Travelling is back, but unfortunately, with the return of tourism, it's not uncommon to hear of the increase in petty crimes targeting tourists. Some of the world's most notorious pickpockets are in Europe, with Barcelona, Rome, Prague, Madrid, Paris making the top five.
It pays to not let your guard down anywhere else. In 2022, I almost became a victim of pickpocketers in what is presumably generally safe: Denmark. A "family" of three attempted to steal from my backpack while I was walking along a path on a busy road with moderate foot traffic. I was speedwalking as I was late to meet a friend, so when I felt someone hovering behind me, I swung around to find a youngster withdrawing her hand quickly. Realising that she kept pace even when I sped up and catching the shadow of her hand reaching into my bag, I was able to confirm that this interaction was intentional. Luckily, I only kept unimportant stuff in my backpack, like a water bottle and a jacket, but nevertheless, felt angry enough to swing around and confront the family.
The older man had a suitcase with him – presumably to hide any loot they might manage to pick from their mark. When confronted, they tried to intimidate me into moving forward. Holding my ground, I swung my backpack to the front and stared down the family. The girl glanced at the older man, who nodded in the opposite direction from where they came from, and they scattered. It was too methodical to be anything but an attempted pickpocketing event. I found out later that Denmark has a pickpocket and snatch theft problem.
The incident no doubt put a damper on what was otherwise a wonderful post-pandemic trip, so I came home with learnings and have come up with a few simple reminders to make travelling safer for me (and you, readers!) moving forward.
How to prevent theft
1. Keep valuables (and yourself) trackable
Two simple ways to do so:
1) Go to Google Maps -> Setting -> Location Sharing, and share your location with trusted family and friends. This can double up as a way to find valuables such as a phone or smartwatch when it's not with you. The same functions can be found in Apple's Find My and Samsung's Find My Mobile, which is better as it still works even if the phone is deliberately switched off.
2) Place an Airtag in your wallet, luggage or any important bags to track where it is. It's OOS often, but you can always reliably find the 1-pack on Amazon Singapore. For Android users, consider the Samsung Galaxy SmartTag Bluetooth Tracker & Item Locator.
2. Make it very hard for pickpockets to gain access to your valuables with secret compartments
Anti-theft features such as slash-and-cut-resistant straps and panels, locking zippers, RFID-protected card slots, and hidden pockets are some ways to deter petty criminals from getting to your belongings.
While the pickpocket managed to open the main compartment of my backpack, the bag holds secret compartments that makes it hard for a pickpocket to get their paws in. On top of that, never keep valuables in a backpack. Use it to keep non-important essentials such as an umbrella, water bottle, tissue packets, jacket, scarf and more. Keep valuables like money and phone stashed very close to the skin, using some of these hidden money belts and sling bags with anti-theft features.
Lewis N. Clark RFID-Blocking Waist Stash Anti-Theft Hidden Money Belt (now at 35% off!)
To secure your luggage or existing bag without getting a new one, check out this Fingerprint Padlock.
Another tip is to hang an especially noisy keychain or ornament on the zip of your bag so that no one (not even yourself) can open it without notifying everyone around you. I also carry a personal alarm around – any time I feel uncomfortable, I can always sound the alarm and to alert everyone in my vicinity.
3. If deterrence doesn't work, keep defence as a backup
Pepper sprays, unfortunately, are illegal to buy, sell or own in Singapore, so it can be hard to procure one. However, for the sake of safety, especially if you're a solo female traveller, it's not difficult to bring along a tiny spray bottle and make an impromptu one wherever you go with chilli, pepper and water, or even simply using the hand sanitiser sprays everyone should keep in their bag.
For the ultimate pacifist, keep a personal alarm (see above photo) that emits a shrill noise when activated by pulling or pressing a button. Stealth is a pickpocket's biggest advantage, so drawing eyes to wherever you are makes it hard for them to proceed without being seen.
Safe travels! And if you need more travel research, here are some links to help you out.
Check airfare here: Skyscanner | Trip.com | Expedia
Book accommodations and activities here: Agoda | Booking.com | Klook | KKday | HotelsCombined
General info here: Tripadvisor
Affordable data plans here
And while you are at it, be sure to get your travel insurance!