As the de facto tour guide for my Chinese family of eight, I knew our first trip to Europe would be anything but easy.
There were a lot of details to take care of, a lot of things to worry about.
But my biggest travel concern?
Our vacation would take us to Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Milan — all but Milan have been included in the past by TripAdvisor on a list of top 10 places to watch out for purse snatchers.
In addition, pickpockets are known for targeting Chinese tourists — that would include my family — due to our preference for using cash over credit cards.
Just last year, petty crimes against the Chinese jumped 22% in Paris according to local police.
Air-tight game plan
Knowing we have “Please take our money!” written on our Chinese faces, our mini-tour group prepares for the worst.
Stay in physical and visual contact with our belongings? Check.
Be cautious about being cornered by thieves on public transport or duped by elaborate purse jobs? Check.
Study the helpful U.S. Embassy in France’s anti-pickpocketing guide from front to back? Check.
The key lesson, we tell ourselves, is to stay alert and be aware of our surroundings.
Petty crimes against Chinese nationals jumped 22% in the Paris in 2013, according to Paris police.Fresh off Petty Theft 101, my family’s sense of security is high.
Traveling in a group we keep a constant eye on each other from Paris to Barcelona and onward to Rome.
Traveling in winter provides one major perk — no crowds at tourist attractions.
This means great family pictures and fewer opportunities for pickpockets to hide themselves in a crowd.
At each stop, I applaud everyone’s vigilance, convinced that we’re one step ahead of whatever tricks the pickpockets have up their sleeves.
With Milan as our last stop, retail therapy is in order.
After a quick tour of the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, my mother and I have one thing on our minds — shoes!
We walk down Via Torino admiring all the leather goods.
Even the drizzling rain can’t dampen our excitement as we hop from store to store.
It being the last day of the trip, petty theft is the last thing on our minds.
But our one true obsession has clouded our judgment, and all our anti-theft preparation is forgotten.
Ten minutes after sitting down in a busy shoe shop, my mother squeals from across the row of benches — her cross-body bag is swinging at her side. Unzipped.
Her wallet — with three credit cards and a few hundred euros inside — is gone.
“It must be somewhere!”
Next come the five stages of loss and grief, travel edition.
Denial: I search the store, hoping we’ve made simply made a mindless mistake.
It has to be under the benches. Nope.
Maybe someone has turned it in at the register? Uh-uh.
How about the trash bins out in the street? Niente!
Anger: Next up, too many questions, too few answers.
“How could you lose it? Did it happen on the street? Was it in the shop? Who stole it? How did they do it?”
In a state of panic, all I feel is frustration and confusion.
The shopkeeper insists the theft didn’t take place in the store.
Surveillance footage provides no clues, but I remain suspicious of the “customers” who have just left.
Bargaining: The “shoulda coulda woulda” part.
If only we’d kept our surroundings in check … but like waking up from a dream, the blurry details of our short excursion are hard to recall.
Depression and acceptance: While my mother sighs and cancels her three credit cards, I realize there’s little to be done now — we’re leaving in less than 24 hours and there’s no evidence to show who committed the crime or how it was done.
We accept defeat.
Beaten, but not broken
Oh, petty-theft masterminds of Milan, on behalf of tourists from around the world, and especially China, I bow down to you.
In hindsight, getting pickpocketed might be a rite of passage for travelers in Europe.
It’s certainly a growing pain that tourists who experience it bond over.
This is especially true for us Chinese tourists who I guess are just too distracted by every new cultural opportunity or taking pictures of every monument in sight.
While losing cash and credit cards feels like being booted in the stomach, it’s best to put things into perspective — at least, that’s what my bruised ego tells me.
It takes only a brief lapse of awareness to get robbed, but rethinking and retracing every painful detail dampens the spirit of what was otherwise a great family trip.
So cheers to you, pickpockets!
After everything my family and I did to stop you, I hope you and your hard-earned cash will be happy together.
Just remember: karma bites.
CNN’s Real Travel series presents first-person accounts of the gaudy and gritty, the surprising and surreptitious, and everything in between that makes up the modern global travel experience.
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