Eli Orzessek finds the answers to your travel questions.

My son is going on his OE to Europe this winter, which will include trips to some of the bigger cities, such as London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. I'm concerned about his safety, as I have heard pickpocketing and crime can be rife in these cities. Is there anything he can do to avoid trouble?
Juliana

European cities are largely safe, but tourists can be targeted for petty crime — particularly pickpocketing. Europe has its share of talented thieves, but if you're proactive in protecting yourself, it's easy to avoid becoming a victim. Here are a few tips on staying safe:

• Remember to stay alert and always be aware of your surroundings and belongings. Many high risk areas, such as the Eiffel Tower, will have signs warning of pickpockets — but they can work against you. If you see a sign, don't take the opportunity to check your belongings, as you're broadcasting their location to lurking thieves.

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• If you're carrying a bag, make sure you wear it across your body and keep it close — some thieves have been known to operate on scooters and snatch bags. When you're at a restaurant, keep your bag close, rather than hung over your seat. Better yet, don't use a bag at all. For added security, you could keep your valuables in a money belt, or invest in pickpocket-proof clothing. But at the very least, don't keep your wallet in your back pocket.

• Pickpockets often work in groups, so it's important to be wary of distractions. If you're approached by someone offering help or asking for directions, keep your distance and be aware of your belongings. Trust your instincts and always back off if things don't feel right. Kids are often used as distractions in these schemes. Thieves can target distracted crowds, so keep this in mind if watching a street performance. Crowded public transport is another place to stay aware — an innocent bump might be cover for a thief grabbing your wallet.

• It's a good idea to carry only a minimal amount of cash and to spread your valuables between pockets and people. This way, if you do get hit, you won't lose everything in one fell swoop.

• Though it's not always easy, try to avoid looking like too much of an obvious tourist — dress to blend in with locals and don't wave maps or cameras around.

• ATM skimming is also on the rise in Europe, so be aware when withdrawing cash. As you would at home, make sure no one sees you put in your PIN number and be aware of oddities in the card socket.

This can even happen at businesses, such as restaurants. Travellers' credit cards or cash are recommended when possible — it's easier to contest a dodgy charge on a credit card and if your debit card is cloned, you could be left high and dry.

• Your son will probably be fine, but it's best to be prepared. He should make copies of all his documents and cards and keep them at his accommodation, and have them stored in his phone, in case they're needed on the go.

Email your questions to askaway@nzherald.co.nz
Eli cannot answer all questions and can't correspond with readers.

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How to outsmart pickpockets

From London to Las Vegas and everywhere in between, pickpockets can be a problem all around the world. Here are some techniques and technologies that travellers can use to protect themselves and their valuables.

Five ways to outsmart a pickpocket

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1. Theft-proof bags are designed to be a sturdy last line of defence against pickpockets. They're also slash-proof, with heavy duty zippers and cleverly concealed compartments.

2. There are some places where pickpockets are more likely to operate, such as train stations and busy tourist hot spots. When visiting these types of places, stay alert and keep your belongings close to you.

3. Know their game – when you know the common techniques pickpockets use, you'll be better placed to spot a fishy situation.

4. Don't stand out – keep the expensive jewellery at home and place your shopping bags from expensive stores inside less-conspicuous ones.

5. Follow your gut – if something 'just doesn't feel right', it often isn't. Follow your intuition and use your best judgement to avoid sticky situations.

For more great travel advice and tips, visit Southern Cross Travel Insurance.

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