Cautionary Tales from Travelers
Open-minded, trusting travelers have happier experiences in Europe...but hey, don't act like you've just fallen off the turnip truck! Watch for these scams, harvested from hundreds of tips that travelers have posted (for you to learn from!) on our Graffiti Wall Message Board...
Craftiness of Strangers
|Expect the unexpected: pickpockets come in all shapes and sizes.|
My husband and I arrived at Paris' Gare du Nord in the early evening and proceeded to read the map to find out how to get to our hotel via the Metro. One guy came up and advised us to buy tickets from the ticket machine. While we were at the machine trying to read the French, another guy came out and "helped" us buy tickets. The 3-day tickets we thought we were buying were, in fact, 1-way single-use tickets. We paid him the 48 euros which was displayed on the ticket machine, but he must have cancelled that transaction and bought us the single trip ticket instead.
My advice is to buy Metro tickets ONLY through the ticket counter at the Metro station (a 2-day ticket is only about 13 euros).
— Emmy Choi, Singapore
Pirates of the Tronchetto
Be careful if you are parking at the Tronchetto and want to ride the public vaporetto boat into Venice. Men surrounded us, told us where to walk and directed us to private taxi boats. They refused to allow us to go to the vaporetto dock. They raised their voices at us, insisted that we take their private taxis. I pulled out my Rick Steves book, showed them that I wanted the vaporetto, but they yelled "NO MA'AM" at me and made us walk to the taxi boats. When we got in the boat, the man asked for more money than we'd been told it would cost. When I questioned him, he yelled "GET OUT!" My husband and I and our two children (and luggage) got out of the boat.
As we walked back toward the parking garage, we found signs pointing to the vaporetto, and got there easily. We then realized that the men kept positioning us so that we could not see those signs earlier.
— Cathy, USA
I had just been served pizza with some friends in Paris when a women came up to our table and tried to take our food. Thinking she was a waitress, I said in French, "We are not finished, thank you." She ignored me and kept trying to take our food, when a real waitress appeared and shooed the woman out rather forcefully.
— Kat, Houston, Tex.
While visiting Sacre Coeur in Paris, a friend and I fell victim to the shell game in one of the alleys leading up to the church. Yeah, we were stupid, but our initial intention was only to watch. Of course, it all looked so easy. We lost about $70, no big deal. That $70 made me much more vigilant, so perhaps it was a cheap lesson. If you see someone playing the shell game or 3 card monty, be careful. No matter how easy it looks, only the "plants" in the crowd will win (if any native is playing then he/she is a plant).
If you want to pick out thieves in the Metro and elsewhere, simply observe who's looking at what (the thieves are the ones who are looking at what other people are carrying). On the Metro, thieves love to walk up and down the aisles until just before the doors close. They time their grab with the closing of the door, and quickly jump through as it shuts.
— Andy Ruzicho, Columbus, Ohio
|Cabbie creativity knows no bounds. At the very least, make sure the meter (required by the law) is up and running.|
My wife and I were ready to leave Rome after a great ten day visit. We got into a cab outside our hotel, and asked the driver to take us to the train station (where we'd take a cheaper ride to the airport). The cab driver asked if we were leaving to fly home. We said yes. He then proceeded to tell us that there were major problems with the train to Fiumicino Airport, the line was down, etc ...but he would be glad to drive us directly to the airport for 80 euros!
Thank God I'd built enough time into our schedule so that I could investigate the train situation myself. I told him no thanks, take us to the train station anyway. There was no problem whatsoever with the train and we made it home sans difficulty.
The lesson: try not to be in a rush.
— MD, Moorestown, N.J.
Drink (Way) Up
|A drink in a suddenly-private bar can cost you dearly — but you'll have an entertaining story for the folks back home.|
Anywhere in Europe, friendly locals can invite a tourist into a bar where you end up buying a drink for a girl, you notice a burly bouncer at the door, and your bill comes to $80. This happened to me in Istanbul. I met a wonderfully friendly young man who suggested we stop by this bar close to my hotel. Once inside, we were having a beer, when a girl sat next to me and my friend ordered her a drink. At that point it just clicked in my head...this is that scam I'd read about. Sure enough, there is no one in the bar other than the big guy standing by the door and the mean looking bartender.
The bill was $80 for my beer and the girl's drink. I had no choice but to pay. Never go anywhere with someone who approaches you on the street, regardless of how "tough" you are or how "nice" they seem. It's almost always a scam and can lead to real trouble.
Eiffel Something in My Pocket
While in Paris the only problem with pickpockets we encountered was during a very crowded elevator ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. A group of young men was horsing around a bit, one of them pushed another, causing him to bump into my husband (giving him the opportunity to get his hand in the pocket where he expected the wallet to be).
Fortunately for us, the "day wallet" was deep in the front pocket, and most of our money and credit cards were in our moneybelts.
— Jill, Minneapolis, Minn.
I Scream, You Scram
|They may look a little spooky, but these cops are on your side. It's the "plainclothes" guys you need to watch out for.|
On my last trip to Italy, two men claimed they were police and flashed ID's (quickly putting them away), then asked for my identification with the casual afterthought, "Passport is okay." Suspicious, I said, "Hold up your ID so I can read it carefully." The men looked shocked, then became abusive. I said, "I am now going to scream at the top of my lungs for a real policeman. Would you like to wait and talk to him?" They ran away. This type of scam always takes place away from crowds and not within sight of a uniformed policeman.
Never be afraid to scream loudly for assistance. I did that once on a bus (yes, #64 in Roma). I screamed, "Auito, ladro!" (help, thief!) and the Italians on the bus almost killed the poor thief while shoving her off the bus.
— Charles M. Luther, Katy, Tex.
Sleight of Hand
I got into a taxi at the Spanish Steps in Rome, only to have the cab driver turn around begin talking loudly in broken English asking for "yellow euro" while he began patting the bags my purchases were in, waving frantically and generally being distracting.
This proved to be effective, as I pulled out the remainder of my cash for the day in frustration to prove that I had money for the cab ride. He reached over for the 50 euro bill (which is yellow) and reassured me that that was what he needed to see and handed it back to me (or so I thought). He then said that his cab was not allowed to go to the church that was my destination (later I realized it was only two blocks away). He advised me to take a "radio taxi."
After I got out, he drove off at a high rate of speed, and only then did I realize that he had replaced my 50 euro note with a blank piece of paper in a fast, sleight-of-hand move. Beware of fast-talking, fast moving taxi drivers!
— Name withheld
Better Crazy than Tough
|Use common sense. In some neighborhoods, only a mugger's mamma is safe.|
|A crowded subway platform...it's enough to bring tears to a pickpocket's eyes.|
Although I wouldn't recommend this tactic to everyone, I can tell you that I have lived in Europe for nearly 8 years, I love EVERY second of it, and I have been accosted many times, but never with success.
What I can offer to the ballsy is this: If you are forced to walk somewhere dodgy, such as the Albayzin or Sacromonte areas of Granada in Spain (tiny 1000-year-old streets, a labyrinth where masked thieves, read: little punk-ass kids, like to prey), one thing I've found that works is putting on the "Oh man, what have I done?!" face. This is the kind of face one may have as they are thinking to themselves: "Oh man, I shouldn't have hit that last person so hard...I wonder if they're dead?" Imagine it. It's the face of a person who has absolutely cracked, gone off the deep end, and has just killed someone.
This may sound REEEALY weird, but trust me, if you wear that face, and you round a corner and catch the eye of some shady punk, he will jump out of your way. Being a tough guy will get you challenged. Being a sheep will get you eaten, but being a total psycho…NOBODY wants to play punchy punchy with Hannibal Lecter.
With all my years here, I still don't look like a local, but that face really works.
— Uncle Travelin' Bill, Born in Joisey, stylin' in Granada, Spain
Pickpockets on the subway in Lisbon were very active. They didn't get anything from me because the money was in my moneybelt — but my purse was opened twice in the same day! And I thought I was alert!!
— Teri, Portland, Ore.
The last time I went to Europe I took my small, handheld video camera. I used it to copy any important documents (passport, receipts, etc) as a means of additional backup. Very important for car rentals: I took photos before and after drop-off. It only takes up a few seconds of tape and lets the rental guy know that you are on the ball.
— Art, New Almaden, Calif.
For more helpful travel tips from fellow travelers, check out Rick's Graffiti Wall Message Board.