Most visitors to Spain never feel remotely threatened, but enough have unpleasant experiences to warrant some care. The main thing to be wary of is petty theft (which may not seem so petty if your passport, cash, travellers cheques, credit card and camera go missing).
There must be 50 ways to lose your wallet. As a rule, talented petty thieves work in groups and capitalise on distraction. Tricks usually involve a team of two or more (sometimes one of them an attractive woman to distract male victims). While one attracts your attention, the other empties your pockets. More imaginative strikes include someone dropping a milk mixture onto the victim from a balcony. Immediately a concerned citizen comes up to help you brush off what you assume to be pigeon poo, and thus suitably occupied, you don’t notice the contents of your pockets slipping away.
Beware: not all thieves look like thieves. Watch out for an old classic: the ladies offering flowers for good luck. We don’t know how they do it, but if you get too involved in a friendly chat with these people, your pockets almost always wind up empty.
On some highways, especially the AP7 from the French border to Barcelona, bands of thieves occasionally operate. Beware of men trying to distract you in rest areas, and don’t stop along the highway if people driving alongside indicate you have a problem with the car. While one inspects the rear of the car with you, his pals will empty your vehicle. Another gag has them puncturing tyres of cars stopped in rest areas, then following and ‘helping’ the victim when they stop to change the wheel. Hire cars and those with foreign plates are especially targeted. When you do call in at highway rest stops, try to park close to the buildings and leave nothing of value in view. If you do stop to change a tyre and find yourself getting unsolicited aid, make sure doors are all locked and don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
Even parking your car can be fraught. In some towns fairly dodgy self-appointed parking attendants operate in central areas where you may want to park. They will direct you frantically to a spot. If possible, ignore them and find your own. If unavoidable, you may well want to pay them some token not to scratch or otherwise damage your vehicle after you’ve walked away. You definitely don’t want to leave anything visible in the car (or open the boot – trunk – if you intend to leave luggage or anything else in it) under these circumstances.
Theft is mostly a risk in tourist resorts, big cities and when you first arrive in a new city and may be off your guard. You are at your most vulnerable when dragging around luggage to or from your hotel. Barcelona, Madrid and Seville have the worst reputations for theft and, on very rare occasions, muggings.
Anything left lying on the beach can disappear in a flash when your back is turned. At night avoid dingy, empty city alleys and backstreets, or anywhere that just doesn’t feel 100% safe.
Report thefts to the national police – visit www.policia.es for a full list of comisarías (police stations) around the country. You are unlikely to recover your goods but you need to make a formal denuncia for insurance purposes. To avoid endless queues at the comisaría, you can make the report by phone (902 102112) in various languages or online at www.policia.es (click on ‘denunciar por Internet’) although the instructions are in Spanish only. The following day you go to the station of your choice to pick up and sign the report, without queuing.
The following government websites offer travel advisory services and information for travellers:
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
Global Affairs Canada (www.voyage.gc.ca)
Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)
Auswärtiges Amt, Länder und Reiseinformationen (www.auswaertiges-amt.de/de/)
Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale (www.viaggiaresicuri.mae.aci.it)
Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken (www.rijksoverheid.nl/ministeries/ministerie-van-buitenlandse-zaken#ref-minbuza.nl)
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)