*The following happened in Bratislava, Slovakia. However, I believe it could have happened anywhere. I do not want to tarnish this great city in anyway.*
One night something very odd happened. I would like your opinion on it – am I over reacting or was I right to be concerned ……….
Mr ESLT and I were sat outside a bar in the main area in central Bratislava. We had already had a couple of drinks watching the Slovakia v Germany Euro 2016 match, but were in no way intoxicated. We were happily drinking and chatting when a guy (who happened to look like a 90s boy band reject) came over and asked for a cigarette. In exchange he offered to buy us a drink. This seemed odd straight away, as directly opposite from where we were sat was a shop which sold cigarettes.
He then proceeded to take a seat at our table and introduced himself as Matthew, a local who had just returned to the city after his very well paid contract as a physiotherapist in Saudi Arabia had come to an end. We introduced ourselves – first names only. He then headed inside to buy us a ‘traditional Slovak drink’. Again, this seemed odd as it was waiter service at this bar. I watched him like a hawk as I could see him from my seat, all the while Mr ESLT saying ‘I can see this ending up like a scene out of the Hostel where we wake up tomorrow with our legs broken and our kidneys missing!’ GREAT!
He returned with the drinks which he explained were Borovicka, a Slovakian alcoholic beverage flavoured with juniper berries (very much like gin) and drank as a shot. We drank our shot and thanked him. With that his friend joined us, Jacob with whom he spoke to in Slovakian even though both of them spoke amazing English. This happened on a number of occasions. More drinks were ordered and paid for by Matthew, although his card got declined which again seemed odd considering he kept bragging about how much money he had earned in Saudi Arabia. At one point Matthew ran to another bar down the same street to ‘pay the bill’ – why would you leave a bar without clearing your tab?
Upon his return Matthew focused his attention on Mr ESLT and Jacob on me. He started asking a lot of questions including ‘which hotel are you staying at?’ he also suggested that we stayed in his apartment that evening and he would drive us to Vienna the next day as ‘public transport is expensive’. Three shots later they insisted on buying us more. Mr ESLT put his foot down at this point and said NO, even saying to the waitress that we did not want anything. They ordered them anyway, with what looked like sideward glances to the waitress, and instead of allowing us to pick which glass we wanted like we had previously, Jacob handed us one each. We didn’t drink it. We thanked them and headed back to the sanctuary of our hotel, checking over our shoulders every 2 seconds.
As a couple in our 30s and 40s I think we come across as an odd pair to try and pull a scam on. What do you think? Do you think they wanted our organs? Ok, neither do I but something seemed very off. Why would you buy complete strangers drinks all evening? Do you think they were trying to get us drunk to steal from us? If so, they picked the wrong pair, as it would have been VERY costly for them – we have livers of steel! Couple that with breaking away from speaking English when speaking to each other and all the dodgy glances. Am I overreacting? Were they simply being friendly and showing us a good old Slovakian time and hospitality?
5 Ways to Travel Safe
Do your research
Research what the local cultures, rules and laws are. Also, learn what may be deemed offensive in the place you are visiting to ensure that you do not (accidentally) provoke someone. Find out if any areas/neighbourhoods in your destination are considered unsafe/dodgy and stay away from them, especially after dark, unless it is imperative that you visit them. Also read up on scams that are prevalent in the area you are visiting so you can spot the warning signs straight away if one is tried on you.
Only take what you need
Make a list of the essentials and stick to it – the less you take, the less you have that can be stolen. Also, do you really need to travel with expensive jewellery and gadgets? If so, don’t forget to utilise your hotel room safe (if it has one). Don’t carry a large amount of cash and any cash that you do carry split between your wallet/purse (which you could keep in an inside pocket, if you have one, for extra security) and a pocket. I always use a cross body bag to reduce the likelihood of a bag snatch.
The photocopier is your friend
Take a few copies of all key travel documents including your passport together with any credit/debit/prepaid cards (front and back) that you are travelling with and keep one set in your luggage, one if your hotel room safe (if it has one) and one on you (if possible). Then if anything gets stolen you can take the copies to the local embassy – it could help the process of replacement a lot easier. Also, leave copies of your itinerary with friends/family back home so they know where you should be and when.
Keep your wits about you
It’s easy to become engrossed when sightseeing but it’s more important to keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour around you, especially if a group of strangers try and talk to you – an old pickpocketing trick! Plan your route before you take it, where possible and carry a paper map with you, should you get lost. Using an app on your smart phone may attract the attention of someone looking to commit theft. Where possible, travel in pairs or groups, solo travellers could potentially be at more risk of being targeted. If you are subject to a criminal act, report it immediately.
Try to blend in
Try and blend in as much as possible, tourists are more likely to be targeted than locals. It’s always a good idea, when possible, to learn a few basic words of the local language, this may help if asked a question or if you have to ask a question.
Do you have any helpful tips to add to the list?
Of course, as travellers we want to experience the local culture of our destination. I’m sure we have all been in a situation where there was the potential for it to end very differently to the way it did. I personally think a lot of it boils down to common sense and not putting ourselves in a potentially vulnerable position. Safe travels!