Daily Mail on Safety in Croatia… Hmmm…

Paul Bradbury

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August 13, 2023 – An alarmist article in the Daily Mail about safety in Croatia has made the national headlines. Now let’s take a closer look… hmmm…

It is apparently the most-read online newspaper in the world, and so when an alarmist title such as “My son phoned me from Croatia at 2.33am – and unleashed every mum’s holiday nightmare” appears on the Mail of Sunday’s online edition, it is bound to attract a lot of attention. As it was gathering pace in the Croatian media, I decided to check out the original.

The crux of the article, it seems, had little to do with Croatia per se, but was a comparison of the carefree teenage summer of the author in Portugal four decades ago compared to the dangers of travel for youngsters today.

We are 11 paragraphs into the article before Croatia is even mentioned, during which we hear about an alleged (but not proven) incident of a Brit being beaten to death by bouncers in Cyprus, various tourism scams in Barcelona (including my favourite, tourists being charged extra for teaspoons), and a 21-year-old who died in Ibiza trying to break up a fight.

We will get to Croatia in a minute, but how about this for summing up a country – “As more cheap holidays open up, people need to be alive to the risks. Hot new destinations such as Albania may seem attractive, with great-value hotels, long sandy beaches and cheap restaurants (the average cost of a beer is just £1.69). But let’s not forget that Albania’s main export is organised crime.”

It was a nice, if curious, touch to include the price of a pint in Albania, not quite sure of the relevance. Anyway, as someone who has been a regular visitor to Albania since 2001 with over 60 visits, it is one of the safest countries in Europe, and as I said in my article It is Time to Talk about Albania last year, “never have I been to a country where the perception is so different from the reality.”

So how did Croatia fit into all this?

Apparently, the author’s son was on holiday in Croatia, took an Uber to an apartment he was renting with friends, and the Uber driver demanded an extra 60 euro cash, “which as a teenager on a budget he didn’t have.”

The driver then apparently locked the door, drove the son to another part of town, The son called his mother at 02:33 (which was 03:33 local time) asking for help. Thankfully, she was able to transfer some money so that he could go to a cash point and buy back his freedom.

There are a few things which raised my eyebrows higher than usual when reading the Daily Mail.

  1. Uber rides are payable by card and all journeys are documented, so that it is easy to trace the driver, and yet there was no mention the author’s attempt to do that in the article.
  2. If the money was withdrawn from an ATM in another part of town, that could also be traced, as could the journey to the ATM. Surely a concerned mother would want to make sure that this taxi driver was not able to do the same to others – Uber would surely terminate his employment with such evidence. As well as refund the money.
  3. In the conclusion to the article, the author advises: “And to any young person planning that post-exam trip or a gap year abroad, I say this: stay sober, stay together – and, above all, stay wise to the risks.” And yet it would appear that he was alone at 03:30, and decided to wake up his mum back home rather than his mates whose apartment he had just arrived at.
  4. Having travelled all over South America at the age of 19, I understand all about travelling on a budget, but if the son did not have the cash on him or 60 euro in the bank, how was he going to fund the rest of the holiday? Did he spend his last pennies on an Uber to his apartment?

I checked with some sources familiar with the story who confirmed that nobody with the son’s name (he has taken his father’s surname, which is different from the author) has used Uber in Croatia in the last two years.

It was only when I saw a headline in the body of the article that I decided to write this one. Last month, the same author had an article called Why my son’s robbers still prowl the streets with impunity. I am assuming that it is the same son (there is a nice family photo of the author with her son and daughter when they were younger). Never mind the dangers of going on holiday as a teenager, this is what happened on the street in London where the author lives:

“My daughter and I were watching TV when there was a loud knock on the door. My son had just popped out to Sainsbury’s in Chiswick High Road. I assumed he’d forgotten his keys (as usual). Instead, he rushed in and said he had been stopped on the corner of our street by two kids with large knives. They took his phone and his scooter and ran off.”

The son is clearly not having a great year.

Thankfully, he was not too troubled by his ordeal:

“Ultimately, my son was fine – teenagers tend to brush off such things. But I am not. I worry constantly now about him going out, and about my daughter, too.”

And yet a few weeks later, with all the dangers of modern travel the author is warning us about, he was on a plane to Croatia.

The only other mention of Croatia was the following:

“He later explained that the entire holiday had been marred by similar events. Everywhere, the threat of violence was never far away. One night, a girl had got separated from their group and been cornered outside a club by three men who ordered that she hand over her money and phone, or else. If she tried to call for help, they said she’d be stabbed. Or worse.”

Croatia is one of the safest countries in Europe, and in 21 years here, I have never encountered anything or anywhere where “Everywhere, the threat of violence was never far away.” Isolated incidents do take place, of course, but this account is so far from anything I or others who have commented in the Croatian media have encountered. And yet the words are printed – no location, no checkable facts. And a destination gets tarnished.

 And so to the comments to the article, which fell into two broad categories.

  1. Praise for the author for the great advice, as well as some crossing Croatia off their bucket list.
  2. Numerous comments with a very contradictory experience of Croatia

“Croatia is the safest country in Europe!”

“It can happen anywhere. My experience of Croatia and using Ubers was a very safe and pleasant one.”

“Had a house in Croatia for 10 years with my kids of all ages. Never had any issues.”

“Nothing specific in this generic article. Anyway if it is true there is a lot higher probability being robbed in other countries than in Croatia..”

“I went to Croatia this year and I can honestly say it felt like one of the safest countries I’ve ever been to.”

“I dont know where in Croatia this was but Ive been holidaying there since 1985, the only years I havent is during the homeland war. Its the safest most beautiful country, very free from violence with wonderful people. Just stop with all this putting people off travelling.”

There is one piece of advice from the author that would be welcomed by the people of Croatia, especially those in central Split, if young British tourists would adhere to:

“And to any young person planning that post-exam trip or a gap year abroad, I say this: stay sober, stay together.”

A statement from Uber:

“With more than 120 thousand people using Uber in Croatia, safety is a top priority. We have developed a range of safety features including an emergency assistance button, a dedicated 24/7 support team, GPS tracking which means that there is a record of every trip and the ability to share your live journey with family and friends. We also have an option of On-Trip reporting that allows riders to report issues during an Uber trip. All drivers must undergo a screening process that includes checking criminal and driving history before they are able to get online, and we work closely with law enforcement in Croatia.”

How safe is Croatia? Check out what happened when I dropped my laptop in a street in the capital Zagreb and didn’t realise until the next morning in this video from my YouTube channel.


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