Generally speaking, you are unlikely to experience any problems during your travels. But it doesn’t hurt to be ready for any eventuality. So, read on to learn all you need to know with my Tourist Safety Tips, PARIS version.
10 Tourist Safety Tips for PARIS
1. Be prepared. If nothing else, it will reassure you. If your purse or bag with phone and wallet are stolen, things quickly get complicated.
Prepare an emergency travel packet that you leave in your hotel vault. You should include:
√ Photocopies of credit cards and customer service number
√ Photocopies of your passport
√ Photocopies of any other pertinent documents
√ Copy of travel itineraries
√ Friends, family, and important phone numbers
√ Back up credit card and a little cash
- Copies should also be accessible virtually from anywhere, try emailing yourself or a good friend.
- Use your driver’s license for identification while traveling (much easier to replace than a passport).
- Keep your hotel or apartment key and address in your pocket in case you bag is stolen.
- Strap the emergency travel packet inside your shirt or pants when traveling between cities.
2. Leave valuables at home. Leave the three-carat diamond and grandma’s cherished brooch at home; it’s just not worth the risk. Don’t bring anything with sentimental value, or monetary value that you couldn’t replace if stolen. Your goal is to avoid looking like you have anything of interest for would be thieves.
3. Keep wallet safe. Empty your wallet and purse of all non-essential items. Never carry more money or credit cards than you need. Separate valuables (Cash in one pocket, credit cards in another, etc). Keep your wallet in a safe place not easily accessible by thieves. Try a specialty belt with hidden zipper, or a pouch that you tuck inside your pants or skirt. Also consider purchasing a travel vest or jacket that includes multiple hidden pockets; SCOTTeVest makes stylish ones. Purses should be slung across your chest and never placed on the backs of chairs or on the floor in a restaurant. You can use small suitcase combination locks on your purse for extra insurance if desired. Good looking and practical bags and purses with razor blade proof straps are available at PacSafe. Fanny packs are not a great option as mostly for tourist or hiking wear. If you have to wear one, then make sure the waist strap is covered from behind by your jacket or shirt. Throw in a couple of those fabric shopping bags you get at the grocery store in France to disguise your “Chanel” and “Dior” store bags (wishful thinking for most of us).
4. Keep your cell phone hidden. Don’t pull out your cell phone, especially in a crowd. Phones are regularly stolen right out of people’s hands. Don’t make it an easy target by leaving it on the coffee table while you chat with friends. If you must use it, stand away from crowds, preferably against a wall, and be discreet. A colleague of mine even had her phone stolen right out of her front pocket while she was rocking out to some fine tunes on the metro. She only noticed when the music suddenly stopped and the metro doors closed with the thief escaping with her phone.
5. Watch out for suspicious folks. Distracting tourist is a common tactic. Ignore suspicious people asking questions, trying to sell you something (like the friendship bracelet scam), or wanting you to sign a petition (often for the deaf or to gain citizenship). If you look lost and confused and aren’t paying attention to your immediate surroundings, you will more likely become a victim. Don’t stand out! And don’t attract attention by talking super excitedly about your latest discoveries.
6. Be vigilant on the metro. It’s best to try to avoid rush hours if at all possible. Have your ticket ready in hand before approaching so you don’t have to fumble through your purse or wallet to retrieve them. While on the metro, good strategies include staying away from the doors where purses are most likely to be stolen, and sitting down if seats are available. If you have a travel mate, keep a couple of steps away from each other and “spot” the other for suspicious folks. Also, be careful in the stations at the turnstiles and escalators, or anywhere there is influx and crowding. Thieves have also been known to attempt to rob tourist while they try to figure out the metro ticket vending machines. NEVER buy tickets from anyone not in the official ticket booths.
- Châtelet les Halles
- Charles de Gaulle Etoile
- Gare de l’Est
- RER D (avoid altogether if at all possible)
7. Watch out for child gangs. Although thieves can be anyone from a well dressed business man to an old lady, be particularly aware if you see groups of children or teens (particularly Gypsies/Romas and often female) roaming around. They are known to target and pickpocket tourists and are a major nuisance in Paris. Tactics include asking you to sign a petition of some type, spilling something on your clothing, pushing and swarming, or any kind of distraction to can make you lose your focus. Either ignore them completely, or tell them NO strongly. You will also often see women and children begging for change (never the men), it feels cold-hearted but it’s best to just walk past. Unfortunately because of all this, anti-gypsyism directed at the Romani people is common and an area of tension for the locals.
8. Be vigilant at tourist sites. Be particularly aware when visiting the major tourist sites. The district around Sacré Coeur has the most reported burglaries in all of Paris. Other areas to pay particular attention are the Metro line 1 and Metro line 9 that links to many tourist sites, major department stores such Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps, and the elevators at the Eiffel Tower. After dark also be especially careful around Châtelet Les Halles where the night life can be a bit rough. Pigalle (red-light district) nightclubs routinely hire very aggressive staff to coerce you into entering the establishment and then charging you exorbitant drink costs (hundreds of euros). When returning home, avoid any area that is dark and isolated, and don’t walk home alone.
9. Don’t dress like a tourist. There are certain ways of dressing that just scream tourist. Just being foreigners with our differences in clothing and language makes us stand out. These are the clues that thieves are looking for, so pay careful attention and do your best to avoid these particularly obvious tourist indicators:
- Wearing a camera around your neck
- Carrying a backpack
- Sporting an “I Love Paris” or “Portland Blazers” tshirt
- Clutching your Paris guidebook under your arm
- Having multiple store shopping bags (Chanel, Dior, Gucci, etc.)
Whether the weather is hot or cold, whether you are male or female, instantly add a little French flair with a scarf. Just leave the backpack and hide the camera unlike this tourist or it defeats the whole purpose. See “Tourists Beware – What NOT to Wear in Paris“.
10. Don’t act like a tourist. There is a certain dazed and confused air that many tourist display. Be more conscious, and try to look like you belong, acting natural and walking with assurance. Avoid drawing attention to yourself. Use a nondescript bag for your camera and keep your guidebook hidden. If thieves cannot pick you out as a tourist, then they will most likely leave you alone. And try not to eat or drink while walking around or when on public transportation – Parisians always take the time to enjoy their food. You’ll never see them with a sandwich or coke can in hand while walking around the city.
If you are one of the rare unfortunate victims, immediately dial 17 for Police, or 112 for Emergency services. Describe the situation, your location, description of thieves, direction of escape, and then proceed to the nearest “Prefecture de Police” (Commissariat) or “Gendarmerie” to file your complaint.
As a final note, please don’t take these tips as a reason to be concerned. Paris is a very safe city as explained in my previous blog “How safe is Paris for tourist?” There really is very little reason to worry, particularly if you are observant and prepared (by following my 10 Tourist Safety Tips PARIS).
If you have any comments or questions about these tips, please share !
– Girl Gone Gallic