Spain is an incredibly safe country. Gun violence is existent and random violent crimes are incredibly infrequent. Travel by any means, bus, train, car, or plane is all very safe. The biggest crime concern in Spain for travelers is petty crime. In fact, this is probably the biggest safety/crime concern for Spaniards that live in big cities. For Spaniards that live in smaller cities or rural areas, my guess is the biggest “crime” concern is who left the bar without paying or what is the latest inane potentially legally questionable thing some politician has done. This may actually apply to all Spaniards.
Pickpockets in Spain, and in many European countries, are very talented at getting into your belongings — purses, pockets, bags — and taking what they want in incredibly discreet ways.
Once while I was living in Madrid, I was on the metro when two American girls were robbed of their camera. The robber managed to grab it just before the train came to a stop and then jumped off once the doors opened and was gone. The girls didn’t see this coming and were startled and, of course, quite upset. It is common for pickpockets to target tourists and to be so discreet that you don’t notice anything is wrong until it’s too late.
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself.
For women carrying purses, I recommend a shoulder bag with a zipper that should be kept zipped shut. In crowded areas like markets and the metro in big cities, it’s important to make sure the actual zipper is in the front. I’ve heard cases of pickpockets going into the back of a shoulder bag by unzipping it a tad and then stealing a wallet, phone, etc. With the zipper in front, it is very unlikely that this happens.
For evening outings or if you’re tired of carrying a shoulder bag, a cross body bag is fine under two conditions — it must have a secure closing, like a zipper, or a strap that buckles the bag closed and it should be worn so that it hangs in front. A clutch that you carry in your hand is fine for an evening at the theater or a nice dinner as long as you’re not like me, someone who puts a clutch down and then forgets about it.
For men, do not carry your wallet or a cell phone in your back pocket. It is very easy for a pickpocket to get in there without you realizing it. Front pockets are much more secure. If it’s jacket weather and you can put your wallet in an inside coat pocket, that’s even better. Just be sure that you don’t put the jacket down in a bar or a coat check and leave you wallet in the pocket accidentally.
What about those travel wallets that hang under your clothes you may ask? Personally, I find them to be a bit ridiculous and quite uncomfortable. I do not think they are at all necessary either.
Pickpockets generally look for easy targets, meaning people who are clearly tourists and distracted, maybe a bit lost, or talking loudly among themselves and tuned out from their surroundings. They are not looking to get into arguments or any sort of confrontation. I think it’s important when traveling to be in tuned with your surroundings for a number or reasons.
Of course, you’re going to get lost and distracted, or talk loudly and animatedly with your travel companions about something new and amazing you’ve seen. This is one of the best parts of traveling! Try to minimize this sort of distraction when you’re traveling on the metro or in a packed market type area.
Don’t draw attention to yourself by taking your wallet out and counting money or making it clear that you are carrying lots of cash. If you need to check to see how much money you have and if you need to make another ATM stop soon, wait until you’re in a restaurant for a meal, or step into a bar to grab a quick coffee or drink. This is a perfectly appropriate place to do this discreetly.
With these tips and being generally aware of your surroundings, you should be able to minimize any unfortunate and unpleasant sort of event of this nature.