I woke up to the train conductor’s voice crackling over the loudspeaker, announcing that it was 6:30 am and that we had concluded our overnight journey from Zurich to Vienna. I squinted through the window for my first glimpse of Austria while groggily reaching under my seat for my glasses. A minute passed before panic snapped me out of my sleepiness. My glasses were not under my seat, and neither was my purse the glasses were in, which meant my passport, driver’s license, cash, and credit cards were also gone.
I blindly made my way to the police station after de-boarding the train with two other groups of travelers – the thief had made their rounds through the train. When I got WiFi and logged into my online banking, I discovered that all the money from my cash card had been withdrawn at 4 am in an Austrian train station that I have never even heard of.
Although most trips turn out to be amazing experiences, as a traveler you are a prime target for many scams and pickpockets that are just waiting to take advantage of a nice tourist like you!
Unfortunately, my story is not really unique. Tourists are vulnerable: you’re pumped for your epic vacation, sleep deprived because you procrastinated and packed all night, jittery from all of the Starbucks you drank at the airport to consequently survive the sleep deprivation, and now jet lagged and confused from zooming through so many time zones. Although most trips turn out to be amazing experiences, as a traveler you are a prime target for many scams and pickpockets that are just waiting to take advantage of a nice tourist like you!
After I realized my purse was totally gone I started freaking out, imagining the DMV lines I would have to wait in to get a new license, the thief using my brand new wallet, and the worst, imagining the price of altering my trip itinerary due to lack of passport. I needed the passport in two days to leave from Austria to Budapest, and then most importantly to board my plane from Amsterdam to America in six days after four months abroad. Cue stress.
Here’s what I learned:
Don’t keep everything together
Looking back, I think it was my saving grace that I didn’t keep all my eggs in one basket; Although my money and passport had been robbed, I still had my iPhone which had been in another bag.
Know how to communicate without a phone
Even though I had purchased Skype Credit so that I could make international calls to cancel my credit cards, cry to my parents and call the Austrian US embassy to replace my stolen passport, it’s important to know other ways to communicate if I did get my phone stolen. Make an emergency card with phone numbers or even give important phone numbers to your fellow travelers, that way, if something happens (because something always happens when you travel), you’ll be really happy you have your mom’s number (because who remembers numbers anymore?). Also know how to get your hands on a phone and a calling card. General stores across Europe have carry them for when this happens.
Have multiple forms of money
Credit cards are great to have but cash will get you out of any bind. Keep a small wad of cash on your person at all times.
Remember to make copies of everything
Once I got to the embassy, I was very thankful that I had copies of my passport and driver’s license to show them that I was a real person. I wish that I also carried copies of my passport photo because it’s really unfortunate to have to take a new one with puffy eyes from traveling overnight and sporting an unfortunate (but cozy) green turtle neck with polar bears on it. Make copies of everything, store them in another location and even take pictures of them so you have them on your phone. It’ll make the process that much easier.
Guard your stuff when sleeping
Yes, we learned that the hard way. Let your bag be your pillow or drape yourself over your suitcases so if there’s any foul play, you will be alerted.
Always be on alert
In the end, it all worked out and I had a beautiful, Austrian Christmas with a replacement passport that I never let leave my side. I think it’s important to note, though, that while this article is entitled ‘How to Not Get Robbed in Europe,’ the lesson that I learned in Austria is one that can be widely applied to where I travel or live. In fact, crime rates in Europe are actually much lower than they are in many American cities. Like I earlier wrote, the reason that tourists are so susceptible to crime is because of the vulnerability that comes along with being tired, overwhelmed, or just inattentive to the situation. I now realize the importance of being extra smart and cautious wherever I am, because I don’t want to spend any more holidays in an American embassy!