For a first time international traveler, learning the safety and etiquette of a new city can be very challenging. In Madrid, the capital of Spain, theft and crime is very prevalent, especially targeting tourists. Coming into the country with a strong understanding of the important details and tactics to keep you safe and respected by the community will help any young traveler enjoy the out of country experience that much more.
There are many ways to travel around the large city, but the easiest and fastest way is to use Madrid’s extensive Metro system. But precisely since the Metro is the most widely used by tourists, it also attracts the most amount of thefts against tourists. To learn more about how to ride the train safely, I spoke to one of the Metro workers about his take on the amount of crime that occurs below the city and how to prevent it. I asked Adrián, a man who works at the Diego De León metro station, to give me his best advice on staying safe while traveling on the train. “At night, make sure to stay in a well-lit area and if you’re riding alone, make sure to sit in the first carriage. There will be more customers and it’s closest to the driver’s cabin,” he told me. He also mentioned to make sure to blend in with the locals of the city by not running, and avoiding the train if you are not feeling well.
Adrián also mentioned the great amount of theft that occurs on the metro. He considers Madrid to be a very loving and safe city, but the large amount of tourists makes them easy targets for stolen items. For more information on this, I went to The Fitness Club located in the Salamanca neighborhood, where they teach self-defense and strength training. I spoke with Monica who is a trainer and receptionist for the company. When I asked what her what young tourists visiting Madrid should do to avoid theft, she told me, “The most important thing to remember is to pay attention. Always keep your bag in sight, keep it in front of you instead of behind your back.” She mentioned this only a week after one of my friends had a problem on the metro with her bag. My friend sat in her seat, with her bag next to her instead of on her lap. She looked away for a few minutes just to look down and horrifically, noticed her bag wide open and her wallet missing. After hearing this story and seeing it is a common tactic, I have had no problem adjusting to always having my bag in sight. Monica and I also spoke about dressing similarly to the way the locals do. She mentioned how everyone wears a much more elegant clothing here, which is very different than the typically less-formal United States form of dressing. If you don’t try to at least slightly resemble the locals, you can stick out like a sore thumb, making you a visible target for thieves looking for tourists. It will also create a mutual respect between the locals and the tourists if you put in effort to make the fashion of Madrid part of your own on your visit.
Even if your bag is in sight, scam artists could still trick you. The people of Madrid are very lively and talkative, but make sure they are talking to you for the right reasons. A personal tactic I had occur to me in a local grocery store was when I had an older man walk up to me and ask me for the time. Seems innocent enough, right? Well, the intention was to distract me while asking the time, while his friend would reach into my bag and steal whatever they could grab. Luckily, I picked this up right away and avoided the two men for the rest of the grocery run. After this, I discovered more ways to distract tourists. One tactic is when someone drops a pair of keys on the street before stopping you to ask if they’re yours. Once you happen to bend down to pick them up or even stop to check, someone will come up and grab your stuff, and maybe conveniently jump into a car waiting to speed away. Another tactic, known as the “mustard trick,” is when someone “accidentally” spills something over your shirt or blouse, such as mustard or ketchup, even water. Instinctively, you reach both your hands up and fully concentrate on cleaning yourself up, and the “innocent one” may even try to help you. Next thing you know, an accomplice has officially picked your pockets or opened your bag, while you weren’t paying attention.
Knowing this information, I feel safe, loved, and comfortable in this city, even for a new traveler. Madrid is the first place I have ever visited out of the United States, and the first time I have ever traveled alone. All in all, Madrid is a safe and unique place that every single person should be able to cross off his or her bucket list. As long as you are cautious and aware, your trip to the heart of Spain should be filled with beauty, adventure, and happiness.