Last May, I hosted a tour of France for the listeners to my radio show. We had days of touring together, and days when we set off on our own. On one of the free days, a group within our group headed to Versailles. Though they came back raving about the grounds, and the hall of mirrors, they also had some serious negatives to report about the experience, on two topics: pickpockets and crowds.
The two are, of course, inextricably linked. Where there are crowds, there often are pickpockets. Our group felt they had two close calls at the museum, dealing with men who were obviously tailing them and at one point, shoved a member of the group into another stranger. Thankfully, nothing was taken from that person, but they were shaken up. Constant announcements, by guides, about looking out for pickpockets, also made the experience a less-than-relaxing one.
The problem isn't confined to Versailles. Yesterday, the staff of the Louvre expressed their worries about pickpockets in that institution in a highly European way: they went on strike! Would-be visitors to the Louvre were told that the staff had walked out, forcing the museum to close, an extraordinary turn of events (and that must have been intensely frustrating for the visitors). A union representative for the staff told the Guardian newspaper that workers were afraid of the organized gangs of thieves in the museum, many of whom used children as distractions (children enter free). Staff members had reportedly been spat upon and insulted when they tried to intervene.
So, a new spotlight on the age-old problem of pickpockets at tourist sites. But it's an issue that Bruce McIndoe, founder of the travel security firm I-Jet, feels has gotten more serious in recent years thanks to worsening economic conditions in Europe.
Obviously, travelers shouldn't skip the Louvre or any of the other crowded-but-important sights of Europe. But they should take precautions. Here are a few suggestions, from McIndoe:
- Keep your passport, the majority of your cash and other important documents, in a safe at your hotel when you can.
- When you have to carry a large amount of money, do so either in a money belt or in a wallet that can hang from your neck and tuck under a shirt. Keep a small amount of money in your pocket so you don't have to dig into your hidden stash in public.
- Men who don't want to wear one of these devices should keep their wallet in their front, not back, pocket. They also are advised to put a thick rubber band around it, which will make the wallet much more difficult to extract from the pocket.
- If you feel like someone is barging into your personal space, heed the red lights that sets off. Generally pickpockets work in small gangs, with one or two people distracting the victim while another lifts their valuables. So keep a zone of space around yourself when you can, and if you think someone's approaching you for a phony reason, walk away.
- Be careful about flaunting your cell phone in public. Pickpockets are increasingly grabbing those.
Travel safe, friends!