For me, my personal safety in Europe is the same as in the USA: I don’t give it much of a thought. But I am fully aware that there’s a huge risk of petty, nonviolent purse snatching and pickpocketing. Thieves in Europe target American tourists — not because the thieves are mean…but because they’re smart. We’re the ones with the good stuff in our purses and wallets. I’ve been preaching that (and the importance of wearing a money belt) for decades. And for decades (probably 4,000 travel days in Europe) I’ve never been hit. Well, my happy streak ended: I was just pickpocketed.
Thieves know where the crowds are — and where the tourists are — and they are very, very deft at their work. A petite bump and a slight nudge getting off the Métro in Paris and bam — wallet gone. OK, I admit, it’s my fault…I wasn’t wearing my money belt. And it cost me. I went back to the hotel, referred to the emergency section in the appendix of our Paris guidebook, and set about canceling my credit cards. I lost my driver’s license, two credit cards, and some money.
It’s funny because just last week I saw some street thieves on a trolley in Lisbon. I was feelin’ pretty cocky, and took some photos in preparation for posting them with the following text:
There’s a thief on this trolley car. Lots of tourists are pickpocketed in Europe, and I’d bet half of all the incidents are on public transit — particularly on routes popular with tourists, like trolley #28 in Lisbon. Looking out the window of our trolley, my guide said, “See those three women? They’re pickpockets. Be on guard.” They settled into the crowded trolley, and I got to be the sly observer.
I don’t think the thieving women knew I was on to them, so I had a little fun. With one, I pretended to be concerned about her personal vulnerability and warned her with sign language to watch her mobile phone and that there were likely thieves on this very bus. It was fascinating watching the thief team communicate: to see their ready hands and darting eyes and notice their patience as they stalked the people who came and went. And every time I raised my camera to snap a shot of my TV producer, Simon Griffith, one of the thieves raised her map to cover her face.
It may be entertaining to see thieves in your midst, but they are cleverer than we are and sooner or later, if you’re not on guard, wearing a money belt — or at least keeping everything properly zipped and buttoned — you’ll be a victim.
This is Day 48 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.