I’ve survived my travels with relatively few misfortunes. However, I did get mugged on my first solo trip at the age of 20.

I’m often asked if anything bad has happened on my travels. During my 2-year trip around the world, I only had to visit a doctor twice: once for a medical check for my cargo ship voyage across the Pacific, and once because I had hit my toe and broken my toenail.

I think I’ve stayed safe because I learnt my lesson early. I got mugged in Italy during my first Interrail trip in Europe in 2012, and that taught me to be extra careful.

“Zidane, Zidane!”

A Walk in the Middle of the Night

In hindsight, it’s clear that I made many mistakes that led to me getting mugged. I was spending the night at the Turin train station, waiting for a morning train and saving money on accommodation. As hours passed slowly, I thought I could go for a walk to take pictures to pass the time.

I walked in the city center of Turin in the middle of the night with my backpack on and my SLR camera hanging on my neck. I walked along the bigger main roads, but there was a moment when I turned to an alleyway as I wanted to avoid walking past two people I saw standing nearby.

(A few moments later, these were the people who called an ambulance and a police for me.)

I turned to an alleyway, thinking it was safe as it was well-lit, empty and surrounded by buildings. At this moment, I made several errors of judgment:

  1. Buildings don’t help if they’re closed university buildings.
  2. A street doesn’t necessarily stay empty if your future muggers patrol the streets on bicycles.

A few moments later, my two muggers came to me on bicycles, and after a brief interaction, they started pulling my camera from my neck. They were also able to take a cheaper compact camera that I had in my pocket.

If I had not tried to resist, I would have come through unscatched. But as I needlessly tried to fight back, I ended up getting a few kicks to my face.

Absurd Moments

The whole “getting mugged in Turin” experience was full of absurd details. For example, the muggers – who didn’t speak English – repeated the French footballer Zidane’s name as they approached me.

My experiences with the Italian police were also amusing. A police officer told me I could visit a secret black marketplace in the morning to buy my camera back. He also told me that the police at the station spoke good English. Neither of those things were true.

At the police station

I did not speak Italian, so my interactions with the police were very limited. I used items at the police station’s table to visualize my mugging, and the officer translated his report to English with Google Translate.

As a result, the text included sentences such as “The police did intervene ambulance and was treated to the wound that caused me the gangster with calcium launched earlier”.

Learning from My Mistakes

A few of these 30 Travel Memories take place during my first Interail trip (e.g. Travel Memory #6). Sadly I lost all my pictures from the trip once when I got mugged.

Getting mugged was not a fun experience, and I felt ashamed of my carelessness. However, I do believe that it has helped me stay safe on later trips. I’m extra careful while walking in new cities – especially after dark – and I often spot risks very early.

I have lost some money to scammers over the years, but in general, I haven’t had many bad experiences on my travels. There have been two times when I’ve fled a threatening situation early before anything could happen, and I think my experience in Turin helped to assess the situation quickly.
Losing two cameras at once felt like extremely bad luck. What could be worse? Well, a year later, I surpassed that record when I had three cameras stolen at once in Sweden.

You can read that story in the next Travel Memory.