Having never been to Europe before, I let my mind run wild as to the 100 ways that I could get hurt/lose my stuff/or even die in a foreign place. Never did I imagine that the number of Asians living in Europe could be so…visible *there are ALOT of Asians in Europe. I had expected myself to stand out and become vulnerable to anyone with bad intentions so I made sure to do my homework on how I could stay safe for 45 days. In preparation, I made my boyfriend sit through countless Youtube videos on how pickpockets work in a group and narrated the mishaps of other travelers, taking time to point out what I should do if I encountered something like that (basically to just put up and impressive array of kungfu stances and shout random words in scary Mandarin *I chickened out in real life…).
For starters, let me talk about the more common problems you are likely to encounter:
Pick pocketing is one of the most common problems met by tourists all across Europe. Italy is so famous for it that Bob Arno, an American stage pick pocket made it a goal to seek out the best pickpockets (known by their street name) in Naples to trade tricks – watch the video here. They often work in well practiced groups to distract you and are so good at it that you can’t tell that they are actually in cahoots.
My scariest encounter was when we had to sleep in Ventimiglia Train Station in Italy to wait for a train transfer. Upon reaching the station at 1am in the morning, we noticed that the train station was full of people sleeping on the floors, chairs, benches. There were many characters that seem rather shifty and I saw some of them talk to each other as if they were familiar. But because it was dark outside, we had no choice but to wait it out at the station. One of my friend fell into such a deep sleep that despite being in full view of everyone in the station, he had his phone and a coin pouch taken right from his pocket. He woke us up after noticing that his items were gone but it was too late. Thereafter, we noticed that a group of guys who were sitting apart from each other at the beginning of the night, seemed to be talking and looking at us. We then realized how foolish we were to not have taken shifts to sleep and instead fell prey to a band of pick pockets! We saw that “gang” again in Nice, confirming our suspicions that they were in fact working together.
We later found out that Ventimiglia is a pickpocket heaven because of the train schedule. There is a period of standstill in the train station whereby travelers movement cease because trains do not stop at the station from 2am to about 5am and travelers are at their most sleepy point in the night. Even though a police patrols the area, those who are familiar can time their rounds to take advantage of loop holes.
Wherever you choose to sleep, be it in a hostel, and apartment or in stations. Do some research on the general surroundings and find out if it is located in a safe and open area…or at least know what risks you are taking on by sleeping in more dubious places.
I could have an entire post on scams and it would still not be enough. The good thing is many others have written extensively on the types of scams you can find but unfortunately, the scam-scums are creative and you never know what new tricks are up their sleeves.
One of those scams I actually saw is called the friendship bracelet scam. I encountered this near the Louvre but there are reports of it happening around all main attractions in France. Basically, a man approaches you to sell you a friendship bracelet and proceeds to try to tie it around your wrist even if you object. Once he manages that, he will then ask you for an expensive fee since you are already wearing it. Some people end up paying because they were pressured and couldn’t take off the bracelet on their own. When a man approached me, I recognized this straight away and proceeded to keep my arms away from the person while rejecting firmly.
Another scam that is common is to be approached by someone selling you an electronic device like an iPhone for an unbelievable price. The man will even take it out and show you the product, turn it on and prove that it works. Once the person agrees to buy, the scam-scum will pretend to take his wallet from his back pocket to collect the money and at that moment, an accomplice will will switch the plastic bag with the phone for a fake box with nothing inside. By the time the item is in your hands and you open it up, the scam-scum would have already hopped on a bike and be long gone!
For more information, you can visit this site for a summary of “40 Tourist Scams to Avoid this Summer” and the common places where they occur.
Reading all of these may sound worrying but the truth is, its really not that bad in Europe. My boyfriend and I actually made it through without any mishaps whatsoever. The key is being prepared. After doing our due diligence, we made sure that we had preventive measure to protect ourselves.
- Always split your valuables and make sure that you keep track of them.
- Do not check for your valuables openly even if someone told you that you have dropped something – it could be a trick to find out where your valuables are for their partner to steal from you later on.
- when waiting in buses or trains, always keep your bags in front of you – Like my friend does in the photo by placing her sling bag in front of her.
- If you notice a black strap around my neck, I actually carried a Travelers pouch under my shirt instead of letting it flail around in full view.
- Be it your waist pouch or sling bag, carry it with the zip facing inwards so that it difficult for others to unzip your pouch without you knowing.
- If you need to sleep in open areas, make sure that your valuables are tucked under you and your bags are locked and its best if you can hug them – I usually use my backpack as a pillow to lie on.
- Keep track of emergency hotlines of places you visit.
- There is no better measure then to simply BE OBSERVANT! Make sure that you are aware of your surroundings and choose to take open roads instead of back alleys if possible.
Plan for your safety and have fun on your Trip 🙂
(Strasbourg, France – One of the safest places in Europe)