Safety Tips for Europe

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As mentioned in my previous posting, i had the misfortune of a second encounter with pick-pocketing, in Barcelona. However, “thanks” to the previous encounter, i learnt how not to fall prey this time.

It happened in the metro station again. We went past a lift and back-tracked to take it. Immediately three men who were standing near the lift followed us into it. They were not going to take the lift, and yet they did the moment we turned around to take it. Suspicious. Now this was a see-through lift with 24 hours surveillance video recording, and even this was not good enough to deter pick-pockets! They pretended to want to help with our luggage, putting their hands on the it but not actually exerting any force. Strange looking gestures. If you think about it, ordinary folks wouldn’t be bothered about your luggage unless you are really in need of help.

One of them continued with the gesture of bending down, towards me, even though there was no need to move the luggage. He had a jacket on his hand. This was literally meant for covering up his act. Immediately, I stuck my hands into my pockets and pressed down against my phone and wallet. This stopped him from what he was intending to do. The lift door opens, and i smiled while gesturing to them to go out first. A close shave indeed.

DSC_0137 The lift where it happened

In the Barcelona metro stations, they broadcast announcements in English to warn people of pick-pocket distraction tactics. They also have security personnels accompanied by dogs (as shown in the top most photo). The effort is certainly to be lauded. But the fact that there are still pick-pockets preying on tourists is regrettable. It points to a bigger problem.

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It seems quite a common hearsay that there is a very high likelihood of getting pick-pocketed or robbed while on holiday in Europe. My take on this – I wouldn’t be too worried. Europe is really quite safe. Policemen and surveillance are deployed where they are needed, and they really don’t take security lightly. On the part of the traveller, these are the safety tips i would observe to avert trouble:

  • Don’t carry your wallet in your pocket. If you have to, use a slim wallet and store only what you need for the day – probably just one credit card and some cash.
  • When you are moving your luggage, you are very VULNERABLE, since your attention will be on your luggage and you can be distracted easily. In such a situation, you definitely must not carry any valuables in your pocket. Put them in your luggage or haversack.
  • Don’t respond to anyone who tries to talk to you on the street. It is not normal for common folks to do this, unless you’re in Switzerland, where you may actually meet some genuinely friendly people who are not in need of money. In Italy, watch out for those who try to tie a bangle on your hand saying it’s free and then ask for money later.

Be alert but don’t worry too much.

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