How my phone almost got stolen in Barcelona

June 26, 2017

I liked Barcelona. I really do. Compared to the rest of Spain, this Catalonian city is filled with rich Gaudi influences, magnificent architectures, cheap beers and not-so-cheap tapas. Barcelona was also my first getaway into Spain before I made my way down south into Portugal.

And it was in Barcelona, that my phone almost got stolen right under my nose.

You see, I consider myself as a very paranoid traveler. I tend to over think every possible worst case scenarios, and took every single precaution to overcome then-said possible worst case scenarios. I wasn’t expecting myself to be a target, I really don’t. This experience really caught me off guard, and the fact it could happen to anybody is unnerving.

Pickpocket in Europe is of nothing new, in fact it’s a well-known problem in most destinations in Europe. In Rome alone I met five travellers who had their belongings stolen off from metros, public buses and local attractions. While I was in Paris, I was traveling with two others who both had their phone and passport stolen off respectively.

Their preferred ways of operation? Working in groups, and lots of distractions. Distraction is the key to everything. A simple cover, a tap on the shoulder. Anything works as long as they had your attention elsewhere for a few seconds. They also comes in all shapes and sizes, preferring tourists as their main target. This is a great article on how pickpockets operate in Europe.

Crouching tiger hidden dragon jump shot at a beach in BarcelonaBut back to the story of how my phone almost got stolen, I would first like you to meet Tim.

I met Tim at a hostel in Barcelona, and decided to go for tapas the very next day at one of the recommended neighbourhood. The neighbourhood itself was very touristy, and the tapas bar we found was very expensive but we decided to stop by anyway for fried calamari. When it was time to pay, we set off to the bar – and here’s my main mistake. I placed my phone on top of the bar counter (should have kept it in my bag!), fished out my purse and placed my sunglasses on top of it. While Tim was paying off his meal, I felt a short tap on my shoulder and a guy in his mid 20s came over and started a conversation :

“Hey, where are you guys from?”

And within that five seconds, of me turning my attention to the guy on my left I heard a small clutter on top of the bar counter. It definitely caught me off guard and confused for a few second, but then it hit me – my phone was missing. All was left, was my pair of sunglasses.

At that point, I could actually hear the ringing in my ears; a sharp drop in my stomach. “This is not happening to me“. I couldn’t care less about my stupid phone, but the memories inside are irreplaceable. All it took was five seconds of stupidity, and some stranger who tried to strike a conversation.

For some reason, I had a hunch, and that hunch was proven right when I immediately grabbed the closest guy to my right. He was the closest suspect on scene. No one else was within that close proximity except for Tim, the bartender (who’s attending to Tim) and the two strangers.

I knew right there and then, that those two guys were partners. The one who asked questions came immediately to the other guy’s side following my outburst, but at this point all I could think of was my precious data.

And throughout that whole commotion, Tim (bless him!) noticed something sticking out under his arms and voila – it was indeed my phone. If it weren’t for Tim’s amazing observation I’m sure those two guys would have gotten away. That was a really, really close call.

Sadly, they also left unscathed. They literally walked out of the bar and left. No remorse, no apologies, no nothing. That left a really bad taste for Barcelona, and being an almost victim was not so nice.

The story doesn’t end here because shortly after my phone incident, Tim caught another pickpocket who tried to run away with his camera at the Gothic Quarters. The guy started off friendly, making small conversations and what not, and the next thing I knew Tim caught him trying to make a move – and that was not cool. Luckily he had his camera strung to his belt anyway so the culprit didn’t get away. I had no idea why we were both targeted on that day, but that caused us to remain extra vigilant for the rest of the trip.

Lessons learnt? Don’t talk to strangers. Period. Especially not when someone’s being extra friendly for no reason. And keep all your belongings with you at all times.

The whole incident definitely served as a ground reminder for extra precautions. Here are some travel tips for unwanted occurrence:

1. Always have a travel insurance!

I seldom travel without an insurance, and my belongings are always insured (especially my electronic gears!). Insurance is also great for flight delays and medical emergencies. Just be sure to choose one with 24/7 support help line, and emergency evacuation/repatriation (because, you know. It’s a very expensive process to transport bodies between countries…just saying).

World Nomads is my favourite, as it offers the most flexible option but also the most expensive. When I was in the UK I really liked the Post Office’s insurance, as well as Insured and Go. Both worked really well during my trips to South America and Europe. For the Malaysian travellers, I’ve tried AXA before and found it to be okay.

Do you have a favourite travel insurance? Let me know in the comments below!

2. Document your belongings before your trip!

This is particularly helpful, especially if you need proof of ownership for stolen belongings. Most insurance policies require these evidence; you can either take photographs or videos of your belongings before your trip. Be sure to highlight all of your expensive gears with their serial numbers. Proof of purchase is also important, so keep all of your receipts!

Take notes of your documentation as well – particularly your passport, visa and bank card numbers (especially if you need to cancel these later on). Have all of this prepared, and send you family members a copy of your insurance policy and important documents.

3. Create a habit of backing up your precious data at all time.

Dropbox and iCloud is a great platform to save your travel photos on the go. So just in case your phone’s gone missing, at least you still have your precious photos stored somewhere.

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

Keep your cards, money and travel documents separately! Store some notes in your socks if you have to.

If you’re only doing sightseeing, avoid taking your passport with you. Instead, carry a coloured copy. I try not to carry too much cash with me as well, because once they’re gone – they’re gone. Keep your valuables locked separately in storage lockers, and while you’re at it remember to bring your own padlocks!

5. Last but not least, don’t panic.

I’ll have to admit, the way I acted was very embarrassing (I mean, I was bordering assaulting a full-grown man at the bar). But if your belongings are missing, take a deep breath. It’s not the end of the world.

The next step is to lodge a police report (very important), contact the embassy or your bank (for missing passport and bank cards) and notify your travel insurance. If you need emergency money, get your family members to wire transfer via Western Union. You can find Western Union agencies worldwide – it was a lifesaver when my card went faulty in Vietnam.


LESSONS LEARNT

Pickpockets comes in all shapes and sizes, and it could happen to anybody. The whole incident definitely left a bad taste for Barcelona but I came out unscathed, with a newfound friendship to keep too. If shit happens, remember it’s not exactly the end of the world. Solve the problem accordingly and don’t let the experience holding you back from enjoying the holidays. I hope this helps, and safe travels!

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How my phone almost got stolen in Barcelona

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By Alyssa J

Alyssa J is an aspiring traveller and a wanderlust writer, aiming to inspire and to share the little joys of the world. Follow on her journeys on The Jaren Wanders.

33 Comments

  1. Reply

    Julz

    I always carry as little as I can – so a credit card, a bit of change – a closed bag with phone and my camera. that’s it. no passport, no wallets – all in the safe at the hotel. Am paranoid as well. glad you catched them!

  2. Reply

    Rajni.gandha

    Very useful post and you are so right about Barcelona! My friend’s passport got stolen there, yikes! You are lucky plus super smart to have that presence of mind and bless your friend Tim!

  3. Reply

    lolaannmendez

    If it makes you feel any better I had THREE cell phones stolen while living in Spain!! Never in Barcelona, thankfully, as it would tarnish my love for the city.

  4. Reply

    Cristina P

    Ugh, a friend of mine almost got pick pocketed in Barcelona, too.
    Yeah, along with Rome, it’s one of the “hubs”. Even in Athens you hear them in the metro announcing to “mind your belongings and watch for pick pockets”.
    I hail from Romania and learned , as a young girl going to school, how to mind my belongings. I caught someone red-handed going through my front pocket of my backpack – they found tissues and….female hygiene products. Score!
    I am careful not to let my phone in plain sight anywhere when I go out. Just being paranoid, I guess.
    Plus, I don’t dress fancy when I travel and don’t have jewelry (my wedding band is cheap silver haha) so i never look like a target.
    Good tips, btw 🙂

  5. Reply

    Suzie

    This reminds me of my experience in Madrid. I was in the central metro station and I sat down on a step to look at a map. I put my phone down by my side, and it wasn’t long until some guy came up behind me and swiped my phone. I noticed immediately and instinctively grabbed the phone and we ended up in a weird tug of war 😂 I eventually pulled it off him and he just said ‘sorry’ and ran away haha! I’m glad you got yours back too 🙂

  6. Reply

    Céline CLudik

    You’re perfectly right : distraction is the key to everything. This remind me of my experience in Paris few year ago. Even if you remain extra vigilant, a simple cover and they had your attention elsewhere for a few seconds… and it’s to late : they’ve got your cards and money ! Thank you for sharing these useful tips… I love particularly the « DON’T PANIC » 😉

  7. Reply

    Kassie

    Yikes! Those thieves are sneaky. I witnessed so many scams while traveling Europe. These tips are super useful for avoiding those travel moments that are less than stellar. Glad you got your phone back!

  8. Reply

    noshoestodayblog

    Ugh that’s horrible! It’s so hard when you have to assume that strangers might be up to something when on the face of things it would be great to get chatting to new people! Glad you got your phone back!

  9. Reply

    The Curious Creature

    Great tips! I really do love Barcelona — esp all the Gaudi.

  10. Reply

    cassie

    I heard stories about this but didn’t know anybody that experienced it! This is great advice, and good for you for sticking up for yourself and taking action!

  11. Reply

    sonikatravels

    Wow That’s a great story. I must have been very difficult for you. Great blog… My sister once lost her wallet in Tirupati. It was maddening!

  12. Reply

    Sam Pui Yee (P U I Y E E S S S)

    Indeed Barcelona is among the top list in Europe with pickpocket cases.
    It not only happen on the street, it happen in the apartment rented on Airbnb as well, there’s always new trick.
    Do be careful and glad that you are OK.

    Thanks for sharing the tips though.

    xx
    Puiyeesss

  13. Reply

    LadyIridescent

    I heard many similar stories like yourself too. Great advice from you!

  14. Reply

    Kristen | Travels & Treats

    How terrible! I’m always so scared of losing my camera to thieves while traveling. I try to keep it strapped to me at all times. Thanks for sharing some tips!

  15. Reply

    adventureswithnienie

    I’ll be there in August and I remember my Aunt almost being pickpocketed in Italy on the train. Definitely good to keep your guard up at all times.

  16. Reply

    Noor Atiqah

    Be careful . They are thief everywhere now.People nowdays is very dangerous.

  17. Reply

    cindyrina (@cindyrina)

    OMG! Thats terrible. Really afraid to experience this while away from home.

  18. Reply

    Caitlin

    I hate that you almost lost your phone! I completely agree it’s not the phone that matters but all the memories inside of it. Thanks for the great tips these are tips everyone should be aware of.

  19. Reply

    neha

    Without any second thought I can say Europe is very lovely and awesome place to travel. But at the same time it is also known for pick pocketing and snatching events. You post may cause little worry to other travelers but at the same time it is making us aware of such issues and how to deal with these issue. It is really helpful for fellow travelers. Your tips are simply great and must to follow.

  20. Reply

    Jiashinlee

    Oh no this sounds bad and lluckily you had Tim with you. I guess at the end.of the dah we just got to be extra careful wherever we travel.

  21. Reply

    Hey Sharonoox

    Thanks for the great tips! I’ve never been to Europe but I heard so many scary stories about pick pocket there. Traveler have to be extra vigilant when travelling in foreign land.

  22. Reply

    Rawlins Glam

    Thank God nothing happened to you and Tim. I do not what would I do if it was me.

  23. Reply

    IMAN

    What a scary situation 🙁 Thanks you for tips. We must be reallyyy careful to avoid this scary situation.

  24. Reply

    Blair Villanueva

    That is not good and glad it wasn’t totally stolen. Yeah we should be very vigilant on our safety and our things wherever we go.

  25. Reply

    The Family Voyage

    What a shitty experience! We definitely get spoiled in the US by the lack of petty crime in many areas. Good on you and Tim for being so quick to react. A friend of mine traveled a whole year around the world and his phone was stolen 11.5 months in — from right out of his hand! They lobbed some gross substance on his left arm and while he was distracted trying to figure out what it was… POOF.

  26. Reply

    Kristine Li

    Quick reflexes and clear thinking in grabbing the guy on the other side, thankfully you got your phone back! Barcelona is known for pickpockets and I hold on tight to my belongings especially in crowded places, can never be too sure!

  27. Reply

    racheal_foodilifecious

    great advice sharing here… i believe there is other places having similar cases as well…

    1. Reply

      Alyssa J

      Thank you! Yeah Europe is notorious for pickpockets, figured I can at least increase awareness and stuffs. Always be vigilant! Ahahab

  28. Reply

    Live Life Lah

    You were lucky it did not get stolen.. I lost my phone in Yogyakarta… It was so frustrating….

    1. Reply

      Alyssa J

      Oh no that’s awful! 🙁 Did you had a travel insurance? Even a few claim is more than enough to get you a new phone…although those missing memories though… 🙁

  29. Reply

    Arisa Chow

    you are not the first, my friend almost encountered the same thing while in Barcelona as well.

    1. Reply

      Alyssa J

      That awful! For some reason, Barcelona has risen to be top spot for pickpockets. Which is such a shame because Barcelona was so nice…until someone tried to steal my phone.

  30. Reply

    Cyril

    No wonder travel agents and services always recommend insurances. Its for things like this. But being an asian, i want to save because i feel its js a ploy to squeeze money of me. Now I know Rome has this, and I shd get one when there. Thanks!

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