I went to London for four months during spring semester of my junior year of college. I was so excited that I wasn’t concerned much with the fact that I was traveling to a country I’ve never been to before. With this lack of concern, I made the mistake of not doing any research on how to be safe while studying abroad—and as a result, I was careless and got pickpocketed.
Because of my experience, I want to share with other students how they can be safe, not only with themselves but with their possessions too. If you go to Europe like I did, you’ll probably be traveling a lot on the weekends. It's a great opportunity to go out and get established in a new country, but it can also be your most vulnerable time. Make sure you read up on what’s happening in the country before visiting, but also take these tips I learned while on my travels with you for good measure.
Use a bag lock
I stayed mostly in Airbnb locations and hostels. Both can be great and cheap options, but remember you’re in a different country and may be sharing a room with people you don’t know. If the room doesn’t have a lock for your stuff, bring a lock for your bag. I bought two little locks with a small key to lock my backpack and purse, and I kept the key under my pillow or somewhere else safe while I slept. I even locked my backpack up while I walked around during the day. Since my bag was on my back where I couldn’t see it, someone could have easily slipped the zipper open and grabbed something inside without me knowing if it weren’t for the lock. I know it sounds difficult, but you’d be surprised how many of my friends were subject to this kind of pickpocketing.
Hold on to or secure your purse or wallet
I got pickpocketed while I was wearing a crossbody purse, normally the type of purse you’re told to wear so people can’t pull it off you as easily. But I was distracted, and someone opened my zipper and grabbed my whole wallet. My license, debit card, and cash were gone. It was on a very tight train, and not only was my hand not on my bag, but the zipper was away from my body. Always keep zippers or pockets toward you on the front of your body where you can see them, and be aware of how vulnerable your bag can be, especially in crowded places.
Stick with friends
If it’s nighttime, walk with your friends. That’s always a good rule for safety, but if you don’t know the place very well, don’t try to wander around by yourself. Always have at least one friend with you, and make sure someone has a clear enough mind to guide you (or for you to guide someone else) back to where you are staying. It's also a good idea to share locations by dropping pins or utilizing Find My Friends on your phone so your group can see where everyone is.
Don't bring all your money and cards
Only bring the essentials with you when you go out. If you have both a debit and credit card, you probably won’t need both that night, so pick only one to carry and lock the other one up in your room. Often credit cards are the smarter choice, because if someone steals it, purchases can be easily removed; it’s typically much harder to get money back if someone spends it on your debit card. Also, don’t bring all your cash with you everywhere you go. Figure out how much you want to spend that day and only bring that much. This will also help you budget your money better.
Studying abroad is a great experience, and this isn’t meant to scare you. But knowing how to be safe, especially when you’re away from home, is important. Make sure you do your research before your trip and take precautions while you're in a different country. It will make the experience a lot more fun!
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