What’s the first thing you think about when you think about visiting Paris? Probably taking pictures at the Eiffel Tower, strolling down the Champs Elysee or eating at some of the best restaurants in the world. Well, that is definitely what I had planned with a group of my friends, but those plans were soon put on hold.
During break week, my friends Kathrin, Kyna decided to head to Paris for 3 days for Valentines Day weekend (February 14 – February 16th). With our buses and hotel booked we arrived in Paris Friday night with a full agenda for the weekend. Knowing that we would be visiting numerous famous sites, souvenir shops and ‘retail therapy’, I decided to carry I wanted to exchange the few dollars I had at a bureau de change. I carried in my tote bag my wallet, in it were some dollars, 120 euros , my passport and bank cards.
The girls and I visited most the famous sites, The Louvre , Eiffel Tower, Champ Elysee and even the Notre-Dame Paris Cathedral that recently burnt down and is closed now for reconstruction. While there we went into what seemed like an endless row of souvenir shops. After 9 hours spent walking and taking in the lovely sites of Paris we decided to head to an early dinner. It was when it came time to pay, that I realized that my purse was missing from my bag. Panicked I emptied all my belongs from the bag and watched in disbelief with no sign of my wallet. My friends calmed me down and graciously paid for my dinner bill. As the time was nearing 7PM knew that all the sites we had visited throughout the day were closed.
Having calmed down, first thing I did was block my bank cards ( if you use a US bank like me, call their international toll free number to avoid charges), we then located the nearest police station, thankfully the police officers office spoke English and advised us to go to another police station that would be able to better assist us ( we went there the following morning), we then gave the restaurant my contact details just in case I accidentally dropped it or someone picked it up.
My biggest concern was my passport because it contained both my French and US visas and upon researching I discovered I would have to reapply for both again and pay the fees for both again. After calling my mother who was very very upset with me and for me she helped me contact the contact details for the Botswana Consulate in Paris and reported my passport missing to them. Still distraught, the following morning we went to the other police station, and there the police spoke little to no English, but thankfully I was able to use the little French I remembered from my classes. It is very important to learn in French how to report an incident, crime etc even if it is just the basics, like I lost my phone or my phone was stolen at this time or on this day it really goes a long way. After being handed an I Pad to fill in my details and answer a series of questions about my lost wallet , I was handed a police report to give to my consulate. Even though 24 hours had passed since losing my wallet I was still convinced that it could not have been pick pocketed, I believe I was too careful and paid very close attention to my bag, though my friends did tell me that Paris pick-pocketters are highly sophisticated , so there was a high chance that my wallet was stolen.
It was Sunday, our last day in Paris , and even after calling and tracing my steps to the sites we visited, there was still no sign of my wallet. Money wise, this put a damper on the trip and for the day after the incident I was limited to what I do. Thankfully my mom was able to send me money via Money Gram a money order service similar to Western Union and I was able to pick up some money from the agent’s store, which is usually a small supermarket , convenience store or a Money Gram office. My friends also helped pay for food and subway fare as I waited for money from my mum.
Our Paris trip was wrapping up, my friends left and I decided to stay an extra day in Paris and thanks goodness I did. Monday morning I decided to go back to the Notre- Dame de Paris and walked by the almost identical souvenir shops, trying to spot the one we bought our goods from ( that was the last place I remember having my wallet). I peeked through each one I passed, and my gut told me to enter one of them. I recognized the shop owner and the cashier from when we last visited. I explained to the cashier (in French) that I think I must have lost my wallet in the shop and I described it in great detail and the contents that were inside. She looked at me then reached under the register, and to my surprise she had my wallet. I was in tears, I thanked her over an over again. I can’t begin to explain how relieved I was. She and owner said they had kept it , hoping that I would come back. My wallet was untouched, everything was exactly where I had left it, all my money was there, cards , EVERYTHING. I gave both her and the owner a hug, begging on how I can possibly repay them. The owner so graciously replied and said knowing that the wallet was returned to its rightful owner was all the thanks they needed. I decide to purchase a small sachet bag they advised I should carry around my neck , with my money and passport.
So what have I learnt form this experience:
- NEVER carry all your cards, passport or money in one bag or purse. Looking back I should have separated my cards and money. Put my card in my jacket pockets, some cash in another pocket or left some at the hotel and I should have made gone to the bureau de change before my trip to Paris, to avoid carrying my passport all together.
- Carry a tote bag or hand bag WITH A ZIP during excursions around the city. Make sure that when zipped, the zip is facing in front. My tote did not have a zip and even though I was not pick pocketed I saw how easily someone could slip their hands into my bag, say if I was in a crowded place.
- If you decide to carry a back pack, carry it in front of you or make sure you have a lock on it if you are going to place it on your back. Pick-pocketters are on a whole new level of stealing and I cannot tell you how many of my friends here have had things stole from their backpacks as they are walking around Paris.
- Block all you bank cards as soon as you realize that your cards are missing or stolen. I use PNC Bank and I my card was blocked, they said I can call back to unblock it if I found it within 7 days, and luckily I did, so I was able to unblock it and I am still able to use it.
- Sometimes it is good to wait a little and thoroughly trace your steps. After misplacing my wallet I was quick to act with blocking my cards and reporting my wallet missing to the police which was good. But my mind was still clouded with panic and I was in a rush to get back my belongings. I really think staying that extra day in Paris helped, because each day that I remembered more specifically where I last saw my wallet and had more clarity as the days went on. I saved myself over well over $1000 in having to renew my passport and visas, just by deciding to stay an extra day.
- Travelling with friends is very helpful in cases like this. I often wonder how I could’ve survived for those 2 days after the losing my wallet had Kathrine and Kyna not been there. I literally had no money or legal form of identification on me. They helped me out a lot not just with food and transport, but the only reason I was able to get money from my mum is because she sent it to Kyna ( Money Gram requires that you use your passport in order to receive a money order). They kept me calm and encouraged throughout the process.
My first experience in Paris was quite interesting to say the least. Even though losing my wallet put a damper on the mood of the trip, I am grateful for all the lessons learned , my friends and of course the great memories we shared during the trip. All the tips I gave on this post are based on the experience I had, and another great resource I forgot to add, is going through The Drexel Study Abroad Pre- Departure powerpoints, those were also very useful.