Skewed perception of safety or how I was mistaken for a distraction mugger......

Is there too much emphasis on scams etc and is it skewing tourists impression and enjoyment of their trip?

This safety fear/perception was really brought home to me earlier this week. Whilst waiting for a bus at 1030am in Trafalgar Square I noticed a tourist, in a family group getting off a bus, drop her travel card. I immediately said " you've dropped your travel card" and went to hand it to her......and that is when the screaming started! She was grabbed by what looked like her mother and dragged away. Much shouting "it's a scam. Don't take it" real fear when they looked at me! It took her about 10 seconds to realise it was her card, but it felt like an age. The card was grabbed, no thanks or acknowledgment of their mistake and they scuttled off with much suspicious looking over their shoulders. It was embarrassing at the time and funny afterwards( my friends think it is hilarious!) but I really do think it is the saddest thing. This family were genuinely frightened, expecting to be targeted in one of the safest places in London by a 41 year old woman dressed for a business meeting. I had even brushed my hair!

The only reason I understood there reaction was from reading forums like this! As a local their behaviour was inexplicable. They must have spent their entire time in London clinging to their money belts quaking in fear.

I have been contributing to this site for a short time and to other travel forums for longer and I have increasingly noticed the focus on "safety" from many contributors,
The question "Is it safe?" seems to be a default first question with no thought of why wouldn't it be safe? (I have even seen it asked in reference to the Tower of London to which the obvious response is that there has been a lot of violence but it was very much in the past!)

The assumption seems to be that you WILL be targeted and that EVERYWHERE you go you WILL be in danger! I might be exaggerating slightly, but the first line of this forum does seem to say this pretty clearly - "Tourists are targeted by scam and rip off artists everywhere in Europe". Not a very helpful statement.
You could say, if you are a glass half empty kind of person, "tourists are targeted by scam and rip off artists everywhere, not just Europe" or " tourists are targeted by scam and rip off artists but the extent varies greatly by location in Europe." They certainly aren't targeted everywhere.

Why is there this fear? Is a flawed perception being reinforced by its constant discussion? Why do people think it will be so different away from home and that they have to completely change this behaviour to remain safe? Obviously making people aware of specific risks is important but has it reached overkill?

Posted by Joan
Gettysburg, PA, USA
380 posts

Emma, I think you are absolutely correct. I have often thought the same thing--way too much emphasis on scams, threats and unsafe conditions.
What's funny is that these messages often end with the words--Have a good trip!

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
13393 posts

This isn't first time that this question has been discussed. For awhile there was a poster here that was blaming this site for promoting the fear factors - more so than other sites. There is a lot of discussion about safety issues, pickpockets, scams, etc., but there needs to be the discussion especially for first time travelers. You cannot deny that pickpocketing, petty theft, is greater in most of the big cities of Europe than in the US. Because it is a frequently question/concern it will appear via the responses that it is a constant drumbeat. But I have read a lot of postings that acknowledges the problems but downplay the significances. So I don't think the balance is that bad. But if you have the perception that it is only negative then that is what you probably will perceive. And there is also the tendency of posters to post their experiences and expect those experiences to be universal for everyone. The fact that you have never had problem doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist.

Posted by Kristen
620 posts

It is a fear because it happens. I don't think it happens more in European large cities than it does it in American large cities. But it is much more of a pain in the butt to be pick pocketed while you are in a foreign country than it is at home. All you can do is give people the common sense information to wear a money belt, keep hands on their belongings, be careful who they are giving their money too, etc. And if people get carried away with that fear, that's on them. It will either make them stop traveling or they will relax after a couple of trips.

I grew up in a big city so European travel for me (with regards to theft) is business as usual. But I have recently moved for work (I'm not changing the name of my hometown yet because I am not emotionally ready). I now live in a town where people don't lock their doors, leave their keys in their cars, and write "IOU"s on post it notes for most local businesses. For people in this town, they DO need to change their behavior in order to keep themselves and their belongings safe when travelling whether it's to a large city in the US or Europe.

Posted by emma
1274 posts

Frank at no point did I say there wasn't petty crime in London, I queried whether it was being over exaggerated. I certainly have been the victim of petty crime in London ( bag stolen in bar, attempted mugging at the end of my own road, with a friend when her bag was snatched - all happened in suburban areas a long time ago). I also know that certain areas do have a problem eg pick pockets on Oxford street, hence the Met Police Taskforce.

I have no idea whether there is more or less petty crime in US cities or European cities but I think some of the confusion/ disagreement comes from the lumping together of all areas of Europe as the same. There are certain areas that definitely have a problem, I won't be rushing back to Barcelona for example, but most don't. It's like saying "All of North America has a problem with drug murders" based on the situation in parts of Mexico. The situation in most areas aren't comparable.

Obviously people need to be educated about the risks and how to protect themselves and their possessions, but I also think it might be helpful if they were also educated a little more about the likelihood of the risk. Surely it is better to be on your guard when you really need to be rather than constantly, and exhaustingly on edge expecting something to happen at any time, because " tourists are targeted ..........everywhere in Europe"

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

Chicken Little and the Doomsday Preppers.

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
3879 posts

I agree with you emma. Totally blown out of proportion imo. I feel 1000 times safer in Europe than I do here.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
2389 posts

I agree with Emma totally; it is overemphasized on this, and other, travel forums. Part of the problem is that when someone asks a question about this and a couple of people reply with appropriate answers, many many others just have to jump in and give their experiences and warnings too so it ends up seeming like it happens to everyone. I really appreciate those who jump in with the contrary viewpoint so it gives it some perspective (thanks Ed, Nigel, Ms Jo and others).

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
5541 posts

I encounter this type of mentality way too often. Since I ride the trains constantly and am out at the airport a lot, I see people who are lost, over-hear their conversations questioning which train to take, which stop to get off of the train or which ticket to buy, and see their frustrations. It is sad how many times when I have offered to help I not only get rebuffed, but in a rude way. Sometimes I don't even get an answer, they just turn away. Had one guy rudely tell me at the DB counter that if he wanted my help he would have asked for it. This is after watching him for 5 min. attempt to make himself understood by the DB employee, but with no success. So, I sit and watch them miss their stop that they wanted and spend twice as much for a ticket or struggle to get their suitcase into a train or up the steps. I am very laid back and polite with my offers of help, not touching them or getting too close, and obviously I am an American, middle aged woman. Not your typical thief or scam artist. So, yeah, the scare tactics that are filling the travel forums are excessive.

One of the big themes on the forum is blending in and how not to look like a tourist, but one of the things that give people away is the "tourist clutch" as they hold onto their bags for dear life, as though someone was going to run up and rip it out of their hands. In Germany! Paranoia supreme.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
6318 posts

When I started reading this forum a few years ago, I hadn't been to Europe for quite a long time. I thought, from reading the scary posts, that it had turned into something post-apocalyptic. I even bought a pacsafe bag (which I hated). Then I had to stop reading.

So arrived in Rome and immediately got that warm feeling of being home. It's been that way ever since.

People do need to take reasonable precautions, but in four decades of travel I've only lost money once, to a thief inside a church. When I lived in Miami my house was broken into four times, I was robbed twice (once with a gun to my head), accosted at knifepoint, and had other incidents too numerous and petty to mention. But I love Miami and would move back tomorrow.

It bothers me when people are victimized during what should be a happy and carefree time. These things tend not to happen in small towns.

I often offer to take photos for couples or families and sometimes there's a few seconds' wait by the (usually American) tourist while they calculate whether they can outrun me if I take off with their camera (they can). People from other countries often ask me to take their photo. I still offer to help lost- and confused-looking people.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1781 posts

So much depends on the type of person you are, and what you encounter in your everyday life. I would never, ever give cash to a nice man who offers to use his card at Gare du Nord to buy me metro tickets. I don't need to read about that scam to know that's stupid. But the person who is more naive should be looking up all the possible scams and preparing for them. Prepare but avoid paranoia. Fine line.

One very valid question is about the safety of an area. In a lot of cities, mine included, you can go from safe to uh-oh in a matter of a few blocks. Areas can decay or improve in the decade since you were last there.

I think Ms. Jo has problems with people because she comes up to them like this:


Posted by Kristen
620 posts

@Nancy- Totally agree that skews perception. People are much more likely to share their bad experiences (in lengthy fashion) then they are to share their good experiences. While I still believe in preparing people for travel to new cities, they should understand those bad experiences are not the norm.

One of my favorite good experiences to share: About 8 years ago, three friends and I had arrived in Rome early on a Sunday morning and took the train to Termini. We were very tired so we took a taxi to our hostel. Upon hearing the name of our hostel, our taxi driver got a look on his face and said he hadn't heard good things about it. I was internally rolling my eyes, thinking he would want to take us to something a "friend" ran. When we got to the hostel, he turned off the meter and told us to ask to see our room before giving money. And if we didn't like it, he would take us to another place. Well he was right- I won't elaborate because I am trying to keep this positive and I am 100% the hostel is no longer there. So we went back out to the driver who was still waiting for us. He called a few places on his cell phone and then took us to the Freedom Traveler (which is still there and I still love it). It was only a few blocks away so he wouldn't even let us pay him or give an extra tip for his kindness. He just said he loved Rome and wanted us to love it too.

I will also say my experiences with other taxi drivers has been pretty similar. I always get in marked taxis and get an idea of the price before I get in. Most are pretty excited to ask me questions and share details about their city even if it is in their native language and I only understand bits and pieces.

So Emma, maybe you should start a thread about generosity/kindness/helpfulness experienced during travel so people hear both sides.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
5541 posts

Thank you Ms. Karen. Now, when you come to Frankfurt, you will recognize me.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
5779 posts

I might be mistaken, but I believe that Emma lives in London and is not there as a tourist.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
3287 posts

@Ms Jo. Glad I met you before I was warned to be afraid of everything:). Just keep being your helpful self....there are still lots of people who will be so grateful :)))

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3398 posts

There is always a fine line on travel forums between warning people about various scams they might encounter or how to be safe from pick-pockets (which are not issues most Americans deal with at home) and fear-mongering. For the most part, few/none of our regular posters promote fear mongering, though some can be, IMO, overly cautious. But we don't control the constant new threads asking the same questions with the same concerns. We just have to answer them, sometimes with far more responses than are needed (which is true for many threads here).

As to your experience, I'd say I've met FAAAAR more people that are kind and gracious (locals and other tourists) than the type of the family you met. There are always rude people out there and I think some of the responses mentioned are more about rude people than fear. I've helped people and people have kindly helped me. Heck, I sometimes let the "helpful" guy at the train station buy the ticket for me and then give him a euro for his "help." On rare occasions when I try to help someone and they respond with rudeness, it is their loss not mine.

Posted by emma
1274 posts

Karen, I think the issue of unsafe areas does add to some of the sense misplaced of fear. I can only speak for the UK in Europe but in my experience we don't really have the unsafe area/ no go area in the same way as in the US. Yes we have dodgy areas and areas that you wouldn't want to loiter in for any particularly length of time at night but they are quite isolated and it would be highly unlikely for a tourist to stray into one and for then anything bad to happen. The divide is not as extreme as it perhaps is in other countries. Which is why when the question " is the area safe? " is asked we are a bit dismissive, in most cases "of course it is!"

Yes Andrea I live in London. By nature I am the ultimate cynic but I do think that most people are basically kind the world over. Most people, if they saw someone drop something would automatically pick it up and give it back. If someone looks lost or needs help carrying a suitcase up a flight of stairs many people in London will offer to help. That said, I work in Westminster so I won't stop to let you try and take a photo of your entire family in front of Big Ben and it you stand on the left of the escalator for more than half a second I will let you know......politely but with traditional british passive aggression:-)

Posted by Wray
Boston, ma, usa
444 posts

I think a little common sense goes a long way, no matter where one is. I live in Boston so I am just aware, even though Boston is a lovely, safe and walkable city. Petty crime can happen anywhere. Otherwise, I give people the benefit of the doubt. And I very often offer to help people here at home and people usually are very grateful. I did once offer to take a picture of young Japanese women in Florence. They kept changing positions to eventually have a picture of everyone, but the photographer. I offered to take a picture with all of them in it. They ran back to their tour group in fear…I was a middle aged, graying, well dressed woman. It was their loss and my laugh! They had obviously been taught fear…like some of the helpline posts on security.

I have received much help when traveling as well, usually with directions, and all very pleasantly. I try to be proactive and do the same here at home.

I just think some people are not used to traveling, being on public transportation, or being in big cities, so they get into trouble or they fear everything. The USA is a dangerous country compared to many we travel to, but if you are taught that we are the best, then that person will be very fearful in other countries, IMO. Sorry, my thoughts kind of rambled here.

Posted by Jennifer
13 posts

Emma- I'm sorry that happened to you.

But, oh my you brought tears to my husband's eyes and mine about 10 minutes ago with this story. I'm just stopping now to be able to write and say thank you for bringing a smile to our faces. We will be sure to loosen the grip (just a smidge) on our money belts when we arrive in London next week.

Thank you again :)

PS I'm sure it wasn't your hair.

Posted by christa
alameda, ca, usa
442 posts

I agree with Susan's assessment of feeling safer in Europe than I do here; interestingly, we both live in the SF bay area! I do feel there's a bit of overkill and some of it makes me anxious so I keep reminding myself that I am an assertive, intelligent and pleasant person and all I need to do is be alert and aware and go about my business and I've never had a problem. If I wouldn't do it at home then I don't do it anywhere else, and I always keep my money, cards and passport in a safe place so that's one less thing to worry about.

Posted by emma
1274 posts

Thanks Jennifer! I have 2 mottos in life " ALWAYS look for the funny side" and " what would Dolly Parton do?" Both have stood me in good stead!:-)
I hope you have a lovely time in London next week. Londoners really aren't as frightening as we sometimes look!

Ps re my hair. My mum once called me especially to tell me the problem with my new hair cut was that " I wasn't pretty enough to carry it off" I will leave you with that thought........

Posted by Patty
Steilacoom, WA, USA
634 posts

So here is another "perception" anecdote. Three years ago we were headed to a river cruise through Chalon-sur -Soane with enough luggage to make RS shudder, although in one large bag each. There were the typical stair down from the platform to the station. Us four almost senior citizens were seriously clogging things up. Several very nice young men finally took our suitcases down the stairs and back up again, thereby freeing the rest of the travelers to get on with their lives. In my mind I could visualize a travel forum post with, "Teenagers try to swipe our luggage" . In reality, they just wanted to get home!

And, how many times have I wished some younger person would carry something for me!

Posted by Sarah
United States
220 posts

Dear Emma,
Lovely post.

You asked "Why is there this fear?" After 25 years as a criminal defense attorney, I don't have a lot of fear, but I am aware that the further I am from a complete understanding of the language and customs of my surroundings, the less comfortable I am. For example, I am trying to plan a vacation with a daughter in London (may be a no-go; she just declared she 'hates' the theatre). I didn't give safety a thought other than wondering how to manage admittedly too much luggage, because I don't want to leave it to handle some detail - just as I wouldn't want to do that in any American city. I think it's because I know that I'll be hearing English, and I can relate to what I imagine customs are in the U.K.

I think it's fair and kind to alert people to the scams that can happen. The panic and fear that one feels could be somewhat avoided by a little more pretrip preparation.

I hope it wasn't an American, although it shouldn't matter who it was. At least the police weren't called.

I hope that you will repeat your act of kindness in the future. Fingers crossed that you get a better result!


Posted by emma
1274 posts

I totally understand the fear of being in an alien environment on holiday. When I went on holiday to China a couple of years ago I was absolutely petrified! If I hadn't had a friend to meet me at the airport I don't think I would have got off the plane. Within 24 hours I had fallen in love with the place.
I think what I find a bit odd is how some people seem to assume a bad thing is guaranteed to happen. Oh well, it takes all sorts....

You can still come to London even if you don't go to the theatre! There are some very good smaller theatres in London that your daughter might enjoy eg the Tricycle, the Menier Chocolate Factory and the Southwark Play house.
I'm sorry to say I'm with your daughter on that one. I really struggle with the theatre and ( whisper) I find Shakespeare hideously over rated or maybe his stuff is just over exposed! ( creeps away from forum holding head in shame.......)

When I have mentioned to people that I love to travel I will often get the response that they won't leave the continent because they feel safer. I have to tell them that I have never felt unsafe in Europe, and won't let any type of fear keep me from visiting the places I dream of.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10760 posts

I have no idea where this fear comes from, but it's getting ridiculous. One US visitor I hosted in my little village wouldn't even walk to the ATM without her moneybelt, because she read all about "pickpockets" in Europe.

And the idea that a wallet isn't safe in a sealed internal pocket in a buttoned up or zippered winter jacket or coat... please...

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
1117 posts

Thank you for continuing to beat this drum. Europe is safe, much safer than the US. People are afraid that they will have money stolen? Don't carry large amounts. People are afraid they will have their passports stolen? Don't carry your passport around with you.

Yes, this website perpetuates this fear in many ways - having a forum called "Tourist Scams" clearly isn't a good start. I have also questioned several times the conflict of interest on this site of selling money belts, etc while playing on people's fears.

Overall, this site seems to appeal most to first time/inexperienced travelers who will already be cautious. I applaud any attempt here to empower them to be bold and enjoy the world rather than remain in the shadow of fear.

Oh, and while I am at it, please wear whatever you want when you come to Europe. Nobody cares.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1781 posts

I was once walking to a crowded festival here in town, and a woman about 6 feet in front of me had a purse on her shoulder that was wide open, with a wallet visible, and money sticking out of the wallet. I caught up to her and quietly told her she should close her purse up. She clutched her purse and looked at me as if I were a pickpocket, and a rude one at that. Whatever, lady. At least she didn't run from me screaming.

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1496 posts

My youngest son is 6'6" TALL and 250lbs. A virtual 'giant' even here in the U.S., he was robbed at gunpoint at a flea market on the south side of Atlanta, and had his briefcase lifted at a very Elegant bar in Atlanta. Lost his cell phone, company computer, wallet, credit cards ALL in the briefcase. Total mess to clear up.

My husband is a retired airline pilot who is a jogger. He's traveled all over the U.S. for more than 35 ears of flying, and jogged in many cities in the U.S. Airline Officials advised Pilots and crew members to always have a $100 bill to 'give up' in the case of a robbery in the U.S. If you don't have enough $ -- they may shoot you! SO, he put the $100 bill in his sock when he jogged, just in case.

I "use caution" when I travel, and don't do anything differently in Europe than I do in the U.S. -- except I know that in Europe I may lose some $$ but won't get violently attacked. So far, never happened -- I stay in 'safe' areas, don't sleep in hotels near train stations, and just keep my purse tucked under my arm, but not "clutched in a paranoid manner" under my chin! I travel alone in Europe, with girlfriends, and with a grand daughter. So far, so good.

Agree that we're scaring a lot of 'newbie' travelers on this website and need to relent! If one or two people post truly helpful advice the rest of us should just shut up. I just realized I'm one who should shut up.

Posted by Sandra
422 posts

I was on a bus in Firenze this past September when all of a sudden the local people began yelling "Pickpocket" in Italian. The driver stopped the bus and the locals actually emptied the bus!

I was the only one left on the bus. A blondish casual dressed young man had come in the front door. I looked around and he turned his head to look at me. He was standing in the center.

I was sitting by the front door and i just stayed put. LOL! I was Not about to ruin my bus trip over a Pickpocket who scared all the locals off the bus!

Seemed like an overreaction to me. I proceeded to my destination and never gave that incident another thought.

I had my money belt and neck wallet on just like I do here in Chicago. Just another day in the life I know.

Posted by Mira
496 posts

I agree it is over-emphasized. It's not something I worry about, beyond the usual common sense that comes from living in cities all my life and traveling around the US a lot. The trouble is that a decent number of people on travel forums don't live in big cities and don't travel to American cities all that much. So they do need to learn what to many of us seems like "usual common sense". I'm reminded of a relative from a very small town coming to visit me in Chicago about 10 years ago. She was fooled by the people on the street approaching her with a sob story about a lost transit card and an emergency that needed cab fare. I'm sure this happens a lot, and people like my relative need to become a little more skeptical. How to do this without inciting paranoia is a really difficult balance. I'm not sure how to do that.

It happens to Americans in the US too. The news makes a very big deal about certain dangers, and people are convinced it will happen to them.

I like to have a plan for just in case something goes wrong (copies of passport in safe place/electronic, credit card phone numbers saved, not a ton of cash on me at once, that kind of thing). This makes me feel more secure, like if anything did happen I can handle it so I can relax a tad. But I can see where this would lead to real paranoia for others. We all react differently. To some learning about all the scams is empowering and they don't worry as much if they know the possibilities. Others learn the possible scams and then see them everywhere and become like the family in the OP. I honestly have no idea how to provide the info for those that need it without feeding the fears of those likely to become obsessed.

Posted by Roy
East Alabama
1056 posts

What makes you think the people got off the bus because of the other passenger? Maybe they thought YOU were the pickpocket!

Posted by emma
1274 posts

It does work the other way. When ever I travel to the USA my mother spends the entire time in a state of extreme fear as she is adamant I WILL be shot!, based on the news stories we often see over here.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2592 posts

'I have no idea where this fear comes from, but it's getting ridiculous." I'll blame FOX News!!

Been traveling the globe since 72. Most times solo. NYC, Chicago, D.C., Europe, Istanbul, Mexico, Cuba. One picket pocket issue in London years ago. Wallet stolen from a purse in The Gloriette Cafe near Harrod's just before Christmas. Happened to my traveling companion. Ironically, the incident totally restored faith in all things English as we reported it to the police who were most kind and apologetic.

The big issue was we were flying back to the States the following morning. The U.S. Embassy was closed due to the holiday BUT in a matter of an hour, after the police left a message on the emergency line, an embassy employee called from his country home and arranged for us to be able to meet with security at Virgin Airlines the following morning in order to board our flight.

To this day I remind my friend she should have married the englishman from the Embassy. This was prior to 9/11 but must say I remain impressed by how quickly and efficiently it was handled .

I live in a country where gun violence is the norm. While in London last fall a security officer was gunned down at LAX. As we watched the news my London host commented "how horrific." I commented, "what's horrific is that the news story in LA won't be the shooting, It will be how passengers were inconvenienced because the terminal was shut down. Death by gunfire is so common place, we've become to numb to it."

Trust me pick pockets and scams don't frighten me.

Posted by maryonichols
1 posts

We have been going to Europe Through the Back Door, following Rick's advice for 24 years. The pilfering professions have evolved over those years, and these boards have prepared us for what was currently happening. We had a little empty pocket fondling on the bus in Rome (by a person dressed as a nun!), the gypsy woman with the phony arm in Florence, and man trying to sell us fake subway tickets in Paris, but the thieves got nothing. Each case was a funny story to tell on our return. The great news was we knew about these issues, thanks to these forums, and were well prepared for the possibility. Yes, it's perfectly safe if you're aware that you might be a target. So keep your wallet or essentials in your breast pocket or cross-body purse zipped or with your hand on it at all times, and only take from the hotel safe what you need for the day. Don't drink so much that you become unaware and wander into sketchy parts of town. Simple as that. If you're not an easy mark, don't fret about being one. I follow this advice in my own city, and don't worry here either. Go and experience the amazing history and cultures of the world without worry, because you have outsmarted the thieves, and maybe you'll have a fun story to tell when you get back!

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
9291 posts

Emma, thank you for a thoughtful post with insights that question a viewpoint that is probably common on this and perhaps other travel forums.
I think you made us think, and they say thinking is good.

Posted by Bob
Gettysburg, PA
1475 posts

I have never had any of these problems in Europe, but this one time at Band camp...................................

Posted by sstoneham
7 posts

I have traveled a lot, in Europe and in the rest of the world and the worst experience happened to me in the US. When I lived in Argentina for a year, I was pickpocketed twice- the first time they got my passport (what a pain), I was being an idiot and they probably thought they were stealing money and instead got my passport. The sencond time I had my wallet in my backpocket and they took it, getting a total of 20 bucks and some soon-to-be canceled credit cards. I lost a credit card in Madrid- not sure if it fell out of my bag on the plane or if it was stolen. I also had my fake stash of money ($10) stolen in a crowded market in Guatamala. They missed the $200 in my shoe and 3/4 of the group I was traveling with had unzipped pockets and bags during that trip. A cab driver in Panama City tried to scam me and multiple shop owners in Egypt.

The worst experience I've ever had was in Atlanta when I was robbed at knifepoint in a parking lot of a nice shopping center. I've also had friends robbed by knifepoint on the streets of Lima, Peru and and the train station in Bucharest. Crime can happen anywhere.

While now I take more safeguards with my money than I use to, I don't live my life or travels in fear. I think it is important to be safe and to know the risks, and many first time travelors might not be aware of risks and have a backup plan. I have however encountered more than one "travel angel" as I call them. In Poland, an old lady who spoke no English took me halfway across town to get me on the right bus that had been rerouted. The worker of a rental car agency in the Egyptian airport who let me borrow his phone to call when our airport transfers never arrived. The bus driver in Chile who let me stay on the bus to get back to my hotel (2 hours drive away) even though I had bought the wrong ticket and was out of cash. I choose to remember these people and try to emulate them in my own city of Chicago: helping them with directions if I see them struggling with a map, offering to use my card to tap them onto the L train if they arrived at a station without a pay machine.

Posted by BB
115 posts

I can remember a time when people would let their guards down and take fewer normal precautions when they were on vacation and then be surprised when something happened (like being robbed). Perhaps the pendulum has swung too much the other way.

Clearly, the people you encountered were overly paranoid, and I wonder if they could possibly have enjoyed their vacation at all. However, I think people like that are going to create problems for themselves no matter what information they are given.

I'm convinced that the information here prevented us from being pickpocketed on our first trip to Europe (on the Paris metro). Had I not read forums like this one, we would not have been as aware and alert as we were. Did it mean we freaked out at every unexpected encounter? Not at all. We met many helpful people in both Paris and London and had a wonderful time.

In fact, our daughter left her iPod Touch in the seat pocket of the plane in London. The person who found it--a Londoner--figured out the email address attached to the iTunes account (with the help of his teenaged son) and contacted me (as my daughter was a minor then, so it was my email address). He offered to post the item to our home, but as we were still in London, we made other arrangements to pick it up, and it did require exchanging some personal contact information with a complete stranger. This gentlemen went out of his way for us when it would have been easy to simply keep the iPod.

That said, I am glad to have the information here and to be aware of what some of the typical scams are, not so that we can travel in fear, but so that we can enjoy our trip without the hassle of being victims.

Posted by janettravels44
1463 posts

well Americans are a fearful people. Our tabloid industry just dumps this constant acid of fear fear fear fear constantly on people. Add to that the warnings about pickpockets and such and you get this kind of looney toon behavior.

Being well dressed of course is irrelevant here; in London not long ago a nicely dressed couple managed to steal the purses of two women in the breakfast room of a small hotel we were staying in. One woman lost her passport the morning she was to fly home. The thieves (only people in this place who could have taken the purses) looked like a couple of young business people and managed to snag these things sashaying through the dining room on their way out.

your story though reminds me of someone I know who actually found a ring in Paris -- she stood there knowing that to say 'did someone drop their ring' was going to have predictable outcomes. She ended up turning it in to some sort of police lost and found.
The fact is that there is organized aggressive thievery in Europe particularly in cities like Paris, Madrid, Rome etc and this is largely run by a very specific ethnic group and the authorities don't seem serious about doing anything about it. They often use children which makes it even more complicated. Most of the pickpockets I have seen in Paris are teen girls, although we have also been accosted by middle aged men and young men in groups. My husband got frisked on the stairs of metro station as he carried luggage. They didn't get anything because we don't carry valuables where they are accessible to pickpockets, but lots of people lose things this way.
I am in almost no danger of being pickpocketed in Chicago. Now my odds of being shot in any American city are MUCH higher than in Europe or of being mugged, but the kind of petty thievery that targets tourists in Europe is not evident in most of the US.

Posted by
2 posts

This story is both funny and tragic as described. It is important as a citizen of the world that we prepare for anything. Doing so with confidence and without fear is the best way to ensure that you are not the target of any scam, etc. whether at home or abroad. There are many fantastic people who will help you in the world; a traveler misses out on chance encounters with cool, cool people by being terrified of theft or scams all the time. Just be prepared, that is it!!! Make a habit of where you put your money, your valuables, your keys, be thoughtful and smart. Always go to the hotel first to drop off everything you don't have to sightsee with. If you don't have access to the hotel yet go to the train station and rent a locker or two. Then pin the locker key inside your satchel, pocket whatever. use locks or even safety pins to secure zippers, a small deterrent is sometimes just enough to make a pickpocket move on to the next tourist. Crime can happen anywhere. Everywhere in the world bags are stolen cars/houses/hotels are broken into, pockets are picked. Be smart, present, have a plan be confident, not suspicious, calm and confident! If I can do this as a 19 year old girl, backpacking through Europe riding the trains, sometimes by myself and be safe, than so can any of you!!!

Posted by S Jackson
Vancouver, Canada
62 posts

Very interesting topic and replies.
I wouldn't drive around here at night with my car doors unlocked, nor would I leave my front door unlocked while in the back garden.
However, in Europe I have walked alone in Rome and London late at night, traveled around Italy on my own many times.
I've only had one bad experience: last summer in Florence two guys got my ATM card away from me , while another zeroed in on the PIN number as they were distracting me.
Stupid of me to use an ATM out in a quiet street, instead of going inside a bank behind glass to use one; but there you are.
Got it all back through my great bank before I got back home .
I'm just back from 10 days in New York city; and couldn't get over how helpful and polite the locals were; I loved it all and can't wait to go back.
Same in London, where many times I was given help without asking, to carry my suitcase up or down to the trains and Tube platforms in stations with no escalators.
I think most humans have a good honest streak, at least I like to believe so!