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Is having a Whistle on my keychain overkill?

I'll be traveling soon to Paris -- where Rick Steves himself was pickpocketed a couple of years ago.

I do plan to use a money belt and/or neck wallet for passport, smartphone, a credit and a debit card, and cash.

In addition, I'll have a day bag that I'll carry crossed over my shoulder, with the zipper facing inward. (The day bag is not slash-proof. However, the bag won't contain much of value to a thief.)

Mugging isn't much of a problem in Paris. However, I'm concerned in case I might get swarmed by a gang of thieves on the Métro or by Gypsies on the sidewalk.

Is it overkill to have a whistle on my keychain?

Posted by
2400 posts

Maybe it's just me, but I think I can scream at the top of my lungs faster than I can locate and wrestle a whistle to my mouth while being swarmed by a pack of thieves. So yes, I'd call that overkill.

Posted by
12084 posts

I myself would not do it, ie the whistle on a key chain, since I believe that no "gang of thieves on the Metro" or "Gypsies on the sidewalk" will swarm in on me...they would have to do better than that.

I don't carry day bag or cross over bag either in Europe.

Posted by
4062 posts

“Swarmed...by Gypsies.”

You do realize how bad and derogatory this sounds?

I assume you take the DC Metro. Do you carry a whistle then? If you do and you are accustomed to using one in DC, then by all means continue your custom in Paris. If you don’t use a whistle in DC, then I hardly think it is necessary, particularly as there are no swarms of “thieves” and others.

Posted by
3904 posts

Rick Steves was pick pocketed, so what, he's no different to you or I other than the fact that he probably travels a lot more than most of us do therefore he's increased his chances of being a victim.

Where have you heard reports of gangs of thieves or "gypsies" swarming around people?

You have much less to fear than you think you do, don't bother with a whistle.

Posted by
11389 posts

Yes it’s overkill .

A few years ago I was sick while in Paris - had to send my 11 yr old daughter out for food from our hotel . She went unarmed and returned safely .

Relax - while you have to be aware of your surroundings and belongings - it’s not a battle ground . Local children take themteo to school alone by 11 also ,,, so do not be afraid .

Posted by
5817 posts

It's overkill and highly impractical. If you are going to get pickpocketed you almost certainly won't know anything about it until it's done. That's the point of pickpockets. I'm also not sure where you have heard about these 'swarms' but it's a load of rubbish

Stop worrying. Your valuables will be in a moneybelt. Go to Paris, have a lovely time.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you. Sounds like a whistle is unnecessary.

I shouldn't have referred to Gypsies -- it's wrong to stereotype the behavior of any ethnic group, including Sinti and Roma.

Posted by
5235 posts

Well, I do carry a whistle, but it's mostly for the built-in compass (for when walking instructions say "head south on rue de something 500 meters" and I have no clue which way is south.)
Only used a whistle once in a scary situation -- and it was within 10 miles of home when two teen boys rode up, ditched their bikes and headed towards me near nightfall. They jumped back on their bikes after I blew the whistle.

Posted by
5817 posts

I STRONGLY suggest that in the present security climate you DO NOT shout "terrorist" if you think you are about ro be pickpocketed.

Also be aware that items you can legally carry at home might not be legal to carry in other countries. In the UK peppers spray is classed as an offensive weapon and is therefore illegal to carry.

Posted by
5817 posts

Yes you will certainly get a response but it might not be the one you want. Last year people thought there had been a terrorist incident at Oxford Circus tube station. There was panic on Oxford Street. Then a rumour started thst the "terrorist" was in one of the department stores There was panic and people got hurt, a few seriously. There was no terrorist incident in the first place. This was in an environment where police generally aren't armed. Imagine the possible consequences if they had been?

Speaking a British woman I don't know a single one that would consider carrying pepper spray. Maybe some do but they are breaking the law. If you do choose to carry and use it good luck with the consequences!

I live in a big city popular with tourists and as someone who was once mistaken for a thief by an overly nervous American tourist, im sorry your advice is at best misguided, possibly down right dangerous.

Posted by
3904 posts

"In the UK peppers spray is classed as an offensive weapon and is therefore illegal to carry." I bet a lot of British women still carry it and rather risk a fine for carrying an offensive weapon, than risk having nothing to defend themselves.

You'd be incorrect in that assumption. I don't know a single woman who carries any weapon of any kind, least of all pepper spray or CS gas which is considered a firearm under Section 5(1)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968 and carries the same penalties as being in possession of any other prohibited firearm.

There simply isn't the level of threat or paranoia existing in the UK that would lead to women feeling the need to carry a weapon, whether legal or not and I, for one, am quite happy that such an environment exists.

As a police officer I have never found a weapon on a female whether in her posession or as a result of a pat down by a female officer other than the odd knife carried by heroin addicts for protection against other addicts intent on stealing their drugs.

Posted by
3904 posts

As you're a local police offficer I have no reason to doubt you. I mentioned pepper spray, but I know many gas sprays are not actually pepper spreys. Does the same restriction apply for other gas sprays? As far as I know it is pretty common in much of Continental Europe for women to carry a gas spray/pepper spray. I had a good friend who was once saved from getting beaten by using his gas spray and running away.

The majority of gas sprays are illegal in the UK. There are a couple of gel type sprays which perform the action of disorientating an attacker if sprayed effectively and directly but they are nowhere near as effective or debilitating as pepper spray/CS/PAVA/Mace etc. Also, having had reason to use CS on many occasions I can see how trying to spray a gel substance effectively into the face of an attacker is difficult at the best of times let alone when in fear and under extreme pressure. Most importantly stranger attacks on women in the UK (and Europe) are very rare and whilst it may be legal in much of Europe to be in possession of pepper sprays it doesn't mean that most women carry it.

The fear of crime is often far higher than the reality. A good example of carrying a weapon unnecessarily was when I was in Jackson Hole a few years ago, a town that has an extremely low crime rate, relatively affluent and very safe yet whilst I'm walking around a tourist shop I find myself wakling behind a man with a pistol holstered on his side. Now I don't intend for this thread to degenerate into the right to bear arms but this was a totally disproportionate and unneccessary thing to have. The mere act of arming yourself against potential threats most likely increases your fear and expectation of attacks which can be mentally debilitating. I live in a tough city, far, far tougher and more crime afflicted than Jackson Hole, and not once in 43 years have I been assaulted or been a victim of crime other than those occasions performing my job as a police officer. Arming yourself to protect against a highly unlikely attack serves only to perpetuate the fear of something occurring, it doesn't make you feel safe, quite the opposite.

Plus one anecdotal example without any context does not support an argument that pepper spray should be made legal in the UK.

One of my main police postings was in a very poor, disenfranchised part of the UK. It consisted of one of Europe's largest council estates (government assisted housing) with a high crime rate, drug usage and anti social behaviour. In ten years of policing I investigated two complaints of a stranger attack on women (one was a failed mugging the other a rape). Both reported by women in their fifties with no history of mental illness or false complaints however both allegations were easily disproved by the use of CCTV footage and witness testimony. I'm confident that I understand the reasons behind the false rape allegation however I'm at a loss to explain the reasoning behind the attempted mugging allegation. The point I'm making is that there is no reason for women to arm themselves against attack in the UK because it is such a rare occurence, why worry about something that is highly unlikely to occur? It's simply going add more unneccessary stress to yourself, something we could all do without.

Posted by
1451 posts

Ugh, As any female may know, have you ever accidentally sprayed hair spray in your eyes? Burnns for a bit. Hairspray is legal. Pepper spray may not be, and you could get into trouble in a foreign country. Or, the pepper spray can be taken from you by someone stronger and used against you.

Mark, you should be okay. I realize bad things happen to good people. But, practice common sense, don't be lax but don't walk like you're ready to combat. Of course, don't hang your bag on a chair, hook or place it on a table. That's the 'beauty' of a cross body bag - if it's a decent size, you can keep it on you at all times - even enjoying that glass of wine at an outdoor cafe :)

As a woman who traveled to Rome twice, I often walked by myself here and there - at night. I really did not feel unsafe. I totally understand your travel is to Paris. Rome gets a bad rap too. As a little comparison, that's why I referred to it. I've not been to Paris, but, it's another large city that attracts thousands.

When a train or bus approaches, and you feel it's too crowded, then just wait for another. Don't overthink some stuff, cause then that's when you "may make a mistake."

It's probably not necessary for a whistle. But, if you feel better taking one - then do so. Clip it to a key leash if there is one in your bag.

Actually, I got a little LED flashlight that I clipped to my bag's inside key leash. It was a $1 at Walmart in the camping section. The light is really great and not flimsy. It's a plastic, but sturdy casing - not heavy. I found that to be useful in Rome later at night when I was unsure of curbs, walkways or protruding cobblestone.

I understand the term you used to describe a group of people may have been common in the past, but, it's best to not identify any one person or group. Certain terminology can set off a person making them more angry and harmful to you.

Thieves come in all. Just don't make it easy for a pickpocket. Have a good trip!

Posted by
12084 posts

In CA certain sprays are legal as weapons, check at Ace Hardware and that type of store. I don't know about pepper spray's legality. Certain states permit you to carry a pistol too as long it is concealed. CA is definitely not one of them. There are public school districts, among them in CA and certainly in other states, that voted to allow teachers to store a pistol in the classroom.

Posted by
1451 posts

This is going away from Mark's original question. But, the thing is: anything bad can happen anywhere. It doesn't necessarily have to be a group. Are people stronger and more fearless in numbers? Sure. But, we can just do the best we can to prevent dire situations.

tyrker, By no means am I lessening the severity of a very bad (or deadly) experience with some foreign travel.

But, some of the deliberate and jaw-dropping road rage I have seen on MA and NH highways leaves me in shock. People that cannot keep their tempers in check are a loose cannon.

Now, I understand the article you linked referred to an awful, extreme example of a man beaten to death because he hit a young girl. As it turned out, it seems the girl was not badly injured. But, the anger and hate of those so out-of-control, cost a man his life.

Here's another example that comes to mind. And we can all pull up examples. Many many years ago, in another part of the USA, there was a stand still of traffic. Cops everywhere. Maybe an accident? As things began to clear and traffic started to inch more, it was found out that road rage turned fatal. There was an argument between two motorists. I honestly don't know who did what to each other. One of the drivers was a middle-aged woman it turns out, the other a man. Apparently, the two stopped on the road. The woman got out with a rifle and shot the man dead. Two lives lost - his permanent, hers probably until she died in jail.

We can practice smart traveling, but not overdo it. Some things can be used against us. And, who's to say that blowing a whistle, yelling about a certain group or whomever, that some will come running to aid. I think if someone I heard yelling about anything dangerous, I would run the other way and seek shelter if possible.

Posted by
7606 posts

Back to the OP - I was pickpocketed in 2017 in Paris, probably on the Metro. I was not swarmed by anyone, in fact I did not even feel anyone close to me. I noticed well after the fact.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/general-europe/oops-sort-of-pick-pocketed-on-paris-metro-yesterday

I've never felt unsafe in Paris and I'm an older woman who usually travels solo. I do avoid the steps at Sacre Coeur as I don't want to have to deal with the bracelet guys but otherwise I just go about my business. I've been approached by the petition girls both near the ET and Gare du Nord and if you just walk off ignoring them you'll be OK.

To me a whistle would be overkill. I carry one when I go to a National Park.

I also carry bear spray routinely when I am in Yellowstone. I also carry it routinely on my local walking trail but that's defense against, yes, bear but also dogs. I'm not in a city but a lifetime ago used to carry a small can of pepper spray when I jogged in a small town. That, too, was mostly for dogs.

Posted by
12084 posts

In the Paris Metro in 1999 I suppose I got picked once even though I lost nothing (if this incident counts, I don't count it) and the mother-daughter team equally got nothing. I was wearing the old fanny/waist belt, they unzipped it, as I was momentarily blocked from getting off the Metro car, giving them the exact moment to unzip the waist belt to see if loose bills or a wallet was inside. They got no cash but Fr Franc coins were inside.

These one Franc coins amounted to 8-10 francs...don't recall the exact amount.

Bottom line is they didn't notice any cash, as I had figured on, since the one Franc coins were stacked inside a 35mm plastic film capsule.

For the next trip in 2001 I bought a new Eagle Creek waist belt and wore that. I only use the Eagle Creek products, plus wearing its current waist belt product.

Posted by
7627 posts

Unless you are carrying that pepper spray in your hand every time you go outside, it is worthless in your bag. You would also have to make sure the wind isn't blowing your way too.

I don't know about you, but I do not carry my keys with me in my hand while out sightseeing. I leave them in my hotel room. Why would I want that weight and the risk of losing them? You don't need your house keys in Paris, so having a whistle on your key chain won't be useful. Again, if it isn't in your hand all the time, you can't reach it fast enough for it to be of any use at all.

Posted by
3117 posts

No, I don't think it's overkill. I use to have mace on my keychain. Why not have the whistle. That said, I am not sure what it can do if something happens while your keys are in your purse or daybag.

Posted by
2388 posts

When I am out at night in an unfamiliar location I remove my room key from my purse before I leave the restaurant, concert, etc. and hang it around my neck on a lanyard, which also has a whistle on it. I think I learned this in college waaaay before cell phones. Old habits die hard even though my US phone allegedly will still call any European emergency number. I would never blow the whistle for petty crime, only for bodily injury threats, which for women can occur in any country. I wouldn’t follow this protocol if I were a man. And if you yell, it is my understanding that “fire” is the word to use. YMMV

Posted by
12084 posts

At an Economics seminar ca 15 years I attended in Seattle, I talked to a secondary ed teacher from Georgia who supported carrying a concealed pistol and it was legal in Georgia...quite legal, I told him that in CA it was quite the opposite (obviously) pertaining to its legality and that I myself would not do that but could understand very well someone who chose to wear a concealed gun as a weapon.

Posted by
37 posts

Like others here, I think that it would be an overkill as well. I'm not sure it would elicit the reaction you're looking for as well.

Posted by
1371 posts

My parents (in their late 50s at the time) were "swarmed" by a group of 5 or 6 people in Florence after arriving by train - with luggage - and just about to enter the front door of their hotel. They were shoved against the wall and jostled a bit. My Mom screamed which got the attention of the hotel staff, who stepped out to help and bring them into the hotel. This was years and years ago. Perhaps it no longer happens; likely it is rare. It is a single data point, not a statistic.

I had cautioned them about pickpockets and advised them to have nothing in their pockets or accessible zipper compartments. So they lost nothing. They would not have had time to use anything for self defense unless it was already in their hands.

Posted by
913 posts

I read something a little more concerning in your post. You said you are putting your cell phone in your money belt. Are you not going to access your phone during the day?
Your money belt/neck wallet is for deep storage and not to be accessed in public. Put your phone in your purse along with your daily money and daily credit card. I sewed snaps on my purse to lock the zippers.
Yes the whistle is overkill. I just got back from Italy and never felt unsafe.

Posted by
7153 posts

I've been to Europe more times than I can count for the last 15 years, with luggage and in my 50s and have never ONCE been swarmed by any one or any group. It almost makes me laugh in disbelief to read things like this. It makes me wonder what people do to make themselves stand out as such obvious vulnerable targets? I don't stay in 5 star establishments, I carry 1 piece of beat-up luggage, I take public transport - where do these "swarms" of people attack? What locations, what hotels, what countries/cities?

Posted by
12084 posts

Traveling in the last 48 years on 24 trips since 1971, I've not been surrounded but have had a group of three come at me in front o Bahnhof Zoo in Berlin with luggage in tow. On that trip in 1999 I was with the Mrs, not solo, they saw both of us, they ignored her and started coming at me instead...some guys get all the luck, but this time "they" were in for a startling surprise, having been caught off guard by them on Museum Island in Berlin in 1995.

If surrounded, you break on through...simply as that, like breaking out of the encirclement. Still, I know the chances, the odds, ie getting swarmed at, accosted, etc, of that happening is almost zero if you're betting on it. In Paris I hardly think about it, in Germany it doesn't even occur to me.

Posted by
5544 posts

Never have been "swarmed" except by children begging but have stopped attempted pickpocketing by using plastic coated map as my "weapon", hitting their hands, arms.It happens all over the world. I feel safe in Europe. A smartphone in a money belt? How will answer it or take photos without revealing you have one?

Posted by
4777 posts

I think there is an even more basic question here, Why would you have your keychain? Are you packing your car or house? For something that you would have no use for in Paris, why carry it on you? Certainly, even though the risk is low, the risk of losing it is greater than the value you would have by having it with you. Certainly on returning home you will need a car key and house key, but for me, that goes deep in my bags, not to come out until I return.

That goes for everything you have on you. Do you really need to haul it? Ideally I only have some cash and a credit card in my pocket, my phone, and somewhere an ID. I might have a small bag if I think a rain jacket might be prudent, or I am picking up some items for the room, but even a backpack I carry less and less. Just one more thing to lug, to keep track of, to have to check at museums.

My view is the more you carry (Purse, backpack, big billfold, other stuff in pockets, one or two cameras, etc.) the more of a target you are.

Posted by
2388 posts

My step daughter was 'swarmed'. She was 30 years old. I had already nagged her about putting her money belt on after she pulled it out of her purse to show me she had one (she's a little ditzy, but lovely). She did put it on after security in Boston when I said it wouldn't do her any good in her purse/fanny pack. After we arrive in Rome from the airport, she's heading out of Termini train station with a fanny pack in one hand and a tour book in the other. A perfect target. I held my tongue as I decided I wasn't going to nag her the entire trip as she was an adult...I had the 15 year old to nag. LOL. Anyway, we all started across the street from the station, my 15 yo and I succeeded in crossing, turned slightly to another street. We looked back and there was no stepdaughter, but she shortly appeared. She'd been swarmed by a bunch of little old ladies with signs. A handsome young man then separated from another group and helped her pick up her things. He asked her if she had her passport and money, and she patted her stomach, where her money belt was located. The little ladies got her address book only....this was year 2000. So, yes, one does get swarmed when you look like a target as she did, essentially she wore a bullseye flag. We laughed the rest of the trip about it! It's not a dangerous proposition, but would have inconvenienced us had she lost her passport at that point.

Posted by
885 posts

My advice is that by the time you would be swarmed by pickpockets, they would be gone before you blew your whistle.

You know the rules, don't put anything in side or front pockets you don't want stolen and put all wallets well inside the daybag along with your phone. Always have one hand on the bag as well and never put your phone down on a table or walk around with an open bag(yes I have seen this in Paris and London-mostly by younger women). I've been involved in one swarm in Paris from vendors who wanted me to buy trinkets. I have never been pickpocketed and have taken the Metro all over, and small, white and pasty and would never be mistaken for a European because of my terrible American accented French/Spanish/German. Enjoy yourself and have fun. I'd rather be in Paris than DC!

Posted by
516 posts

Whether or not it's overkill will depend on your tolerance for inconvenience, comfort, etc.. This is true of whistles, money belts, slash proof bags, whatever. That whistle probably weights very little, probably no different than a charm or key chain one might have on any bag or jacket zipper. So is it "over kill", I'm going to say probably not because it's not really costing you anything in terms of bulk, weight, extra effort to transport, etc. and if you never use it or in a real situation can't find it or can't figure out how to use it, etc., again it didn't "cost" you anything and certainly you wouldn't have forgotten how to "scream at the top of your lungs" as another poster stated. The "over kill" aspect is probably more stigma than anything else. If you were to ask, should I bring multiple cameras in case one gets stolen....well, probably over kill as they do add bulk and weight to your luggage. Same is true for money belts, for some people it's inconceivably uncomfortable to wear due to their own tolerance for comfort, their size/body shape, etc., and to have to dig for it is just too much work. For other's they barely feel it and it doesn't impose any additional cost or effort on them to use it.

Posted by
23253 posts

But for a whistle on the key ring - then you have to bring the key ring. I leave mine attached to the inside of my luggage so the last stop just before home I put it back in my pocket.

All that walking around with keys digging through the pocket or hiding at the bottom of the purse so I can have a small plastic whistle? And what if I drop the keys in the Grand Canal? Or in a Paris sewer grate?

Posted by
516 posts

I'm reminded of the backpack/day bag that I use....it has a whistle built into the buckle of the sternum strap. For years I used this bag and didn't realize it was there. It's made by Kelty but I'm sure there are may other such bags with clever little devices built in at no cost to weight or bulk. Now there's a whistle you have no choice but to bring...even if you didn't believe in whistles :P

Posted by
1834 posts

Precautions are necessary just about anywhere nowadays ---- sadly. --- Paris or even Nashville, Tennessee (which is hard to believe).

My neighbor was pick-pocketed in the neighborhood CVS last year. He is elderly and was obviously seen as a prime target. Someone, likely not from the neighborhood, dropped a key near his foot.......you know the drill.

Local newscasts have warned people to be careful with wallets, purses, phones in our city, and the police have recently assigned almost 20 extra officers solely to patrol the downtown tourist areas (in an effort to reduce the increase in these type things).

Anywhere any of us look like we might be the least bit vulnerable (compared to anyone else around), we have to realize someone may think of us as a target...at home or a continent or two away. Bad people know tourists typically have phones/cash, etc. The only huge difference will be in the aftermath of an event. A lot easier deal with the canceling of bank items, notifying appropriate places, and getting new IDs in one's familiar surroundings......still a royal pain...but easier than making calls back to the US (in a different time zone) from France .

If you are not out in a dark alley in the middle of the night, you will likely not get swarmed by anyone. You sound like you are totally aware, and just the fact you are asking these questions, pretty much tells me you will likely NOT be a target. There will be MUCH easier marks for those types.....people with wallets in back pockets, purses open over their shoulders or over chairs and their attention focused solely on their phones.

We swear by the RS neck wallets, and my spouse wears a second one that I adapted to a holster style under-the-arm model for the deep storage.

Have a fabulous trip!!