Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Dangers, Annoyances, No-nos and a Few Urban Legends That Go With European Travel

Updated on 4/28/04

4/21/04: Beware!, Hints For Not Being Robbed While You Sleep
4/28/04: Your Appearance

I have decided to add some material to this site that can actually be directly useful to people traveling through Europe without forcing the reader to root through a 4,000 word essay in order to glean the information. Aren’t I generous? You’re welcome.

I have been collecting various stories of trouble that have been known to befall people traveling Europe. Most, if not all of the following scenarios, will be similar or exactly like anecdotes that you may have heard before. I am repeating some of the more popular stories even though they have been told to death, as people are still being nailed by the same old situations and retelling seems to be called for.


Beware! | Good Hints For Not Being Robbed in a Crowd | Hints For Not Being Robbed While You Sleep | Scams and Half-Wit Blunders That Will Get You Robbed and Possibly Beaten Up | Probably an Urban Legend, But Still Scary Enough to Address | Recently Acquired "Friends" Robbing You | Tips That Sound Like Good Ideas, But Are Really Bad Ideas | Gypsies | Your Appearance


Italian Transportation Nazis

As if us travelers didn’t have enough to be on guard about with criminals and assholes that are an every day part of foreign travel, but now we have to be vigilant of the legitimate authorities as well. Specifically the transportation officials in Italy. In general Italy tends to have a higher than average amount of semi-deranged and dangerously stupid people being allowed to function in normal society (Imagine Texas with people so passionate that they might come to blows over a debate on fever reducers), but at least these people are generally harmless, unlike the pitiless, unsympathetic, bureaucratic flat-heads who have the power to hand out “fines” willy nilly to recent arrivals to their country that do not follow their confounding transportation rules to the letter. For example; Bus ticket are never sold on buses (you silly, nitwit tourist!). You must acquire a ticket at tobacco stands or other arbitrarily assigned places that are not at all obvious to someone who has not been riding the Italian bus system for their entire lives. Once you have mastered the ticket acquisition part, you have to remember to stamp your ticket as soon as you get on the bus or you can be fined like you were riding the bus without a ticket at all. If the stamping machine does not work or is not calibrated right and you don’t notice and bring it to the bus driver’s attention immediately, the authorities consider this to be your fault and you will be fined anyway. Welcome to Italy! Also, every train ticket must be stamped at little yellow, often poorly placed stamping boxes before you board. Unlike the rest of the civilized world, Italy has not mastered the sophisticated, high-tech art of printing tickets with dates or times on them. Getting this stamp is your responsibility even if you just bought the ticket and you only have 30 seconds to run and catch the train. If you do not stamp the ticket, it is considered to be invalid and you will be fined.

The basic concept to keep in mind in Italy is to double check every single ticket, receipt and stub for the correct stamp, date, time and sea-level elevation or you could be randomly targeted for steep fines by soulless, transportation Nazis. This habit was refreshed in my mind after reading two accounts of similar nightmares on Travelpunk.com here and here.


Cash Card/PIN Security

When using a cash machine take EXTRA care to guard your card and more importantly block all sight-lines when you enter your PIN. Even locals in hardened cities like Amsterdam fall for the sabotaged cash machine maneuver, where the machine has been previously rigged with gum or some such so that it will not return your card after you have been observed entering your PIN from afar by the saboteur. Then, once you give up on trying to get your card back, the criminal who now knows your PIN retrieves your card with a tweezers or some other doohickey and immediately goes to every cash machine in the city, withdrawing your transaction limit at every location until you are broke. Depending on your bank/credit card company, you may not be compensated for all of your lost cash since the crime was a direct result of your negligence (or at least this is what happened to a Dutch buddy of mine).


“Help” With Finding a Hostel/Hotel and Transportation to Said Hostel/Hotel

Local guys (almost never women) have been known to accost travelers at the station with a host of small time scams. Occasionally someone will ask where you are staying and then happily report that he works for whichever hostel/hotel you said and he is there to give you a ride. Unless you are staying in a four star hotel and the guy is carrying a sign with your name on it, he is a thief. If you do not have accommodations arranged, they might offer to help you find a hostel/hotel and/or a taxi ride to the place. This will inevitably result in an outrageous taxi fare or room rate, which the local then gets a kick-back from. Watch out for Accommodations Pimps wherever you are. Read more about this at Probably an Urban Legend, But Still Scary Enough to Address.

Black Market Money Changers and General Money Advice

This scam has almost dropped out of sight in Europe, but occasionally random grifters on the street will offer to do a money exchange for you. This is never good. Even if the rate they quote is fantastic, they will rip you off, or rob you or give you play money or something. Sadly, even legit exchange offices will also try to screw you. Especially the ones that are in the immediate vicinity of any tourist site or busy public square or plaza where tourists tend to gather. Despite being perfectly legal, they will often surprise you with the bait and switch exchange rate (i.e. After you have signed and handed over your Traveler’s Cheques: “Oh you thought that the rates up on the big, well lit, official looking board on the wall were our rates? No, no!! Our rates are here on the piece of paper, written in pencil, taped to the desk.”) or whack you with a huge, per Cheque fee that is clearly and legally posted for your information in the employee bathroom. A good tip-off that an exchange office should be avoided is if they have a sign that is larger that 3’ X 3’, printed in more than three colors or if it has even one exclamation point.

The absolute best money exchange option is without a doubt the good ol’ cash machine for a dizzying variety of reasons.

1) They are everywhere.
2) Depending on your bank back home, the fee will undoubtedly be smaller than any Traveler’s Cheque exchange office commissions or possibly even free.
3) The actual exchange rate will always be optimum.
4) In my opinion, the cash card method is more secure than carrying around a book of Traveler’s Cheques.

Some people will say that bringing a small stash of Traveler’s Cheques for emergencies (i.e. loss of your cash card) is a good idea, but I haven’t used a single Traveler’s Cheque since 1994 and I have yet to have a problem. Prudent cash card and PIN security is the only secret and always have a credit card or two (stored in a very secure place that is not on your person), just in case you get mugged.

Make sure you have a general understanding of the currency conversion before you get in front of a cash machine so you have a good idea of how much to withdraw and always remember that you ARE NOT dealing in your home currency! People have been know to have Gomer Moments at the cash machine in places like Norway and type in “200” in the amount field thinking they will get US$200 worth of kroner, but of course they just get 200 kroner (US$28.50) which will only last you about 15 minutes in high-priced Norway.

Tourist Police, Secret Police, Extra-Super-Extreme-Undercover Police, Etc

This is more of a problem in Eastern Europe. Depending on the scam, they are after your passport, money or both. Unless you are caught stealing a car, be wary of any “police” that accost you randomly and want to see your passport/money, particularly if they are not in uniform. If there’s any doubt, politely ask to be escorted to a police station where you will be happy to show them whatever they want to see. If they agree to this, DO NOT get into an unmarked car with them or even a taxi.

Here’s a popular phony cop scam: A guy walks up and offers to do a money exchange with you. You say ‘no’ and all of a sudden an “undercover cop” shows up, “arrests” the guy trying to arrange the money exchange and then asks to check your passport or money in case it’s counterfeit. Never show your passport or money to anyone out in the street for any reason. Just walk away or if they are persistent and flash a badge, use the aforementioned request to visit a police station.

Good Hints For Not Being Robbed in a Crowd

The Safety Pin Gambit

I personally don’t do this because there are only so many hours in the day to attend to your personally security paranoia, but I have heard many people rave about how you MUST safety pin your backpack and day-bag zippers closed while you are out and about. I have heard countless stories on how people have caught various thieves, gypsies and gutter punks, struggling to open their day bags unbeknownst to them, but being foiled by the safety pin method. My feelings on this are basically that any moron who can’t cope with a safety pin is not going to have very much success in stealing your stuff and will likely be caught in the act by you anyway. Yes, the safety pins can delay and hinder the thief slightly, but so can wearing your backpack or whatever hanging off your front, rather than your back. I find this to be much more effective as it pretty much rules out the potential urge for someone to even try to rob you in the first place and it detours more ambitious thieves from bypassing your locks and safety pins by creating their own openings with a sharp knife. Also, I am a firm believer that truly valuable items belong in VERY deep, FRONT pockets of your pants and nowhere else. Over the course of my lifetime, very little action has gone on in the immediate vicinity of my groin without me being fully aware of it. And I don’t care how nice they make your butt look, pants with shallow pockets, or worse, no pockets, are useless and have no place in your backpacker wardrobe. My day bag is where I keep my water bottle, a book, a towel for the beach and maybe some food, so if I somehow drop my guard and get robbed, the joke is on the thief. Your day-bag is NOT the place to keep stacks of cash, your passport or your airline tickets. If you do not have deep front pockets, or are one of those women who are tragic fashion victims and refuse to go out in public with unsightly bulges in their pockets, then you need a money belt or necklace pouch that is worn UNDER the clothes (this seems as if it should be common sense, but alas, it takes all kinds…) and if possible, chained to your underwear. And when you need to do some lengthy fishing around in your stash of valuable items, get out of the middle of the street and go to a quiet corner to get this done. The same goes for lengthy, attention-getting scrutinizing of your 2’ X 3’ city map, for that matter.

Hints For Not Being Robbed While You Sleep


I have only heard of one single instance of a backpacker straight out robbing another backpacker in my numerous tours of Europe, but you should still be cautious where you put things when you go to sleep because depending on the security of your hostel, non-resident criminals could possibly enter at night and help themselves to anything that looks valuable. There are several approaches. You can lock everything up in your bag, just like when you are on the move. You can bury valuables at the bottom of your sleeping bag, assuming that you keep it zipped all the way up all night. Best of all, if the hostel provides a locker, you should lock everything up in there.

Things NOT to do include:
-Stagger in drunk, whip off your pants and money belt and drape them over the chair next to the door and pass out.
-Leave anything that looks even marginally valuable in plain view.
-Stay the night in a hostel that is giving you undeniable bad vibes. (Even if you have pre-paid and they refuse to give you your money back. You should have demanded to see a room and get a general tour before forking over your money in the first place, Gomer!)


The above tips go triple on night trains and quintuple on Italian night trains. Get a couchette if you can afford it. This not only gives you more space and the possibility of some rest, but you can lock the door and the only person that has the key is the ticket agent. Even in this arrangement, lock up everything and either chain/leash your bag to something unmovable or make your bag an unattractive option by putting it on the shelf above the top bunk (where it cannot be removed safely without the careful coordination of at least two people and even then there is always a commotion and minor injuries), or embracing it while you sleep (nix this if you are a heavy sleeper) or keeping a loaded, large caliber gun out in the open where everyone can see it. Just kidding on that last one. If your budget doesn’t allow for a couchette and you end up in a sitting compartment all night, the aforementioned locking and chaining/leashing your bag(s) to something solid is crucial. Do not sleep in one of these compartments alone and depending on the situation, you might just have to stay awake all night. Happy training! There are sporadic stories of people being drugged or gassed on trains and then robbed. A good rule of thumb is to never accept food or drink from new friends on the train. As far as the gassing goes, locking and chaining/leashing everything might save you, but nothing beats a locked door. If your door does not have a lock on it, use your own lock/chain/leash or even a strong belt to secure it.

Finally, after the hundreds of anecdotes I’ve heard, your best bet is to just plain never take a night train in Italy, ever, no matter what.

Scams and Half-Wit Blunders That Will Get You Robbed and Possibly Beaten Up

The Instant Gob of Freeloading Friends

The following is an account that I have lifted from good ol’ Lonely Planet. This particular scam appears to be most popular in Athens (although it should be mentioned that Greece otherwise, surprisingly, has the lowest crime rate in Europe!), but a variation of this idea could get you in just about any big city in the world. A solo male traveler is approached by a Greek who is also alone and claims to be from outside of Athens. They talk for a minute before the Greek suggests that they go to a really cool bar that he has been turned on to. They go, get a few drinks, some women show up, more drinks are served, everyone is fun and friendly and a ball is had by everyone until the gigantic bill is presented to the traveler and suddenly all his new friends disappear and the bartender and his beefy bouncer are not sympathetic.

Basically, no matter how charismatic you think you are, if you find yourself with a dozen, new, very good friends inside 20 minutes, you should be nervous. Especially if you are not paying for each drink as you go. Fake a very severe case of whatever extremely contagious, fatal disease is popular that month, drop a fair amount of cash on the bar that should cover your drinks and get the hell out without your change.


Paris/Madrid Sex Scam

I have heard the following ploy being pulled in Paris and I very nearly fell victim to it myself during one staggeringly drunk night in Madrid, before I came to my senses and I escaped before the scam unfolded to the point-of-no-return. A lonely, horny male traveler either enters what appears to be a strip club or (in my case) is literally pulled into the place by a sidewalk hawker while being too drunk to resist. The strip club doesn’t have a stage or a any kind of running show. Just some scantly clad girls milling about. The traveler is immediately pounced on by two or more women who will flirt and may even take off a few garments and grind on each other for his amusement. The traveler either pays a fair cover-charge (maybe 8 euros) that includes a drink or is forcibly handed a “free entry” pass as he is being physically escorted into the door by the aforementioned hawker. In the case of the former, after he finishes the first drink, he is present with a second without having to ask. One or more of the girls will aggressively convince him to buy them a drink. Eventually the bill will be presented and the traveler will discover to his horror that his second drink was 300 euros and the drink(s) for the girl(s) were 250 euros each. The girls disappear and a few mountainous bouncers make a timely appearance and demand to be paid. If the traveler is even half bright, he will not have 800+ euros on his person, so the men will just be content to help themselves to every penny the traveler has and throw him out onto the sidewalk. Attempts to acquire help from law enforcement officials will fail as this happens every day and the scammers have their asses covered (like having a drink menu with all of the ridiculous prices clearly posted somewhere where no one could possibly see it) or something else that makes justice impossible. (Unless you consider a Molotov Cocktail through the front window as acceptable recourse, but you didn’t hear that from me.)

The moral of this particular story is that, hey buddy, you’re in EUROPE! If you need to see some titty that bad, just walk your ass to the nearest beach, don some opaque sunglasses, pretend to read a book (make sure it’s right side up), put a towel over your crotch if necessary and enjoy the show for free. No, none of the girls will flirt with you or gyrate on you (unless you are in Ibiza or some other perennial, Girls Gone Wild-like locale), but hey, what do you expect for free? Between the beaches, the free, late night porn on regular TV and the Germans there is so much complimentary nudity in Europe that you shouldn’t need to step foot in a strip club the entire time for any reason.


Sleeping on the Beach

Some people consider at least a few nights of gratis slumber on the beach not only good for the budget, but even a requisite of a “hardcore” backpacking tour through Europe. This might be fine and worry-free on a deserted island or in a forgotten coastal town of 36 people, but when you do this in Barcelona, don’t come crying to me when you get robbed either while you sleep, or worse, at knife-point while you are wide awake. To me this is more explicitly asking for trouble than hitchhiking with two nude swimsuit models in Algeria and I have a good mind to take it upon myself to mug the next person that says they are planning to do this to just save everyone some time.

Recently Acquired "Friends" Robbing You

Another bold scam that I’ve just learned about is the couple of guys that make your acquaintance on the train ride into a large city (the version I heard happened involved Paris) and rob you while you while everyone is jovially disembarking. This might be an urban legend as I find it hard to believe that people would invest as much time and money as is needed to pull this off, but you be the judge.

A solo traveler is joined in a train compartment by two supposed fellow travelers. They get to talking and spend a fair amount of time getting to know each other and the traveler gets comfortable during the trip. Once the train arrives at its destination the new friends offer to help the traveler heave their things off the train and when the new friends get their hands on the traveler’s bags they sprint off into the crowd.

To me this seems awfully risky for the thieves, allowing the traveler get a good look at them for an extended period of time and having to invest in train tickets to get on the train in the first place all in the hopes that they find an appropriate victim and the victim allows them to help them with bags that have enough valuable items in them to make the whole thing worth the effort, but there you have it.


The One-on-One Grifting/Romantic Disaster

A whole different, frighteningly sinister angle on the new friend robbing theme is the fellow backpacker (usually a male) who befriends you at a hostel, maybe even initiates a romantic relationship with a female traveler and spends anywhere from days to even weeks gaining her trust. Perhaps he will throw in a well-timed sympathy subplot about having a terminal illness. Suddenly the new friend stages a huge personal catastrophe in the form of a devastating robbery of the bulk of his belongings, including all cash, ID and access to cash (witnessed by no one, obviously) a day or two before the female is to return to her far-off home. He then borrows a huge sum of money from the compassionate female, promising to wire it back to her once things are sorted out. Then the female flies half way around the planet and never hears from the guy again.

Basically, my personal feelings on money lending in general are that you never, ever lend more than lunch money to a friend, no matter what. Even if it’s your best friend of 30 years and he happens to be Jesus. I realize that this may seem unkind, uncharitable, ungraceful and unpleasant, but in my third person experience on the matter, there hasn’t been a single, huge, personal loan incident between friends that has gone smoothly in the history of human existence. It will strain and damage the relationship at the very least and possibly end it in a dramatically ugly fashion. If you REALLY want to help this friend in need and have the means to do so, GIVE the money to them. Short of that, firmly and politely decline. This goes double on the road. Unfortunately, meeting new people on the road is a very intense, powerful and sometimes exciting experience, particularly if romance blossoms. These feelings can often have the effect of skewing your common sense and causing you to do things that you would normally never do if you were home, in familiar surroundings, in command of all of your faculties and not half drunk on cheap wine. It’s sometimes impossible to recognize your predicament in the moment, so you should simply never act in a hasty or passionate way when it comes to charity, or commitment for that matter, to near-strangers on the road. When you find yourself in situations like this, get the input of your five closest, most stable and dependably wise friends that are not involved in the situation in any way and act accordingly.

Probably an Urban Legend, But Still Scary Enough to Address

This one seems to have too many holes in it to be true, but I’m mentioning it because I want to drive home the point that you never pay for a room at a private hostel (and some licensed hostels for that matter) until you've had a chance to scope out the situation, not to mention that I couldn’t imagine anything worse happening to a backpacker that didn’t involve serious injury.

As most seasoned travelers know, at the train or bus stations in any decent sized city there are always Accommodations Pimps waiting around and accosting all recent arrivals, trying to get them to stay in their rooms. This is most prevalent in Spain, France and Italy. Usually these people just have a regular apartment and they have turned a few of the extra bedrooms into semi-private rooms to rent to whichever Gomers they can lure back to their places. There are many reasons to not go with these people. First they are not licensed and even if they are honest to the point of sainthood, you could still end up sleeping in a dirty, unsafe, over-priced dump that is so far off the beaten path that any savings that might be had by staying there will be lost in transportation costs for buses and cabs into the parts of the city that you actually want to tour. (Then again, almost all Hosteling International affiliated hostels are in the same boat as the unregistered “hostals” as far as distance from the city center, cleanliness and in some cases security, yet they somehow get licensed to let people stay in those rat-traps, but I digress…) Second, worst case scenario, they could be planning all kinds of bad things for you including robbery, sexual attack or just filming you while you’re in the shower and putting it on their voyeur web site. Then there are about a million details in between that could go wrong. Best to just not go with these people unless you are VERY confident about the situation (i.e. it is a tiny old man, in a small town where everyone knows each other and there are three of you and at least one of you is big enough to drop kick the old man, or one of his sons that might appear later, into the river/ocean/gorge.)

So, the story I heard goes something like this… A solo traveler is accosted by an Accommodations Pimp at the station and since he doesn’t have a room reserved he agrees to go with the Pimp who has a dirt cheap room that is just around the corner. When the traveler sees the room they are apprehensive, but since they have already paid (NEVER pay without seeing the room!) and are not feeling confident enough to confront the Pimp about the quality of the room, they just suck it up and decide to make the best of it. The person gets settled and decides to take a shower. They get ready and since they are feeling a little nervous about the room, they decide to hide their money belt in the rafters, then go down the hall to the shared bathroom to take a shower. When they come back, their room is completely cleaned out, including the hidden money-belt, and they are literally left standing their with nothing but their towel and shower gel.

Well, unless I am missing something here, short of the Pimp having the local authorities in on the plot with him, a blatant robbing like this would doubtlessly result in the Pimp being arrested and convicted. Hence, I don’t believe this particular one happened, or at least it didn’t happen exactly like this. I am adding it here though to drive home the concept that you should never stay anywhere that you don’t feel safe, whether it be a dump or lacking in security or that your roommate is an obvious heroin addict that might decide to dissect you for science after you go to sleep. Even if you dropped the ball and paid for the room before you discovered the mistake, get out! Losing 12 euros is a hell of a lot better than losing sleep, belongings or extremities.

Tips That Sound Like Good Ideas, But Are Really Bad Ideas

Italy and Greece started to get a big name for themselves a few decades ago with all the guys zooming by on scooters and snatching purses or exposed neck pouches off travelers, sometimes ripping the strap right off them if the person thought they were being safe by looping the strap across their bodies. After a while short-sighted people started telling other people that a really smart thing to do would be to thread a length of piano wire through the strap of their purse/pouch and then wouldn’t the scooter guy be surprised when he whizzes by, tries to grab the strap and it doesn’t snap and they end up being yanked backwards off their scooter and suffer a serious head injury? Well, while the above scenario might happen, one has to consider what might happen to the person wearing the piano wire reinforced strap across their bodies and suddenly having it yanked on by an entity passing by at about 30 MPH. Well, you would probably suffer a broken neck or back is the thing and you have to ask yourself if you would rather lose your purse or be stuck in a foreign country, possibly with less-than-stellar medical services, with a debilitating injury.

**On that note, I just witnessed a scooter drive-by robbery last weekend here in Cadiz, Spain, in the new part of town where the long, wide, straight streets allow for an easy getaway. After this event and having been mildly but alarmingly attacked by two gutless pieces of shit on a passing scooter back in February, my new feelings on the subject are that anyone on a scooter cannot be trusted and should probably be killed if you have the opportunity. This is especially true for scooters that are driving down sidewalks for any reason or scooters that have two males on them.


Gypsy stories abound in places like Italy and Eastern Europe. Basically, anyone that looks like that they just came out of wardrobe for “Pirates of the Caribbean” should be given a very wide wake and monitored at all times. Here are a few of the more popular tactics…

Kids With Cardboard

This actually happened to me. Well, it was attempted on me at any rate, but I was too aware for their dumb asses. Basically, anywhere from four to 15 kids will swarm you suddenly and try to distract you by shrieking and waving old newspapers and cardboard in your face. While this is happening a few pairs of busy hands empty all of your pockets and hand the contents back through the crowd to other kids on the periphery, so the kids fishing through your pockets are clean if you belatedly realize what is happening and decide to grab a kid or two within reach. The kids disperse in a cloud of flapping newspaper and cardboard and your pockets are a couple pounds lighter. My defense, when I saw the kids coming at me with the cardboard, was to put both hands over my pockets and say “Forget it, shitheads” in such a dark and menacing way as to eclipse the language barrier (I was in Rome at the time). They got the message and skeedaddled.


Café Ambush

This is just a variance of the above. A young, mangy gypsy approaches you while you are having coffee and a pastry at an outdoor café and tries to sell you a days old, ratty newspaper. Three to five cohorts appear out of nowhere and cause general chaos in your immediate vicinity while they poke, prod, beg or try to sell candy and trinkets to you while simultaneously their little fingers are reliving you of any easily reachable belongings. Reportedly, victims in the heat of the situation are perfectly aware that they are probably being pinched, but the aforementioned commotion raised by the kids makes it nearly impossible to get a hand on all of your possessions, particularly if you were in a relax and tranquil mood and laid several items out on the table (cell phone, petty cash, wallet/money pouch) while you lazily dined.

The frustrating part of this particular situation is that café staff often do no not even attempt to shoo away the kids or come to your aid, despite knowing full well what the hell is going on. My guess is that the mangy gypsy kids have mangy, very large, intimidating siblings or other adult conspirators that they can fetch and sic on any wait staff that give them a hard time.


Woman With a Live Baby Decoy

Another stunning, but popular method is when women use their infants as decoys to pick your pocket or fish through your purse. Basically, the woman pounces on you, literally dropping their infant into your arms, so you are forced to either take hold of the baby or let it drop to the ground and while you are juggling this predicament you are robbed. Then the woman takes back the child and you are so discombobulated for a few beats that you don’t realize you’ve been had until the gypsy is long gone. Well, I’m not going to tell you to let an infant hit the floor (But if you’re a juggler, you can try a foot catch! Just kidding!), so just make a habit of staying away from disheveled women with infants and, I don’t know, keep your hands in your pockets or some other thing that makes it look as if your hands are too occupied to take on the additional load of their infant.

Your Appearance

As with any situation, your appearance says a lot about you. On the road, your appearance can make the difference between bag snatchers and muggers dismissing you in an instant or tailing you with anticipatory drool streaming down their faces until an opportunity presents itself.

Obviously, the less flashy and attention-getting the better. This does not mean dress like a slob! Not only will you probably be less than enthusiastic about dressing like a gutter punk on purpose, but this appearance can cause all sorts of different unpleasant hassles like being refused service at nicer restaurants or entrance to select religious sights and night clubs. Besides, Europe is like a big, often mirth-inducing, fashion victim exhibit. Dressing stylishly or even going the distance to Euro-trashy is not going to draw any extra attention to you unless you are in second-hand-retired-clown-outfit phase or revealing body parts that are not regularly seen in non-beach settings (Obviously, the scale of “attire decency” varies wildly throughout Europe. Do as the locals do. If no one else is wearing see-through micro-minis and a g-string at the bar, you probably shouldn’t either).

So, clothes aside, keep it simple. Anything but the most basic, non-descript jewelry, should be left at home. Unless you have no other choice, don’t wear your watch on your wrist or in plain view, even a cheap one. Same goes for your cell phone, unless you have it so securely attached to your body that a snatcher would need the Jaws of Life to get it off you. And when you’re at a restaurant, indoors or out, don’t lay all your accessories on the table. Keep them in your day bag and loop the strap around a table leg or even better, loop it around your own leg and keep it in your lap. When on the go, all one strap bags should be worn across the body, with the bag facing away from the street. Again, sorry ladies, it ain’t sexy, but backpacks should be worn in the front, not in the back and if you wanna lock or safety-pin every zipper closed, more power to you. Just like your big packs or suitcases, if your bag is not directly in your field of vision, it should be in physical contact with you in some way. Never leave it unattended, even for five seconds, even between your legs while you chat with an information desk clerk. Anything but the cheapest looking or disposable cameras should be stowed away when not in use. These people who walk around all day with two $800 cameras dangling from their necks might as well also carry a sign that says “Please rob me! I am an idiot and I don’t deserve nice things!” printed in three languages and bordered with neon lights. Another personal pet peeve of mine are the tourists that explore new cities with their walkmen/CD players/MP3 players blasting. This seems to be most popular with sullen, teenaged offspring, lagging 12 feet behind their parents while being dragged around on a family trip. Little, thankless bastards. Anyway, this will be yet another glowing enticement and easy grab-and-run option for thieves, but more importantly, hey idiot! you’re in a foreign country! Closing off one of your more important senses robs you of unique experiences, potential lasting memories and warnings of fast approaching motor vehicles! Tunes can be a lifesaver for long train rides (or sometimes drowning out world class snore-masters in a large hostel dorm room), but otherwise leave them at the hostel and expose yourself entirely to your surroundings, even if it’s the 45 minute bus ride from the campsite to the city center. Little minutiae like listing to conversations in a foreign language or hearing place names pronounced correctly by the arrival announcements or the distinctive wails of the local emergency vehicles can be just as much a part of your tour experience as seeing the main cathedral or eating the local culinary specialties. (Whoops, there I go getting preachy again.)

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©Leif Pettersen 2012