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In this guest post, WorldNomads.com take a look at some tips for travelling in Europe. WorldNomads.com is an essential part of every adventurous traveller's journey. Follow them on Facebook and on Twitter.
As the winter snow begins to melt, and spring starts to unravel into full bloom, Europe is starting to look like a much brighter and desirable destination for travellers.
But lurking beneath the wonderful sights, smells, sounds and unbridled frivolity is a small cabal of nasty travel trolls that can snare you quickly. So here are our 5 tips for a fun-filled European vacation that's heavier on hedonism than it is laced with larceny and louts.
1. Pickpockets and Scam Artists
Speaking of thieves, pickpocketing is probably the number one potential dragon you will have on your Europe trip. In basically every major centre in every European country, you will find some element of the world's oldest crime.
The methods and devices that pickpockets use to try and take the contents of your pants are steeped in old traditions; here is how you can combat a few.
- Pickpockets will try to distract you with any means possible. It could be using children to get your attention, shooting you with water pistols, pretending to be a tourist, pretending they are hurt, or simply just approaching you for conversation. It's not to say experience your trip through blinkers and be afraid of anyone and everyone you encounter, but just be on your guard when anything unusual happens.
- To minimize your exposure to pickpockets, make their job as hard as possible. Try to not wear expensive brand clothing and flash around expensive equipment like cameras, iPads and jewellery. Keep nondescript and try your best to blend in with the locals.
- It's also important to be on the lookout for scam artists - we can't list every single permeation, but a few good rules can be followed. First: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Second: Dodgy agents will do anything to get you to part with your cash. Third: Counterfeit merchandise is not only illegal to buy, it is complete rubbish and will give you a few months use at the very most.
- Also, make sure you keep all your money and important documents in a money belt underneath your clothing - wallets and purses are an easy thing for pickpockets to get their hands on.
- Don't leave valuables in bags.
- Don't leave your items on tables or on the backs of chairs.
- If you get hassled by a pickpocket, simply don't respond. Walk away without acknowledging their presence - engaging with them will only create more opportunities for them to distract you.
2. Train Safety
One of the best ways to get around Europe is to take advantage of the excellent sleeper train system - and thieves know this very well. This is why you need to be vigilant with your pack or suitcase or it could be going on a solo journey of its very own.
Make sure you keep an eye on your pack when embarking on and off trains and make sure that if you are going to get some shuteye, that you have at least rudimentary locks to keep wandering hands the hell away from your personals.
We find that carabiners are one of the best options when it comes to keeping a pack secure - hook it to a cord, belt or steel string and run it through your backpack strap, and keep it in your locked overhead compartment.
The spirit of protest is sweeping Europe right now, and you shouldn't be surprised if you face that reality at least once during your trip, depending on where you go, of course. If you are in one of the major centres of Europe, it's not unreasonable to expect some kind of disturbance - be it political, civil or economical.
Greece is probably the most tense at present. Protests against austerity measures, strikes, crippled infrastructure and economic turmoil have riddled the former cradle of Western civilization.
Spain is also flaring up in the face of ongoing strikes and labour market reforms. Italy has not been immune to the Euro crisis either - President Burlisconi's unceremonious removal in the face of mounting debt caused civil unrest in the latter half of 2011, and while financial officials say that the Italian economy is being slowly repaired, it's not outside the realms of possibility that more protests could occur.
While passionate protests in the news may look incredible, there are obvious safety risks - but it just takes a common sense approach to stay safe.
If you are staying in one of the major centres and a protest flares up - do your best to stay well away from it. These protests can turn violent quickly, and often result in flames.
For the fan of the festival, Europe is a veritable treasure trove of inspiration. And as the summer months quickly creep, the festivals that mushroom up around every corner get weirder and wackier. But some of them are just outright crazy.
Running Of The Bulls - Pamplona, Spain
We have all seen the footage of this famous event - and it's more dangerous than it looks (if that is at all conceivable). It's an incredibly dangerous and violent event, and in the 3 minutes it takes for the bulls to descend down the promenade, over 250 people on average are injured - some are killed.
And it's not just bulls that are the danger - fiercely protective and traditional Spaniards will deliver swift physical justice to those who do not follow the rules. Even if you are a spectator in this event you are at risk of injury - the bulls are extremely unpredictable, and it is not uncommon for them to charge the crowd.
Our advice for total safety is to stay well away from the actual run - if you want to check it out, make sure you have a high vantage point, you can see just as well without putting yourself at risk.
And if you have a travel insurance policy, don't expect any claim to be paid if you are injured as a result of taking part in this event.
La Tomatina - Valencia, Spain.
La Tomatina is another festival that is growing in popularity every year. To put it in a nutshell - a congregation of around 30-40,000 people, who gather together for the sole purpose of throwing around 100 tonnes of tomatoes at each other for 2 hours. It's a great deal of fun, but it does require a bit of care and safety thinking.
If you take part in the festival, be aware that it can get very, very slippery and it is easy to take a tumble on some mushy red goo. There is a first aid presence there, but understand that in such a chaotic festival like La Tomatina, finding help quick is going to be hard if you are injured.
It's also wise to keep your wallet and anything precious in your hotel safe. Because anything you take in will get completely saturated by sloppy tomatoes. Also, while the spirit of the event may be festive, there have been incidences of robberies and inappropriate sexual advances and assault - so keep a reasonable guard.
Again, as this event is rather dangerous, if you have a travel insurance policy and are injured during Tomatina, you may have some trouble making a successful claim.
Remember, that it's very easy to get swept up in the atmosphere and entertainment, not to mention the vino - and its times like these when you are at your most vulnerable that opportunists can strike. So if you are going to get amongst it, keep your valuables at the hotel - and don't get so wasted that you don't know what is going on.
Some of the festivals have very strict standards of behavior and conduct - and if you are insensitive, you could very well find yourself chased down a dusty street by an angry mob with flaming torches and pitchforks.
Keep in mind - You are a guest.
5. Surviving your hostel
So you have dodged the pickpockets, escorted yourself safely through the train labyrinth, avoided the dangerous protests and survived the festivals unscathed - well done! Now it's time to retreat to your hostel for some well earned shuteye, only that is a little bit of a concern in itself.
Hostels in themselves are a great way to get out of your comfort zone and meet and mingle with people from all over the globe. Keeping that in mind, they can also a breeding ground for grubbiness, theft and shady behavior, so you should keep a few things in mind when getting ready to bunk down.
- It's a precaution, and you don't want to spend your whole time paranoid, but you should prepare yourself for getting things nicked. It only takes a few moments for someone to sneak their hand into your backpack and take your stuff - and if it's only a few dirty singlets and some shorts, well that is one thing. If it's cash, camera, iPhone or something of decent value, that's another. Zip your pack up and put your valuables inside. Then lock it with a padlock. It literally takes a few seconds to do, but it will give you piece of mind.
- A door stop is also a good idea if you want to keep unwanted guests out of your room. It's a really small inclusion to your pack but could be an invaluable one.
- Sometimes hygiene standards leave a little to be desired in hostel beds. If you have the room, pack an extra sheet and sew it together like a sleeping bag, and sleep in that.
- If you are showering, try to pack a pair of flip-flops so you can bathe with them on. The shower floors in hostels can be pretty 'interesting', so it's always a good idea.
- If you don't like noise and lack of privacy, then you shouldn't be in a hostel. However, if you do like sleep, then pack a set of earplugs for those times when a group of crazy Argentinians want to play a game of drunken 'Risk' in your hostel room!
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