It happened within an hour of arriving at Barcelona airport – and just a day after I had filed a piece on holiday money for these pages. What I hadn’t reckoned on was the organised gangs that are out to target tourists, particularly, it has to be said, in Spain. And how, with just a few simple steps, I could have protected myself (and my money). This is what you’re supposed to do before you go abroad: Take your wallet and empty it out. Remove all the things you don’t need for a week or two in Spain, that if they were lost or stolen would just be a pain. Your work /staff pass. Your Tesco Clubcard or Boots Advantage or a Waitrose card. Your library or cinema membership card. Your driving licence (if you’re not hiring a car). Credit cards you know you are not going to use. All those other little loyalty cards, receipts and general rubbish you keep in your wallet. Why take them abroad? Just leave them in the sock drawer until you’re back home. The next stage is to split things up. Why has everything in one wallet? By all means take two credit cards, one as a back-up. Secret credit cards in pockets or toiletry bags. The same with your physical cash – leave some of your euros/sterling in your wallet to use while travelling, and hide the rest elsewhere among your bags and belongings. It’s what I always used to do. But of course, for some reason, I didn’t this time. Maybe it was the exceptionally early flight from Stansted (never again). Maybe it was the lackadaisical way I now treat flying. So there I was, with my partner, standing on a dark and humid platform at Barcelona’s El Prat de Llobregat station, waiting for a connection to Sitges. Absolutely everything in one wallet, bulging out of my front pocket. Stuffed in the other pocket my phone and my passport. One hand dragging a wheelie bag, the other a small holdall.
I hope I am painting a cliched picture of a victim, for that is what I was. There were a bewildering few seconds before we even realised we were being mugged. As the train pulled in and we walked up to the sliding doors, there was a commotion as some people pushed and shoved to get off. Others, behind us, were aggressively pushing on. But it was entirely fake – devised by a gang to separate us, then rob us. I looked down, to see my wallet in the hand of one of the men. Weirdly, as I wrestled it back, there was a pained expression on the thief’s face, as if I were falsely accusing him. Meanwhile, my partner’s bag was being slashed. Fortunately, we are both big enough (or stupid enough?) to fight back, and after a short tussle, they scarpered.
These incidents must be rife in Barcelona, judging by the only mildly sympathetic shrugs we got from fellow passengers on the train. The Renfe security staff at our destination were similarly uninterested. At our hotel, the Spanish receptionist said an English tourist had arrived the week before and was robbed of everything at the same station. Never use El Prat de Llobregat, she told us. Fortunately, we lost little: two €20 notes nicked from the top of my pocket that wasn’t in the wallet that I had been able to grab back. My phone and passport were also safe. But it was a deeply upsetting way to start a holiday. I don’t blame myself – I’ll save that for the nasty, vicious toerags who attacked us. But to anyone heading off this summer, take precautionary steps first. I wish I had practised what I preach.
Credit: Patrick Collinson for The Guardian, 14 July 2018.