How do we prevent our bags from being stolen from our car in France?
December 19, 2004 8:22 AM   Subscribe

TravelFilter: We're going to spend about two weeks around New Years in Northern France (no specific itinerary yet). We're renting a car to get around, which is new for me and leads to my question: all the internet resources, guidebooks, etc say that the problem of theft from cars is significant in France. We will have a couple backpacks sitting in a hatchback, so they should be pretty easy to see if we leave them in the car.

Is theft as big a problem as "they" say, given our destination and time of year? If so, any ideas on what to do with the bags? Are there still luggage lockers at the train stations, or do those no longer exist? Any other tips and things to do in Northern France at that time appreciated as well...
posted by true to Travel & Transportation around France (11 answers total)
I'd take the advisory pretty seriously. My father did business in Paris several years ago, and noticed an alarming number of vandalized payphones. If you're driving a rented car, petty thieves will assume you're a tourist, and will break into it in search of cameras, music, clothing -- anything which could be traded/sold on the sidewalk to unsuspecting passerby.

According to RailFrance, lockers still exist. The Times Online has a article on Northern France's points of interest.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:44 AM on December 19, 2004

Give our love to the French!

And, yes, do be very alert for car break-ins. I was in a small village about an hour north of Paris, and I had my car broken into between the time I went to the front desk to check in and took my bag to my room. When I returned, a mere 10 minutes later, to retrieve something else from the car, it had been broken into. And, this was right across from the police station.
posted by lometogo at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2004

Here are the crime statistics in France (PDF file). The number of reported theft from cars (called "vol à la roulotte" for some mysterious reason) for the entire country was 356000 between January and November 2004, so, if we adjust it for 12 months and 59 million people, the rate is 658 per 100,000 inhabitants. I couldn't find recent figures for theft from cars in the US, but for car theft, the French rate is 315 per 100,000 inhabitants, to be compared to 388 per 100,000 in Illinois (2002). Therefore, a wild guess would be that figures for theft from cars are quite similar (they were a little higher in the US in 1988, see this older survey).

So in a nutshell:

- the risk is probably not so different from what it is at home

- usual precautions apply since you'll be a tourist, particularly in popular places that attract lots of people during the holiday season, so don't leave important stuff in the car, lock the doors etc. Many thefts are made easy by car users not closing the car windows, but this is less likely to happen in the North of France in this season.

About lockers: they have been on and off for more than a decade due to terrorist threats. They were closed in mars 2004 for example, right after the Madrid bombings, but they should be opened now.

Have a nice trip!
posted by elgilito at 9:58 AM on December 19, 2004

While I've never been to Northern France, I haven't heard any stories about friends or family having their car stolen and/or broken in while travelling there.

Any compact rental hatchback should still be able to fit at least two big backpacks in its closed trunk area (ie. out of view)...

Other than that, what elgilito said "in a nutshell".
posted by ckemp at 11:23 AM on December 19, 2004

A french friend of mine works in the hotel business. She's fifille-fofolle - it kinda means silly/cute in a girly way. But this fashionable woman drives a shitty car - a Panda.
As the story goes, after partying in a dubious neighbourhood, around 3 am she returned to her parked car to realise that she left *both* pairs of her keys inside. Desperate, in a dark alley, she tries to force the doors open while calculating the cost of a locksmith at 3 am.
Suddenly, her blood freezes: she hears footsteps approaching, sneakers, a tipsy walk - my friend turns around to face a female racaille who just stops and stares at my high-heeled hysterical friend, trying to break into a shitty car.
"Need help?" slurs the female zy-va.
My friend explains that she's trying to get into her own car but one knowing glance going from my friend's fashionable if a bit crumpled suit to this utterly shitty car tells her that she isn't being believed.
Nonetheless, the racaille picks up a piece of scrap-metal laying by the side of the road, pushed my friend aside, and in one expert move, wedges the metal between door and the window, and just simply pushes the window down, pops open the lock, opens the door and gestures inside in an exagerrated fashion.
My poor friend, shocked and awed - and feeling a bit huffy because that's in her nature, - sits down and mumbles a thanks.
"If you want me to start the car, it'll cost ya" responds the girl, but my friend already revved up the engin and thankfully, she had enough good manners about her to offer her saviour an unopened packet of ciggies, a gift which was gladfully accepted.
And off they went, two french woman into the night, both shaking their heads at their surreal encounter.

[At this point, my friend wakes me up at 4 am to breathlessly share her adventure. *Sigh]

All this took place in Strasbourg, a fantastic town in North-East France. Highly-recommended.
posted by ruelle at 2:06 PM on December 19, 2004

An obvious precaution would be to bring a tarp or something, so the visible backpacks wouldn't scream "steal me" quite so loud.
posted by smackfu at 6:02 PM on December 19, 2004

Two beautful places, if you're gong to be close:Beauvais and Reims. Don't know about the car thing so much. We took the train almost literallly everywhere, though, and we were fine. Have fun! I'm completely jealous. I haven't been abroad in about three years, and I'm jonesing for a France fix. :)
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:45 PM on December 19, 2004

My friend got her car broken into twice in two days in Lyon. Definitely be careful. It's just stuff, but it sucks to have to replace it and deal with the trouble.

Just putting it in the out-of-sight trunk or under a tarp might not be enough; it might be assumed your stuff is in there. I'd keep it with you or in a locker. At the same time, don't let paranoia ruin your trip! (Have a great time - I'm so jealous.)
posted by livii at 8:23 PM on December 19, 2004

Do not leave anything visible in a car anywhere in Europe. Especially if it's a rental car. Actually, this is pretty good advice for anywhere in the world, including at home, but I have heard lots of stories of casual smash-and-grabs in Europe.

My parents parked their car in Nice, walked around the corner for five minutes, and returned to find their camera bag (with some pretty nice lenses inside) gone.

I wouldn't cover things with a tarp, either -- that way thieves know you've got something good.
posted by Vidiot at 9:43 PM on December 19, 2004

Just to balance out the thievery anecdotes, I'll just say we parked all over Nice for a week last year and never had a problem, and none of my friends who travel a lot in France have ever had their cars broken into. The only time I've had my car ransacked was on the Lower East Side. Bastard stole a nice new fireman's coat and a bag of mix tapes that had value only to me and which I still miss a decade later.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:27 AM on December 20, 2004

In all of the rental car driving my wife and I have done in France and Europe (bunches) we have never had a problem. But we are prudent. Rules:

1. Never get into the trunk after parking. Sounds weird but it's something I learned from my Dad. Be prepared with the things you need from the trunk before your next stop.*

2. As noted by many, keep things out of site. Including those things that scream "tourist" even if they are not valuable.

3. (Which is the only rule here tha really counts.) Never leave anything in the car (or hotel room) you can not afford to loose. This varies by the person but for most tourists it comes down to a) passport and b) plane ticket home.

*Wouldn't you know it, though, my Dad has had his car broken into -- in Spain. Lesson? Shit happens.

Onto the sightseeing portion of my comment... well, maybe I am too late. If you like, email me (see profile) with rough ideas and I will take a stab at some suggestions. Strasbourg was mentioned above. It is beautiful but I don't think of Strasbourg as being part of northern France. Going that far east makes for a certain style of travel -- not that you shouldn't but if you also wanted to visit Brittany (not really "northern France" either) you might find yourself stretched thin. (This coming from a guy who visited ten or so countries in six weeks years ago; it's no way to travel unless your cataloging something.)
posted by Dick Paris at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2004

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