This time of year, many Americans are taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to do some sightseeing abroad. Lately, the trend has been to hit Spain, including its capitol city, Madrid. Unfortunately, sometimes the tourists visiting Madrid are the victims of crimes.
It’s important to keep in mind that Madrid is a great deal safer than most American big cities. When people talk about random crimes, they are virtually always referring to nonviolent pickpockets, and the locals are vigilant to guard against it as is. People are also very understanding of the non-grid style of the city, so whipping out a map while walking is par for the course, as is checking the route maps on the Metro. Still, there is some danger to losing your lunch money, so here are some steps to take in order to avoid anything unfortunate befalling an otherwise blessed Spanish vacation:
1. Buy a moneybelt.
This is a really easy step to insure your most important belongings are always safe. Moneybelts are easily available from most travel shops, and are miles better than fannypacks for keeping valuable hidden and secure. Find a flat version, meant to be worn under clothing, and load it up with the bare essentials: passport, plane tickets, and one credit card. This way you won’t have to chance sketchy hotel room safes, or worry about your purse quite so much, and you can enjoy your Madrid adventure, knowing you can always get back home again.
2. Metro tips
By far, the easiest way to see Madrid is to travel by Metro. Since they know this, many criminals pick the trains to troll for victims. Protecting yourself is easy enough, however. Simply make sure your purse is closed, or that your wallet cannot be seen. Most importantly, take careful note of any group of passengers who may start getting too close for comfort, since this is usually a method employed to distract you from pickpocketing cohorts. For this reason, the number 6 line is the most dangerous, since it’s not only always crowded, but goes in a circle, so the criminals can ride it all day. Watch your pockets especially when the train stops, since criminals take advantage of this time to scoot away with whatever they can grab.
3. Gypsies, tramps, and thieves
People in the U.S. have a strange view of what gypsies actually are and what they do. The truth is that most of them are not overly aggressive or confrontational. It is not unusual in Madrid at all to see the gypsy mothers, for example, singing a melodramatic plea for loose change on streetcorners or the train. It is worth noting, however, that there are exceptions to this rule, and that they usually come in the form of a group of adorable children. If you’re approached by a group of gypsy children holding a newspaper, immediately wrap your hands around whatever you need to keep safe. Typically, they put the newspaper on the table, point to various stories, then let their friends make off with your goods. Don’t be afraid to be firm and stern with them, and don’t let yourself be distracted. They’ll shortly get bored, or else be run off by the locals who will undoubtedly call the police to round them up.
4. ATM tips
ATMs are the easiest way to exchange money in Madrid, or anywhere nowadays. Criminals know this too, and keep an eye out for people who might be taking out a lot of cash at once. Amazingly, they are technologically advanced enough to have installed small cameras on top of virtually every outdoor ATM machine in Madrid. For this reason, you should always cover your hands while typing in your PIN, just to be safe.
Most people in Madrid know that there are certain neighborhoods prone to crime. These places are usually, and unfortunately, the places where the living is cheap, the scenery is historic and pretty, and the nightlife is legendary. For this reason, be a bit extra careful when near the following Metro stops: Sol, Lavapies, La Latina, and Noviciado. Be especially watchful at the huge and popular flea market, El Rastro, since all Madrid’s criminals know that that’s where people go to be parted from their money. Wandering off the beaten path is by far the best way to see Madrid, but don’t let yourself get totally distracted by the romantic architecture, or you may wind up getting more than your breath taken away.