Is Eastern Europe safe?


Oct 23rd, 2000, 08:40 AM
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Is Eastern Europe safe?

I am thinking of inter-railing around Eastern Europe. One of my work-mates says Eastern Europe is very unsafe, and strongly advises me against it. Can anyone give any advice? Thanks.
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Oct 23rd, 2000, 09:19 AM
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Depends which countries you mean by "Eastern Europe" and what your standard of "safe" is. Give us a little more to work with and I'm sure we'll all pitch in
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Oct 23rd, 2000, 01:11 PM
Ben Haines
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Well, I'm going to pitch in anyway.

I disagree with your colleague. Everywhere is safe. In Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslaavia (mesaning present-day Yugoslavia) there are luggage theives and pickpockets. In the biggest stations of Poland and the Czech Republic there are pickpockets, especially active as you board the train. So in places with luggage thieves I travel by night in sleepers, where I have a compartment door to lock, and the conductor locks all the car's outer doors except the one he stands at. On day trains there I travel in an occupied compartment, and if I go to the restaurant car (often a good idea) I ask a fellow-passenger to watch my bag.

On trains in places with pickpockets I carry as I board and leave trains just my InterRail card, sleeper booking slips, and a little money. If I'm to cross a frontier I have my passport with my washing gear, something to read, and clean shirt in a plastic carrier bag on the top of my suitcase, and pull it out only just before I board a train. I put the passport well away in the bag before I leave the train. All other valuables are in a used brown envelope wrapped in a dirty shirt in the middle of my case.

I use two-star hotels, and leave the used brown envelope, and the passport, with the manager. I carry around town just cash, a photocopy of the key passport pages, and one credit card. If you're in hostels you can do the same.

If your colleague means there will be a war or street violence, I again disagree, now that Serbia has changed. You'll avoid such cities as Seattle and Prague while they're having meetings of the World Trade Organisation, you'll not walk among land mines in Bosnia, you'll avoid telling Serbs that it was a good dea to bomb them, and you'll not sit about in sleezy Budapest or Bucharest strip joints getting a huge bill for drink.

More seriously, you'll use the Lonely Planet guide book to see what you do about trams. Usually you must buy tickets in advance from tobacconists (I buy them in tens: they're dirt cheap) and put them in a machine to be punched as you board. If (as often) you can't see that machine you ask the crowd to help you. In Prague, Sofia, and I expect elsewhere inspectors prowl on the look-out for tourists they can fine: punch your ticket early.

Bucharest has special pests, people in plain clothes who say they are police or tourist police and want to check your passport or to check your money. The official advice is to ask to be taken to the nearest police station. I have more fun. I stand stock still and shout loudly "Police", "Police". The pests disappear, and passers-by smile.

I have on disc a note on couchettes and sleepers in Central Europe. Shall I copy it to you ?

You can get official views on all this. The consuls of five countries hear of new scams, thefts, and dangers, so give good advice.
from Australia on
from Britain on
from Canada on, under "Travel Reports"
from France on
from the USA on, under "travel warnings"
Some experienced American travellers find the American site over-cautious. It is therefor useful to check all five sites.

Please write again if I can help further. And please show a print-out of this to your work-mate: I'd like to hear a reaction.

Ben Haines, London

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Oct 23rd, 2000, 02:29 PM
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Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia are very safe. Most of the old Soviet Union are safe. As anywhere, you must be alert & don't give a thief a chance. But we had no problems anywhere.
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Oct 23rd, 2000, 03:22 PM
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Hi! I agree with the others as to safety. Having been o those countries including Hungary and Slovenia. Just use caution just as you would in any major American city. Enjoy it. alan
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Oct 23rd, 2000, 03:35 PM
Paul J
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Is Eastern Europe safe???

I sure hope so cuz were leaving tomorrow for Munich, Prague Cesky Krumlov,Plzen etc.

If I don't check back in about two weeks, send help!.....Paul J
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Oct 23rd, 2000, 05:28 PM
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As usual, Ben Haines has got it right on the button. Read him and heed him. Because you are traveling by rail, you eliminate the problem of automobile theft. Rental cars companies often prohibit drivers from taking their vehicles into such countries as Poland.
We met a couple of young German fellows in Krakow whose car had been stolen, and the Polish police could not have cared less. The big "D" sticker on the car (a small Opel, not a Mercedes) acted like a magnet, and it simply vanished from on-street parking. Just use your wits and you will be OK.
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Oct 23rd, 2000, 05:48 PM
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Well I knew I could count on Ben! We've disagreed on this before. I respect Ben and his information, BUT we are not all Ben with his level of experience or his choices in travel.

I reiterate:
1. There IS a difference in safety between - say - Belarus and Hungary.
2. There is a difference in safety for a woman traveling alone and a man traveling alone. Or someone used to travling in Eastern Europe and a person who hasn't ventured east of Vienna.

And I don't think you are reading your own posts. You say it is "safe" and then describe a list of precautions suitable for the worst of conditions. "It's safe but..." then Ben goes off on an elaborate description of his precautions.

As I have written before on this form, a lot of the difference is perceptions of safety is because the rules ARE different in other countries. We just plain don't know the rules.

And, as you know, I am not an Eastern European "virgin." I have earned my own credentials in this region. [Next summer I will be teaching in Pristina, Kosovo, for example.] And there IS a difference in countries, travelers' level of experience and YES traveler preferences as well as risk based on physical characteristics having to do with gender and age for starters. I'm not a scardy-cat by any means... but to be honest -- Ben Haines idea of "safe" and mine are two different things.
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Oct 23rd, 2000, 08:15 PM
Ben Haines
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I have put this note on Fodors forum

It's nice to be respected, and reliable.

I agree that countries vary in level of safety. I did not discuss Belarus because I've not been there. I did report a difference between Ukraine and Hungary: for Ukraine I said there were luggage thieves and pickpockets, for Hungary none.

I travel alone. I should think Linda is a woman. East of Vienna is Hungary -- does travel in Hungary teach new rules about safety ?

I do try to read my own posts, repetitive though they are. Mine said, in brief, that the central Europe that InterRail covers is safe, if you take precautions. I did not say central Europe is safe but it is dangerous. An if, not a but.

We know the rules if we read the opinions of consuls. They are five different officials in each country, and they have to pick up the pieces if tourists wander into trouble. They are not light-headed optimists.

I think AA has chosen rail travel in central Europe from Poland down to Greece. This is the choice I usually make. I'm not clear how the choices differ.

I agree that Mr or Ms Fowler's idea of "safe" and mine differ. Again, consular opinions can resolve the difference.

I still hope to hear from AA's colleague.

Ben Haines

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Oct 23rd, 2000, 08:53 PM
Prince Yuppie
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In our five months in Europe this summer, our only real problem was on a train in Gdansk, Poland. As I got on the compartment car, I was pushed and shoved by a huge guy. I immediately sensed he was after my wallet and I ducked into a compartment. By the time I got back out, three of these huge guys had surrounded my travel partner, pushing and shoving him as if they were trying to get off the train, but obviously trying to rob him. If it had not been for me screaming at the top of my lungs and pulling them off until the train started up and they jumped off, I'm not sure what would have happened. He escaped with bruised ribs, but his wallet which he held tight inside his front pocket was intact thanks to his keeping one hand firmly clasped to it as the three guys were trying to get into his back pocket and pulling his shirt out trying to get to a money belt, which he wasn't wearing. I suppose this could have happened anywhere, but it was nothing we could have avoided and it sure left a negative taste about Poland. We found out at our hotel that it is a major recurring problem, which explained why we usually saw a lot of police coming through the train cars as we stopped in Poland.
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Oct 25th, 2000, 01:44 AM
A. Allcot
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Thanks for all your advice.

My work-mate sounded more evasive when I questioned him closely. He generally said that Eastern Europe was full of gangsters, corruption and Mafia organisations. One of his friends went to Bulgaria sometime in the early 1990s, and had problems with bogus policemen, and border guards giving fines for doing very little.

When you say 'luggage theives'- I assume they will be armed with knives?

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Oct 25th, 2000, 03:28 AM
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From what I can tell your friend is generalizing [rather expansively] from a single anecdotal experience. If one of my philosophy students did that they'd get a comment in the margin!

The reason I phrased my initial response as I did is that many people [including the students we took to Hungary and Macedonia last summer] view "eastern europe" as a monolith and paint the whole region, or even a whole country with the brush of second-hand reports of isolated incidents.

I think the notion that luggage thieves carry knives is one of those stories, which may be singularly true [it helps in cutting luggage open], but not widely true. Most thieves, luggage or otherwise look for the easy theft, not one that requires violence.

And, as noted above, there are occasional exceptions. The above "extrapolations" are, in my experience of teaching critical thinking and symbolic logic, fallacies. [It's too early here in Chicago to explain which ones!]

So, in sum, eastern europe is neither monolithically dangerous or completely safe. But then back to my original point ... I would need to know what your level of comfort is before responding more specifically.
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Oct 25th, 2000, 04:03 AM
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I have travelled in several Eastern and Central European countries as a lone female, even taken the night trains on my own, completely without problems. In fact, the biggest annoyances have been begging gypsy kids in Poland and Hungary who followed me a couple of minutes in the street, and some weird-looking guys in trains that were looking at me strangely but never attempted to come in and steal my stuff.

I'm sure your workmate hasn't even been anywhere in E.E, or if he has, then only in one or two places... Of course there are "unsafe" areas just like everywhere in the world but no need to get paranoid about it.
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Oct 25th, 2000, 08:46 AM
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Sorry to be so vague.
No, my friend has never been to Eastern Europe- probably not the best source to ask!

I think I'll atempt to go to Hungary, and the Czech republic at first.

When I said 'safe' I really mean is it as safe(or unsafe) as Britain, say.

Thanks for your help.
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Oct 25th, 2000, 09:54 AM
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AA > then it's very safe. Stories about mafia... please... yes there is mafia in Eastern/Central Europe as well as in Western but they do not bother tourists (esspecially since in many cases one may stay in their hotel or eat at their restaurant). If a tourist is not providing competition in drug trafficing or other areas but pays for services why make them affraid to visit again. Which really means many of those places are safer then in the West for the tourist. As for train travel, as in any other place be aware of your surroundings and as Ben mention in his post when you need to use WC or take a walk on the train ask someone to watch your stuff (it's common practice). Many of major train stations as well as Airport (as well as hotels, after checkout), have luggage storage places also available. And same as in London - don't advertise that you are clueless and do not speak the language - plan your moves ahead - and learn few words in native - Enter Exit Information Police.
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Oct 26th, 2000, 12:41 AM
Stan Szubiak
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I've traveled throughtout Eastern Europe (mainly Poland) several times. Not once did I have an unpleasant encounter traveling. Just use common sense!
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Aug 20th, 2007, 11:30 AM
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well i hope eastern europe is safe. im going there in a couple of days time, travelling alone. i think most of these people speak the truth, just be careful and all should be ok. the only problems i think will be the language barrier
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Aug 20th, 2007, 11:41 AM
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I've travelled extensively throughout Eastern and Central Europ..never had a problem. It was annoying in the pre-revolution era in Romania regarding army roadblocks, but we paid no mind,answered questons and eventually got through. No such problem are very safe..just keep your wits about you.

If you live in a large US city, there is certainly no more danger in Eastern Europe than that. None of these countries are on the Euro, so the Yankee dollar is still desirable. You'll be treated well everywhere.

Happy'll love the entire region.

Stu T.
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Aug 20th, 2007, 02:31 PM
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I just read your posting about a friends friend having a problem in the 1990's. It was a very different central or eastern europe then. We had a "problem" with the police in a small city in Hungary back in the mid 90's. Never had one since. Last problem we had was the late 90's in a small city on western Romania. But that was roaming dogs, very little street lighting and being harrased for money by kids. It's not the same Europe now as it may have been then.
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Aug 20th, 2007, 03:25 PM
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Just use your common sense. Here are some points which might help:

- don't leave your luggage unattended (anywhere).
- keep an eye on your things when in crowded area (especially in metro (underground train), full streets, queues)
- avoid weird people, dangerous looking places

Now in details. I'm Czech (male) living in Prague and I've been to some of the other EE countries (H, SL, RO, BG) and I would say it's about the same with the safety.

Some notes on Prague (Czech capital). I love night walking and I walked the night streets or poorly ligted parks hundert times, sometimes meeting weird inidividuals and nothing ever happened to me. I guess you don't plan to walk these areas but rather squares, nice historical streets, the castle, etc., which are safe as anywhere else. In Prague center there is a LOT of tourists and some of them you see drunk and noisy at 4 am searching their way home, so the streets are safe. Where I would be more aware are trams, metro, queues (US: lines), tourist areas. There I witnessed pickpocketing several times. But that's the worst what can happen to you.

In the train keep an eye on your luggage. When falling asleep for some longer time not in a sleeper, put the luggage on the seat near you if you suspect the other people in the train from not being nice. The rest has been said. And don't expect the train to go on time . Enjoy your travelling.
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