Travel safety, awareness

by Robert Szostek
U.S. Army Europe Office of the Provost Marshal Public Affairs

U.S. Army Europe crime prevention experts say you can never be too careful, prepared or aware when traveling in Europe.

“It’s important to remember that tourists make tempting targets for thieves,” said Lt. Col. Lon Walker, chief of law enforcement at the USAREUR Office of the Provost Marshal.

Travelers who are lost or distracted, weighed down with bags, and carrying money and other valuables in obvious places make great targets for thieves.

In general, the best advice is to blend in with the crowd and look like the locals. Don’t let your dress, talk or mannerisms identify you as American or military.

Pack your things in inconspicuous baggage, not military bags or luggage with unit logos; don’t take uniform items or clothes with military designs with you.

Pickpockets are very active during the summer, especially in major cities and in Eastern and Southern Europe. They stalk tourists and strike when their victims are vulnerable.

“If anyone jostles, bumps or crowds you, a pickpocket may be in action,” Colonel Walker said.

Also, beware of staged distractions. A thief may drop something or cause a loud commotion as a distraction to create an opportunity for a second thief to steal your valuables and walk away.

Pickpockets will help travelers load bags onto or off trains to give them the opportunity to steal something from them, slit open backpacks and take whatever drops out. They are also known for watching travelers buy tickets and food to see where they keep their wallets.

Colonel Walker recommended carrying handbags or purses in front of you, not slung over a shoulder. He also warned against leaving wallets or cell phones in coats or jackets hung on common coat racks in restaurants.

Some thieves also target those who have had one too many in bars and clubs late at night and beachgoers who leave valuables unguarded while swimming.

OPM officials said travelers can contact their local Provost Marshal Offices for more security tips or download National Crime Prevention Council travel safety pamphlets at