Subject: Pickpockets
I'm always at loss as to how to reply to notes about pickpockets and/or crime in other countries. I hear stories all the time about people being robbed, or read in guidebooks about gangs of kids stealing from people, etc. And have to say that in many years of traveling, I have had very little happen to me.

I have friends who say that they will never go back to Paris again because of the crime. I know other people who say that Spain was a nightmare for them because of all of the gypsies. Still other friends, would never dream of going to South America because they are scared of being kidnapped.

In 36 years of life here's what has happened to me:

1) In Columbia, South America a thug came up to our car and told us that if we didn't give him the equivalent of $5 to protect our car, the windshield would be smashed. The obvious overtones were that if we didn't pay him the money, he would be doing the smashing. We paid him the $5, came out a couple of hours later, and there he was was protecting the car. Probably if we hadn't paid the money he would have damaged the car, but since we had, he stayed with the car for hours to make sure that nothing happened to it.

2) On the Paris metro a couple of years ago, I saw a guy try to put his hand in my boyfriend's back pocket to grab his wallet. I looked at him straight in the eye, put my hand on my boyfriend's pocket myself and moved in between them. The guy got off at the next exit. After that I insisted that my boyfriend keep his wallet in his front pocket and that we no longer rode the metro at rush hour with lots of luggage.

3) In Madrid 3 years ago, I was walking to the Prado past the park. I saw two gypsies women sitting on park bench in front of me and my radar went up. Sure enough, as I was about to go past them, one of them tried to throw a sheet over my head. But because I was in tuned to my surroundings, I was able to throw them off by pulling off the sheet and walking (not running) quickly away.

4) In Prague last year, my girlfriend had one of her bags stolen from our hotel room. It only contained make up, a toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. But the hotel staff felt so bad that they sent us a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates as a way of saying that they were sorry for our loss.

That's it! In years and years of traveling, to all different countries, that is all that has happened to me. I *don't* carry a money belt, or hide things, I wear a normal purse bandolier style just like I do here in the States. I keep my money in my wallet along with my passport and any other valuables (like train tickets, etc.) in the same place. I keep my camera in my backpack, but put my backpack between my legs when I'm on public transportation.

I try to travel just like I live life here in Chicago. Alert, but never scared. Maybe it helps me blend in, maybe it doesn't, but I'd rather go somewhere than worry about stuff being stolen. I have also taken overnight trains in Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Germany, and others, and not once has someone tried to break into our compartment. From the way some of the posting boards and guide books make it sound, this happens to *every* traveler. Not true.

So I guess my point is - go and enjoy. Pay attention, but don't worry. You'll be just fine. Cat in Chicago