Rick Steves' Simple Tips For Staying Safe On European City Subways

If you're wondering why Europeans rely less on automobiles than Americans, take a good look at their train systems. They're so efficiently designed that anyone can travel from one country to another just by hopping aboard a railcar. You can travel from Amsterdam to Brussels in just two hours via Eurail and London to Paris just as quickly. But because many have a preference for subway travel compared to other forms of transportation, safety concerns must come to mind — especially if you're exploring Europe for the first time. Luckily, travel guru Rick Steves has some tips that can help you navigate the complex European subway system safely.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but Steves underscores the importance of staying alert at all times on his website. It's easy to inadvertently ignore your surroundings when your eyes are glued to your phone's GPS, but per the travel expert, it's vital to pay close attention to the signage in each station so you can ensure you stay on track. And with subways getting so much foot traffic, he advises travelers to ride either the first or last cars of each train to dodge crowds and make your journey more comfortable.

Steves also cautions tourists of the prevalence of pickpocketing in Europe, and how many thieves lurk around subways to pilfer valuables from unsuspecting travelers. To keep yourself and your belongings safe, the host of "Rick Steves Europe" recommends taking proactive measures to secure your belongings and remaining vigilant amid commotions.

Keep your valuables close -- or secure them properly

If Rick Steves can be pickpocketed in the Paris Metro, so can you. Granted, the travel expert had only been a victim of pickpocketing once, but that's already one too many. He admitted that he let his guard down at the time and didn't have his trusty money belt, resulting in him losing valuable items.

To avoid finding yourself in a similar situation, keep your belongings as close to your body as possible. Use a money belt when you can, or at least stash your cash and cards in a secure location that no one else can access. Steves' advice is to operate on the assumption that there's a stealthy bandit nearby, so it's a must that you keep your bag or luggage in a place where you can keep a close eye on it. If you stow it in a luggage rack, one good tip is to tie your backpack straps to the rack so it won't get swiped easily. You may also want to secure your bag further by locking it with a paper clip or a key ring if a portable lock isn't available.

If you're riding a sleeper train and need to rest, it would be in your best interest to tether your belongings to your seat or your body. And if you have electronics, make sure that they're always attached to you as well. This is where things like lanyards, straps, and hoops come in handy.

Be wary of disturbances

Thieves employ tons of tactics to sneakily snatch items from people. According to Rick Steves, one common method is creating a commotion to serve as a distraction. With many of them working as a tandem or a group, one may cause a stir to get commuters to look elsewhere, while the other springs into action and starts a swiping spree. It can be as innocuous as a stranger bumping into you or someone purposely spilling their beverage. With this in mind, you'll want to remain attentive at all times, and avoid resorting to panic when there's a disturbance.

What's more, Steves notes that more often than not, pickpockets are dressed inconspicuously, mirroring everybody else. Chances are, they're dressed just like you. "The sneakiest pickpockets look like well-dressed businesspeople. Some pose as tourists, with daypacks, cameras, and even a Rick Steves guidebook," he told USA Today. "You'll meet a lot of people with beautiful eyes, beautiful children, and sad stories — but many beggars are pickpockets. Don't be fooled by impressive uniforms, femme fatales, or hard-luck stories."

Exercising caution and staying vigilant is the key to safely navigating even the busiest of Europe's subways. As long as you stay aware of what's happening around you, you'll get by just fine.