I have some experience with pickpockets. I once caught a child thief unzipping my fanny pack on a crowded metro in Paris. Yes, I know, nothing screams tourist like a fanny pack, so what did I expect? I think (I hope) I look a little cooler today. My husband, Jim, had his clip-on sunglasses lifted from the backpack in Barcelona. I warn my adult children about the latest scams and danger areas whenever we travel together. They just roll their eyes. Suffice it to say, wherever there are tourists ripe for the picking, there are pickpockets ready to employ their skills and Pisa, Italy is loaded with opportunity. Here’s what happened.
Walking from our hotel with our bags in tow, we had some difficulty finding the small, regional train station at San Rossore. When we finally spotted it, the train station was across the tracks from us and signs announce it’s illegal to cross. You have to take the passageway under the tracks to the station and then return to the platform where the train will arrive.
As we discussed the situation, a group of tourists approached to validate their tickets at the yellow box nearby. We thought maybe we could buy tickets there but the tour guide explained that we had to go to the station to purchase tickets, then return to validate them before boarding the train at the platform on this side of the tracks. We were short of time and the next train would be hours later if we missed this one. I asked the tour guide, “You don’t happen to have any extra tickets, do you?” She said, “As a matter of fact, two people didn’t join us this morning so I do have two extra tickets.” What luck! Needless to say we bought them on the spot. A word of caution is in order here. Had someone appeared trying to sell us tickets, this may not be advisable. This, however, was undoubtedly a tour group and the guide had an Australian accent so I felt certain we weren’t going to be ripped off.
The train arrived soon thereafter and we waited for passengers to disembark before pressing forward in a group to board. As we boarded, a woman with a baby strapped to the front of her pushed through the crowd at the last minute to get off the train. In the crush of people, confusion ensued. Once the train got underway, one of the tour group realized someone had opened her fanny pack. Luckily, only her glasses which were on top, had been taken. Another in the group announced he’d lost his glasses as well. The pick pocket clearly used the “baby” as a cover to get into the two bags on her way through the throng. The tour guide used this as a teachable moment with her group as she pointed out that fortunately no one lost money or credit cards. The victims felt violated by the experience, nevertheless. We discussed and debriefed this upsetting episode during the 13 mile ride to Lucca.
5 simple travel tips to avoid being victimized:
- Keep in mind that popular tourist areas are inherently higher risk.
Be particularly alert whenever you are in a crowd and keep your hand on your purse or backpack zipper as you move through a crowd.
Be wary of people approaching with offers of help. I hesitate to even mention this one because I have encountered many friendly people who have given us directions or even led us to places but caution is still advisable.
A commotion is often used to divert your attention so move away and guard your valuables.
Google the latest travel scams for an area before you visit. You’ll be amazed by what you learn.
Enjoy your travels and stay safe.
Based on events in October, 2013