Make sure to follow this European travel safety guide to ensure a safe and memorable trip abroad.
There is nothing quite like a European vacation: the wide variety of cultures and landscapes, as well as the friendly people you meet, almost guarantees you’ll have the trip of a lifetime-as long as you’re prepared. The preparation includes following certain safety tips to feel secure wherever you may be.
Is Europe a safe place?
Make sure you are aware of any potential safety concerns in your destination before traveling abroad. Although there was an increasing number of terrorist attacks in Europe from 2015 to 2017, the continent is generally considered a very safe place to visit. Europe is a safe and secure destination for the majority of travelers due to its political stability, relatively low violent crime rate, and the comprehensive healthcare system. However, petty theft and pickpocketing are often a much bigger problem in Europe’s big cities.
However, you can work to avoid this situation. Many tourists enjoy great traveling experiences throughout the region every day, and some basic preparations will allow you to experience the same.
Check out our top safety tips – and great gear – for protecting yourself while traveling to Europe.
1. What is the right travel gear for safe travel?
Deciding what to bring to Europe can be challenging. When you are out and about, bring a money belt or neck wallet to protect your credit cards, cash and identification. In addition to a money belt that tucks into your waistband, a neck wallet protects your valuables by keeping them out of sight of any peeping thieves. If you plan on taking valuables that may not fit in a money belt or wallet, consider purchasing a day bag with a lockable zipper on one of the compartments. You will be able to prevent anything from falling out if you are not paying attention, as well as preventing theft. If you are in crowded areas, remain aware of your surroundings and stay alert whenever there is any commotion nearby – thieves often create a disturbance in order to distract you long enough for them to steal your belongings.
One item that we think is a great item to use are Tiles. While they won’t prevent thefts they can help you sometimes locate your items. Especially if they are well hidden in your luggage or bag or in your laptop bag where the thief may not know of their presence or what they are.
2. How do you prepare for theft?
Though Europe is not a hotbed of violent crime, it is prone to petty theft, pickpocketing, phone theft, and general ripping off of tourists, particularly in places where tourists gather. In particular, narrow, crowded places like pedestrian streets or on bridges, such as the Charles Bridge in Prague are prime hot spots for thieves.
Vacationers are targeted by thieves, not because they are malicious, but because they are smart. We are the ones with all of the good stuff in our pockets and wallets. Loaded with valuables, jet-lagged, and stumbling around in a strange environment, we stand out like jeweled thumbs.Keep that neck wallet we mentioned tucked under your shirt. You do not need to advertise it. If I were a European street robber, I would target Americans – my card would read “Yanks R Us.”
You will have something stolen if you are not constantly on guard. Last year in Baden-Baden at the spa I screwed up and left my pants and wallet in the changing stall. Someone turned the pants into the desk but without my wallet. The next day the cleaning crew found the wallet and luckily only my cash was missing. My id, passport, and debit and credit cards were still there (although I had placed a stop on the cards). My hotel rooms have never been raided and I simply do not let thoughts of petty crime – or the rare incidence of it – spoil the fun of being abroad.
If you exercise reasonable discretion, keep an eye on your belongings, and avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations (e.g. unlit, deserted areas at night), your travels should be similar to local grocery shopping. Do not travel fearfully – travel carefully.
Here are some tips.
Prepare yourself by taking steps to minimize any possible loss before you depart. Take photos or copies of key documents and store them online. Consider purchasing theft insurance for your expensive electronic devices. Leave your fancy jewelry at home. Luxurious luggage attracts thieves. There is a good chance that they will select the designer suitcase in the pile – and not mine.
When your phone is stolen, you are not only out of the cost of the device but also the photos and personal information stored on it. Before your trip, take extra precautions: install a “find my phone”-type app, back up your data, and enable password protection. While traveling, use the Wi-Fi at your hotel to sync your phone and its pictures each night. If you are unfamiliar with the process of syncing your stuff to the cloud, you should learn before your trip.
Don’t forget to wear a money belt. A money belt is a small, zippered pouch on an elastic strap that fastens around your waist, under your pants or shirt. It is the one item I never travel without – it is where I put anything I really, really do not want to lose.
Leave valuables in the hotel room and in the room safe should the hotel have one. In a hostel always use a locker. Expensive equipment, such as your laptop, is far safer in your room than in a day bag on the street. (Some travelers secure their passports in the room safe while they are out for the day.) Hotel room theft happens, of course, but it is relatively rare – hoteliers are quick to squelch patterns of theft. Nonetheless, do not tempt sticky-fingered employees by leaving a camera or tablet on display; hide all enticing items well out of sight. Many hotels allow you to leave your room key at the front desk while you are off exploring, so it is less likely to be lost or stolen.
Be sure to secure your bag, gadgets, and other valuables while you are out and about. The thieves are seeking to separate you from your valuables as quickly as possible, so even a minor obstacle can be effective. If you are sitting down, wrap your daypack strap around your arm, leg, or chair leg. When planning to sleep on a train (or anywhere in public), attach your pack or suitcase to the seat, luggage rack, or yourself. A twist tie, paper clip, or keyring can also be used to keep your bag tightly closed. The goal is not to make your bag impenetrable, but to make it harder for others to get into.
Never leave valuable items on a train seat or restaurant table, where they are easily stolen. This includes cameras, phones, wallets, and rail passes. Keep these documents tucked away. When In a crowded café, do not leave your phone on the bar: Keep it in your front pocket (and place it in a safe place before you leave).
Some thieves are even so bold as to take something directly from your hands. If you are holding up your phone to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower, a thief can easily grab it and run – and he can navigate his escape route through the streets of Paris much more confidently than you can. Be aware of the people around you.
To minimize this risk, it would be wise to keep valuable devices attached to you or your bag (this will also reduce the likelihood of accidentally leaving something behind). For instance, ensure your camera strap is looped around your neck or wrist even while taking a picture. Attach gadgets to your daypack with a lanyard (if there are no interior attachment points, feed straps through zipper pulls or a safety pin hooked to the inside of the bag).
Make sure that your hiding places are discreet. Keep valuables in a money belt or other secure pocket if possible. Thieves are easily able to identify the easiest targets – usually, the person whose back pockets bulge or the woman who constantly checks to ensure her money is still there, or the person who has had a few too many beers at Oktoberfest.
Stay alert in crowds and avoid commotions. Be alert whenever you hear a commotion; it could be a smokescreen for theft. Imaginative artful dodger thieves create a disturbance in order to distract their victims – a fight, a spillage, a jostle, or a stumble. Bad guys will find plenty of targets, opportunities, and escape routes in crowds anywhere, but especially on public transportation and at flea markets.
Be vigilant at train stations, particularly upon arrival when you may be overburdened with luggage and overwhelmed by a new environment. Just a tiny bump and a slight nudge when leaving the metro in Paris, and…wallet gone. I experienced exactly the same thing or so I thought. I was bumped by a guy and immediately grabbed him. I did scare the crap out of him and as it turned out it was just an actual bump and not a theft.
Your travel partner and you should alternate in watching the bags. One time a group of us did this at the train station in Plzen. It turns out the person we left them with had an obsessive compulsion disorder. When we returned from getting some breakfast all of our bags were stacked neatly in a row going from large to small. Anyway, we found it funny.
Do not leave your bags unattended while you wait in line. If you leave them at the baggage claim counter, keep the luggage tag or locker key in your money belt; thieves know exactly where they should go if they find one of these. When riding the train, and particularly in city transit, be vigilant at stops, where thieves may dash on and off with your bags.
The city buses that offer sightseeing tours (such as Rome’s notorious #64) are prime hunting grounds. Be aware when moving through packed buses and subway cars; some travelers wear their day bag against their chest (with a strap around one shoulder). There are thieves who lurk near subway turnstiles; as you pass through, one may come right behind you, pick your pocket, and leave, leaving you stranded behind the turnstile and unable to follow. If you remain alert, you’ll be able to protect your valuables, too. By mentioning these scenarios, I do not wish to make you paranoid. Just be prepared. If you stay alert, you will be able to protect your valuables.
Establish a “do not lose it” discipline. Generally, travelers are more likely to lose their belongings by accident than to have them stolen. I’ve known people to unknowingly leave backpacks on train station platforms. Luckily it was still there when we returned. Another friend on the last night after a two-week trip left his camera in the taxi. Of course, it was never returned and the pictures were gone. Before leaving any place or method of transportation, it is always a good idea to look behind you.
When staying at hotels, stick to a routine when unpacking, and do not place things in unusual places in the room. Make a mental checklist every time you pack up: money belt, passport, phone, computer, chargers, toiletries, laundry, etc. Be sure to perform a thorough search of the room before you depart – under the bed, under pillows and bedspread, behind the bathroom door, and in a wall socket…
Be sure to leave a clue for honest finders. Even the most cautious traveler can leave something behind, and accidents do happen. If you are concerned about losing a special item, you should attach a small note containing your email address or your travel partner’s phone number. This will allow an anonymous person to return it extra easily. At Oktoberfest one year one of my travel companions lost her wallet. It was returned the next day at our hotel. In a similar incident two years ago my girlfriend lost her wallet after Oktoberfest. We spent the next day searching for it but to no avail. A couple of weeks later she found it at a Doner Kebab place near where she lived-that of course she didn’t remember going to.
Keep your material losses in perspective. There are a lot of tourists who get angry when they are robbed or pickpocketed. If that happens to you, you should try to get over it. You are wealthy enough to travel, but thieves are not. When you let your guard down, they took your camera, ruining your day and causing you to have to buy a new camera for a week’s salary on their scale. Don’t allow a thief to further rob you by allowing the loss to ruin your entire trip if they have stolen your possessions.
There probably are not more thieves in Europe than in the United States. The reason we notice them more is that they target tourists. Keep in mind that the majority of crimes committed against tourists are nonviolent and preventable. Travelers should be aware of the dangers of travel, but they should relax and enjoy themselves. Limit your vulnerability rather than your travels.
While the protective measures you take will hopefully keep you safe, it never hurts to prepare for the worst just in case-this will save you a great deal of time if you have to recover from a robbery. Copy all the documents that you will need while abroad-passport, identification, insurance, vouchers, addresses, as well as transportation tickets-and keep them separate from the originals so you will have backups and proof in case of an emergency. In most cases, it is best to leave the most valuable items at home, but if you must bring valuable items with you (such as jewelry or electronics), take clear pictures of all of them before the trip so that you will have evidence of value if you need to make an insurance claim later.
3. TAKE A STRATEGIC VIEW
Keep an eye out for thieves around crowded areas, and stay alert anytime there is a disturbance nearby-thieves will often cause a disturbance to distract you just long enough for them to steal your stuff. Use the gear you brought to its fullest advantage: Wear your waist bag or backpack in front of you in busy areas so you are aware of your belongings, and always align the zippers at the top of the bag where others can easily see if someone is reaching in. When seated, loop the straps of your bag around chairs, armrests, or – most effectively – your legs. making it harder for people to swoop by and run off with your things. A carabiner clip can also be used to secure the straps of your luggage to something stationary in Europe.
4. How do you deal with losing everything?
If you lose your passport or rail pass, don’t worry; keep your smartphone secure in your money belt. You are traveling across Europe, having the time of your life, when you make a simple mistake. You set your bag down beside your café chair and before you know it, it is gone. Unfortunately, this is the day you left your passport, credit cards, and extra cash in your bag rather than in your money belt. The feeling of sinking is the realization that you have lost everything except the few euros in your pocket.
Most likely, this will never happen to you. Nevertheless, a little bit of advance planning can help you turn this worst-case scenario into a minor bump on your European vacation.
5. What do you do if you get ripped off in Europe?
Do not panic. First, take a deep breath. Your judgment is clouded by panic. No matter how careful you are, you can still be ripped off or lose a bag. I once met a family in Amsterdam who had lost all their bags on their way from the airport to their first hotel, and they went on to have a very successful trip. Positivity can be a valuable asset.
You should ask for assistance. If you are in a country where English is not widely spoken, ask a local English speaker to assist you in making phone calls or explaining the situation to officials. Even in the smallest towns, you are likely to find someone who speaks at least a little English. Your fellow travelers and even family and friends back home can also provide assistance.
Dial 112 from any telephone for emergency assistance (police, medical, or fire). This toll-free number is the European Union’s equivalent of 911. In many cases, operators can answer in English.
Report the incident to the police. Report the theft or loss to a police officer. In addition to helping you replace your passport and credit cards, a police report is required when filing an insurance claim for the loss of a train pass or expensive travel equipment. You may be able to obtain assistance from a local travelers’ assistance office or a Red Cross-like organization. In addition, if you are lucky, someone may actually turn in your bag. I had this experience once as I mentioned before. My pants and wallet were taken from a changing room. First, the pants were turned into the front desk and then the overnight cleaning crew found the wallet minus my cash. The thieves are not interested in your clothing or your bag. All they want is what they can resell. The rest is discarded. I am sure that the person who took my cash was not a professional thief but just someone who took advantage of the opportunity for some quick cash.
Gather necessary information. Your best bet is to have photocopies of your important documents with you. If you don’t have your bank or embassy’s contact information, you can look it up online (if the Internet is unavailable, explain the situation to your host, the hotelier, or an employee at the tourist office if you may use their office computer). In addition, your hotelier or a tourist office employee should be able to assist you in placing necessary collect or toll-free calls. Use the information you have stored online, or ask for help from family and friends. Please exercise caution when e-mailing passport and credit card numbers. Send important documents by fax to a trusted location if you need them.
You should replace your passport. It is of the utmost importance. Without a passport, you will be unable to leave the country and may have difficulty checking into a new hotel or receiving wired funds. There may be a need to visit an embassy or consulate in person (in the capital and sometimes in major cities as well) to get a temporary passport.
If you are unable to schedule an appointment at the embassy or consulate, you will need to appear during open hours and wait your turn. Whenever possible, print the required forms from their website and fill them out before you go. If you do not have a photocopy of your passport, embassy personnel can research your previous passport records, interview you and your travel companions, and even call your family and friends to verify your identity.
U.S. citizens can locate embassy and consulate information at travel.state.gov. All US consulates have an American Citizen Services office, which helps Americans abroad in coping with natural disasters, receiving money, and replacing their passports (from Europe, call +1-202/501-4444; from the United States, call 888/407-4747). Generally, a replacement passport costs $140 and is usually issued within a few days, or sooner if you can demonstrate that you need it right away. In case you do not have the necessary funds, the embassy will assist you in contacting someone at home who can wire money directly to the embassy. In the event that no one is able to wire the money, the embassy staff may waive the fee or give you a “repatriation loan” – just enough funds to cover the cost of a new passport and return home.
Should you reside in Canada, you will need to report the loss or theft to the local police, as well as your nearest embassy or consulate. The Canadian authorities will conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances, which may delay the processing of your request. You must complete an application form and statutory declaration regarding the lost/stolen passport, supply two passport photos, demonstrate your Canadian citizenship, and pay a fee of $190 CAD (for more information, visit canada.ca).
Cancel your debit and credit cards. Please cancel your lost or stolen debit and credit cards within two days of discovering the loss (meeting this deadline limits your liability to $50) and order replacement cards. All Visa, MasterCard, and American Express companies have international customer-assistance centers which can be reached via collect calls from anywhere (see sidebar). You will need to know the name of the bank that issued the card, the card type (classic, platinum, etc. ), the card number, and the names of the primary and secondary cardholders, the cardholder’s name exactly as printed on the card; billing address; home telephone number; circumstances of the loss or theft; and identification verification (birthdate, mother’s maiden name, or social security number – memorize these; do not carry a copy). You must also provide the primary cardholder’s identification verification details if you are the secondary cardholder.
A new card can generally be delivered to you by your bank within two to three business days in Europe. They may also be able to wire cash to keep you going or pay for your hotel room directly. Inquire about these extra services. It is also possible to transfer money from an American bank to a European bank, but it may take several days to accomplish – you will probably have the new cards much more quickly.
Travel documents should be replaced. Point-to-point rail etickets can often be reprinted from any computer or at the station, however, tickets purchased at the station and printed on special ticket paper probably cannot be replaced. It is not possible to replace a rail pass – you will need to purchase a new pass (most likely sent from home) or purchase new tickets to complete your trip. If you purchased Rail Europe’s Rail Protection Plan, you may be entitled to a partial refund when you return to the US. You do not need to obtain new copies of airline tickets – once you have obtained a new passport, the airline can easily look up your reservation at the airport.
Try to recreate any other documents you may have been carrying in your bags, such as hotel and car rental confirmations. If you do not possess these documents, such as those in your email or with a friend at home, you can contact the hotel or car rental agency and explain your predicament.
Rearrange your travel plans. In order to obtain a new passport, you may need to rearrange your travel plans depending on the time it takes and the distance you must travel to reach an embassy or consulate. Your main problem might be your boss if you can’t make it home on time for work. You should cancel and reschedule hotels and flights as soon as possible in order to avoid losing deposits or paying change fees. In the event that you are unable to obtain cash or credit cards for a few days, check with your bank or a family member back home to cover your hotel fees.
Replace the travel gear. As soon as you have begun the process of replacing your passport and credit and debit cards, it is time to consider replacing travel gear such as your camera, phone, or tablet. Depending on your insurance policy, you may be eligible for reimbursement of some of the replacement costs when you return home. Choose which items are essential enough to replace immediately (flea markets, thrift stores, and cheap department stores are great places to find bargains). If you need to have something shipped from home, you might consider US-Europe second-day services (though delivery to a small town will probably take four or more days).
Replenish prescriptions. Make sure you bring a copy of your prescription to a pharmacy – if you do not have one, you may want to contact your doctor’s office by phone or email. A copy can usually be faxed or emailed to you in Europe. If you require prescription eyewear, your optometrist can do the same.
Replacement of a rental car key. Should you lose the key to your rental vehicle, please contact the car rental company and provide your rental agreement number and your exact location. The cost of a replacement key will be $200 or more, and you may need to wait 24 to 48 hours for the delivery of new keys or purchase a new vehicle.
While traveling, you do not have to be paranoid, but you should be aware of your surroundings and be prepared, especially if you are traveling alone in Europe. A trip of a lifetime can be experienced with the right gear and sensibilities.
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