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thereadbaron Nov 15th, 2005 06:12 AM

Pickpocket central? Safety in Spain
Dear god - first I am worried about thieves taking my passport either in the hotel safe or on my person. Now I'm worried about what I hear is the rampant pickpocketing or worse - cutting off neck pouches/handbags with knifes. I read someone took a turn down a side street in Barcelona and was attacked by three thugs. I think part of the joy of travel is turning down small streets to discover something new, and I hate to think this isn't possible.

I know not to play 3 card monty or take sprigs from gypsies. But what about the other smooth criminals? Will I stop for gas on my drive from Granada to Marbella and be carjacked? Of course no one knows the answer to this, but I'd like to hear from other travelers to Spain if they were accosted in any way and if it was any worse here than in other countries.

I'm a neurotic New Yorker. Forgive me. Thanks for the advice!

zootsi Nov 15th, 2005 08:14 AM

We spent 12 days in Spain (Madrid, Seville,Ronda,Granada, Neja) a year ago, and there were no signs of rampant crime. The only incident we experienced was in Madrid, strolling the downtown late at night. A car pulled up along side of us to warn us about the 3 elderly gypsy ladies that were closely trailing my wife. I suppose if they had the chance, they might have pilfered her handbag, but they certainly were not threatening.
We did a lot of late night walking in Spain, and drove many many miles, and always felt perfectly safe. Don't be a worry wort - you'll have a great time!

joearena99 Nov 15th, 2005 10:29 AM

Not to worry you, but I should pass on what happened to my friend. On my advice, he went to Barcelona (I loved it). On the way to his hotel, from the metro, some well dressed gentlemen stopped him to 'ask him directions'. In the time that it took him to tell them that he wasn't from the area (as if the luggage wasn't enough of a clue), someone cut the handle off of his carry-on bag that was wrapped around the handle of his wheeled luggage. My friend never knew what hit him.

To add insult to injury, when he reported it to the police, the police treated him as if HE were the criminal.

Chele60 Nov 15th, 2005 10:55 AM

It's me again! Please, do yourself a huge favor and relax! I can't speak for Barcelona as we didn't go there, but if I had listened to every warning I'd been given about Madrid, I'd been left bloodied and bruised in the gutter in broad daylight with thousands of onlookers. It seems everyone has a tale to tell, and the more frightening it is, the better the telling. Be aware of your surroundings. Use common sense. If an area doesn't seem safe, get out. There are two of you, so be certain you always "have each other's back". And another thing, if wary of some one? Look them square in the eye, don't look down or away - you'll appear less of a victim.

We didn't do much late night walking, but we did do quite a bit of early morning walking about, including going to ATMs. And yes, there were people about. We just made sure that while one was using the ATM, the other was looking around. Do things like that. It really is very simple, and coming from a place like New York, I would think almost second nature.

As far as car crimes? OMG! While preparing for our road trip, I had heard that it was "common" for thieves to scope out your rental car, poke a small hole in the tire, then follow you until you had to pull over. Once you did, they would pull over as well and offer to help, and next you would know you had been robbed. Yeah, I was fearful and terrified. And it never happened. And yes, we unloaded/loaded luggage in cities so people knew we were tourists. We even drove on some pretty remote roads. I guess it might have happened, sure. But why spend the whole vacation worrying about it? Take precautions and enjoy. (What kind of precautions? Note if some one is watching you load/unload. Keep an eye if some one is following you, and one way to prevent this is to slow way down to allow everyone to pass you. Stay on major highways.)

You can either be as I was - worrying constantly about security until I was a complete nervous wreck by the time I got on the plane - or you can be as my boyfriend was, who treated Spain as he did visiting anywhere else in the US. Turns out his way was best and most accurate.

Spain is not the hotbed of crime most people make it out to be. At least not any more so than Los Angeles or New York or San Francisco or Chicago or any other place in the US. Relax, stay calm, use your common sense, and you'll be fine and have a great time.

francophile03 Nov 15th, 2005 11:13 AM

I've got an acquaintance living in Barcelona. I asked him once about the stories I read about theft there. He says the same things as Chele60 that it's really no different than visiting anywhere else. Generally he says to be aware of your surroundings. Now when he goes on vacation he wears a money belt.

StCirq Nov 15th, 2005 12:02 PM

Just be careful.........

Myer Nov 16th, 2005 10:00 AM

First hand. I was pickpocketed at the Madrid flea market and won.

Starting with our trip to Spain last year I employed a new stategy.

On previous trips I just didn't pay attention to the problem and was lucky.

This time I thought about it and made a few decisions. They're professionals and I'm not. They're doing this for a living and I'm a tourist.

Rather than arm myself to the teeth, I'll just make the experience not very rewarding for them.

I wore a money belt that contained passports, plane tickets and reserve cash. The money belt was not accessed during the day.

In my pocket I kept no more than 50E, a street map and sun glasses case. That's it.

I bought a very small flat zippered cloth container that was big enough to hold 50E and a credit card. It's about 3" x 4" in size and has a belt loop. I ran my belt through it and slid it down the front-side of my pants.

Whenever I either either had to replenish the cash in my pocket or needed a credit card I merely pull out the case, unsipped it and used the credit card. Then returned it. I had no problem having someone see what I'm doing. The concern was not armed robbery bu pickpockets.

There's no way someone could stick their hand down the front of my pants.

At the flea market in Madrid I knew what was happening but it was too fast. I heard some change fall to the street. I jumped back and someone leaned on my leg. That was it.

About 30 seconds after a man came to me and said 'somebody took this from you' and he gave me back my empty sun glasses case and street map. My answer was 'yes, somebody'.

annabelle2 Nov 16th, 2005 03:34 PM

I was in Spain in June. Mostly in Madrid, with trips to Toledo, Segovia and other places near there, and Cullera and Valencia on the coast.

I had no problems. I traveled both by myself and with a male Spanish (from Madrid) friend --but he was the one w/ the camera taking pictures, so looked kind of like a tourist himself.

I followed the usual precautions and stayed aware of my surroundings, as I would in any big city. My Madrid friend did make lots of half-joking comments about his fellow countrymen stealing things, and NEVER left anything of value in his little car (that definitely did not look like a tourist rental).

We did do some long drives, including one late at night from Madrid to the Valencia-coast area. It was pretty dark and lonely, but on major highways. I noticed that not all the gas stations were open.

In Madrid, I walked down lots of little streets during the days, but read up on the different areas. At night, I was usually w/ my friend and didn't really worry about it, assuming he knew where to go and not go on his home turf.

I felt fine on my own taking the bus or train or subway around, and in Toledo/Segovia/Valencia didn't even see any questionable areas.

In Italy, earlier on the same trip, neither myself nor any of the people I was traveling with had any pickpocket experiences, although another friend of mine was almost pickpocketed in Venice. No hoards of gypsy children accosted us in Rome, either.

We did lose a camera in Venice, but my friend left it sitting somewhere and it was gone when we ran back to get it. Interestingly, even earlier on same trip I stupidly left MY camera in a pasty shop in London. Called about 30 minutes later and they had it for me! Nice!

Bad things can happen as we all know, but you, a street-smart New Yorker, already have a heads-up on a lot of other travelers. Just be careful and enjoy yourself.

Bob1 Nov 16th, 2005 04:23 PM

MADRID: Our group all talked about the pickpockets before we arrived. One of our group walked out of the Palace Hotel 30 minutes after arrival and immediately got her purse snatched. This town has great pickpockets!

My wife and I always carry different credit cards. She has one card, I have a different card. If one of us gets nailed we call it in to cancel and still have the other card to use on the rest of the trip.

You will never really know the gypsies are after you until they hit. A lot of the ones in Rome approach with nursing babies asking for food or money as their friend cleans you out. Keep on your toes!

tondalaya Nov 16th, 2005 04:37 PM

You will hear that about every major city in Europe, Rome Paris and on and on. Take care of your bag , be alert.

stellamarina Nov 21st, 2005 02:11 PM

Hi all,

My husband and I just returned from two weeks in Spain for our honeymoon. This included Marbella, Ronda, Sevilla, Granada and Barcelona. We had not one problem. We locked our plane tickets in the hotel safe at each location and carried our passports and cards in around the waist moneybelts under our pants. I carried an Ameribag slung on my back but in most heavily trafficked areas, I slung it on my front and usually held the strap and zippers while walking through crowds. I might add I carred a digital camera AND a small camcorder in my Ameribag almost the whole time. We both had heard/read so many negative things about Spain that perhaps we were on super high alert but we were never even approached. My husband is in law enforcement and tends to be quite aware anyway but we're both fairly well-traveled and just knew what to look for. We spent three full days in Barcelona and really were not worried at all. Just another perspective for you! Just be really aware of your surroundings and pay attention!


lincasanova Nov 21st, 2005 02:17 PM

dana, sounds like you are one of the few people who know how to carry a backpack in a crowd!!!

thieves usually stake out people.

we thwarted a theft to some elederly germans in valencia the other day.
these twoguys stopped when they saw the group coming. let them pass, and turned to follow them at a distance. they were eyeing a woman who had a bag open and paractically dragging on the ground.
we went up and told the entire group to be careful.

nytraveler Nov 21st, 2005 04:56 PM

Have been to Spain 4 times - all independent road trips.

The only scams we have come across are the flower handing (just don;t take it) and the vituperative curses ( when we wouldn;t even look at some tatty lace tablecloths being sold on the pavement - someone walked close behind me - I turned quickly and he ended up with my purse in his gut. He told me to be more careful - I told him to keep away unless he wanted to meet a cop).

We walked down many small alleys after dark and had no problems - but we're non-neurotic New Yorkers - and have found that if you walk as if you own the world people generally don;t bother you.

StCirq Nov 21st, 2005 06:31 PM

I have visited Spain four times in the past 10 years. I have a second home in France and am thorougly accustomed to what precautions one needs to take to travel safely in Europe. That said, I don't use money belts or fanny packs or any other contraptions that draw attention to ones-self as a tourist, and in most countries I am pretty fluent in the language because I studied more than 5 European languages for more than a decade, so I don't stand out much.

Spain was an absolute horror for me the last two times I visited. In Madrid I witnessed more crime in two days than I had in two decades of visiting Europe.

Spain has a PROBLEM. The country admits it, the major cities admit it, it's not exactly a secret. All the emails in the world from people who went there and didn't have a problem doesn't negate the fact that Spain has a REAL problem with petty crime.

Check the websites. Check the statistics. Be very careful.

lmhornet Nov 22nd, 2005 03:34 AM

"Spain is not the hotbed of crime most people make it out to be. At least not any more so than Los Angeles or New York or San Francisco or Chicago or any other place in the US. Relax, stay calm, use your common sense, and you'll be fine and have a great time."

This nonsense. SF and Chi don't have roving gangs, mostly gypsies, that specifically target tourists in tourist areas. That is uniquely European and especially Spanish. (BTW Property crime rates in the US are not especially high. Even Canada has higher property crime rates than the US.)

Crime in Spain is a legitimate concern. The individual experiences of other people mean nothing. So they didn't get mugged, so what does that prove. Only that not everyone gets mugged, pickpocketed or scammed. What matters is the overall crime rate for this kind of crime. It is true that the odds are in your favor that you will experience no difficulties. But the absolute odds are still much higher than if you were at home or went elsewhere is Europe. The odds in Barcelona are the the worst in Spain.

I would not let it put mer off. But ignore the pollyannas who try to claim that there is not reason to be concerened. There most certainly is.

Intrepid1 Nov 22nd, 2005 04:26 AM

Look..if you really want to avoid any chance of having your pocket picked don't carry anything in them and always use a money belt.

In terms of backpacks, I fully realize many folks do a day out and have a lot of very useful stuff inside the backpack which cannot fit in a moneybelt, etc. However, I have to say that when I see those people who are doing the tourist thing carrying backpacks that are obviously large enough to contain BOTH their children I can only hope they are keeping an eye on their belongings.

Barcelona is the only city I've ever been pickpocketed in and that was a day I wasn't using my moneybelt. And the theft was not carried out by a "gypsy" but rather by somebody who looked just like the rest of us (Imhornet, are you listening????).

Ozarksbill Nov 22nd, 2005 06:58 AM

Let me address the problem from the standpoint of watchfulness no matter where you are. The only pickpockets we have ever encountered were on a crowded Athens bus when both my wife and I had our wallets lifted. We weren't on our guard because we had been in rural areas.

My caution is that in ANY large city you should be careful. You don't carry bags or purses that can be ripped off. And you also don't walk alone at night on side streets, etc. Our daughter living in New York City gave us a list of precautionary measures about riding the subway and walking in crowds and being alert. No way should you gawk at high buildings!


marigross Nov 22nd, 2005 07:38 AM

I have been four times to Spain and have had no problem so far. Do not carry too much on you so that if you are picked the loss is not ruining your vacation.

Location (Madrid-Paris-Rome) is not the problem, you have to be street smart, be aware of you surroundings.

Chele60 Nov 22nd, 2005 07:52 AM

"...roving gangs, mostly gypies..."

Perhaps I'm a "pollyanna" now, but I heard this type of phrase, ad nauseum, before I left for Spain so many times I was terrified to leave. I envisioned a dark place where gangs of 10 or more rough and surly thugs roamed the streets with all manner of weapons ready to take out unsuspecting tourists for whatever few euro happened to be in their pockets. And every "what if" was discounted as well: wear a moneybelt, don't wear a moneybelt, just take a regular purse, forget about a purse, just wear black, never wear black.

Honestly people, from a newbie's viewpoint of traveling to Europe this issue is very intimidating and frightening. Keep the potential for crime in mind? Certainly. Know the areas you are visiting? Absolutely. Familiarize yourself with various scams. But obsessing and being told over and over that one is really unsafe no matter what they do is really counter-productive. Is simply instilling fear into a fellow traveller entertaining to everyone?

Is there crime in Spain? Yes. Is some of that crime directed at tourists? Yes. Are all tourists the victims of crime? No. We traveled through major cities and small towns and into the countryside and I never once saw any "roving gangs." And I was looking for them! And the only gypsies I saw were the women hanging out at the Cathedral in Seville. Perhaps I was oblivious. Or maybe I had just done my homework and stayed clear of areas I knew were dicey. Of course, not taking public transportation also lessened the odds. Having a companion who knew how to watch my back helped.

Of course, the best solution to this whole problem is the one I almost took: cancel the trip and just do something in the US.

I still stand by my statements that if one stays cautious, aware of their surroundings, and uses common sense, they are less likely to be a victim.

francophile03 Nov 22nd, 2005 08:51 AM

I agree with Chele60's advice and thoughts. One can substitute any other country in the subject heading. Pickpocketing happens everywhere.

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