13 Tips – How Not To Get Robbed Traveling In Spain

traveling in spain

Don’t get robbed in Barcelona

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By Nancy Todd

My cell phone was stolen out of my purse on a bus.

A woman had her hand in my purse on the metro escalator and I screamed at her to “Fuck off.”

Two men on a motorcycle rode by tourists in front of the Hotel Arts and grabbed a woman’s bag with passports, credit cards, etc.

Thieves use surgical scissors to cut bags/cameras off of people’s shoulders. Every friend I know is Spain has been robbed. Every friend they know has been robbed.

Pickpockets are aggressive, fast, and excellent at what they do.  Adios, euros.

So where are the cops? Standing around. Looking good. Talking about their next volleyball game on the beach and when they last got laid. Don’t think you will fit in and not look like a tourist. We’ve lived here since 2005 and The Scoopettes still look like tourists. And we don’t wear cutoffs with our butts hanging out.

In Barcelona, there are 400 thefts reported a day and hundreds that go unreported. Three kids, about 8 years old, came up to me at 3:00 pm in the afternoon on Plaça Jaume I  in front of the government buildings. One held a clipboard in front of my face. Two others stared pawing me. I screamed at them to, “Get the fuck away from me.”

Even though Regina and I consider ourselves seasoned travelers, we have been robbed. We know you know a lot of the rules. Here are reminders to stay safe. These reminders have been around for years, and theft keeps happening all the time. Intuition is your best guide.

l. Wear backpacks in front of you. Robbers slice through them/open zippers. No, safety pinning your zipper pulls doesn’t work.

2. Men: carry wallets, cameras in your front pants pockets. A rubber band around your wallet is added security as it is very difficult to get it out of your pocket.

3. Keep valuables in a hidden, and I mean hidden, money belt, or cash in your shoes or bra.

4. When walking at night, stay on the main busy streets. Take a taxi when needed.

5. Ask hotel security to walk you to a main street when leaving your hotel during quiet hours. A quaint side street is great pickings for thieves. Have a taxi pick you up at the hotel door.

6. Only take the cash you need for the night. Leave valuables in a hotel safe.

7. Scan passport, important papers, and credit cards. Email to yourself in case you need copies.

8. Women, forget those big bags. Use a  small one under your coat with bare essentials like lipstick. Those big, fashionable, shoulder bags are a target. Put your bag in front of you, not on side or back. Wear bags diagonally across your chest.

9. You may see The Scoopettes with a 40-pound suitcase on their laps riding the airport bus in Barcelona.  Yes, suitcase theft is common. Tourists who put their suitcases down for a second to look at a map can be robbed.

10. In restaurants, purses should never be hanging on your chair or on the floor; always keep it on your lap.

11. On the beach, never leave valuables while you swim. Someone comes up to ask you for a light? Forget it. Their partner is grabbing your purse. Purse between your legs or lie on it. Never just put it to the side of you.

12. Old tricks still work. A liquid is poured on you which is supposedly bird shit. People come to help you. No, they are going to rob you. Avoid women with a single carnation to sell or gold wedding band to give you to hold.

13. Don’t use ATM machines on a quiet street or at night. You will be followed. You will be robbed.  If someone comes up to talk with you while you are using an ATM, don’t talk, as their slime-bag cohort will grab your money as it comes out of the machine.

Don’t be scared when traveling in Spain, but do be aware, especially in Madrid and Barcelona.

11 Responses

  1. Mo says:

    Well, I´m just appalled. I know apabullada´s not a real cognate but it´ll do. My experiences with theft in Spain have been zero patatero, unless my lassie removing coins from my purse for sweeties counts. I´ve never even been robbed in Madrid and in Alcalá it´s unthinkable……oh, oh, we did get our ancient car broken into and the GPS stolen recently but I kind of took that as an opportunity to stop showing up everywhere looking like something out of the Waltons and get a new car at last!

  2. admin says:

    It’s a big problem, theft! I was in Germany and a man said, ‘Watch your bag,’ and I said, ‘I live in Barcelona.’ He said, ‘Then you know what to do!’ We’ve got a bad rap, and it’s deserved.

  3. Keith says:

    I suspect the story is apocryphal about the Barcelona tour guide who advised clients to ‘leave everything non-essential on the bus’ … and, somebody stole the bus!

    For what it’s worth … I did lose my wallet in Madrid once; whether through carelessness or having my pocket picked, I don’t know. But, a friend in the Madrid police emailed me three months later, and told me an Algerian immigrant had been arrested for trying to use my by then useless debit card … he said he’s bought it from some sinner for €200!

    A few of my tips at https://travelrat.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/whats-in-your-wallet/

  4. admin says:

    bought it from a sinner? Ha! well at least you didn’t have any trouble other than having to replace the cards and maybe the loss of a bit of cash.

  5. Keith says:

    I think the biggest pain was the £12 it cost to replace my driving licence … which I had no need to carry, because I didn’t intend to drive in Spain. Lesson learnt!

  6. Liz says:

    Here’s one that’s not on the list: we were traveling from the airport to Chamberí in Madrid and we were transferring between lines when the escalator we were on suddenly stopped. The guys who had been right behind us on the escalator didn’t follow up the escalator when it stopped, strangely enough, but it still took us a while to realize that my husband’s wallet had been stolen. So: anything unexpected is probably a good reason to clamp your hands down on your belongings and scream a little.

  7. admin says:

    Haha – thanks for sharing! Giving a yelp never hurts!

  8. I agree that certain steps should be taken to avoid being robbed whilst traveling – especially in places like Barcelona. I’ve been with people who’ve been robbed, been in fistfights because of theft, and been robbed myself by an Italian army soldier while sleeping on a train 15 years ago.

    However…I think the tone of this is fairly apocalyptic. It makes it sound as if one doesn’t follow these steps, s/he will be left standing butt-naked in the avenida, waiting for someone on a quiet side street to rob him/her of non-essential body parts.

    Theft exists everywhere. No question that Barcelona is the worst place we’ve ever been for this. Certain steps should be taken to decrease risk, but I also think it’s important not to make people feel like they’ll be left cold, hungry, and broke, if they don’t do what’s suggested here.

    Awareness is the biggest security anyone can have, and security-scare tactics do not help others who aren’t as seasoned as you or us feel any more comfortable about traveling the world.

    My €0,02.

    Thanks for the great site though!

    Ryan at Jets Like Taxis

  9. admin says:

    Thanks Ryan. Some people never get robbed….awareness is key. 😉

  10. Erkan says:

    Another experience from Madrid. I had a dinner in a cafe and was sitting at the table outside the cafe. I asked for the check and put some money on the table. In a moment, a guy grabed it quickly and started running and disappeared into the crowd. Addios 70 euros, but the staff was kind and i didnt have to pay the bill again. Be careful while having meal outside at cafes.

  11. The Spain Scoop says:

    That’s terrible. Sometimes in the USA we just leave the money for the bill on the table and leave. This is a good example of why to never do this in Spain. Make sure the money is in the hands of the server (not saying that is what your intention was, just that this is another way money could get nabbed).

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