not pretty. If a group of little kids surrounds you, yelling, punching, kicking, pulling at you, begin by yelling and end by swinging your arms and legs widely at them. They'll disperse.
posted by fake at 8:53 PM on September 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I 2nd or 3rd the front pocket idea. Espacially in a pair of jeans, this is a much more difficult place for them to attack. If you have to use your back pocket, keep it buttoned. I don't have any advice for crowded areas with bags since I never really encountered that situation.

In addition to fake's story above, I will proffer this one that occured to me in Rome. While casually strolling down the street, a woman walked up to me a foisted a baby right into my chest. I had the smarts not to take the baby which at the very least would have left me defenseless to a pickpocket artist, let alone attempted prosecution for baby theft.
posted by mmascolino at 9:08 PM on September 26, 2006

I can only speak for Amsterdam which seems quite safe to me (but then again I'm not a tourist).
Be alert, put your wallet into the bottom of a bag that you can wear crossed over your shoulder and hold on to it (the bag) when you're in very crowded areas.
And, of course, if you go out and plan to get drunk and/or stoned, take as little money as possible with you.
I really don't think you need a "muggers wallet", there might be many pickpockets but muggings are not very common at all.
posted by snownoid at 9:18 PM on September 26, 2006

When I was in very touristy areas, particularly in cities renowned for pickpocketing, such as Prague and Barcelona - and any time I was exchanging travelers cheques for cash - I kept my passport and cash in a pouch that hung around my neck. That way it was readily accessible but easily concealed under a sweater or jacket.

The one time I was with someone who was pickpocketed, she was just carrying a purse tucked under her arm. We were riding the Metro in Madrid, and there was a tall, imposing man who kept hovering around her and brushing up against her and trying to prevent us from exiting the train easily. Our mistake was not paying attention to where his hands were (alternatively, he may have had an accomplice), but by the time she extricated herself from his near-embrace, her wallet was long gone.

I've also heard tell of a scam where a gypsy woman will come up to you holding what looks like a baby, and then she will throw it at you without warning (another version is where they ask you to hold a real baby). Either way, when you catch and hold the baby, your hands are occupied and an accomplice can pick your pocket - or they can kick up a fuss about how you are trying to take their baby and thus you have to pay them off to leave you alone. I don't think this is purely apocryphal - Rick Steves mentions it, for one.

In terms of common-sense advice, you'd do well to spend some time at Rick Steves' website. He annually does a compendium of popular scams his readers have encountered, among other things.
posted by anjamu at 9:22 PM on September 26, 2006

15th the front pocket suggestion. I live in Shenzhen, which is renowned in China for petty theft, and I've seen people try to steal a friends cell phone while she was getting on a bus.

I coil my camera straps tight around my hands, keep my wallet up front in crowded situations, and put most of my valuables in my satchel that I keep my hand over when on the bus.

Furthermore, try not to carry too much cash with you. Visa debit and credit cards are nearly universally accepted and give the best exchange rates. Take the small ATM fees and just hit the machines every other day or so instead of walking around with a weeks supply of cash. I never carry more than about 40 euro on me in Europe.

If you stay at hostels, bring your own lock.

Being aware that there is a potential problem and acting with common sense instead of the normal tourist obliviousness a long way... I've never had anything stolen [yet] in all my travels.
posted by trinarian at 9:23 PM on September 26, 2006

I had the smarts not to take the baby which at the very least would have left me defenseless to a pickpocket artist, let alone attempted prosecution for baby theft.

Just like Anthony Clark on Dr. Katz:

"I went to the Vatican City. I'm looking at the Vatican and I notice this lady all in black staring at me from across the street with a baby. And she's got two grown up kids too - all in black. Out of nowhere she throws the baby at me. Just throws it - lobs it through the air. I'm like 'OH MY GOD I HAVE TO CATCH THIS BABY!' I position myself to catch it and as I am her bigger kids run across the street and pick my pockets. Take my cash, credits cards, traveler checks - everything - and then they are gone and i'm standing there with a baby. know...let that be a travelling tip for you. If a women throws a baby at you, just swat it to the ground. Swat it and go 'I Don't Think So!'"
posted by cosmonaught at 9:34 PM on September 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

Nice cosmonaught...I must say the woman was wearing all black and there was at least one other child with her...things are getting a bit blurred since it was over 6 years ago that this happened to me.
posted by mmascolino at 9:38 PM on September 26, 2006

Forget the money belt. Do you want a sweaty waist and raw skin where the strap rubs on your hips? Of course not. Leave most of your cash/valuables in the safest place you know. This could be your room, or it could be a bag that you keep with you all the time. Keep it close to your body, and just be aware of it. That's all. As long as you know where it is, no one can take it without brute force. And if they use brute force, then nothing will stop them.
posted by twirlypen at 10:40 PM on September 26, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions everybody, I definitely feel a lot more confident about this aspect of the trip after reading all this.
posted by baphomet at 11:18 PM on September 26, 2006

Response by poster: Forget the money belt. Do you want a sweaty waist and raw skin where the strap rubs on your hips?

Hey, if taping my cash to a rock tied to my testicles kept it safely attached to my person, I'd do it.
posted by baphomet at 11:21 PM on September 26, 2006

At the tourist traps in Rome watch out for groups of gypsy kids who sometimes work as pickpocketing teams. The one time I was pickpocketed in Rome, though, it wasn't a gypsy but an old drunk-looking old guy in a metro station who pretended to stumble & brushed against me, neatly plucking my wallet from my front pocket as he did so. I think splitting up your money is a good way to go, so that if you do get successfully dipped you'll have something to fall back on.
posted by misteraitch at 1:07 AM on September 27, 2006

Only place I encountered pickpockets is Madrid. 3 guys managed to get their hands on my partner's wallet, from his FRONT POCKET. They converged on him in a doorway. They did not get away with it. Sadly, they were fast at running away, else I may have seen a Spanish jail from the inside.

I've not been to Dublin or Rome. Brussels should be okay and Amsterdam is just plain great. I've never felt unsafe anywhere in the Netherlands.
posted by Goofyy at 1:27 AM on September 27, 2006

I was travelling with a friend in Peru and he got his wallet lifted from a *zipped* front pocket. They did the two man "one guy spits water in your face to distract you while the other grabs your wallet" trick.

I've been using one of those belts you stuff in the front of your pants for years, and have never had trouble. Well, there were some kids in Indonesia who tried the "I'm going to shove this item at you like I'm trying to sell it while buddy behind you lifts your wallet" one, but they were really obvious about it, and they went for my pocket and not the belt.

The belt I find to be quite comfortable. The only down side is that it looks like you are reaching down your pants whenever you get something out of it.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:13 AM on September 27, 2006

I'm going to be the total contrarian here. For most traveling, I keep my important documents, bank card, visa in a neck wallet or money belt.

I take out cash in $200ish increments and keep it in a regular wallet in a back pocket or side pocket in my pants. It's convenient, and I'm just not paranoid about it. Yes, that makes me an easier pickpocket or mugging victim, but I've already made peace with that possibility.

I like the convenience and similarity to my regular routines at home. And I'm willing to take the risk that I'll lose a few hundred $$ to a really skilled pickpocket.
posted by fcain at 6:36 AM on September 27, 2006

It should also be mentioned that with the proliferation of ATMs everywhere now, it's not really necessary to carry around a lot of cash.

Also, it has not been mentioned, most European cities are far safer than most U.S. cities. "Normal city precautions" are plenty. That, and not losing your wits just because you are away from home - like getting drunk or stoned or trusting a stranger too much.
posted by derMax at 7:25 AM on September 27, 2006

I used a money belt the first time I traveled (China>Russia>Scandinavia>Baltic States>France, i.e. a mix of sketchy & "safe" places) and grew to hate it so much that I've never gone back. I stick with a thick canvas satchel that buckles closed & has small, deep pockets on the inside where I keep my wallet.

You might try sewing pockets (cloth + velcro) on the inside of your pants, around the lower legs so they'll be easy for you to get to, but basically undetectable by theives/etc.
posted by soviet sleepover at 9:48 AM on September 27, 2006

A good idea, along with any other precautions you take, is only to carry with you only what you can afford to lose. For example, enough for the day out, a meal etc, but not much more. Then, if worst comes to worst, you haven't lost too much.

Also, when travelling in dodgier places (Russia etc) I make sure I leave my cards at the hotel or wherever as well.

Regarding money belts - the only time I was ever robbed, I was tied up at knifepoint, my pants pulled down, and checked for a money belt. Also, moneybelts are pretty unmistakable under clothes and immediately mark you as a possibly naive tourist, which would make you more of a target for something coercive and possibly violent. To foil pickpockets you're probably best off just keeping your wallet in your front pocket and staying aware that it's there, or perhaps folding it over the front of your boxers under your pants.

All of this said, in my years of wandering around foreign cities I've been robbed only once, and that was due mainly to foolishness. Just be sensible, don't amble about obviously drunk and you'll probably be fine.

Oh, and when people come to your table to beg or solicit for accordion playing or whatever, keep an eye on your cameras and phones and the like.

Oh, and the gypsies in Rome may just be Bulgarian Child Slaves...
posted by claudius at 9:55 AM on September 27, 2006

You might also want to wear the money belt while you are sleeping, or at least put it under your pillow/mattress. The only time I've ever been robbed in Europe was in a relatively decent Greek hotel while I was asleep. I left my money belt on the dresser and he took all my cash. (He left credit cards and passports, although the girl two rooms down woke when he reached her room, he grabbed her whole purse, and she lost everything.)

And ditto on bewaring of "Gypsy" children.
posted by amber_dale at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2006

Make your pants thief proof.
posted by redheadeb at 6:29 PM on September 27, 2006

Even easier thief-proof pants pocket.
posted by redheadeb at 6:33 PM on September 27, 2006

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