Barcelona, Spain: What you hear about this place is probably true. Especially the part about how this city is rife with pickpockets. "Watch out for pickpockets," it says in the Metro. And at all the popular tourist spots. Even your cab driver gives you a friendly reminder not to put your money in your backpack. "They'll just use a box-cutter to slit it open or cut the straps," he explains. "Okay," you say, "I got the message. I'm prepared."
Except you're not. I thought I was. I even have a funny story about the guy who tried to pick my pocket last time I was there. So I was not just careful, but actually paranoid. I strolled around with my hands casually tucked in my pockets, one resting on my wallet and the other on my phone. Which was probably a fine approach and worked for several days, until I needed my hands to hold onto two kids in the extremely crowded Park Güell (a giant garden designed by the genius architect Antoni Gaudí).
My wallet this time was hiding in a zipped backpack, behind an interior panel, along with a lot the random crap that anyone traveling with kids carries around. Some dude apparently identified me as an easy mark and followed me for about 20 minutes, waiting for the right chance. It came as I was trudging up a very long staircase with one kid on my hip and the other holding my hand. He snuck up behind us, unzipped my backpack, slipped the wallet out of its semi-concealed hiding place, and headed back down the stairs.
My first clue that something was amiss was a sound behind me that roughly translates as, "GRROOOAAARRR!!" My sister-in-law was following about 25 meters behind and saw the whole thing. She rose up right in the dude's face with all the wrath of a mama grizzly bear protecting her cubs. "Give it back," she snarled. He hesitated. "*NOW!!*" she bellowed. With mama grizzlies, the next step after that is an epic mauling. This pickpocket must have been something of an amateur naturalist, because he meekly handed the wallet over and slunk away, moving slowly so as not to trigger her chase instinct.
All's well that ends well: I got my wallet back, and the pickpocket went on to find some other mark without an enraged sister-in-law in his entourage.
So when you go to Barcelona, don't just nod at the hype about pickpockets, live it. Zippers and buckles will not protect you. Even a front-pack is not safe, if you are distracted. Don't let strangers get close to you, not even well-dressed ones or kids. If people crowd you, hold your valuables tight and move away. Better, lock up your wallet at your lodging and just go out with a couple of bills or a card in a tight front pocket.
Do visit Barcelona, because it is an exceptionally beautiful city. But it's also theft-central, so be smart. Smarter than I was, anyway. And bring along your in-laws.