I routinely disregard the process of making anything more than highly-flexible yet primitive travel plans, however the one thing every traveler should prepare for is how to get from the airport (if flying in) to where you’re staying. That first introduction to a country is when you’re most vulnerable to scams, being overcharged, or at least being unnecessarily inconvenienced. When I read up on Moldova, before arriving in Chisinau from Tbilisi, Georgia, the reports and warnings were overwhelmingly negative and foreboding.
Avoid the police to the extent of walking across the street if you spot them (does anything look more suspicious?), don’t walk the streets at night…was Chisinau and the rest of Moldova really that dangerous?
Upon Arrival I Was Greeted By Exceptionally Helpful People
We like to think of crowded places as being more trustworthy than desolate ones like the Chisinau airport. (It only sees about 5.4 million passengers a year, not even putting it in the top 100 worldwide.) The directions staff from the Moldova Retro Hostel sent me seemed clear enough until I realized there wasn’t the specified express bus into the city. Apparently it doesn’t bother running all the time or in the middle of the afternoon. All I had to rely on were the 10 people or so lingering for a cigarette, who hadn’t been picked up in one of the many overstated Mercedes Benz outside.
There was also the single taxi driver asking any and everyone if they needed a taxi – I think every airport has their club of shady cabbies. Cigarettes burning to butts, a few people headed over to an unmarked minibus. The drivers couldn’t seem less interested in helping me, but a young twenty-something man with a vaguely Italian accent (common for Moldovan which is actually Romanian) let me know it was the correct ride. I confirmed this with a superficially honest looking little old lady.
The helpful guy actually rode on two extra stops to make sure I got off at the right place. I was waiting for him to ask me for a tip, or something to go wrong. It didn’t – and I found this type of proactive hospitality throughout Moldova.
Misconceptions About The Statistics
Anecdotes can be reassuring but facts are telling – Moldova has an exceptionally high crime rate – but only for specific types of crimes, most of which no traveler will ever be involved in. According to Transparency International’s Annual 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, Moldova ranks about 112th in the world, slightly more corrupt at the government level than Algeria. Human trafficking is also an ongoing problem in Moldova, though a report by the U.S. State Department shows there has been some recent improvement due to reforms enacted by the government.
Government bribery, being sold into the sex trade, and drug smuggling aren’t spheres of scandal any average tourist is likely to encounter. The biggest threat to travelers in Moldova is petty theft of unsecured valuables left in hotels and pickpocketing in crowded areas. (Which there aren’t too many of outside of loaded buses.) In terms of violent crime, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranks Moldova in the top third of safest European nations.
Even the ultra-cautious United State State Department information page on Moldova is uncharacteristically positive, as is Bureau of Diplomatic Security (OSAC). Though I couldn’t find any reliable statistics on petty theft or pickpocketing, OSAC estimates it’s at rates you’d find in any major tourist destination.
There are a few common scams (if you’re a sucker for pretty faces brush up on those), theft from mail packages is not unheard of, and if renting an apartment lock up as burglary rates are higher than the European average. As for avoiding the police, none of the embassies I contacted told me it necessary to avoid the authorities in an extreme manner. (I never did myself.) Walking the main, lit streets, at night was never an issue and so long as you bring your common sense with you, you’re likely to find Moldova a secure place to travel.