Traveling can often mean carrying a lot of cash and valuables around with you at all times, in strange places, where you don’t speak the language and often don’t really know where you are. Valuables like cash, credit cards, passports, birth certificates, etc.
So, what happens when you lose all your cash and all your credit cards in one fail swoop? What happens when you lose your wallet? How do you get help in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language?
The Best Anti Pickpocket Guide for
Traveling the World
Well, lost might be too generous a word, but that is where our story begins: Our family was pickpocketed in Japan and we had all our credit cards swiped in St. Maarten. Not only are we going to tell you how to avoid our pitfalls, but all the anti pickpocket devices we suggest to protect your hard earned cash!
Anti Pickpocket Essential Tips
to Keep Your Valuables Safe
- For several years we have always carried our passports with us, under a shirt in a neck pouch. This keeps it on your person, but out of view. Definitely make sure your passport pouch has RFID blocking technology.
- If you have a large family, it’s a great idea to have two pouches to split up the bulky passports. This way you won’t lose them all, heaven forbid, but also won’t look like you are carrying something under your shirt.
- Don’t carry all your cash and credits on your person. In fact, just one card will do, and the rest can be kept in a safe place back at the hotel – like an actual safe.
- Split up your cash. If one person is going into the store to buy Kit Kats, it’s not going to cost $350.
- But also, be discriminate about opening your wallet. Don’t count your cash, or wave it around like Scrooge McDuck.
- Keep digital copies of your passports in your email, and cloud. That’s probably more useful than paper copies anyway, and ended up being really handy when we went to Xel-Ha and forgot ID.
- Be vigilant at ATM’s. Check the card reader before inserting your card by pulling on it to make sure it doesn’t come loose and have a skimmer on it.
- Make sure you have theft protection on your credit cards and let your credit card company know you’ll be traveling.
What Happened to us in Japan?
The Don Quijote in the Shinjuku East ward is known for having a large selection of novelty items. In particular, a huge selection of unique Kit Kat flavors that you can only find in Japan. We headed here to get some fun flavors to bring home with us for friends and family.
It was the weekend, and not only was Tokyo crowded like New York City on New Years Eve, but the Don Quijote was packed full of people shoulder to shoulder as well.
I gave Catherine my wallet, full of cash we’d just gotten from the ATM, so she could run in and grab the Kit Kats while I stayed outside with the kids at the arcade across the street.
The Next Thing I Knew
I was really surprised how long Catherine was taking in the store. After all, she was just supposed to be grabbing some Kit Kats. It didn’t seem like the lines could have been that long.
I sent her some texts, which she mostly ignored or gave vague answers in response.
Finally, she came out of the store with all her bags and had tears streaming down her face.
Somebody Had Stolen my Wallet and Taken ALL of our Cash
At first I thought she must be joking because she was holding the wallet and all of the merchandise she bought. But, in some weird twist of irony, the thief had only stolen the cash and left everything else intact.
That’s why her shopping excursion had taken so long. The majority of her time was spent frantically trying to ask someone to help her. Help her find the thief, or find the wallet, or just understand that she needed help at all.
With some help from locals, she ended up finding the wallet on a shelf down an aisle she had never been down.
Anti Pickpocket Techniques
- Put your phone away.
- Well, not exactly. It’s the modern age and everyone has their phone, but locals don’t squint at them and look at street signs trying to figure out where they are. Especially locals in big cities. Might as well put a target sign on your back.
- Never, ever put your wallet in your back pocket. Never ever wear a purse over your shoulder.
- See below for better alternatives for carrying your valuables on your person when traveling.
- Wear a money belt.
- This is a device that hooks to your belt, but has a zipper on the inside of your pants rather than the outside.
- Try and blend in.
- If you are a blonde family in Japan, this won’t work.
- Never, and I repeat never, wear a fanny pack.
- This is the cardinal sin of travelers, and the #1 target for pickpockets.
I Thought Japan was Safe
Getting pickpocketed is supposed to be extremely rare in Japan. Japan is well known for being a remarkably safe place where things like this are so rare it is nonexistent.
It would seem that some opportunist had used the packed store to their advantage, and pickpocketed the wallet while she was shopping. It wasn’t until she got to the counter to pay that she noticed it was gone.
Whereas when we lived in Korea for 3 months we left scooters unlocked outside Costco, forgot our phones at restaurants, and left a backpack with a hard drive on the subway and everything was returned to us intact with nothing missing.
Top 10 Worst Cities for Pickpockets
- Buenos Aires
How Much Did We Lose?
The thief took my wallet and rifled through it, but fortunately left all the cards, identification and important documents still in there. However, every single bit of cash, including some Chinese bills that I was waiting to exchange, had been swiped.
All in all, they got away with about $350USD. At least they were courteous enough not to take the wallet and cards with them. That’s right, I just referred to my thief as courteous!
Why Were We Targeted?
Who knows why we were targeted specifically.
- Maybe it’s because we look preoccupied with all our kids; and we are in fact preoccupied with all our kids.
- Could it be that Tokyo is the most populated city in the world and people everywhere do crummy things?
- Or perhaps, Tokyo is a huge tourist destination and the thief was a traveler like ourselves.
- I like to tell myself the thief was down on his luck and needed the money more than we did.
Japan is also one of the top 10 cities in the world for tourists. While the Japanese may not frequently pickpocket you can’t say that for every culture in the world. The vast number of people and tourists from every walk of life packed into downtown Tokyo creates a certain recipe.
My guess is that somebody saw us exchange the wallet outside and followed her in. It was a complete violation, but honestly, it could have been a lot lot worse. In all of our travels, we have only had something like this happen once before. Read about how we became victims of credit card theft in St Maarten without even knowing it.
Best Anti Pickpocket Gear
An awesome Pacsafe backpack is a great investment when traveling. Leave the wallet and the purse and store everything in this ultra safe travel backpack. It works as a carry on for the plane, a diaper bag plus for parents, and holds everything in between.
If you still want to carry a wallet, get a slim one with RFID tech.
Or, a cross body wallet that can not only store your cash and credit cards, but your phone too.
Wanna feel like The Punisher? Check out these two anti pickpocket underarm concealed holster tactical bags.
Those neck pouches we were talking about? We’ve had this one for 4 years and counting and it’s in great shape.
And for the ladies – this is a great idea traveling or not. Who doesn’t need one of these?
► For Kids: Downtown Tokyo is a unique and exciting place. The Shinjuku District is bustling and lively with lights that fill the air. Keep a tight grip on their little hands, and another grip on your anti pickpocket gear. Make sure to check out the Godzilla peeking over the movie theater.
Have fun out there travelers! But also, be careful.
► What We Learned: In addition to everything mentioned above, we learned that even in the worst of experiences you can find a silver lining. Even though we were pickpocketed in Japan only our cash was stolen, and nothing that couldn’t be replaced was missing.
Have you ever been pickpocketed in Japan, in any other foreign country, or even at home?