Most of us have enough common sense to watch our wallets and jewellery and to keep money and traveller’s cheques in a secure place when travelling. The mistake we can make, though, is understimating the clever stealth and fearlessness of professional scam artists and thieves. The fact is that every major city has them, and while paranoia can certainly wreck a vacation, some simple preparation and precaution can save it:
- Try not to ‘look like a tourist’. You know what I mean. Do your homework and plan your route ahead of time so you don’t constantly have a map blowing in the wind. Also, you might want to ditch the fanny pack (and not just because you like like a tourist ).
- Learn a few phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. You won’t pass for a local, but at the least you will appear to be a more savvy traveller. You will be taken advantage of less frequently, and you your show of respect for your hosts will earn you allies.
- Be aware of the risks associated with the different types or transportation. Valuables can be stolen from the conveyor belts of airport metal detectors, so always pay attention to your belongings. Trains are risky because they are often crowded and there are many opportunities for pickpockets to grab a wallet in such close quarters. When renting a car, watch for extra unauthorized charges. Finally, taxi drivers sometimes overcharge or take advantage of your lack of familiarity with the currency, so negotiate pricing before you get in when possible, and familiarize yourself with the banknote denonimations you are carrying!
- Stick with reputable currency exchange outlets. Changing your money on the black marketÂ instead of the bureau de change, a bank, or your hotel front desk can cost you a lot more than the commission or couple of points that you are saving. Piles of banknotes are sometimes bulked up with newspaper or small denominations, and in your rush to get back to the hotel and stash it you may notice when it is much too late.
- Strangers who appear a little too friendly may not be. The subway rider brushing up to you a little more closely than necessary might just be relieving of your wallet. The person on the very next step behind you on the escalator may have a hand in your backpack. The person brushing you off after a mysterious liquid drops on you from above may be teaming up to rob you. Meeting new people can be one of the joys of travel, but keep your space.
- If the price seems too good to be true, it just might be. When a market or street vendor won’t give a price until you say what you think it is worth, brace yourself for a battle. If they try to put a bracelet on or give a ‘free gift’ before negotiating, do not accept… or at least don’t feel it obligates you to buy. Expect brand names to be knockoffs, dvd movies to be filmed illegally in the theatre, and quality in general to be severely lacking. In other words, you get what you pay for.
Awareness is key to keeping all of your valuables where they belong. Do your research, take precautions, but then remember to enjoy your trip!
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