Nothing puts a slight damper on a trip more than being kidnapped, having all your money stolen and being thrown into a river with cement boots. Although this hasn’t happened to me (yet), I have seen a lot of nefarious things. Whether people are coming after your money or your life, dangers are real especially in other countries. I am not saying the United States is 100% safe, as there are scammers everywhere. It is just that it is more difficult to bounce back if you’re overseas. If you want to have a safe trip, there are precautions to take. Common sense and a little knowledge are your best defense to have a safe journey.
Scams come in all shapes and sizes, many times you won’t even realize you’re being scammed. For example, I was in Prague and the taxi cab driver charged me $30 for what seemed to be a ten- minute drive. It turns out we could walk to our hotel in about 7 minutes on the way back. A small scam yes, yet unnecessary. I have experienced other situations that could have resulted in a much worse outcome. Once again, if you want to have a safe journey, it is essential to protect both your money and your person.
How to Have a Safe Trip: Protecting Your Property
I live by the motto that everyone is trying to screw me out of my money. Whether it is the big corporation or the guy on the street, they are all coming for me. This goes double while traveling; people look at tourists as cattle, always finding new and adventurous ways to fleece them. I am not saying everyone is a bad person, I just assume it. Too many times I have seen people, who seemed perfectly nice, attempt to scam me. Falling for the below will make it so you and your wallet won’t have a safe trip.
Taxi Scams: This might be the first thing you encounter, and it is unfortunately very wide spread. I mentioned Prague already, it is a mecca for this scam. While it is minor in terms of cost it still should be avoided. There are a couple of good defenses to this. First, before arriving at the airport, find a good trusted car service. This way you know exactly what you are paying each way, with the bonus of not ending up in someone’s basement.
Secondly, if you are using a taxi, watch the meter carefully. If it looks like you just pulled a lever to a slot machine, get out and find a new cab. Third, a little research prior to your trip goes a long way. Are taxi scams wide spread in the region you’re going to? Are there set rates or laws? Maybe there is one company in your area that is known for ripping off tourists? A quick google search will answer these questions.
Pick Pockets: These Assholes are everywhere from New Orleans to Rome, and they love to ruin tourists’ vacations. Having your passport and credit cards stolen will ensure you don’t have a sae journey. Hanging out at the most crowded and popular tourist attractions many times these criminals will work in teams.
One simple way to protect yourself is to keep walking. Don’t acknowledge anyone asking for the time, don’t give people directions, or stop to sign a petition. The only cause these people care about is the “funding their lifestyle through your stolen money foundation.” Stopping to chat with some random dude who gets your attention makes you a target. It may seem rude, but it is unfortunately necessary. Also, try to go to the most popular destinations at off times. Less Crowds = Less of a Target
A second way to protect yourself is by only carrying what you need. Really, I don’t know how people in hostels do it. I am paranoid and need a safe in my room at all times. I always put one credit card in my wallet, and the rest in the safe. My ATM card is used to get money and then goes directly in the room safe as well. Even coming and going from the airport I have my money spread out. I always keep a couple of cards in separate bags, I might be obsessed but it is better than being broke while travelling.
Protective Gear: If you must carry your passport, wallet and cash at least carry them in the right gear. If I am walking throughout the day I use the Zero Grid Neck Wallet w/RFID Blocking- Concealed Travel Pouch & Passport Holder (Shadow Grey). It has a RFID blocking device for the truly paranoid, it supposedly blocks credit card skimmers. Combined with a tin foil hat you will be fully protected!
If you are in a hostel without any security and need a full backpack the Oscaurt Anti-theft Travel Backpack Business Laptop Book School Bag with USB Charging Port for College Student Work Men & Women looks pretty bad ass. You should be able to store your laptop, passport, cash, hacky sack ball, and the spray for your bed bugs safely.
Scam Restaurants/Bars: I have heard about this in two forms. Sometimes these places are just set up and wait for customers to walk in, other times it involves a more elaborate scam. The latter is usually the more expensive. It seems every place I go there is a couple of spots that will completely overcharge you. I am not talking about a tourist menu where the food is O.K, but 20% more expensive. I am talking horror stories, $200-$300 for an almost completely inedible meal.
To avoid this there is one major rule. Always, I mean always, find out the price of every item you’re buying, no matter how small. There are no such things as price gouging laws in many locations. Often, they will rush to give you something, even insinuating it is free. Trust me they aren’t that nice. Also with weighted fish or meat dishes, make sure you are specific how much you want. You’ll order a salmon for your 5-year-old and they will give her $90 worth of fish saying it is standard. I repeat, know the price of what you order…and keep the menu when possible.
I have another trick I use before going to a new spot. Sometimes Tripadivser and Google reviews are helpful; here is one of those times. I will google the city I am going to, go to ranked restaurants, and visit the last page. Here is where I find the 1 star rated establishments. Example: I am leaving for Santorini in a few weeks, I already have discovered the hole to avoid. Try it, look up (after reading this post) Don Angelo (or Don & Donna) you will see what I mean about horror stories. 235 people out of about 250 saying the same thing can’t be wrong. I normally don’t trust TripAdvisor reviews (considering Bo Jangles will find its way into the top 20), but this is a good use of their services. You need to constantly protect your money from these establishments if you want to have a safe journey.
Dangerous Scam Restaurants: If you think it is weird that someone wants to be your buddy on the streets of Istanbul or that a beautiful woman wants to take you for drinks in Budapest, it is. People that just want to hang out with you after meeting on the street are usually trouble. They will want to bring you to a club or bar they are familiar with. Before you know it, you sit down, have ordered three drinks and have a $1000 bill on your hands. These types of scams are all over Europe, I have witnessed first-hand the approach of the shady guy in Istanbul. After it is all said and done, don’t expect the police to help you out. Often, they are in on the scam. If you can’t pay things can get violent, not a situation you want to get into.
These are just a few of the scams I have encounteres, you can lose your property anywhere, I’ve seen a lot while traveling. Sometimes it is something small like leaving your camera in a bathroom, only to go back 5 minutes later to find it is gone (happened in Barcelona). It was obvious to us that it was taken by the worker who entered the bathroom shortly after we left. Not a huge violation and only affected our property. Some things can have happened that can have more dire consequences. If you want to have a safe trip you need to protect your life.
How To have a Safe Journey: Protecting Yourself from Physical Harm
Whether it is an accident or something more cynical, never let your guard down when travelling. The last thing you want to think of when trying to relax on a vacation is getting hurt or killed. Unfortunately, it does happen. Once again common sense comes to mind, although even I didn’t always follow this advice..
Protecting yourself from illness: If you want to have a safe trip you need to protect your health first. It goes without saying you should get all vaccinations if you are going to an exotic location. The CDC is a good source for finding out what is needed, where.
Through God’s grace I have never gotten sick on a trip; this despite eating scorpions in Thailand, street ice in Panama (it was flavored!), and just about anything, from anyone in Istanbul. I should have had an Alien crawl out of my stomach long ago. I am also knocking on wood while writing this. My relatives have gotten sick, on a salad no less. Fact is food and water illnesses are no joke, and can be avoided. Obviously bottled water is your friend (most of the time). You also must avoid ice and anything washed in tainted water, such as fruits and vegetables.
As for street vendors in a foreign country it is a crap shoot, but you are better off steering towards places with a bigger local crowd. The less the food sits in the sun the better, or so I’ve been told. I have been to a ton of venders and have always been ok, but there are risks. You can always ask your doctor to prescribe you Cipro before going to a foreign country, it supposedly knocks out most traveler’s diarrhea and food illnesses (ask your doctor, I just play one on the internet).
A Scary Experience overseas.
Protecting yourself from crime: I mentioned this story on my Istanbul post but it bears repeating. Our first day in the city we hit a grungy bar, like someplace out a hipster neighborhood. Drinks were cheap, people seemed cool and there were cats just chilling (literal cats). After drinks and meeting a lot of people we go to our hotel room and call it a night. Upon waking I am informed by the front desk that someone called our hotel posing as our driver looking for my wife! They called at 3 AM. It was one of the first times I felt truly uneasy while traveling. It did teach me a few lessons.
1) Trust no one
2) Give out as little information as possible
We learned this the hard way. Unfortunately, we mentioned to people which hotel we were staying in.. Here I am preaching you on how to have a safe journey, and I made a rookie mistake. It can happen to anyone, even seasoned travelers. Luckily nothing further happened, but we were looking over our shoulder the rest of the trip.
Protective Gear: On the same trip, while leaving what was a fancy restaurant we end up on a not so good street that was completely empty. We walked the entire way to the hotel, 45 minutes in a city that was a ghost town (other nights it was booming). There were also stretch of not too nice areas. Once again, I felt uneasy, nothing happened except a pack of feral dogs came charging towards us. As we froze in fear they ran past us, fleeing an overly aggressive beagle. This brings up two points.
A) Try not to walk the streets of any city when no one is around. B) It might be wise to have some kind of gear to protect yourself if you do. Please know local laws before bringing certain items anywhere! It is hard to have a safe trip when you’re sitting a in a Turkish prison.
For some quick defense the Hoffman Richter Stinger Tactical Pen and Survival Glass Breaker for Discreet Self Defense, might do in a pinch. Although I wouldn’t bring it in my carry on, it is nice to have for some protection. It is small, but it could be useful in a pinch.
If you aren’t the violent type a personal alarm like this one, iMaxAlarm SOS Alert Personal Alarm – can do the trick. It should at least annoy someone enough to call the cops if needed. Lastly, always have a cell phone that is fully charged, this can be done easily by carrying a keychain charger. The Avantree Handy Keychain Short Lightning Cable, High Speed Data Sync Charge Keyring Cord for iPhone 7, 6s, 6 and All Apple iOS Devices can come in handy, given most phones last about 30 seconds before going dead.
By reading this you might think I am CNN or FOX news trying to scare you. I don’t mean to imply that danger is lurking around each corner (unless your visiting Afghanistan or something). I also don’t want to give the impression that everyone you meet is out to get you. Most people I come across when I travel are nice (or at least indifferent). It only takes one bad apple to cause you problems. If you want to have a safe trip, it is always wise to take some precautions. This list is by no means inclusive of every danger and I am tempted to do a follow up post. Remember to keep your head on a swivel, use common sense and you will have a safe trip. Until next time have a safe journey.
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