There are few travel scenarios worse than having your belongings taken off your back (or shoulders, or pockets, or wherever).
The good news? It only takes a few tricks to outsmart these fast-fingered foes every. single. time.
Think like a con artist.
Pickpockets execute incredibly choreographed schemes in teams bigger than you'd guess. Knowing their tactics makes it easy to outwit them: Don't leave your stuff out on tables -- one conman might come ask for money or bump your shoulder, only to let the other one swipe your phone in a split second. Always keep a hand on your stuff in subways and trains -- that's when they're likely to dip into your purse. Put your bag on your lap or between your feet in a cafe -- teams will wait until you lean forward to slide your purse off the chair back.
Divert eye contact.
When someone locks eyes with you on the street -- to ask for directions or offer a coupon -- it's reflexive to hold their gaze. "We're programmed to be polite to strangers who approach us," criminologist Bob Arno told JustLuxe in 2012. "But it's wise to question the motivation behind an encounter, regardless of how friendly the stranger appears to be." When a stranger approaches, look down and watch their hands instead -- you can be polite afterward.
Keep your bag in front of you.
This is the cardinal rule of pickpocket-trumping. Cross-body bags are a perfect choice -- pick one with a zipper or button closure, and swing it in front of you so you can keep a hand on it at all times in crowded places. Don't have a cross-body bag? Wear your backpack backwards over your chest.
Rubber-band the good stuff, and stash it in a (tight) front pocket.
Unless you're wearing a money belt, the front pocket of your pants is the safest place on your body for wallets, cash wads and (if they're really necessary) passports. Make sure it's a tight pocket so grubby hands can't slip in, and put a thick rubber band around the item so it won't be so easy to draw out. That being said...
...money belts are really not that bad.
They're infinitely more effective than any hack. Travel legend Rick Steves has endured a mugging, lost cameras, six car break-ins and even a hot-wired vehicle, but not once has anyone taken anything out of his money belt. Before you guffaw this away, consider the fact that under-the-clothing money holders come in a variety of forms that make it, as Arno says, "almost impossible" for stealers. And you're only "the dork with the money belt" if people can see the money belt... which they can't. So be smart, and wear one.
Fan out your valuables.
In the off chance that you do fall prey to pickpockets, turn the tables when they realize they've only come away with a $5 bill. Split your money between your two front pockets and the chest pocket of your shirt, for example, so they'll make off with less.
Only carry what you're ready to lose.
You'll outsmart pickpockets if you don't let them get the best of your belongings. Arno puts it this way: "Don't carry more cash than you are prepared to lose."
Get some pickpocket-proof pants.