For all the perks of travel — the wonderful weather, food, people and places you see — there are also a few downsides to balance it all out. I had to learn that the hard way in October last year when I was visiting Sintra, Portugal, and my rental car got broken into.

Here’s what happened on the day…

Exploring the beauty that is Sintra

We kicked off the day with some regional pastry specialities called Queijadas and Travesseiros from Sintra’s Piriquita cafe, and then my fiancée and I spent the day roaming Sintra’s town centre, the Castle of the Moors and the infamous Pena Palace.

It was a brilliant day. The sun shining strongly with clear blue skies all around — which was surprising for an October visit — and thankfully it made for some amazing photos. After a long day of roaming around, admiring the vast Sintra landscapes, we made our way back to the centre to grab some dinner.

Since there weren’t many car parking spots in Sintra town centre, we settled for a quiet road that was about 5 minutes away by foot.

What a mistake that was…

The end to an amazing day

I got back after dinner and found the car unlocked. At first I wondered if I had simply forgotten to lock the car, but given my paranoia I knew that was unlikely; I always double or triple check whether the doors are locked before walking away.

That’s when I realised that there was a hole right alongside the door handle, and at that point I felt my insides churn.


The thieves in Sintra broke made a hole in the door and broke into the car

Having pierced a hole in the car door, the thieves were able to unlock the car and wound up stealing our jackets, my sunglasses and even the battery case I had stored in the glove compartment.

I was in shock and didn’t know what to do. I browsed around the car cautiously to see what else had gone missing and thankfully, we didn’t bring anything too valuable on the day.

Although we were both really upset at what happened, both of us were grateful that we were OK and even until now I remind myself that it could have been a lot worse. Sure, they took a few material things and caused some damage to the car, but at least we weren’t personally in danger, and they didn’t smash the window, steal passports or any cash. Everything could be replaced and nobody got hurt.

Lessons learned

Thankfully, I had taken up an insurance policy to cover any damage and theft before leaving London. That meant I could claim back the €200+ damage to the car and the value of the stolen items, so in this case everything turned out OK and I’m so grateful for that. Still, I’ve got 3 main takeaways from that horrible experience…

  1. Trust your gut. Although I had my suspicions, I went against my gut and parked on that quiet road when I should have been more patient and tried to find parking in a busier area.
  2. Never leave valuables exposed. Although I hadn’t left anything expensive or valuable out in the open, the thieves clearly thought my sunglasses alone were worth breaking in for. Whether it’s at home or on holiday, never leave anything remotely valuable on show, and especially not if you’re driving a rental car with a big fat branded sticker on the windscreen! Tourists are bigger targets for thieves.
  3. Get insurance before you go. Most car rental companies charge you a premium for insurance if you take it up at the pickup point. To avoid hefty costs while you’re away, I highly recommend signing up for an insurance policy that covers your rental car. Mine cost me just £30 for a year from Direct Car Excess and it wound up saving my ass from a huge bill.

At the end of day, the whole situation could have been worse. Even though we were shaken up, the important thing is that we were both unharmed and the stuff they stole was easily replaceable. Next time, I know to be more careful…

Do you have any stories about theft while travelling? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. I didn’t get paid to endorse Direct Car Excess. I genuinely paid for my policy and it saved my butt.

Fabio Virgi

A real geek at heart, Fabio caught the travel bug after traveling for a month in the summer of 2015. After visiting 4 different places in 4 weeks, he decided to leave his job, become self-employed and see all the world has to offer!