Travel Safely: 5 Ways to Stay Safe on Your European Vacation

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Statistically, European countries tend to have lower violent crime rates than the USA. However, petty theft and other offenses are ubiquitous in some areas, and regardless of where you go you’re probably going to encounter the same pickpockets, scam artists and assorted unsavory characters you’d find in your American city. Here are the top five ways to stay safe as you travel around Europe.

5 Keep Some Money at Hand

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On the same theme, keep some coins or a few small bills in an outer pocket of your bag (one you can still close!). That way, if you want to buy a snack or a bus ticket, you’re not fiddling with your wallet.

4 Watch Your Bag

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Pickpockets are a problem in any major city and they tend to operate in crowded, busy areas – such as the ones that tourists frequent. You may have seen travelers walking around with “front packs” – backpacks worn on the front to try to thwart this. The drawback to this is that it is more or less a glaring neon sign that you’re a tourist (and therefore, perhaps, an easy mark). The more you blend in the better and a front pack doesn’t help you there. It may be preferable to carry a bag that can be zipped and closed (or even secured with a small lock) and carried naturally. Messenger bags work well for both genders – you can carry them cross body, which cuts down on the possibility that they will be snatched away; and you can wear the bag with the compartments zipped and the flap toward you, so that it’s impossible for someone to rifle through it.

3 Be Careful on Trains

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Overnight trains are a great way to travel, but they’ve also long been fertile hunting grounds for thieves. If you’re sleeping on a train, find some way to keep your belongings on your person. Use your knapsack as a pillow and wrap your hand around the straps. If you’re traveling with a companion, consider sleeping in shifts. If you have a compartment, lock your door if you can. Never leave anything unattended on a train, even if you’re just briefly going out to use the bathroom or get a snack. If someone sitting near you or in your compartment makes you uncomfortable, don’t worry about being polite – just get up and move.

2 Don’t Sacrifice Safety for Savings

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Hostels and inexpensive hotels can be awesome and can enrich your trip. However, you don’t want to sacrifice safety for a few extra euros in your pocket. That hostel out in the desolate part of town might not be such a great bargain if you get mugged on the way there. Try to read up on your destination in advance, ask around and see which parts of town are considered safest, and go from there.

1 Learn to Be Rude

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Okay, let’s explain. I’m not telling you to be rude to locals, workers or other travelers you encounter. I’m just saying that self-preservation trumps manners, and that you’re not required to engage with people who approach you on the street. A lot of scam artists and thieves exploit your kindness and sense of obligation to make their schemes work. At Sacre Coeur in Paris, for instance, predators will approach you, make friendly conversation, and use it as an opportunity to rob you or loop you into a scam. They’re counting on the fact that you’re going to feel obligated to be polite and stop to talk to them. The best way to avoid getting burned by such characters is to keep walking and completely ignore them, or offer a simple “sorry, I’m busy.” You should refuse to answer their questions and loudly say “no!” or “leave me alone!” if they get too close or aggressive. Scammers don’t want scenes, so most of the time they’ll back off. That all flies in the face of our natural instincts to be friendly to others, but it’s necessary.

There’s a lot to see and do in Europe. Get to it… safely, of course.

Denise Reich is a lifelong traveler: she moved 14 times and went to 10 schools before she turned 15. As an adult she’s traveled solo through five continents and lived on three. Her essays, fiction and non-fiction have appeared in publications across the USA, Canada and Bermuda.

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