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I thought I’d share with you my experience of being robbed in Barcelona from early last year. I wouldn’t wish this to happen to anyone visiting this great city. Below you’ll find some tips of how to avoid the pickpockets and ideas of what to do if you have the misfortune of being robbed.
Remember: In all situations, keep calm and don’t lose your head……. Unless of course you are Liam Neeson
Disclaimer: I like to state loud and clear that despite my experience of being pickpocketed – I love Barcelona.
Let me state this loud and clear.
I love the city. It has a raw energy.
The people are passionate and interesting.
The food- tapas bars here are amazing.
Nightlife- wow. The night never ends in Barcelona.
Plus this city is bursting with creativity and vibrant, innovative ideas.
Inspired by Gaudi, the citizens have a zest for challenging boundaries and living life to the fullest.
So it was a massive letdown when last year, on my 5th visit to the city I fell prey to a growing menace in Barcelona –pickpockets.
It had been a long day of travelling.
A last minute meetup with a friend had fallen through because of a miscommunication in dates.
I was kinda upset because I was looking forward to catching up with her.
Suddenly, my first evening in Barcelona seemed empty and vague.
I grabbed the airport express train from El Prat to Placa Catalunya.
After emerging from the escalator I walked towards La Ramblas in search of my hostel for the night.
It’s only when I got into my hostel room that I noticed that my wallet had vanished.
First- a feeling of disbelief and denial.
I checked my pockets 20,000 times, emptied my rucksack and suitcase a million times.
Suddenly, a nauseating feeling swept over me as I realised I had my wallet stolen.
Looking back, I was distracted while emerging from Placa Cataluyna Metro station.
I was busy trying to pull my suitcase in one hand and my rucksack on my back.
Plus I looked way too dapper for 530pm- suit and all.
I stuck out like a sore thumb from the crowd.
Someone there must have seen me as an easy target and true enough, I was the easiest person he/she must have pickpocketed.
This was because I had my wallet in the backpocket
Yep. I had kept my wallet in my backpocket.
Convention and wisdom dictates to keep passport and wallet in your front pocket.
So that was my folly and in part my contribution to my downfall.
I had fist full of euro coins on me.
All my bank cards were in my wallet.
Plus about 150 euros in cash.
In hindsight, I should have kept some of the cards and money seperate.
Also having some sort of backpacker travel insurance in place would have been ….sensible.
You think as a travel blogger I would have known better…
With my fistfull of euros, I wanted to hold onto the money for any essentials in the morning.
I send out a few tweets and messages on Facebook about my misfortune.
Everyone was v.supportive.
In moments like this, I think wow, how great is to have a thing like social networking.
Especially when you travel solo.
First thing I did was to call up my banks and cancel all my cards- painful exercise that took an hour and cost me a lot of money via the phone to do.
After this, I was even more frustrated and trying best to calm myself down.
I wish I was Liam Neeson, seeking out these buggers from their lowlife hangouts and blasting them to bits.
However as delusional I maybe sometimes, I really had to pull myself together and not be ‘taken’ in by this idea of being Liam Neeson.
The BudgetTraveller would have to do the job.
A friend on Facebook suggested I pay a visit to the local police station.
Maybe they could help track them down?
Police station is situated towards the bottom of La Ramblas in Carrer Nou de la Rambla.
My visit to the police station was a sobering experience, showing the alarming extent of the problem of pickpocketing in Barcelona.
In the 25 minutes I waited in the queue, 5 weary travellers came in reporting the same issue of being pickpocketed and in some case, being manhandled and having their purses/camera snatched off them.
The worst story of the lot was that of a Japanese girl who had been approached by a policeman in ‘uniform’
Apparently, he asked her for a form of ID which was her passport which she produced.
He then took the passport from her and then casually got into his car and drove off.
( PS Good to note here that in this situation, shouting and kicking up a racket would be a good idea )
The fact that she speak little or no English did little to help her case.
In fact if you speak little or no Spanish/Catalan, after 5pm it becomes difficult.
The translator at the police station works only between 930am and 5pm.
Worth remembering that for next time!
With the help of some pigeon Spanglish I managed to get a police report filed -what is called a ‘denuncia.’
Go to bed with a heavy heart and empty stomach rumbling like mad.
Woke up in the morning. It was a beautiful day and lifted my spirits.
A nice breakfast at the hostel was a nice pickmeup.
My first visit was to see if I could withdraw money from my wonderful bank- Santander.
My trip was a letdown- apparently the Spanish and UK divisions are run as two separate businesses.
So much for globalisation eh?
My last resort was to use a Western Union Point.
They have a branch at the bottom of the Las Ramblas.
I got my friend back in Edinburgh to send me through 200 euros.
For a fee of around 7 euros, Western Union send you the money in minutes.
It is a convenient, quick and easy way to transfer money abroad and receive funds in dire situations like mine.
You need to have a valid form of ID to recieve the money.
Walking back up the Las Ramblas was a strange experience.
I was walking fast and not making eye contact with anyone.
Everywhere I looked, I could see pickpockets.
I was ready to kick the shit out of anyone who dared brush against me-that’s how insane I was feeling.
It’s a terrible shame when someone’s trust has been abused.
In my case, thanks to handywork of a few notorious individuals, suddenly my trust and love for Barcelona was being severely tested.
Luckily, the rest of my trip went incident free.
Scars are still there but for the experience, am infinitely more wiser.
Experience really is the best teacher.
So with that thought in mind here my top tips for you of what to do if you are robbed in Barcelona and some general tips to keep in mind to avoid this misfortune on your travels.
1) Keep calm and carry on
It’s a humiliating and painful experience. It is natural to feel very angry and almost the need to start chasing the pickpocket down the street.
Remember, some of these people work in organised gangs so you could lead yourself into more potential danger by confronting them.
Unless of course you are Liam Neeson.
2) Bank cards/ Skype
Call your banks immediately and cancel your cards. Make sure you get a name of who you are speaking to for future reference. Handy tip for reducing the call charges- if you have wifi access in your hotel/hostel or drag yourself to the nearest coffee/McDonalds! you can call them via Skype. Rates are v.competitive and worth loading 10 euros of credit before your trip.
3) Visit the Police
Address for the police is
Comisaria de Policia de Barcelona (Ciutat Vella)
Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 76-80
Metro: Liceu (Green Line, L3)
Get a ‘denuncia’ police report which will be necessary when claiming back for your insurance.
Also if your passport is stolen, you may need to produce this to the airline and also when trying to get a ‘temporary passport.’
4) Getting a temporary passport
If you’ve had the misfortune of losing your passport, then definitely you will need to have a police report handy.
Many embassies will issue this free of cost or in some case charge you a fee.
I always carry with me a photocopy of my passport and also a few passport photographs-this will help immensely in situations like this.
5) Other general tips
- Get some form of travel insurance.
- Keep your valueables separate.
- Spread your cash in two separate places.
- Store some of your cash in a prepaid cashcard like Cashcase who don’t have any buyback charges if you have any money left after your travels plus offer a competitive rate.
- Be vigilant and don’t flash your gadgets around too much plus don’t leave them lying around.
- Plus try and keep the guidebook out of a sight- it’s a red rag to pickpockets for them picking their targets.