When one goes to Lisbon, there is a lot to see and with Portugal becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination, a lot of what you see are other tourists. Whether you go to the many squares like Praça do Comércio or visit the monuments like the Torre de Belem or the commanding Castelo de São Jorge or you walk the quaint neighborhood and narrow streets of the Alfama or even when you catch a ride on their iconic trams, you will be in the company of herds of tourists.
An unfortunate fact is that where the herds graze and mingle, the predators also gather. I refer to the pickpockets. In all my travels, I have had no problems with pickpockets as I take reasonable care when I am in crowds. But to my horror, in a flash, someone had unzipped all three compartments of my backpack in broad daylight while I waited to cross a busy road – and I was surrounded by traveling companions at the time.
I had no valuables in the backpack at that time so I suffered no loss but it was still an upsetting experience and it made me on edge for much of the remainder of the trip which was a bit of a damper on having a fun experience.
And it gets, worse. I was of course on high alert after that incident. But we were in fact on the way to take part in a three hour walking food tour with a local guide. I tell you, I was as paranoid as the best conspiracy theorists, suspicious of everyone that came close to me. Still, on two more occasions my backpack was tampered with.
In one incident, we had to walk in single file along a narrow lane because of some road works. I became aware of two guys walking along that did not belong to my group. So I walked quickly, turning frequently to make sure they were keeping their distance. As soon as there was enough space, I took my backpack off and swung it in front of me. At that moment, the two men peeled off, loudly talking and appeared to be running to catch a bus. But when I looked at my backpack, I found that one compartment had been partially opened.
Our walking tour ended at a very popular and crowded square and there was a band playing. As we made our way, we had to join a stream of humanity moving away from the square. Again at a dark section of the road, I noticed 2 women walking a little too close to our group. Then there was a very loud man who was dancing through the crowd to the sound of the band and waving his tourist map. Alarm bells rang. I held my bag tightly and kept turning right and left to try to thwart any attempts. The minute we entered a brightly lit section, the two women and the man all dispersed in different directions which was strange because almost everyone in the crowd was still headed in the same direction. The bright light revealed that two of my compartments had been partially opened again.
Three times in three hours. I am now looking for backpacks that I can secure with locks or something. More inconvenient for sure but even if nothing is stolen, this sort of thing just plays on your mind. If I disliked crowded places before, I feel like avoiding them like the plague now. But the reality is that if you want to travel, there will be crowds ……often.
So, 1) don’t keep anything valuable in your backpack (may have to start thinking of money belts or pouches), 2) get bags that are hard to unzip or open, 3) keep the bag in front of you when in crowded situations and 4) be super vigilant.