Robbed And Almost Penniless in Europe

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.
My Advice:
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 has 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.

Robbed And Almost Penniless in Europe: Travel, Books and Food, Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain
Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

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 realized that there is also an aspect of time difference. Yes, if it was 1PM in Portugal, then it was already 2PM 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.
Robbed And Almost Penniless in Europe: Travel, Books and Food
Huelva, Spain

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:
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 canceling 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 2:30AM 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 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 get robbed while traveling 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. J
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Robbed and Almost Penniless in Europe: Travel, Books and Food


  • I feel for you and it is wonderful that you wrote a post warning people about this menacing situation in Europe. I had my passport robbed in Paris but I honestly think it was divine intervention that there was a cop who saw the whole thing in action and caught the guy red handed and gave everything back to me. I was just plain lucky because the locals told me that getting something that has been robbed is almost an impossibility. However this is a real issue and I warn all of my family and friends going to Europe about it. As you mentioned growing up in India and being cautious about all this, left me alarmed when I realized I was robbed and robbed in such an easy fashion. Thanks for penning this.

  • Learnt a lesson through your experience. I will now keep my cards separately and money too. Never did it. And managed to get pickpocket only in London for my cell phone. But someone saw it and got it back, only I dropped it in water the next day. But not having a phone is nothing compared to not having cards!

  • Thank you Milana. It is really a menace and I had a tough time surviving with only cash for the remainder of my trip. Since this happened during my first week on the road, I had still 4 weeks left in Europe.
    You are so lucky that you got your passport back. Thankfully I did not lose my passport that day. I have heard of many people who have been robbed of their passports though. Even though I was warned of pickpocketing in Europe, I guess I never expected it to happen to me. Such a silly notion.

  • I always carry backup cash. Never carry all my cash together. But the thing with me is that I never carry too much cash. Only cards. So it was difficult surviving the next four weeks without cards. The irony is that when I went to Italy with my sister the previous time, I had kept my backup card in a different place. It was just meant to happen.
    We always learn every day we travel no, Mridula. I dropped my iPhone in water in Australia too. Thankfully my sister was there and we managed with her phone till we got back.

  • Oh! That was bad! Travel teaches us a lot!
    And I am taking lessons here.

  • Yes Travel does teach us a lot. At that time, even though I blanked out, I am glad that I made it back home in one piece. I am glad that people can learn from my experiences.

  • ohh it is always so sad if something like that happens. it just destroys everything, because sometimes you only have a certain amount of time to visit a place and i would really get upset to spend that time at the police station…

  • Wow..what an experience. I had a similar one not in any foreign country but in Delhi metro while going to Red Fort. The thief stole the wallet where all the cards were kept. That is the day I learnt it is not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. I understand how harrowing the experience can be but you were treated in a far better way than we were by the Delhi police.

  • What a horrible experience for you. He is awful when something like this happens when you are travelling especially alone. Thank you for sharing it and hopefully by doing so and sharing you tips it will prevent it from happening so bad to someone else.

  • Getting robbed is awful but at least you should be happy that they didn't steal your passport too. That would have been a nightmare, your entire trip would have been to be put on hold and you would have had to deal with the embassy. It's great that afterwards you met great people that made you feel better about what happened.

  • Quite an experience! Thanks for sharing all the details and advice. Hopefully by you sharing others will learn not to keep things in the same place and hopefully prevent them from getting into a similar situation to! I do my best to keep it all separate but I'm not always super conscious of it!

  • What an experience! It's always horrible when you lose all your access to cash. I once had a backpack stolen in Peru. Fortunately, I had a small handbag where I stored my cash so it wasn't too much of a problem for me. What is stupid though, is the next day, my friend Justin had his backpack stolen (again right beneath our noses) in Ecuador. Unfortunately for him, EVERYTHING of value was in it – cash, cards, passport, laptop, phone… It was not a good experience! He then missed out on about two weeks of the trip as he had to fly down to the city to get a new passport and was stuck waiting for it! What a hassle!

  • To think of this happened in one of the safest places in world ( perceived)..but then even I was conned in Paris so… one needs to be on guard all the time…

  • Yes I had to cancel my Seville plans because of this incident. But things like these happen and you have no say.

  • Yes the Spanish police were quite sweet. In India, at least we know how to be careful. It is however a completely different experience to get your cards stolen while traveling.

  • Yes it was a horrible experience. Hopefully it will be helpful for other travellers.

  • Thankfully I did not lose my passport. That would have definitely cut my trip short . Yes I loved meeting so many kind people .

  • Yes, I try to keep them separate as well. But sometimes you are not conscious and that is what happened to me this time.

  • Looks like your friend Justin had a really bad experience. Thankfully all I lost that day was cash and cards. Losing my passport would have been really difficult for me.

  • Perceived is the right word. Apparently lots of people get robbed in Europe and I learnt it the hard way.

  • So sorry this happened to you. Spain is notorious for pick pockets. My travelling companion got pick pocketed in Las Ramblas (Barcelona) many years ago. We grabbed the guy (crazy I know)and dragged him to the police station but he had already passed the wallet off to one of his mates. Thankfully their wasn't much cash but like you replacing the cards was a pain.

  • I totally feel you! I was pickpocket in Rome recently. Luckily it was just my phone but it's so so common in many big European cities! This is great advice for anyone in the same situation.

  • I'm really sorry that this happened to you. It's unfortunate and really sad – I guess some people just are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • This was a horrible experience. Feeling sorry for you. Guess it wasn't much monetary loss but more of a confidence bursting.
    We too had very bad experience with HDFC even though Chetan was Privilege Banking customer for 10 years. Their online interface may not work at times. None of the staff responded to activation requests. Fortunately Sandeepa had a backup card so we got through the trouble situation.
    HDFC earlier they used to issue backup cards and now they don't give that option. HDFC online banking for Forex currency login to loading currency everything is very complicated. It is better they should stop out of forex card business.

  • You poor thing! I have been in this situation before and I cried incessantly haha you handled it well- thanks for sharing!

  • Really sorry to read about this horrible experience. Carrying a back up card in a separate part of your luggage is a really good idea, which I will do from now on.

  • I had heard about Las Ramblas being quite notorious. So I was on my guard the entire time I was there. I had to manage without any cards till I got back and that was tough.

  • Thank You Cassie. Losing anything is such a blow to our confidence.

  • Yes but it was a good learning experience. We are sometimes at the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Sandeepa, I have refused to renew my HDFC card. It was anyway expiring in October. But if you can't trust your banks to do something when you need them the most, then what is the use of them? Both ICICI and Federal bank had the decency to send me a backup card to my home address. HDFC did absolutely nothing.

  • The tears refused to stop then and I must have been a spectacle. I realised later that the tears were my own way of handling it.

  • That is the irony. On the last trip I took, the backup card was somewhere else. I just had to lose everything that day.