With the Canadian currency appreciating against the euro, slightly, this should be a good summer to visit Europe, and all official predictions are that more of you will be visiting the “old countries” this year than ever before.
That’s great, but be careful. It’s not only the hotel owners, and chefs, and tour planners, and car rental companies, and relative who know you’re coming, but so do the thugs, muggers, down-and outers, and so-called “students” who prey on innocent visitors—snatching their purses, wallets, cameras, passports, anything of value.
Peter Tarlow, an international travel security expert recently told a meeting of travel insurers that Europe has become one of the most dangerous places for tourists, partially because tourists don’t expect Europeans to be so crass as to lift their wallets, and partially because tourists insist on looking like tourists—or chickens waiting to be plucked.
Consider that countries like Greece and Spain have more than 20 percent unemployment, which means there are a lot of people—many of them young—with nothing to do, looking for rich Canadians or Americans exploit—by schemes, scams, or outright physical muggings.
When people get desperate enough, they will resort to anything to feed their families, or their drug habits, and under those conditions they have little sympathy for foreigners, packed with cash, credit cards, Ipads, and other valuables, to let them get away.
That doesn’t mean you should avoid beautiful cities like Barcelona, or Budapest, or Paris or Milan, but don’t be so obvious about your tourism. Leave behind any jewelry you couldn’t “live without.” Forget the fanny pack (the easiest target for thieves, according to Tarlow). Take your wallet out of your hip pocket (it’s like a red bullseye for a pickpocket) and put it in a safer pocket. Take that big camera hanging from your neck and carry a smaller one where it won’t be so obvious.
And for goodness sake, leave those T shirts proclaiming your national identity at home. Nothing screams “come and get me” as loudly as an emblem of your country stuck on your chest. National pride is fine, but it doesn’t trump staying safe and healthy.
Try to blend in. Try to act as the natives do. Pick up a local newspaper and stick it in your pocket—even if you can’t read Hungarian. This is not the time for you to stand out in the crowd.
Enjoy your travel. Have a good time. And don’t be paranoid. But don’t be stupid either.