Before my trip, I read tons of blogs and books about crime and the best backpacks to wear, and basically how not to get robbed. So I buy a good backpack and hide all my valuables in the inner pockets, and I try to pay attention to my wallet all the time, most especially when I get to Greece. Greece is very different from London, which feels a lot like America. In Greece not everything is written in English, the cities are not all modern and sleek, and people tend to stand together more closely than I like.
When I get to Athens, I’m starving. It’s afternoon in Greece, and I left the hostel early that morning—around 6—London time. I’ve had only a few snacks and no real breakfast since my hostel wouldn’t unlock the kitchen door until 7 or 8 a.m.
After leaving the plane and making it through Customs, I find a high-ceilinged convenience store with multiple aisles near the exit and purchase a package of rice cakes dipped in milk chocolate. I try my best to say thank you in Greek.
Outside, I nibble the snacks as I push my way through a crowd of people. My great big forty-liter backpack is over my shoulders (with nothing important in the outer zippered compartments) and I wear a broken-zippered bag over my shoulder in the front to keep my valuables safe. (This zippered bag had seemed like a good idea back in Boston, but even before I left Logan airport the zipper fell apart, and I have for some reason kept using it anyway.) I’ve decided to keep my wallet in the thigh pocket of my pants since I figure I’ll know if anyone tries swiping that from me.I haven’t gotten robbed often, and I’ve never been pickpocketed.
But something did happen in my early twenties, while I was out dancing with new friends (ie: strangers) in San Francisco, California. I had parked in front of their multi-level apartment building deep in the city, and by morning my back passenger’s side window had been smashed, and all of my bags were gone. Luckily I was a mess and had kept most of my favorite skirts and dresses on the seat instead of in a bag, and my VERY important backpack had been inside the apartment (with my books and journals and so on), but I still lost a backpacking backpack that I never got to use, a very comfortable matching deep green skirt and top, and some of my favorite shirts and pants.
Because I’ve had such good luck all my life, with very few cases of theft, I feel like I’m overdo and my luck is going to run out. While I’m in Greece I’m just waiting for the bad thing to happen. It will suck, it will be painful, but in the end it will be good for me in two ways: the story, and losing things can be very healing because you learn to move on; because you have to.
I pull out my phone. No service. I bought the plan in London, and it’s supposed to work in all of Europe, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve gotten swindled since I can neither make calls, nor use the Internet, the latter being the most important feature while in a foreign country where English isn’t the primary language. I think I’ve found the correct bus, but I’m not sure. I get on anyway. And then I reach down to pat my pocket for my wallet as I often do, even in the States, and my breath catches. Nothing is there. I feel like I’m reaching out for a wall that isn’t there, and then I’m falling.
Oh my god, I think. It has my credit card, my debit card, all my cash…how could I have gotten pickpocketed during only my second week on this trip? I’ll have to get my dad to wire me money through the cash app. I’ll have to get my damn phone to work. How will I pay for a bus to my hostel? How will I pay for my hostel? I look out the bus window at all the people on the sidewalk, standing close together waiting, and wonder who could have taken it. Did any of them bump me? Are they miles away by now, in a getaway car? I stick my hands into the broken-zippered bag at my chest, but my wallet doesn’t seem to be there, either.
I run off the bus. Back into the airport and to the man from whom I’d bought my snack. “Hey, did you see where I put my wallet?” I ask. “I can’t find it. Do you think someone stole it?”
“I’m sure no one stole it,” he says kindly. “There’s a lost and found that way, if you want to check,” he says, motioning in the direction opposite the buses. “I’m sure someone would turn it in if they found it.”
“Thank you so much,” I say, all pretense of trying to speak Greek lost in panic.
I begin walking to the lost and found, then stop. I take off my backpack and breathe deeply. Then I search my shoulder bag thoroughly, and, within less than a minute, I’m holding my duct-tape wallet in my hand. (I made it myself and taped tinfoil in the lining to prevent thieves from stealing my digital information from a distance.) I stow the ATM card in my giant backpack and tuck the wallet back into my shoulder bag. Well, at least I don’t have to tell anyone back home that I got robbed during my second week. And, I’m even more grateful that I don’t have to say that it was one of these friendly Greek folks who robbed me.