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Crime in Europe

London bobbies photo

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.

Consider:

  • 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 category.
  • 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.

photo

ABOVE: The Basilica di San Marco in Venice is a happy hunting ground for pickpockets, who--like politicians--know how to work the crowds.

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, etc.

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 tips:

  • 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.

  • photoConsider buying a secure bag. PacSafe makes lockable fabric backpacks and courier bags that incorporate a hidden slashproof layer of steel mesh.

  • 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.

General information

Traveler's Checklist
The U.S. State Department gives basic tips on overseas travel.

Gov.uk: Travel Abroad
Crime is just one of the topics covered by the British Government's "Passports, travel, and living abroad" pages.

Security products

Magellan's
Passport pouches, money belts, personal alarms, and tamperproof zipper closures are just a few of the security items at Magellan's Travel Supplies.

photoPacSafe
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 photo).

(Note: The "security products" links are provided for information only; we don't endorse the companies' products or earn a commission on sales.)