If you've ever traveled abroad, you may have already been victim of some kind of scam, however small, whether overcharging, substandard merchandise or similar petty annoyances. There are plenty of those everywhere, as well as larger scams that are more dangerous.
You'll never avoid them all, but let me share the most common ones with you and help you recognize and avoid the main ones. I speak from experience - I've been 'had' by each of these scams. No major harm came of them, but I certainly learned my lessons.
How Travelers Can Avoid Some of the Best-Known Scams - Issue 53
Rewrap and Unwrap
Found an unbelievable bargain at the market? Beware of the kind offer to take it into the back room to wrap it so you can carry it home. Don't let your purchase out of your sight or you might end up with a surprise. In Morocco I bought a lovely white sheepskin and was delighted to have it well-wrapped for travel. Until I got home and found it had been replaced by a ratty old cowhide with a white fluffy trim - the only visible bit.
The Long Way Home
Taxi? New to town? Sorry but your hotel is an hour away... Have we passed that building five times? No? Preying cab drivers (not the majority by the way) may take advantage of your obvious ignorance to take you the loooong way and so charge you a lot more. Best way to avoid this is to ask the airport or train station information desk how much the average trip costs and mention the price to the cab driver before you get in. Don't speak the language? Scribble the amount on a piece of paper. This one has happened to me more times than I can count, on every single continent.
Your Hotel is Closed/Burned Down/Sold/Non-Existent
In countries where touts try to 'guide' you towards hotels where they receive commissions, you might unsuspectingly be told your hotel doesn't exist, that it's under renovation or any such nonsense. Fine. You can agree. But insist to be taken there to see for yourself, as I once did in Phuket. I'll bet 99% of the time it'll be right where it's supposed to be. It was.
The Kindness of Strangers
Most people you'll meet are kind and many of them will be generous. Once in a while you might be unlucky and run into someone with few scruples. Usually this won't matter because they're not the kind of people you usually deal with, right? But you might not know. That friendly guy who wants to take you home for a family dinner might be looking for something else. In Addis Ababa I had what I thought was a friendly invitation to meet the family turned into a less appetizing visit. After an hour listening to various family member sing off-key, I was presented with a bill. Oh well. To stay on the safe side, don't accept drinks from others. Thirsty? Get your own. Knocking people out and then robbing them is unfortunately something that does happen. And be healthily questioning. Not suspicious, but cautious.
Fakery and Forgery
You know that wonderful ruby that is so incredibly cheap, in an OFFICIAL store? It's not a ruby. It might well be a 'reconstituted' stone made from ruby powder but it's not the real thing, and it's not worth what you'll be paying. Gems - unless they're stolen - have standard prices and while a little fluctuation is normal, a large discount should ring alarm bells. Check that the 'official' store really is one - it's not enough to carry the word 'official' in its name. And I am now the proud owner of a lovely 'ruby', if you're interested...
You'll need money as you travel. Your first stop? The ATM machine. It's unfortunate but petty criminals often hang around ATMs waiting for unsuspecting individuals to withdraw interesting sums. Avoid outdoor ATMs: find one in a mall or shop or hotel lobby. Try to go with someone, and don't be distracted while you get your money. Don't go at night, and don't let anyone see your PIN. I was once followed after an ATM visit in Cape Town but was fortunate to find a crowded mall to nip into and lose my tail. My fault for using a street ATM.
Welcome to the most common scam of them all: separating you from your money or possessions without your knowledge. Theft is a profession so don't think you can beat it. By the time you notice your money will be far away. I had my passport stolen from my backpack, money taken from my bag, and my glasses lifted out of my pocket, without ever feeling a thing. The moral of the story? Wear a money belt, and don't keep anything in your pockets you're not prepared to lose.
Want to know more? Here's additional information about travel scams if you want to explore the issue further.
Recommended Books and Products
What I'm reading this month: Granta's "Pakistan" - an amazing, moving, beautiful collection of stories by or about Pakistan, a country often stamped with the word 'terror' but offers so much more. A true reading treasure. Read the Amazon reviews.
The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl's Guide (by Stephanie Lee) - Still the bestselling guide to traveling on your own for the first time. Filled with information, fun to read, and a quick download right into your inbox. The place to start if you don't know where to begin.
Video 101: Tips and Tricks for Awesome Visual Storytelling (by Lisa Lubin) - My other favorite download. Video continues growing in popularity and Lisa, who has won three Emmies, has written the perfect teaching guide.
My new Lumix DMC-LX5 - This is my new toy and I carry it with me everywhere. I'm not a good photographer but this amazing point-and-shoot (absolutely pro quality) makes it look like I am. Have a look at the Amazon customer reviews (click the Lumix link above to read what others have to say about it).
Thank you to Woman on the Road Amei of Germany for some great thoughtful travel tips:
- On all my travels I try to get involved in women's projects. Often they don't know how to write proposals, for example or they have information material in awful English.
- Owners of restaurants or small hotels are very grateful for a review on the internet.
- As I travel with a rucksack I find my iPod invaluable for reading material which you can download free of charge from quite a few institutions, eg the Gutenberg Project. An added advantage is that it lights up in the dark. So you can read in a tent or when electricity fails as it often does.
- Taking a football with you opens any school in Africa or Southeast Asia, and pens and pencils are also most welcome. This establishes contact with the staff. I was often invited to their houses for a chat and a meal.
If you've been traveling please come and share your experiences with the rest of us and if you're still undecided about something, ask me a question. For example, Catherine in New York asks How can I work legally in Europe?
And finally, our latest post this month is about Road Safety Abroad, since traffic accidents cause one-third of travel deaths among Americans (and there's little reason to believe the figures are any different for other nationalities).
Travel News from across the Web
30 Cheap Tricks for Solo Travel
The World's Finest Freebies
The Best Travel Gear for 2012
Review of Best Women's Travel Shoes
Central America Travel Tips
International Etiquette 101
Avoiding 10 Road Trip Mistakes
Travel Tips You Need to Know for India
10 Photo Musts for Every Travel PlanWorld's Weirdest Hotels
Getting Creative with Self Photography
For food lovers...
...and lovers of other arts
If You're Visual
The World's Most Spectacular Hotel Rooftops
The Manhattan Project
One Week in Tokyo
Yangon, Myanmar: A City That Captured Time
Visiting the Birthplace of an Evil Dictator
Sweden: An Instagram Diary
Exploring the Art Scene in Melbourne
15 Travel Realities in Papua New Guinea (you could join Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick on her upcoming escorted tour!)
North Korea Unveiled (Part I)
What to See and Do in Riga
The Beauty of the Faroe Islands
8 Ways to Celebrate Summer in Copenhagen
Memories and Commemoration in Beirut
Morocco's High Atlas
A Taste of Cambodia
And finally...Facebook for dozens of great travel links each week!
Cause of the Month
11 July is a momentous date
I'm writing this on 11 July, which has the distinction of being World Population Day, the day of the Family Planning Summit in London, and the first birthday of South Sudan, the world's youngest country. What do these three things have in common?
The world's population has reached 7 billion, but there aren't enough services to keep all 7 billion healthy so many will die prematurely, especially women giving birth to children they don't want or aren't ready for, simply because they can't afford or access contraception. That's what the Family Planning Summit is all about, providing those women who want it - more than 200 million worldwide - with family planning services.
As for South Sudan's birthday, while it celebrates a year of freedom, that freedom is partial: the country has the highest rate of maternal mortality (2,054 per 100,000 live births) and the lowest literacy rate for women (fewer than a fifth of women can read) in the world.
Today is a day to remember that not all women have the freedom to make decisions about when to have children, that some parts of the world are desperately poor and need help, and that enough people care to meet and pledge funds to do something about those countries that need it the most.
For more information about these issues:
The Guardian: Global Development in South Sudan and First Anniversary
Overview: The New York Times
AlJazeera: South Sudan Marks Challenging First Year
Maternal Mortality Remains a Problem in South Sudan
How to plan a travel itinerary when you're traveling for a limited time
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