You mostly feel stupid and helpless. Most people will make you feel like you are, indeed, very, very stupid. I should know. It happened to me.
It’s very hard to believe the city was not a huge tourist destination before 1992. Everywhere you go there’s something to see and/or do. That year, the Summer Olympics took place in Barcelona and they put the city on the tourist map in a massive way. The weather is mostly very pleasant and agreeable. There are so many amenities to enjoy and so much art around to inspire you. However, there are a lot pickpockets there, too, which makes the art gazing sort of pointless because that is exactly when the pickpockets strike.
I wasn’t admiring a beautiful, intricate Gaudi design (like the one pictured above) when my money was stolen. I was at the metro hauling an enormous suitcase down a staircase (as I had failed for the last 20 minutes to locate the escalator or elevator to get to the platform). I wasn’t distracted per se. I was very focused not to tumble down the stairs and ending up in the hospital with a worse knee injure than what I currently have. A woman witnessed the entire thing, but only told me after it happened. “Someone just picked your wallet”. Thanks ma’am. The information would’ve been useful when it was happening, not after! Because I was becoming aware someone was awfully close to me, the pickpocket only managed to take my money, not my cards or ID. Or he was one of those polite ones who didn’t want me to go through the trouble of blocking my cards or re-issue my identification. How thoughtful!
After the trip, I started researching about the most reported places of pickpocket action. Coupled with all the comments I received from people who learned about my incident (and who were robbed in the city as well), the most likely places in Barcelona to get robbed are:
- La Rambla
- La Sagrada Familia
- The Beach
- Outdoor cafes
- Gothic Quarter
- Parque Güell
- The metro
- Plaza Espanya
- Restaurants (the touristy type)
- The train station (the Sants one being the most pervasive
I know what you’re thinking: that’s pretty much everywhere you’d be interested in visiting as a tourist in Barcelona. Luckily, there is a lot of advice on what to do in order not to get robbed:
- Don’t look like a tourist – put away that map or travel book
- Don’t flash your valuables like phone, camera, wallet, etc.
- Don’t wear a backpack or any kind. Or wear it at the front
- Don’t wear a fanny pack either.
- And don’t even think about wearing purses (apparently pickpockets carry scissors to cut your straps and snatch your purse)
The online advice doesn’t leave many safe choices. Basically you cannot go out to those gorgeous touristic spots the city has to offer. And if you do, you can’t take pictures of it because pickpockets will take your stuff there and then. Or pick up a phone call or text from anyone because your phone is a valuable commodity. This, is borderline ridiculous. The city is absolutely worth enjoying and let’s face it, unless you are a local, you will always look like a tourist because that is exactly what you are doing in the city. And it is fine. Incidentally some of the locals told me pickpocketing happens to them a lot, too, so this is not a tourist disease, per se. Since I got robbed on the day I arrived in the city, having only seen the airport, the Aerobus, and Plaza Espanya, I didn’t make a lot of efforts to go out and discover the city. I pretty much stuck to the hotel and the El Corte Ingles store 5 minutes away (the latter not the safest place for my money either. One word: makeup!). Eventually I did and found the sights beautiful and I was glad I was able to experience it, even if I missed some spots (like the beach and Parque Güell). I guess I’ll need to come back to further discover!
The experience left me shaken up a bit, mostly because of how many people insinuated it was sort of my fault for not paying attention. The only way I would agree the whole incident my fault is if I would’ve handed over my wallet to the robber saying “excuse me, sir, do you mind holding my wallet while I tie my shoelaces? Thanks” I’m not in the category of most travel-savvy person in the world. You know the type: the backpacker that still has the dust from the desert, the tan of the beach and that overall laissez faire attitude, especially when it comes to sleeping arrangements. But I’m also not that guy who brings a full-sized bottle of shampoo in hand luggage and is then outraged when airport security takes it away. I’m in that happy middle of well travelled people to whom sh*t can sometimes happen. You learn from it and move on.
One piece of advice from all those articles I think is good: keep your ID separate from your money. I had everything on my wallet and had they taken the whole thing, it would’ve ruined my travels in the most epic proportion. And after my own experience, I would also add, take a taxi from and to the airport in Barcelona. Make it your only extravagant expense if on a budget. And at 30€ a trip, it’s not even that much. Luggage + you at the metro will just make you an easier target. Have fun!
Make sure to go to my tumblr site to see full-sized photos (as well as a couple of extra pictures!)