ROBBED ON VACATION
Robbed while on vacation alone with her six-month-old son, VICTORIA DENG recalls her chilling encounter and what she learnt from it.
A Singapore mum recounts her traumatic ordeal while holidaying alone with Baby.
In July 2015, I set off on a two-week holiday with my then-six-month-old son, Owen. It was a break I was looking forward to – a free-and-easy journey through the south of France by train and a few days in Paris.
My goal was to cover 14 cities and towns in all. I was breastfeeding Owen at the time, so I had to take him along with me. My husband didn’t have any issues with me holidaying alone with our son, and being a seasoned and savvy traveller, I wasn’t too worried either.
My dream holiday-turned- nightmare
The trip went smoothly the rst six days. Owen and I had a wonderful time checking out the lavender elds in Haute Provence, and the stunning coastal views of the French Riviera and Monaco.
I also went on a few day tours, where I met fellow travellers from Asia. When they found out I was travelling alone with Owen, they were surprised and told me that I was brave.
I must admit I was proud of myself for having survived almost a week without any drama. Owen was generally easy to look after; occasionally, I would need help carrying his stroller up and down the bus or onto the train, but bystanders and other travellers were usually more than willing to lend a hand.
On the seventh day of my trip, I went sightseeing around Nice. I hadn’t booked a day tour, so I just took Owen for a walk along the beach. We then went for lunch and ended up in a little shop in Old Town, shopping for souvenirs.
I’d run out of small notes, so I paid with a 100-euro (around S$158) banknote. For some reason, the cashier announced to everyone in the store that he was returning me over 90 euros in change.
It made me self-conscious. I quickly shoved the money into my pouch, put the pouch into my tote, zipped it and hooked it onto Owen’s stroller before leaving the shop.
About 10 minutes after I left the shop, I noticed that my tote was missing. I looked everywhere around me to see if it had fallen and even retraced my steps, but it was nowhere to be found.
I was shaken. Who could be so cruel as to steal from a stroller? Desperate and helpless, I stood in the middle of the street and asked everyone who passed if they’d seen a purple tote.
No money for food
Both my passport and Owen’s were in that tote, along with my wallet, which held my credit cards, my driver’s licence, and more than 700 euros – which was all the cash I had. I was now alone with Owen in Nice, with no money even to buy food. I was going to Paris the next day but, thankfully, I’d already pre-booked and paid for my train ride to the capital.
After making a police report, I returned to my hotel. I told one of the front-desk staff what had happened, and she gave me a couple of bread rolls and some fruit from the kitchen.
Another helped me print my train tickets, a map to the embassy in Paris, the confirmation e-mail for the hotel I’d be staying in in Paris, and copies of the two passports that I’d e-mailed to myself weeks before. Beyond that, there was not much else they could do.
I stayed in my room the rest of the day. All I had to eat were the rolls and fruit, and some snacks I’d packed. Luckily, I still had my mobile phone – I’d kept that, as well as my camera, in my jacket pocket. I contacted my husband in Singapore and asked him to cancel all my credit cards immediately.
The next day, on the train on my way to Paris, I met a Chinese woman and her two children. We struck up a conversation and I told her what had happened. She felt so bad for me, she gave me a muffin and some fruit her daughter had bought from the train’s food cart.
The ride to Paris gave me plenty of time to reflect. Things could have been a lot worse – I could’ve been robbed at knifepoint, for example, or something could have happened to Owen.
So while I was angry and upset, I was also extremely grateful. And the thieves didn’t get my camera – my photos meant more to me than my passport and credit cards because they held my holiday memories.
The rst thing I did when I arrived in Paris was go to the embassy to get new travel documents. The next day, my husband remitted some money to me via the embassy, to cover my expenses for the rest of my trip.
The kindness of strangers
Over the next few days, I was extremely touched by the concern and generosity of total strangers. I met many people along the way and, somehow, our conversations always ended up with me telling them what had happened in Nice.
One of the embassy officers, for instance, gave me 10 euros to take new photos for my travel documents, as well as food vouchers worth 30 euros, which could be used at any restaurant or cafe in Paris.
At rst, I was reluctant to accept the money and vouchers, but she insisted. Another staff member rushed to replace my travel documents, so instead of having to wait a few days for them, I only waited a couple of hours.
The next day, while having lunch at a cafe, I met a woman who was visiting from Shanghai. She paid for my meal after hearing my story, even though I told her that my husband had already sent me money and I could afford to pay for my own lunch.
I was not looking for nancial assistance or sympathy from anyone; I just wanted to remind them of the dangers that solo travellers face, and to get some of my anger and frustration off my chest. But they felt for me and helped me out of the goodness of their hearts.
People might think that I’m crazy or irresponsible, travelling alone with a baby. What happened to us was unfortunate, yes, but I never once endangered Owen or myself. I always take precautions, especially when I travel. Someone – from a crime syndicate, most likely – just jumped at the chance to take advantage of me.
While in Paris, I met another traveller from Singapore, who told me that I was “gutsy” for staying on. “Something like that would have totally ruined my trip. If it were me, I’d have taken the rst ight home,” she said.
But that’s not me. I chose to stay on because I didn’t know when I would get the opportunity to visit France alone again with my baby. Even with what happened, it was an amazing trip and I enjoyed myself. The bag theft caused me a lot of inconvenience, but I was able to turn the proverbial lemons into lemonade.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m more optimistic and appreciative after the incident. I ran into so many good-hearted and charitable people, I got a lot of help and support, and I discovered how strong, independent and resourceful I really am. The trip restored my faith in people and in myself.
Victoria and her son, Owen, in Provence.