3 ways I’m learning to be a smart traveller

betty ming liu Money, Travel 37 Comments

PARIS, France — Ugh, I was just pickpocketed! Want to hear even more distressing information? On the Air France flight from New York to Paris, I managed to lose my iPhone, driver’s license, American Express card and my socks.

I’ve decided to include all the bad news in one post because my daughter Gabi says breaking up the presentation into multiple posts will make you think that I’m truly an idiot. Meanwhile Judy, my best friend since the 7th grade and Gabi’s godmother, just poured me another glass of merlot so that I can get through writing about my latest um, life lessons…

So this afternoon, we were in a Metro station, heading back to our rental apartment. Gabi and Judy were already through the turnstile. I was last, fumbling with my wallet. Suddenly a tall, young white French guy tried to crowd through with me without paying his own fare, like he’s going for a free ride. (No, he wasn’t after a free feel, which makes this even more humiliating because his lack of interest in groping me makes it official: I’m an old lady.)

“You have to push,” the pickpocket said as he pointed to the little flapping doors in front of the turnstile. As I tried to get away from him, my wallet — and this unwelcome stranger — were both suddenly gone.

The bastard got 100 Euros (worth about $130 U.S.) and some Metro tickets. Thankfully, after losing my credit card and license on the plane, there was no ID in the wallet (my important stuff was hidden deep inside my backpack). When Judy and Gabi realized what had happened, my friend was sad and my daughter was thirsting for vigilante justice.

Since I wouldn’t let Gabs chase the guy down, she came back to the apartment, opened her laptop and poured the rage of  her 17-year-old self into Googling — until she found a batch of Internet stories about Asians getting pickpocketed.

That made me curious and I did a little web surfing too. Google “Asians are an easy target,” and you’ll get 12.9 million hits. Google “Asians carry cash” for 63.8 million results. By comparison, dangers of single women traveling alone turns up about 3.9 million posts and pickpocketed in Paris yields only 208,000 links  (including the top few posts, which were filled with tips; I was a victim of the “distraction” tactic).

The Metro is fast, efficient, cheap & filled with strangers.

To be fair, losing my iPhone, socks, driver’s license and credit card had nothing to do with being Asian, single or woman. I was just stressed out and acting more ditzy than usual.  The Metro incident? That was me not paying attention to my surroundings. Being Asian might have been a factor though…if you were a pickpocket and one of your potential targets was an Asian tourist surrounded by non-Asians, who would you choose? (Note on 4/11/12: check out this comment from a reader below. I may have to rethink this Asian victim angle a bit.)

<Sigh.> Here’s what I’ve learned:

Lesson #1: It’s important to get enough sleep. When I’m tired, I get sloppy.

Lesson #2: There’s safety in numbers. I was vulnerable because I was separated — for an instant — from Judy and Gabi.

Lesson #3: Find a place for everything and put everything in its place. During the flight, I should’ve made sure all my belongings were properly stowed in my backpack. In the Metro, I shouldn’t have had my wallet out as I went through the turnstile. It should have been zipped and tucked away in my bag.

Well, that’s the update.  Thank God nothing really terrible happened. All I lost was some money and my pride. Live, learn, keep moving!

This is me, shortly before being pickpocketed -- an unwanted new experience.

And to read more about our Paris vacation:

How to eat for $38 a day in Paris

Come with me to Paris! 

10 tips for a trip to Paris


Comments 37

  1. Post
  2. Pingback: Come with me to Paris!

  3. Pingback: 10 tips for a trip to Paris

  4. Pingback: How to eat in Paris for $38 a day

  5. Oh, Betty..I’m so sorry. I don’t know how much had to do with race and how much with being an obvious visitor: my nephew Tom was robbed while on a stop-over at the Paris airport last year; it hadn’t occurred to me to mention it to you, since it was the only episode of its kind I had heard of, but now I think it rises to needing an alert for folks going to Paris. (Tom put a zippered sweatshirt with his wallet in the pocket next to him on a seat and looked in the other direction for a minute and boom! it was gone. He felt really foolish, too. So we should warn folks heading that way that there seem to be very professional thieves out and about in Paris, and to BEWARE. It’s a terrible feeling being robbed — but you can get over it quickly and enjoy the rest of the trip!

  6. Post

    Gerry, that makes me feel better — even though I’m sorry to hear about your nephew. The thing that’s new for me is all the stuff online about Asian stereotypes (which are rooted in a fair amount of fact, I guess). It never occurred to me that someone would look at me and think, “ASIAN/MONEY/TARGET.” The last time I thought of myself that way was when I was 10 years old in Chinatown — more than four decades ago. There was a crime wave and local businessmen like my dad were walking around in constant fear of getting mugged. Nothing’s really new, right?

  7. HI! Betty, sorry to hear that you were pickpocketed. But I am very proud of you being upbeat and hope that will not affect your mood for the rest of the trip! I will say pickpocketing is very common in the tourist districts even in NYC. So you are NOT alone! Enjoy the rest of your trip in Paris! ^^

  8. Post

    Thanks, Shirley. By the way, ages ago, you sent me something on dealing with identity theft prevention. Do you still have advice on that topic? Or does anyone else have suggestions?

  9. Hi Betty, sorry to hear about your recent traumatic experience. I have lost my wallet a few times in my life and will never forget the sense of disorientation. I noticed in the picture of you on the stairs that you are wearing jeans and an overcoat. Here’s what I would suggest you do the next time you are in Paris. Do not place your wallet in your backpack. Place it in your right front pocket of your jeans. And if your are especially concerned, place a small comb inside the wallet with the teeth facing out. So as you try to remove the wallet, the teeth will catch against the lining. It will require greater care to remove it when you need to pay for something, but a pickpocket will find it very difficult to get at and remove.

  10. HI! Betty, I cannot remember what did I send to you ages ago?
    But you can check out the following gov. site and hope it helps~

    When I used to travel alone, I like to use the undercover money belt and neck wallet, see below for some samples:



    I don’t recommend keeping important ids/valuable in the backpack unless you carry it in the front. It is very easy for pickpocket cut your bag in the overcrowding train or any public transportation.

    Good luck!

  11. Post

    Eddie, that is the exact word to describe me on this entire trip — disoriented. The new me in a new country doing all kinds of new things. This comb idea of yours is fascinating. I wonder how I can adapt it for future travels. Thanks for explaining!

    And Shirley, as you can see from the photo, the backpack has a cross-strap, which is how I wear it — it’s not on my back. Judy was using some sort of hidden money belt. I hate the idea of strapping on something like that but I need to get real about being a serious traveler. Thanks!

  12. Betty,

    Sorry! But it has happened to us in Rome (twice) and once in Paris on the metro. In Rome it is groups of kids who crowd around you (even when there are several of you), jostle one of you, and as the others in your group are fighting to push them away and protect the one who’s being pushed around … viola!!! This carefully choreographed maneuver removes your wallets, etc. They are REALLY GOOD at it.

    In Paris, on the metro, I had my camera and some other good things in my backpack (which I was wearing the normal backpack way). Wrong! A guy acted like he accidentally fell into me when the train moved. He had already opened my backpack and had his hands on what he wanted. Another passenger saw it and yelled out that I was being robbed. He quickly moved away and denied it and I didn’t lose anything. Backpack rule… on trains, wear it in front of you with the parts that open against your body.

    Also, keep your money and valuables in various spots under clothing. Just keep what you need immediately handy. And, don’t act or look like a tourist. Check out your maps somewhere in private and figure out your daily itineraries at night or early AM before you hit the streets.

    Mostly, don’t let any of this ruin your good time. Explore and enjoy be street smart and aware.

    And, if you need any help, I have a friend in Paris on the Left Bank not far from the Sorbonne.

    Love, Etta

  13. Hey Betty, sorry to hear about being pickpocketed and loosing your stuff on the flight. Just glad you are ok. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

  14. Post

    Etta, I’m sorry this happened to you multiple times. But you’re such a savvy person that hearing about this makes me feel a little less stoopid. And to think — you’re not even Asian! Thanks for volunteering your friend. I think we’re okay, though.

    It’s interesting to learn how orchestrated these crews are. I have to remember all of this and become much more self-aware as a traveller. Today, while we were out, I kept wondering what I looked like to criminals — I think I will pack different clothes on my next trip. Possibly a different bag too — stuff that looks less schlubby.

    And yes, Etta, we’re still having fun. xoxox

  15. bonjour, betty!
    well, typical betty — still upbeat & lucid & entertaining despite some missteps & still realizing every little (um, petite?) thing is an opportunity to learn, & share the lessons. hope the rest of your franco-learning comes from only positive interactions. … bon vacances!

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