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Don’t Let It Happen to You! How to Avoid My $4,000 Mistake

Here's what you can learn from my mistakes.

Sure, Paris is pretty, but the magic of La Ville-Lumière can’t protect you from petty theft. Even Kim Kardashian couldn’t visit the City of Light without thieves helping themselves to a few of her things back in 2016. This past August, I too fell victim to the petty theft that can plague popular tourist destinations like Paris. Of course, until now, I haven’t shared the details of what happened to me out of sheer embarrassment, but perhaps there are a few lessons in my experience that can help future travelers sidestep the headache of being robbed abroad.

He Was Tall, Dark, Handsome, and Had a Job at Goldman Sachs

It felt like I had won the Tinder lottery when I matched with Phil, the six-foot-something French banker. We first met on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. There, we shared a bottle of wine and a hug. Our next date was a steak and pommes frites dinner at Bouillon Pigalle, which also ended in a platonic embrace.

We didn’t officially seal the deal with a kiss until date number three. On a blanket under the Eiffel Tower, illuminated by glittering gold lights dancing like the butterflies in my stomach, our lips finally met. I didn’t even know his surname. But if he got down on his knee, my answer would have been “Oui.” For a few seconds, no one else in the world existed—especially not the person making off with my purse while I was busy making out with Phil.

INSIDER TIPNever set your purse on the ground, even if it’s by your side and touching you. Always keep an arm securely through the strap.

Au Revoir Purse, Bonjour Police

It happened so fast. One moment my purse was by my side and the next, it was MIA. Immediately, I realized who had taken it. Phil and I had been sitting in a fenced-off area beneath the famous monument. The only other people on the lawn were a couple who was listening to a boombox playing obnoxious music. I knew they had been watching us, but I was too wrapped up in Phil to care.

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Suddenly, there was silence. The couple was gone and so was my purse containing my passport, iPhone, credit cards, cash, driver’s license, and COVID vaccination card. Phil—who sported an Omega watch worth more than all of my valuables combined—said he felt terrible. I made a lame joke about how he’d probably set me up.

The couple long gone, we attempted to get an Uber to the nearest police station. But I didn’t have a mask as it had been buried in my purse, rendered unnecessary as I was making out with my French suitor. We walked to the police where we found an on-duty officer who didn’t speak English. Fortunately, Phil served as a translator. It was just after midnight, and the officer told me to go to another police station the next day to report the incident.

Phil had to work the following morning, so I walked to police station number two alone. I sat in a waiting room next to a crying woman and sipped coffee that was so strong my hands trembled. After an hour, I was handed a form. Since I couldn’t speak French and the officers didn’t speak English, I gave my statement via a multiple-choice questionnaire.

INSIDER TIPDon’t assume an experience with the police in a foreign country will be similar to what you expect from your country of residence. There’s a good chance they have different budgets and priorities.

First Priority: Getting a New Passport

Next, I walked across the Jardins des Champs-Elysees to the U.S. Embassy. I took a number, got in line, and an hour later stood at a service window where I explained my situation. The easiest and cheapest solution was to get an emergency passport. However, emergency passports are only good for immediate travel back to the U.S. I needed a real passport because my plan after leaving Paris was to go to Tenerife, Spain. It cost me $145 that had to be paid on the spot. After collecting a pile of paperwork to fill out, I headed back to my hotel. The only silver lining in this situation was the Kimpton St. Honore Hotel graciously offered me an extra night at no cost. They felt sorry for me.

INSIDER TIPDo not keep all of your cards and money in the same bag. I was able to buy a new passport because I always keep an emergency credit card in my toiletries bag, which always stays in my hotel room.

The Pain of Replacing Everything Can Rival That of a Root Canal

The hardest part of getting my purse stolen was replacing everything. I was bummed about losing $2,000—the value of my phone, cash, purse, wallet, etc—and another $2,000 to cover the cost of my extended stay in Paris and a new flight to Tenerife. But I was most bitter about the endless hoops I had to jump through to replace everything. Because I had no phone to hail an Uber, I had to walk an hour each way to the Apple store to buy a new iPhone. I had to track down copies of my birth certificate and my social security card for my new passport application. Since the embassy didn’t know when my new passport would arrive, I had to deal with the uncertainty of spending another 5-10 days in one of the world’s most expensive cities during the high season. I also had to shop for a new purse, wallet, sunglasses, chapstick, and all the useful things we fill our purses with. When I got back in the States, I would have to go to the DMV to replace my driver’s license, which is right up there with going to the dentist for a root canal. I would also have to contact my county nurse’s office and drive there to pick up a new vaccination card. If time is money, I spent a small fortune replacing everything.

INSIDER TIPHave copies of every important document saved to cloud storage so you can access them from any phone or computer.

Looking Back, Here’s What I’d Do Differently

After six days, my new passport finally arrived and I bid adieu to Paris and Phil. Do I regret meeting him? Yes. But only because he would go on to ghost me shortly after. Do I blame myself? No. It’s not my fault someone took something of mine. Will I be wearing a money belt the next time I’m in pick-pocket central? Probably not. I think they’re ugly and uncomfortable. Will I start carrying a copy of my passport instead of the real deal? Definitely. I’ll do the same with my vaccination card.

Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

The main thing I regret was my response. I spent my “bonus” days in Paris loitering around the Eiffel Tower. Convinced I would spot the couple who stole my purse, I was ready to confront them and/or notify a nearby policeman. Except I didn’t see them, and even more depressing, I didn’t see any police. But I did notice plenty of situations that gave me more than serious pause. There were women who carried clipboards, soliciting donations for charities that didn’t exist and men gathered in small groups, smoking and scanning the crowds for their next mark. At first, it was thrilling to feel like I was “catching” them with ill-intention, but it didn’t take long before they began noticing me noticing them. If looks could kill it would have been RIP for me.

INSIDER TIPThieves sometimes work in sophisticated groups. Even if you’re able to confront someone, or attempt to stop a theft, they could have colleagues nearby waiting to come to their aid. Don’t be a hero.

Deja Vu: What I’d Do Again

I call it the $4,000 French kiss. That’s about how much it cost me—monetarily speaking—to play tonsil hockey at the Eiffel Tower. Was it worth it? Nope. Still, it doesn’t mean that if I happen to swipe right on Mr. Right in Rome I won’t agree to meet him for a late-night tryst at the Trevi Fountain. Life is too short and I’m too single not to.

INSIDER TIPConsider Tinder’s Passport feature, which allows you to match with people in your destination before you even arrive. That way, you can already have plans when you land.