A $140 Taxi & Getting Pickpocketed in Europe
The first 24 hours of my month-long loop around Europe began with an accidental $140 taxi and getting pickpocketed—$600, passport, and hard drive with irreplaceable copies of my DSLR photos all gone in one fell swoop. Yes, the taxi was an accident, and yes, the loss of my hard drive still smarts. Your condolences are appreciated because I had some fiyaaa photos and trip videos (from two summers spent abroad in Singapore, plus journeys to Bali, Bangkok, Kyoto, Osaka, and San Diego among others) that I had planned to upload to my page that will never get to see the light of day now. Rest in paradise.
Now, about that taxi…
Getting to Iceland
Last year when I spent spring break in Iceland with my mother, my flight back to New Jersey was overbooked and I was given the option to reschedule or take a later flight the same day. Since it was the last day of spring break and I had to return to campus anyway, I hopped on a flight directly to Boston and received a voucher, good for one year, for a free roundtrip to any WOW destination as compensation. In April, I used this voucher to book my Eurotrip flights from Boston to Barcelona and then from Berlin back to New Jersey (Berlin was an arbitrary choice, but I knew I was meeting a friend in Barcelona). The base airfare was free but I spent $160 because my checked bag was $80 each way. Still saved around $1000 hollaaaa.
I flew out from Boston on June 12. Before Barcelona, I had a 13 hour layover in Iceland, part of which I spent catching up on sleep in a Keflavik airport café because we landed at 5 in the morning. During my layover, I headed into the city of Reykjavik for some exploring on-foot before my connection to Barcelona. There are two main ways to get to Reykjavik: a rented car or paid airport shuttle. I chickened out on hitchhiking my way into the city (I thought I could ask a family in the rental car parking lot to drive me into the city but then secondguessed myself) so I bought a $50 roundtrip shuttle ticket and made my way to the city. Here is Tragedy Part 1: I went to the bus terminal at 4:30pm to return to Keflavik only to have the operator tell me that the next shuttle was at 6pm.
“But my flight’s at 6pm!”
“Sorry, you can take a taxi to the airport. They’re in front.”
Left with no other choice (there’s no Uber in Iceland), I held onto my return bus voucher and hailed a cab. The driver, seeing my panicked state, offered to drive me to Keflavik for “15” instead of “18” and I thanked him profusely for his kindness. When we arrived at the airport, I looked in horror as he punched “15,000” Icelandic Krona into the payment terminal and charged my credit card. HE HAD MEANT FIFTEEN THOUSAND IN ICELANDIC MONEY, NOT FIFTEEN US DOLLARS. 1 USD is about 16,000 IKR, so that taxi amounted to $140. I was so shook.
Tragedy Part 2:
I landed in Barcelona airport T3 at midnight. By the time I went through customs and got my luggage, it was around 12:30am. I had no euros on me and an employee told me that the nearest money changer was in T2. It wasn’t clear when the next inter-terminal shuttle would arrive, if at all, so I chatted up a British girl at the bus stop to see if I could exchange a few dollars for euros. The girl, Claire, suggested that, rather than waiting for the bus, we split a cab into the city where she lived and where my Airbnb was (my friend had arrived earlier in the day and was at the Airbnb). A grand idea, I thought, and one that I wanted to propagate to the entire crowd waiting for the bus:
“We’re going to split a cab into the city if anyone else would like to join!!”
That was Mistake #2—calling attention to my American tourist-ness. Mistake #1 was not carrying my backpack on my front and/or securing my valuables in the secret compartment of my bag.
A man named Marco joined Claire and me, and together we walked from the bus stop to the taxi stand. I lagged behind a bit as I browsed my phone, and sometime between walking to the taxi stand, waiting in line, and getting into the actual cab, someone unzipped the top of my Fjallraven backpack, reached in, and grabbed...
a mesh bag that had 600 USD & my passport
another mesh bag that had my portable hard drive
a black clutch that had miscellaneous items (e.g. earphones, iPhone wire, lip balm, stainless steel straw)
a pack of Icelandic flatbread that I had bought at a convenience store as a snack for my trip (dude seriously emptied 75% of my backpack, save my laptop, toiletries bag, and wrapped DSLR at the bottom of my bag)
The moment in the cab when I noticed that my backpack was unzipped and unusually hollow was surreal. The cab stopped so I could check the trunk and see if I had slipped anything important into my luggage after I got it from the carousel, but the items really were gone. Claire called the police while we were in the cab to report my stolen passport and gave them her number to call back, but no word of my belongings ever came up. Marco gave me enough money to cover the cab fare and wished me well: "Something good will come to balance out the bad."
I went to a local police station the next day to file a theft report so that I could get a temporary passport issued at the U.S. embassy in Barcelona, which cost $150.
"Will I get these fees reimbursed when I'm back in the States, since my passport was stolen?"
"No, sorry. This is our processing fee."
*the world's smallest violin plays on*
A Lesson Learned
I’d been warned by friends that pickpocketing was common in Barcelona but it never occurred to me that it’d happen at the airport. Looking back, nighttime at a bustling airport was the perfect cover and I should’ve been more aware. Alas, lesson learned. Fortunately, the rest of my summer travels have been smooth sailing *knock on wood*, and I couldn’t have asked for better travel companions or opportunities to make such unforgettable memories.
The majority of my posts for the next foreseeable future will be city guides and musings largely inspired by my travels around Europe and Southeast Asia this summer. My itinerary is as follows: Iceland (Reykjavik), Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, & Toledo), Portugal (Porto & Lisbon), Amsterdam, Belgium (Ghent & Bruges), Germany (Dusseldorf & Berlin), Greece (Athens & Spetses), Maldives, Singapore, Taiwan (Taipei & Taichung), San Francisco, Boston. If there’s a city that you’ll be traveling to soon, let me know below and I’ll work on its guide ASAP. As always, you can check out each city’s summary in dedicated Story highlights on my Instagram page (viewable on mobile).