Rule number one in backpacking: Never, ever let your guard down.
Random people we’ve met during our travels keep saying this to us. Don’t get too comfortable. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t trust anyone.
Chelsea is the only person on this continent right now that I can trust and I need to remember that.
We were robbed last night by the train conductor on our overnight train from Zurich, Switzerland to Zagreb, Croatia.
Is this a right of passage for all backpackers so they learn the lesson to never get comfortable? Our Aussie friend Mel had her entire purse stolen last week in Nice.
We got really comfortable in Switzerland. It was the first country where we felt safe. Our hostel in Lauterbrunnen (Valley Hostel) didn’t have lockers so we had to just leave our stuff out and hope no one took it. We shared a room with two South Korean guys who were unbelievably sweet (even thought they didn’t speak a word of English) and we left our stuff out completely fine.
For our overnight train, we decided to save $20 by getting a seat instead of a bed. The train was 14 hours long and when we got on we were ecstatic to find out that we had an entire seat compartment to ourselves. We each had three seats to lay across, room for our bags and hooks to hang up our wet towels.
But the catch was there wasn’t a lock on the door.
We got on the train just before 9 p.m. We enjoyed the mountains and lakes outside the window before the sunset and then began to read our books.
Two guys came in to check our tickets. We thought it was a little strange that the second guy checked our tickets about two hours after we left but we just hoped that it wouldn’t happen all night.
Around 1 a.m., we heard the door to our compartment shut and both of us woke from a fairly deep sleep. We looked up and saw the conductor, attempting to get away.
He started tapping on the window near Chelsea’s feet and pointed at her purse that was next to her, touching her, on the seat. We didn’t understand why he was doing that so eventually he opened the door and pointed at the purse and then the other wall.
“Safer,” he said.
He was speechless. This guy had perfect English when he came to check our tickets earlier in the night. But in that moment after we had caught him, so he had nothing to say.
Chelsea looked inside her wallet and found about $140 missing. I helped her look through her purse before realizing my purse was next to me on my seat.
I looked inside and my entire wallet was gone. We found it on the floor, by the door, almost under my seat. Credit card and debit card both gone. Fortunately, I didn’t have any cash on me (or unfortunately because I now have no way of getting it out) and he didn’t take Chelsea’s cards.
There was no one else walking the halls that night. The train was mostly empty. Chelsea went running after the conductor and told him we had been robbed.
“Sorry. Gone,” he told Chelsea before running into the next car. He just stood there. Chelsea obviously followed him.
“Do you have cameras?”
He scoffed at her and exclaimed it was gone.
He came to our compartment about 10 minutes later. He looked around the floor before he spoke to us. Probably looking for my wallet he dropped.
“Just cash was stolen?” he asked Chelsea. She never told him what was stolen, just that we had been robbed.
At this point I was furious because I knew he had robbed us and I tried to hint at that. But I was afraid that we could get kicked off the train, in the middle of the night with nowhere to go or way of finding where we were. At this point, I wanted him to just go away because I knew there was nothing we could do. He wasn’t going to give it back.
Once we both got over the shock of what had just happened, we each took a lap up and down the train searching for him. We found another steward who didn’t speak very good English and while he tried to help, it was hopeless with the language barrier. We couldn’t find the conductor who had robbed us. Surprise, surprise.
After that, Chelsea remembered she brought a padlock that we could twist around the door and the handle of the seat to lock it. About five hours late, but at least now we could sleep with one eye open instead of both. We had a lot to deal with in the morning when we arrived in Croatia so we needed at least a few hours of sleep.
At 4 a.m., there was a staff switch that we didn’t know about so the conductor was off into Austria somewhere with my credit cards. I had no cell service, no wifi, no way to cancel my cards.
It was the first moment I’ve felt really afraid to be two young American girls traveling alone. This grown man came into our car without us hearing him and robbed us of our cash and credit cards. He then tried to play it off like nothing happened and refused to speak to us about it. He could have raped us, taken us, kicked us off in the middle of the night, killed us. The train was mostly empty.
Were we idiots for leaving our purses uncovered? Yes. Should they have been under our heads instead of next to us? Yes. Should we have trusted that the train conductor wouldn’t rob us? No.
Never let your guard down.
We are in Croatia for about 10 days so hopefully I can get new cards. We are very fortunate that we still have our passports and electronics and I had hidden an “emergency” card my father had given me before I left in my backpack so I still have that. I told him I was going to be so careful so I wouldn’t need it but clearly even I can get too comfortable.