Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I am hoping to do a bit of travel photography while studying abroad in Europe (I'm a US uni student). I’ve heard some advice about staying safe while studying abroad — this includes not bringing a camera or hanging it around your neck, etc., but I was really looking forward to getting some nice pictures. If it’s important, I will primarily be staying in the Scandinavian region.

What are some safety precautions to take while traveling (especially for someone without much traveling or ‘real life’ experience)?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Jakub, jrista May 17 at 2:14

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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You might want to ask this at travel.stackexchange –  MikeW May 13 at 19:45
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I'm puzzled on how you got the idea that Europe is less safe than the US... –  Lohoris May 14 at 12:08
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Top safety precaution for traveling in Scandinavia: Be sure to inspect your shoelaces from time to time. Tripping on them can cause a nasty fall. –  cmason May 14 at 15:12
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You just have to exercise some common sense. In Europe people will actually walk around on the street daily and take public transportation (unlike many "carland" parts of the US which don't even have sidewalks). Don't leave your camera on a bench and wander off in the park because the wrong kind of person might walk by and take it. –  Szabolcs May 14 at 17:03
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If you should accidentally leave your camera somewhere (hotel, bar, restaurant), you should definitely go back to claim it within a month. –  James S May 15 at 6:09

7 Answers 7

Scandinavia is pretty much the safest part of Europe. You have absolutely nothing to worry about, and there is no reason to behave any different than in your home country in regard to safety.

That being said, things tend to break or get lost at the worst time. Backing up your photos is definitely a good idea, as is getting a good bag and straps.

And do not buy extra insurance. It is a waste of money, and it won't replace your photos.

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This. I live in Sweden, and while I don't usually frequent "bad" neighborhoods showing off the DSLR and professional-looking lenses, I've never felt worried about having the camera with me either. –  Michael Kjörling May 13 at 21:35
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+1 - live in Copenhagen, and I do and have frequent(ed) "bad" (by Copenhagen standards) neighborhoods - and "tense" situations (by same standards). There's only one place in the entirety of Scandinavia I wouldn't want to pull out my camera, and that one place (Christiania) wouldn't really be considered a "bad" neighbourhood - but has signs clearly telling you to keep your camera in your bag. :-) –  JimmiTh May 14 at 15:31
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There are risks to carrying a camera in Scandinavia: a stranger might see your camera and comment that a different model would have represented better value for money (very politely, with perfect English and faultless knowledge and reasoning). –  user568458 May 15 at 13:55
    
Thank you for the reassurances. I am now looking forward to it more than ever :-) –  lisa May 19 at 8:01

Having lived in Europe all my life, most of it with a camera around my neck (at least during my free time), I wonder where you got the idea that it's inherently unsafe to be in Europe while having a camera with you.
The only time I've ever had gear stolen in 30 years+ was during a burglary at the house I was staying...

Of course every country and city has areas where you're going to be at risk of mugging. That's not specific to Europe, the US has them too. It's just that you know those areas at least in the cities you're familiar with and tend to avoid them.
So you avoid walking around with your several thousand dollars of gear on open display while in a gang infested area of Detroit, but in New York Times Square you don't see a problem doing just that.
Same in Amsterdam. At Dam Square, no problem. In the Bijlmer region, you're asking to be mugged just by dressing smart.

Just assuming that "it's another country, therefore I'm going to get mugged" is an attitude that is deeply offensive to people in that other country. And it's not an attitude you want to have trying to deal with those people, as they'll detect your hostility towards them easily and will be far less friendly towards you as a result.

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The #2 tip to avoiding getting mugged anywhere in the world (after avoiding walking alone in dodgy neighbourhoods) is, look purposeful and casual like you know what you're doing - so some people think "it's another country, therefore I'm [more likely] to get mugged" because they're more likely to look lost or confused. But even then, if you look lost in most of Scandinavia, you're more likely to have someone ask politely if they can help than try to mug you. –  user568458 May 15 at 14:16
    
Thank you for the advice :-) by no means was I inquiring with a basest sentimentality. As I've come to realize, much of the advice regarding safety for study abroad students are very generalized! –  lisa May 19 at 8:09
    
@lisa not just overgeneralised, but made overly alarmist. Mind that the US is a country the size and diversity of Europe. Would they give you the same advise if you were going to a city on the other side of the US? If not, why not? –  jwenting May 19 at 8:29

As others pointed out, losing your camera is always a risk, and with it, you might lose your pictures. A couple of really easy tips:

Take a picture of your name and address. Anyone who finds your camera might turn it on, see the picture, and return the camera. You might even add "$50 reward to the person who returns this camera to me" (or whatever it is worth to you).

Put a sticker with your name and address on the inside of your camera bag. Nobody sees it until you lose your camera.

Back up your pictures. I have the Camera Kit for my iPad - it means I can (a) back up my pictures (to the Cloud when I have free internet), (b) enjoy my pictures on the large screen without needing my computer. There may be other mechanisms that work for you, depending on the toys you have.

One caveat. I had a friend who had about $8k of camera gear. He went to Spain. It was a hot day, and he was in a rental car. The window of the car was open, and the camera bag was on the seat next to him. When he stopped at a traffic light, someone reached in and grabbed the bag. Bye bye expensive camera, and all the pictures in it. It happens.

So - play it safe. Make sure the camera can find its way home, back up the pictures frequently. Also - have a spare battery / charger / memory stick. Sweden is beautiful - you don't want to run out of battery or memory just when the perfect photo opportunity presents itself!

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I traveled through England and France a few years back and brought my Canon Rebel all over the place with me. I was so happy to bring my camera everywhere and it made for some amazing pictures.

That said, know that most of Europe is very safe for violent crime, but it does have a lot of petty theft. You'll find pickpockets and purse snatchers in the touristy areas. As an American you'll be targeted because Americans travel with some nice stuff. Cameras get stolen quite a bit because of their small size and high value.

Some general tips:

  • Don't leave your camera inside a rental car, they get broken into quite a bit.
  • Make sure you have renter's insurance or homeowner's insurance before you go. Verify that they know about your camera and will cover it if it is lost.
  • Consider getting travel insurance/theft insurance
  • Bring along a portable card reader (one good brand is the Digital Foci Photo Safe) and leave it someplace safe to have backups of your photos. Back up your photos frequently. Even better is to use Dropbox or some other cloud backup service.
  • Hotels are very safe. Your valuables are much safer in the hotel than in your bag walking around. If you don't need your camera that day, leave it in the room!
  • You're more likely to lose your camera than to have it stolen. Invest in a great camera bag that you won't easily lose. Also keep in mind that someone may try to snatch a bag that is unattended or not secured to your body.
  • Stay clear of large commotions and be watchful in crowds. Buses, subways and tourist parties are thief hotspots.

I'd bring the camera and enjoy the trip. I'm glad I did!

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General good advice, but it doesn't really apply to Scandinavia, which is incredibly safe and crime free. There are a couple of countries notorious for petty theft, but Europe on the whole is much safer than some other parts of the world. In fact the only theft I have ever encountered on holiday in Europe was due to a break in at my hotel - room safes were stolen, with valuable in them :-/ –  Rory Alsop May 14 at 11:36

I echo @jwenting's comments. I live in the UK, and have travelled all over with my DSLR kit taking photos everywhere from Barcelona in Spain up through France, Germany, all the way to Oslo in Norway. I've also travelled extensively with it throughout the USA.

In general, you have nothing to worry about in Europe. Of course - be street-smart. Be aware of your surroundings, and don't go to the 'dodgy' areas, where muggings are more likely to occur, especially at night.

Note that as jwenting also says, you're going to be relatively safe in a more populated, touristy area. Although pickpockets do operate - Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Oxford St in London, for example - they won't go for a full on DSLR! Be aware of your wallet, put it in a zipped pocket or otherwise hidden. Do not go around with it hanging out of your back pocket or you are asking to be pickpocketed. I also echo the person above who mentioned about not leaving any valuables on display in a parked car. You can leave them in your Hotel room with relative safety. If really in doubt use the room's safe, but I've not ever felt the need to.

So really, just do here, what you would do in the US. Be very aware of your surroundings and others, but relax and enjoy your time and get some great photos.

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I would say the same as other posters, but I would elaborate on the part where you want to make sure your equipment is in sight. General safety is not an issue, I haven't heard anyone shot for a DSLR but you don't want to be flaunting it needlessly - not even in the US! The region is beautiful and make sure you capture the lovely time with great snaps.

There are gangs of thieves operating at almost every tourist location who are on the lookout of an unattentive person with a fancy phone or camera. Someone even told me you can order whatever you want and they tell you how long it would be before they could steal it for you (this story from the UK). So you tell them you need an iPhone 5S they could get it for you for around 250. Like others said, nothing special to do - just be street smart just like you would in the US.

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sweden, not problem at all, having been in sweden and norway quite a bit, i have never had a problem. Like in the US you leave things laying around it is gone,as mentioned by others. a portable drive for all your photo would be good idea. You will find northern parts of sweden/norway great for photography. Enjoy your stay.

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