Another tale of a tourist being fleeced in Paris has crossed my screen and I am reminded how vigilant one needs to be when blazing a trail around this wondrous world of ours.
At the launch of my first overseas travel escapade some eons ago, my survival skills weren’t quite so well developed as they are now. In fact, I lost all my cash, credit card and travellers cheques (remember them?) before I even reached my destination city. Everything. I freely admit it was a result of my own stupidity. On a airport stopover, I thought I’d take the chance to carefully check and reorganise my newly-purchased money wallet, ever so carefully secured around my waist during the previous flight to assure myself of my supreme caution and travel-savviness. Only trouble was I checked through it on a seat in the vast open airport lounge, then just got up, walked away and got back on the plane. What a dickhead! At least I kept my passport.
My skills have improved greatly since that expensive learning experience. I have a heightened awareness of where my money and other possessions are when travelling and am constantly on the look-out for potential crooks and scams. A travel fact of life if you want to avoid strife and a lot of bother, because strife and bother can abound.
In Hanoi recently, wandering around the very touristy Old Quarter and beautiful central lake, we had three incidents which could have led to tears in just a couple of hours. First, ‘Mr Creepy’ followed me relentlessly for 10 minutes as I wandered up and down taking photos. I missed him completely, but Mr T had his eagle eyes on and warned me. It was like a comedy movie, me darting this way and that, him following with about as much subtlety as a fart in a space suit. I eyeballed him several times and even zoomed in with the camera to take a close up of his face, but even that didn’t deter him. Eventually he knew it was a lost cause and disappeared to follow someone else I guess. Minutes later, a local wanted to be ‘our friend’ and practise their English, while their friend lurked nearby. Nuh, I don’t want to be your friend today. Then another was pointing at hubbie’s shoe and telling him it was broken. Not sure how that one would have worked, but some sort of distraction surely before moving to the next phase of scam. We told him to nick off (a bit more colourfully) and then seconds later he was doing the same to a backpacker across the street. We shouted our warnings to him as well. It could have been a full time sport watching for the next thieving cad to appear. If only the consequences weren’t such a pain if you get caught out.
Mr Creepy himself, pretending to be busy with his phone, and a potential new friend for the day.
I’ve warded off practised gypsy-thieves in Pisa hovering around my poor old, shuffling Dad with a single glare, and avoided a raft of scams – the ‘oh, look you’ve dropped a ring’ scam, the ‘will you sign my petition to save the world scam’, and many others. But we’ve also been caught out. I’ve had a ipod stolen from a hotel room, and had our car broken into. We’ve been with others when they’ve been fleeced of phones and money or had bags and cameras stolen. It sucks.
The reality is ‘events’ and rip-offs can happen anywhere, anytime, but that shouldn’t deter us globetrotters from doing our business. Thieves will always be around, so it’s our job as travellers to make their jobs as assholes way more difficult. Fair’s fair.
Here’s some things you can do to avoid being a victim, and to help you recover if you are.
- Be ever vigilant, especially in high touristy and crowded areas and places where body contact in crowded spaces won’t be unexpected. If someone bumps into you, it may not be an accident. Be aware of your stuff and watch out for scum.
- Make the above so much of a habit you still do it when you’re not in a touristy spot or you’ve been there a while. Easy to let your guard down when you get too relaxed. Repeat to self often: I am still a tourist. I still look like a tourist.
- Don’t keep your phone or wallet in your back pocket. Warning, warning, Will Robinson: prime target alert. Practised thieves are better at stealing things than you are of feeling they’re being stolen. Way better. And yes, men – that includes you.
- Don’t EVER leave bags unattended. That includes putting them on a seat next to you, especially one next to an aisle. (That’s sort of like saying, ‘you’re welcome’.) Even under your seat means they’re out of your sight and within reach of someone else’s long, sneaky arms or fingers. And if they’re hanging up on the back of a door in a public toilet cubicle, someone can reach over the top. You’ll probably be otherwise occupied if they do.
- If you’re standing at a station or in a cafe, have a foot or leg wrapped through a strap on your bag, or have your bag across your chest in your lap. If someone touches it, you’ll probably feel it.
- Don’t put all your important stuff together in one spot. Doh. Minimises risk. Split up cards and cash, between travel partners and in different places on your person or bags.
- When you leave somewhere (hotel, cafe), look behind you and do a final visual check. Especially check the power points for chargers, adapters etc. Who hasn’t done that ? That’s not about avoiding thieves – just avoiding annoying losses.
- Keep a copy of insurance, banking and passport details when you’re travelling, including contact numbers, and keep another copy at home.
- Don’t write down your PINs anywhere. Because that’s just dumb. Seriously! And cover your card when using ATMs.
- Don’t carry huge wads of cash. Even dumber.
- Back up your photos assiduously – and praise Lord for social media, or maybe just Mark Zuckerberg and some other techo people, because you may be able to retrieve some lost photos in extreme circumstances through apps if you lose your camera and you’re slack with the whole back-up thing. A friend recently had his computer and camera in one bag which was, as you guessed, stolen, and his files weren’t, as you guessed, backed up, so he lost ALL his photos. Very sad if you’re big on photos. Only saving grace was emailed copies.
- Be alert to potential ‘distractions’ – like bodily contact or loud noises, like thumping on train windows, or ‘found’ gold rings, and watch out for people with petitions to sign, especially if there are others hovering around nearby, or those asking for directions. Seriously, you’re a tourist and you’re wearing a bright red backpack and possibly a plastic cape for the rain – how the hell would you know?
- If someone ‘accidentally’ spills something on you or you’re squirted with sauce or mustard, listen to those tolling alarm bells. Do not accept their assistance in cleaning up. While one is cleaning you, his mate will be cleaning out your stuff.
It’s a sad reality that there are so many scams and theft in the world of travelling. While so many of the people you meet travelling are genuine and make for wonderful experiences, use your caution radar to assess random meetings. Sometimes they’re not so random.
So, wise up, take care, and take it on head first.
Any more tips??