Crime in Europe
ABOVE: Know the
word "Police!" in the local language, and you'll be able to
yell for help if you need it.
Many first-time travelers to Europe are worried about personal safety. They've heard
scare stories about terrorists, kidnappers, and mafiosi,
or they've seen too many thrillers about Russian hit men and French thugs.
In reality, most tourists from abroad have less to fear in Europe than they
do at home--at least in terms of violent crime.
- In a book titled Crime Is Not The Problem, Franklin E. Zimring
and Gordon Hawkins point out that "London and New York City have nearly
the same number of robberies and burglaries each year, but robbers and
burglars kill 54 victims in New York for every victim death in London."
- The United States has eight times as many murders of young men as
Italy, which ranks second among developed countries in that statistical
- In a recent survey, Europeans rated Turkey far safer than the U.S. as a travel
destination. And while perception may not always be reality, the survey's
results should reassure North Americans who fear that London or Paris may be
as dangerous as Atlanta or Detroit.
ABOVE: The Basilica di San Marco in Venice is
a happy hunting ground for pickpockets, who--like politicians--know how to work
Pickpockets, purse-snatchers, and petty theft
Most tourist crime involves theft of property. For example:
- Pickpockets frequently work in airports, train stations, subways, and
other crowded public places, just as they do in many other countries. Gangs
of child pickpockets can also be a problem. (I recently met an American
tourist who had two narrow escapes with picketpockets during a group tour:
In Paris, he reached into his pocket and found a stranger's hand; in London,
a thief tried to open his backpack.)
- Purse-snatchers may grab handbags, video cameras, laptop cases, etc. and
escape on foot or by motorscooter.
- Street thieves may break into cars, stealing luggage and other valuables.
- Hotel thieves may slip into guestrooms, stealing money, cameras, jewelry,
Crimes such as muggings, armed robbery, and rape are far less common, although
it obviously makes sense to avoid questionable neighborhoods late at night.
How to protect your belongings
Common sense will go a long way toward preventing theft. Here are a few basic
- Watch your wallet. If you're a man, carry your wallet in a deep side
pocket of your trousers or an inside pocket of a zipped jacket. A lump in
your hip pocket is an invitation to pickpockets. (Better yet, wear a travel
shirt with a zippered pocket in front. Ex Officio and REI sell men's shirts
with this design.)
- Use strong shoulder straps. A heavy leather strap or, better yet, a
cable-reinforced strap will make it harder for grab-and-run thieves to cut
through the strap and make off with your handbag or camera.
Consider buying a secure bag.
PacSafe makes lockable fabric
backpacks and courier bags that incorporate a hidden slashproof layer of
- Guard loose belongings. Don't hang cameras or purses on cafť
chairs, and keep your suitcases close at hand when you're at a ticket
counter or hotel registration desk.
- Wear a hidden "neck safe" or money belt.
Stores that sell
luggage and travel accessories offer a wide variety of pouches that hang
from the neck, fit around the waist, or wrap around the ankle. Use one of
these for your passport and the bulk of your traveler's checks and credit
cards. (Also remember to keep photocopies of your passport's main page and
the receipts for your traveler's checks in a safe place in case the
originals are stolen.)
- Check small valuables. Leave jewelry, cash or traveler's
checks, and other easy-to-steal valuables in your hotel room's safe when you
don't need them.
- Be careful with your car. Don't leave valuables where they can
be seen, and don't store luggage in the trunk overnight. Park in public
places where thieves are less likely to risk breaking into your car.
The U.S. State Department gives basic tips on overseas travel.
Crime is just one of the topics covered by the British Government's
"Passports, travel, and living abroad" pages.
Passport pouches, money belts, personal alarms, and tamperproof zipper closures
are just a few of the security items at Magellan's Travel Supplies.
This U.S.-based company makes day packs, courier bags, and other products
with security features such as protective layer of steel mesh (see inset
(Note: The "security products" links are provided for information only; we don't
endorse the companies' products or earn a commission on sales.)