Going to Europe: Beware of Pickpockets

By Europe, I also mean UK because it’s in the same continent, no?

Pickpocketing is not a new thing for me considering where I am from. We also have pickpockets in Indonesia. It’s not a secret though I’m not proud of it. I myself experienced it one time when I was traveling in East Java, Indonesia: I lost my phone. But people say it’s a third-world country so I honestly thought that such thing wouldn’t exist in so-called first-world countries. I was wrong.

What I often heard about pickpocketing in Europe was, however, it’s in Barcelona, Spain. I was often told that it’s where pickpockets did their actions the most and just as easily. Now that I’m talking about it, I might have also read it somewhere in a novel or series by Rick Riordan, The Heroes of Olympus, if I remember correctly. So when people told me to beware of pickpockets, I thought that I should be careful in Barcelona only. When I told a friend who lived in Europe that I was kinda scared and worried about going to Barcelona due to the pickpockets, he told me that pickpockets existed everywhere, not only in Barcelona, that it even existed in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and that I just needed to be careful. That’s what he told me. At that time I thought it was something general, like, we have to be careful all times any where. I thought he was just trying to tell me to not worry too much about pickpockets in Barcelona. It might be true, but it might also be wrong. I mean, not until I was really traveling in Europe.

Finally got to take the picture of the warning in Lisbon, Portugal. This one was on the tram.

When I arrived in London, my friend told me that I should always keep my bag/purse in the front just to be safe, especially in central London. I might have shrugged it off because, well, (I thought) I was always careful anyway but I really didn’t expect I’d get such advice in a big city like London, which is a capital of one of the first-world countries. I was glad, though, for the reminder because often times I was just too naive and forgot that people could be so ‘mean’ sometimes. So I always put my purse on the front part whenever I was walking around the city. It’s a sling bag/purse too so it’s not that hard to keep it in the front.

Then when I came to Leeds and went to York, Edinburgh, etc, my friends there also told me the same: that I had to beware of pickpockets, that I had to keep my bag in the front, that I had to be careful. Another friend in London also reminded me that there could be snatchers, that usually they were bikers/bicyclists that snatched your phone while you were walking around the city. He told me to face the wall or stand in the corner if I was using my phone either to follow Google Map’s direction or for something else, just so the snatchers couldnt take it. It’s getting creepy but fortunately no such thing happened to me, so I thought, maybe it wouldn’t happen to me. I might have been wrong.

When I came to Paris, one guest in my AirBnB was a victim that I knew ‘first-hand’. He arrived the day before me, when France won the semifinal against Belgium. He told me he was immersing with the hype, dancing and recording for his video when he felt that somebody was trying to tear/open his bag from behind. He showed me the torn-open part of his bag and I was shocked. I mean, it happened on his first day in Paris and when he told me about that it’s my first day in Paris!

My friend in Paris even told me that it was actually worse. It could also happen in the bus/metro station like when you were holding your phone while standing, especially when it was crowded, then the metro stopped and the door was briefly open, your phone could’ve been gone even before you realized it and once you realized it the pickpocket was already gone because the metro door was already closed or the train was already moving and even if it was still open and had not been moving, the thief could have disappeared easily because it was very crowded. She also reminded me to be extra careful in tourism places. Sometimes people would ask you to talk or chat about something and while you answered their question or chatted with them, their hand or their partner’s would try to reach into our pockets/purse/bag and take something without us knowing it. Another trick was by asking us to sign something or ask for our number for promotion or stuff. All was to distract our attention so that we didn’t keep an eye on our belongings. It was scary and for this reason alone I prefered taking a selfie (even though I don’t really like it) because I crept out so I chose not to ask people to take my pics using my phone or camera because I was scared that they would run away with it. I brought myself to ask people to take my pics only when I was sure that they were ‘safe’, for instance, another solo-traveling fellow that was taking a selfie or a couple that were taking a selfie or took turns in taking a photo. These kinds of people must be ‘travelers’ or ‘tourists’ like me; they should be ‘safe’.

However, sometimes I freaked out so much too: What if they were actually only pretending? What if they were organized pickpockets or syndicates that operated in such a way? My friend told me that sometimes the pickpockets were forced to do that like there was a networked mafia. They were obliged to report and bring some money to the boss otherwise they would be raped or tortured in some other ways (sounds familiar yet?). So they had no choice but steal. Sometimes they were ‘immigrants’ who were ‘deceived’ with the blinding and better life in Paris but then could find no jobs and, instead, ended up being recruited by those mafias. It could be like human trafficking, too.

Jeez, I really don’t like that idea. This thing about pickpocketing really couldn’t stress me out. Thus, when I traveled to the next city in another country, I kept hoping that the place would be safer, that there wouldn’t be any pickpockets I should worry about. But of course, unfortunately, it wasn’t very different.

When I was in Copenhagen, in their tourist information center, for example, there was this writing that says more or less something like this: “Copenhagen is friendly (or comfortable/convenient?) even for pickpockets.” I was like, “What does it mean?” 😱😱😱 But, dang, I forgot to take a pic of it. Then, I’m not sure where, but I’m pretty sure it’s in different city and country, there was this “Beware of pickpockets” warning in the metro/train/tram/bus’s doors. Well, I know wherever we are, pickpockets would possibly exist, but to be constantly reminded like that shows how common it is here, which is scary.

Tourist Information Center in Copenhagen, Denmark.

And, oh, my friend, with whom I was traveling in Oslo, also lost her money. She was convinced that she lost it while sleeping in the Oslo airport. She was sure that somebody opened her bag, but at that time we were still trying to think that maybe she forgot to take it and left that money in her home in Prague, that’s why she couldn’t find it and thought she’d lose it though she was sure that was not the case. But then when she went back home in Prague, she couldn’t find her money so she was sure that somebody in the airport took it from her. And all of this still seemed far…until it happened to me. Well, I don’t like to think that it did happen to me, but it might have happened to me.

Long story short, yesterday when we were exploring Prague, my friend asked if I had a woman’s pad (you know, that thing that women put on their underwear when we’re having monthly periods 🙈✌️). I confidently said, “Of course”. Well, I always carried an extra pad with me in my bag/purse, traveling or not, because I was a prepared person. The pad was put inside a small purple wrap (like a purse?) just so it wasn’t obvious that it was a woman’s pad. I thought, if I were to have my period when I wasn’t home, then at least I didn’t have to worry about finding a pad. I just needed to find a toilet and put it on and change once I got back home. So when my friend asked about it, I was pretty sure I had it with me, except that I didn’t.

I tried to find it in my purse, but I couldn’t find it. At that time, however, I thought that maybe I had left it in my backpack. Maybe because it’s not around my period yet that’s why I didn’t bring it with me because I didn’t want to make my purse heavier. Thus, when I went home, I tried to find it in my backpack. I couldn’t; it wasn’t there. Again, I still tried to entertain myself thinking, ‘Well, maybe my friend in UK forgot to give it back to me.’ It’s because there was this one time when I was traveling UK, my friend forgot to bring an extra pad so I gave her mine. I was sure she returned it to me, though, because afterwards I put another pad into the purse to replace the one that my friend had used. Nevertheless, I texted her about it, just to be sure. She said no; she didn’t have it with her. Where could it have been? 😱😱😱

I put the small purple purse containing the woman pad there in the front/outer pocket.

Considering this pickpocketing thing, I was thinking of such a possibility: Could it be that somebody took it from my bag/purse thinking it was money? And my friend in Prague, the one who lost her money in the airport, convinced me about it. She was pretty sure it happened in the Oslo airport. She said there were at least three people working together. There was a woman who sat next to her since the beginning, whom she believed was the informant. There was also this man standing next to me, who might have been a distractor. And there was another man. And when she told me that, it kinda reminded me of this man in the airport. I woke several times when I was sleeping in the airport and I always saw this one man. I remember feeling uncomfortable and unsafe when he was around. It felt like he took glances at me once in a while, it’s so bothersome I felt he was staring at me. I don’t like it when people look at me that way. But I still find it hard to believe that this really happened to me. I prefer thinking that, maybe, who knows, I’ve left it somewhere in one of the rooms, in which I stayed in UK. Maybe it fell off when I was trying to take something out of my purse. Maybe I took it out when I was taking out something else and forgot to put it back inside. There are these preferable ‘maybes’ that I find easier to accept because thinking that somebody could take something out of my purse without me knowing it is scary. It’s creepy. And come to think of it, if my friend hadn’t asked about the pad, I wouldn’t have realized that it’s gone. And it’s been three days since I slept in Oslo airport!

I might be in denial. But hey, it could’ve been something else, not just a woman’s pad. It could’ve been some money. It could’ve been my passport. It could’ve been my phone. Gosh, God forbids. If there are things that I’m afraid of losing the most while traveling in Europe, they are my passport and my phone. My passport is my identity, I also have my visas there. Losing it would mean losing my identity, and I am sure it would be super complicated to take care of it. And losing my phone? Well, my card is there. My contact is there. I can lose anything else, but if I have my phone, I can still contact people for help, ask for advice, browse, etc. If they’re gone, I won’t know what to do.

Now I’m still in Prague, still with a friend, still feel safe. But onwards I’d be purely traveling solo or alone, at least until I get back in Paris and London, where I’d meet my friends again. I don’t know what will happen next, so please pray for me and wish me luck. I always try to be careful but I know things are always possible to happen; i.e. I’m open to all possibilities. I always prepare for the worst, like for instance, I put my money in separate places, just in case I lose some I store in one certain place. I printed a copy of my passport and visas for the same reason. If the worst is to happen, at least, maybe somehow it won’t be that bad. Still, I don’t want any of those to happen. I want everything to be intact when I go back home. And talking about ‘home’, just for a comparison, I’ve never had to worry about pickpockets when traveling in the US.

PS: My friend also says that I have to be careful when I stay in AirBnB because I might lose my belongings there. She says I have to hug it tight even when I sleep. My, I dont like traveling like this. It’s like I have to suspect everyone. It’s hard because often times I’m so trusting-and gullible 🙁😭

PPS: All the stories that my friends told me about pickpocketing share one thing in common: the pickpockets are of the same ‘origin’. I won’t mention it here because I don’t want it to be something like stereotyping, in addition to the fact that I can’t tell which from which. I guess it can be anyone from any origin, race, or nationality.

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