Some of you, who have read my previous post, may be wondering why I am writing about being robbed once again. That emotional post was written the day after I was robbed and it was just a way of venting out my frustration using a medium I am most comfortable with, writing. It is also my top viewed post and one of the most honest pieces I have ever written. Real life can really add some drama to your adventures. But three months down the line after the incident, it is finally time to do some introspection.
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What to do if you are robbed in Europe?
Many people ask me what my advice would be for such scenarios. My advice is just one: “Do not get robbed while travelling”. I am not joking. I am telling you that getting robbed was one of the most humiliating things that have happened to me. After all, how many of you know a person who has lived all her life in Tanzania and India and managed to get robbed in Europe? It is really a bad scenario and it is not something that I wish upon, even for my enemies. Also, I got robbed, so I am probably not the most suitable person to give you advice.
But it is not that uncommon. When I posted the previous article, I had friends and family from around the world, who told me stories about how they were robbed. I think that is the one thing that gave me the most consolation. There were people who were robbed before me and there will be countless more who will get robbed after me. I tell you, our human hearts are really incomprehensible. There is also no guarantee that I, myself will not get robbed again.
But in case you do get robbed, here are some things you need to keep in mind.
So what really happened that day?
It was a bad day. Nothing was going right that day. I think, someone, somewhere decided that I was having too much fun in Algarve and decided to test my limits. I had realized on Saturday night that getting out of Algarve was going to be difficult. I had to drop the rental car at 9 in the morning and then get to Huelva by 4 in the evening (I had train tickets to Madrid at 4). I actually had ample time to cover a distance of 160 kms. But there was only one tiny weeny problem. Being a Sunday, there was only one bus and that left at 7 in the morning.
Since Faro was where the airport was, a friend suggested that I would have better luck getting transportation from there. After dropping off the rental in the morning, I was fortunate to get a shared cab from my hotel to the airport. It took us around 30 minutes to get to Faro airport.
My initial plan was to hire a car from the airport and drop it off in Huelva. So I went ahead and joined a queue at Budget. Anyone who has ever hired a Budget car knows this. Their queues are long and they take their own sweet time in processing each application. By the time I got to the kiosk, I had already spent more than an hour in the queue, only to be told that they did not have cars which can be driven in two countries.
I don’t know how I could have missed that small detail but I was under the impression that there were no regulations for cars when it came to Schengen countries. I immediately went to Avis since I was told that they were the only ones who had such cars. However, on that ill-fated day, even Avis did not have any available cars.
After loitering around looking for other options at various tour operators, I finally managed to book a very expensive (120 Euros) private transfer, whose driver promised to drop me at the train station. It was either that or staying back in Faro which would have cost me around the same for a last minute booking. Between all this, I had realised that there is also an aspect of the time difference. Yes, if it was 1 PM in Portugal, then it was already 2 PM in Spain. It takes around 75 minutes from Faro to Huelva.
Thankfully he dropped me right on time and I had around 30 minutes till my train started boarding. It is a small train station and it was kind of deserted around the train station. I went looking for lunch and the only thing that was open had only desserts that looked vegetarian. I could not venture out far since I had my luggage with me.
After all this drama, I finally reached Madrid around 8:30 PM. I got into one of taxis from the train station and I gave him my address. If I ever see this cabbie again, I will probably murder him. This guy, instead of dropping me at my hostel, decided to drop me on one side of Plaza Mayor and told me that my hostel was on the other side of the Plaza.
What the idiot forgot to mention was that the Plaza Mayor has 9 entrances. I walked around for the next 45 minutes trying to find my hostel. My phone network was down and hence GPS was also not working. I must have asked at least 15-20 people for directions to my hostel. I must have been a sight. Walking all over the cobbled streets of Madrid with a suitcase and a camera gear backpack. I also had a sling handbag with me.
In all this confusion, someone managed to open this handbag and take the wallet from it. Since I was too busy talking to people, any of their friends could have easily done all of this without me noticing. I usually always put this bag over my shoulder but that day I forgot to do so and someone stole my wallet. I remember putting it back after paying the cab driver. I still feel like an idiot for not being more careful.
I noticed that the wallet was missing only when I finally got to the hostel, The Hat, at around 10 PM. This is when I fell in love with this hostel. All of them were so kind when they realized that I had been robbed. In spite of not paying the entire amount for the room, the receptionist calmly walked me through what needs to be done next.
I am glad that at least he had the common sense to guide me, since I kind of blanked out at the moment. He gave me some water to drink and then helped me carry my luggage to the room. Then they asked me to go and report it at the nearest police station. I had some cash in dollars/pounds and first he told me where to go to get it exchanged. Then he gave me directions to the police station.
Going to the Police station after getting robbed in Europe
The police station was around 15 minutes by walk. It was after 11 PM and I decided to go right away to report the incident and exchange the cash. I have no idea what the hell was I thinking, going all alone in the middle of the night to the police station, without any GPS, but only a traditional map to guide me. Madrid, however is sparsely crowded even at that time of the day. After getting to the police station, I was asked to wait in the waiting room.
There were two other ladies in the room and they had also come to report a theft. Soon a tourism relationship officer came to get the details of the robbery. She asked me to call Visa/ Mastercard to cancel all my cards.
The numbers are all readily available and you can call them from the phone in the telephone station. But this was the most frustrating part of the ordeal. Have you ever tried to report a stolen card? Every card took me at least 45 minutes each to cancel and I was put on hold several times during the conversation.
The nice tourism relationship lady also had to leave by 12 AM. And that is when I started crying. For people who know me very well, know this about me. I am someone who never cries in front of others and I have been like this since my childhood. Only a handful of people had seen me cry till that day.
But I guess that is when it struck me. I was all alone in a foreign country, sitting in a police station in the middle of the night, with absolutely no money and I had no idea what I was going to do next. But the cops were so sweet. Once I finished cancelling my cards, they helped me in filing a police report. Once it was done, the guy even caught me a cab to go back to the hostel. It was already past 2:30 AM by then.
The first thing I did once I got to the hostel was to message my family about the incident and then I went to sleep. By the time I got up at 7 the next morning, my brother in law (All hail the brother in law) had already transferred the money through the Western Union from UAE since my parents were unable to do the same from India. Throughout the rest of the trip, he kept transferring cash.
That day, the only time I got out of my room was when I went to collect the money. I finally managed to eat some lunch and then I spent the rest of my afternoon arguing with HDFC who refused to send me a backup card.
This is one of the reasons why I will be carrying an American Express from next time onwards. Amex guys are the only guys who will send you a backup card anywhere around the world if you lose it. They also have an option of sending you cash. I had already cancelled my Seville plans by then, in the hope of HDFC sending a backup card to my Madrid address.
I must have sulked around for a day max but I am pretty sure that my mom was upset for many days thereafter. I only got to know this once I got back but my parents cut short their vacation in Ooty when they got to know about this incident. I wish that hadn’t happened.
In the evening my roommates made plans to go out for dinner and we ended up gate crashing a beer tasting party. I am so glad that I met so many kind people in Madrid. Even without asking, all of them happened to be there for me when I was at my most vulnerable moment. When I finally went to pay my bill the next day, I was already quite famous with most of the staff. “The Indian lady who managed to get robbed in Spain.”
Can you survive in Europe without any credit cards?
Well, you definitely can and I am living proof for that. I did not lose more than 60 Euros that day. But losing my cards was a big disadvantage since I am so addicted to swiping cards.
The first thing I did after receiving the cash was to divide it and put it in multiple places. I used to carry no more than 50-60 Euros on me every day for food/transportation and I managed to survive with that amount every day. I never crossed that limit in any of the cities and in some of the cheaper cities, I managed to survive on 20 Euros a day too. I did finally learn to practice austerity after getting robbed in Spain. You, however, cannot rent a car if you do not have any credit cards on you.
One last piece of advice you are probably going to ignore:
Always keep your backup card in a separate place unlike me, who learnt it the hard way. Ask for help if you need it. People around the world are not as bad as you might think.
I sincerely hope that none of you gets robbed while travelling but if you do, I hope the experience would not be as dramatic as my experience. Only thing is not to give up hope and figure out your options (my option was a brother in law who was willing to send me cash to scrape through). I have never been a religious person and will probably never be but I sincerely hope that God gives me the strength not to murder the person who robbed me, if I ever meet him one day.
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