Getting Mugged Taught Me About Safety Abroad
Although the experience would teach me so much about safety abroad, I nearly didn’t go out on the night I was mugged. I’d been sick with Madrid’s latest language assistant bug for a full week longer than my doctor’s other patients. He recommended that I not drink until fully recovered, since it had been taking so long for me to get better. However, my brother and his girlfriend were arriving in Madrid to visit that Monday, and I wanted one more night with my friend Juliet before the family frivolities began. I wore my new tangerine-colored heels, even though they were still giving me blisters, in an effort to convince even myself that I was feeling up for the task.
Those same tangerine heels were what left me unable to run when Juliet pointed out that we were being followed. Thankfully, she didn’t have the patience to let her own heels lengthen the journey between the club and our beds. While I walked home in my heels, she went shoeless. This meant that without shoes she could run for the nearest well-lit street and scream for help. Having been struggling to walk all night but too particular about dirty feet to take my shoes off, I wasn’t so lucky. By the time help arrived, I had lost all of my loose belongings.
Safety Abroad and the Aftermath of Getting Mugged
To answer any of your questions in advance: yes, I’m okay. Yes, to get mugged was terrifying. I didn’t feel comfortable whenever someone would walk behind me for the next week. No, I don’t want to go into full detail about what happened. Yes, I still enjoy going for walks around the city – Madrid’s miraculous walkability will stick with me every time I’ll make decisions about where I want to live, more so than one unlucky night. And at the end of the day, those daily wonders about living here overshadow that one night of horrific luck.
However, that one moment did have a ripple effect of inconveniences. Some of these inconveniences have continued to surface even over half a year later. I was lucky to get under control again smoothly, but every once in a while I’ve been hit by an unexpected consequence. Having made it through the worst of it without too much bitterness, here are five things I know now about safety abroad.
1) Immediate Action Is Required
Definitely scream at some point. Feel better? No? That’s okay, but you’ll feel worse if you learn the next morning that your credit cards were emptied out when you decided to go to sleep before turning them off. Take an inventory for what you’ve lost. Get any sensitive material on lockdown; namely shutting off your phone and canceling your credit cards. If you don’t have access to a phone to do this, find a 24-hour cafe and plead your case. You could also wait until you get to the police station.
Speaking of the police, you should make a denuncia, or official report, as soon as possible. This is a safety abroad essential. Do this while the details are still fresh and you haven’t yet been caught up in the recovery whirlwind. Hold onto your copy of it for dear life over the coming months. You will need it to replace other documents such as a Foreigner’s ID card.
Although violent robberies are very uncommon in Madrid, the best way to avoid unwanted encounters in Madrid altogether is by taking a taxi. FREE NOW is a popular app that will call cabs to any place you’d like. It includes driver ratings and price predictions. There are also many promo codes.
2) Establish Your Safety Abroad Necessities for the Next Two Weeks
So you’ve finally awakened from the post-4-AM-trip-to-the-police-station-hibernation. With the encouragement of a bomb breakfast that reminds you that yes, there is good in the outside world, you’re ready to get out into it and start putting your life back together. But wait… how can you get around if your public transport card is among the stolen?
The process for recovering Madrid’s abono, or public transport card, is painless. There’s an office in the very central Sol station that will get you a new card in minutes. Just remember to bring six euros and your passport. If you’re living farther out of the city, however, you might want to consider your options to get there. You could buy a temporary metro pass and then give it to your next lucky visitor when all is done, or try a car-sharing app, such as Car2Go. There are pick-up locations all around the city and at cheap usage prices. All you need for it to work is a valid EU driver’s license (or a friend with one) and you are good to go.
3) Avoid Being Stranded Without a Credit Card
But, if your credit cards are long gone after getting mugged, how will you pay for all of this? My brother and his girlfriend were my saviors that next week. They came to Madrid with enough money from home to pay rent, compensate my friends who’d lent to me, and buy groceries for the next few weeks. If you don’t coincidentally have transatlantic visitors, there are still many options! While its fees are incredibly cheap compared to other options, Wise offers a free first transfer of 500€ to its users. No credit card whatsoever for the next few weeks? Western Union has locations where you can pick up transferred money in person all around the world. Some countries even offer the option to have it sent to your phone.
4) Prepare to be Haunted
Shipping across oceans is expensive enough as is, but shipping to Spain can be notoriously difficult. Difficulties such as long waits from customs conundrums and high import taxes can make the simplest shipment challenging. This and my equally infamous impatience led me to borrow a phone for my remaining weeks in Spain, rather than amplify my stress with a transatlantic waiting game for the one I would receive through my insurance.
Changing phones multiple times in a month has had the longest lasting and most unexpected effects for me. What you’ll receive while borrowing is pure luck. I’m immensely grateful to have had a friend generous enough to lend me an old phone for a couple months. However, having an older model with less space led to some real trickery to be able to live my day-to-day life. Fun fact: EVERYTHING requires an app nowadays. One morning, I made myself late to work after having to repurchase plane tickets to the States multiple times. I had gotten stuck making space on my phone for the apps necessary to purchase one.
5) How to Access Your Bank Account
Another huge problem was accessing my bank account. The bank’s app was confused by the number of phones, number, and country changes I made within two months. Making payments to Spain from this account was nearly impossible all summer. Moral of the story: if you have even the slightest bit more patience than me and an insurance plan that covers it, get yourself a new phone and be done with it.
Keep your American SIM card in a safe place in case you need it to sync apps such as WhatsApp to your new phone. If you need your Spanish number as well, some companies such as Vodafone will offer you a new card with the same number for a reduced price.
Don’t forget: none of this is the end of the world. Even though the greatest of inconveniences, everyone who I know was supportive and understanding, lessening the burden immensely. Once everything has been recovered after getting mugged, any future safety abroad challenges will pale in comparison. Madrid’s perks will drown out one awful moment.