Well, I spoke too soon. Tuesday night, or rather Wednesday morning, I was robbed. Around 3 a.m. (early for a Barcelona night,) I was chatting on Barceloneta Beach, my bag sitting next to me on the sand. A couple of fishermen walked past me but I thought nothing of it. I turned to get my bag to go and, wait, it was not there. I searched the beach but could not find it or anyone nearby. Gone were my camera, wallet, cell phone, keys, notebook, Spanish-English dictionary, and all the numbers I needed to call for assistance in such an instance. I was left with my shoes and one sock.
Unfortunately this is not a rare occurrence in Barcelona, especially during La Mercè when many tourists flock to the city and everywhere is very crowded. It’s not surprising to hear someone calling out that a thief has just stolen his or her wallet, bag, suitcase, or even laptop. Just earlier that day I was told that a man had been working on his laptop at a bar, turned away for a moment and when he turned back it was gone. It happens that fast. Thieves are trained to be stealthy; thankfully violence is very rare in these situations.
Regardless of the high statistics of theft I still felt terrible. How could this have happened to me? And during La Mercè of all times! I was shaken up, a new victim for the books.
I had to spend the next day inside considering I had lost my keys, and then pay for the replacement of the keys and to change the locks, about 70 euros or 100 dollars. I had to cancel my phone and my debit card, which is a terrible loss, as I now must wait for a new card in the mail and cannot use it to book plane tickets or buy football (read: soccer) tickets.
Despite this I learned a valuable lesson that can now share with all of you: How to keep your things safe in Barcelona.
Always keep your bag, wallet, laptop etc. on you and in sight. When in a restaurant, bar or airport do not leave your bag to go to the bathroom or near a window, as windows can be opened from the outside and your things taken. Do not put your bag under your chair where you can’t see it, or over the back of the chair. If you must leave something behind make sure a sober friend has a secure hold of it.
The metro or bus, and tourist areas are hot spots for pickpockets. I recommend keeping a hand on your bag or wallet and avoiding sketchy characters. Pickpockets tend to work in groups: one person distracting you while the other takes your things. Oh, and don’t fall for the cup and ball game on Las Ramblas. It may appear easy, but the people gathered around tend to be working for the guy or girl running the game and will encourage you to play, this is all a setup and you will lose money.
If you go to the beach do not leave your things on the sand while you swim unless it is again, with a friend that is paying attention, (i.e. not sunbathing.) There are literally people that work the beaches looking for unattended bags or daydreamers.
The best bags to carry are ones that close securely, such as with a zipper or lock and can be kept close to your body. It is also ideal to carry one with a thick strap that is difficult to cut.
I have two bags. One is a PacSafe: it has a clip for the zipper, is made with “high-tensile stainless-steel wire laminated between nylon” and can be worn securely tucked under my arm. New it costs about $60.00. PacSafe also makes other products such as wallets, locks, and backpacks. My other bag is smaller, just for the essentials. It zips up and then clips close. I wear it under my coat when I go out, or across my chest and in my hand. However it doesn’t matter how secure your bag is if you set it down somewhere out of reach.
You must remember that for many people this is their job and they are very good at it. Thieves will come in both genders, and all ages and races, so don’t discriminate. It is also a good idea to file a police report if you have had your things stolen. Even if they cannot locate your stolen items you may be able to get reimbursed if you have traveler’s insurance, and some homeowner’s insurance will compensate you as well. On that note it is never a bad idea to have the serial numbers of your phone, camera, or laptop available.
Regardless of being robbed I still believe Barcelona is an amazing city. It can be greatly enjoyed: just be sure you pack some extra caution.