By Cherrie West
Travelling to Europe for your gap year or well-earned uni break? The continent is a great place to explore with its varied landscape, cultural sights and thriving bar culture in countless cities. Beach and booze holidays under the sun, working holidays on the ski slopes or sightseeing breaks are all options made simple with Eurostar trains in France, which can be taken from the UK. However, it’s important to keep your wits about you and get clued up to the dangers and pitfalls of travel. It’s not only the travel virgins who can experience difficulties: even those veteran adventurers can fall prey to scams directed at student travellers.
Busy cities can be hotbeds of criminal activity and although it is unlikely that you’ll be the victim of a violent crime, pickpockets and thieves are expert at targeting the unknowing tourist. When walking through crowded areas – and major transport hubs in particular, always keep your personal belongings close to your body. This doesn’t have to involve donning a bumbag (it’s not the ‘90s after all), a small bag worn across the body, hidden under clothing will work just as well. In addition to money and cards, it’s also an idea to keep flashy items like your watch tucked safely away, rather than in full view. Or – even better – leave an expensive watch at home and opt for a cheap plastic replacement for your time away.
After dumping your backpack at your hostel you may consider your belongings safe and think nothing of them when out and about. Whilst many hostels are secure and have staff at reception 24/7, others – particularly those attractively low budget options – may be more open to risk. It doesn’t take much for a thief to wander in off the street, through an unmanned hostel entrance and rifle through guest’s luggage. Always enquire about lockers and safe deposit boxes at your hostel and lock away valuables. If your hostel doesn’t offer these, take valuables out with you and use a padlock to secure your backpack left in your dorm.
Behaviour is also key to avoid being the victim of crime. Remain inconspicuous and you won’t attract attention from pickpockets or scamming ticket touts. These individuals will be on the lookout for young, naïve travellers, so prove them wrong when walking the city streets. Keep clothes causal and low-key and whilst at train and bus stations move quickly and be alert. If on a long train journey keep your bag with you at all times and never leave anything with a stranger – however friendly and helpful their offer may seem!
More remote spots may pose different safety issues but again, by staying alert these are traps which can be avoided. Walking alone late at night can be a tempting option if you’re keen to avoid paying a hefty taxi fee. Before you go out research night transport options, as even smaller European towns may offer night buses. If not, team up with a group or individual from your hostel and split the cost of a taxi home.
Travellers on a shoestring may consider hitchhiking to save on transport costs. If taking this option, try and hitch in a pair, make sure you are always visible on the roadside, keep your mobile phone on your body at all times and have a map handy so you can keep track of your path.
By sticking to simple rules and staying savvy, travel in Europe can be both safe and fun.
Cherrie is a recent journalism graduate from Dover and has moved up to London. She specializes in writing travel articles having done some travelling herself, and other consumer topics such as fashion, beauty and technology. She has a passion for all types of writing and to reach as many people as possible with her ideas. Follow Cherrie on Twitter @Cherries_Scoop.