2 July 2012


It's a long time since I've had a holiday abroad - in fact we've never actually had one together. So my last 'expedition' was at least ten years' ago. That one was 'only' a (wonderful) coach trip to Ireland, so didn't need much planning on my behalf.  I feel really out of practice, so far as packing/ travelling is concerned.  Now that I've just bought a ten year passport it's time to dust off the suitcase and plan a trip (or two!).  These notes will made a good aide-memoire: 

  • Make a photocopy of my passport and keep it separate from the original.  It can make a crucial difference in speeding up a replacement passport if the original is lost.
  • Carry our money in our socks/wear a money belt/put a padlock on our rucksack to avoid muggers/theft.
  • Always pack spare clothing for a day and a night in our hand luggage in case our main bag is lost.
  • Pack clothes in plastic bags so they are neatly divided and easy to pack and unpack.
  • Take carpet-electrician's tape to repair broken luggage or holes in mosquito nets.
  • Moist wipes are handy (!haha) for freshening-up on planes and at airports.
  • Make a list of things to pack and routines that must be accomplished before leaving.  For example, remind  myself to take toothbrush and cancel the papers.
  • Pack some safety pins; good for repairing ripped clothing.
  • Buy a 'universal' sink/basin plug from a DIY shop before leaving, in case I want to do some washing and there's no plug in your hotel wash basin.
  • Write the addresses of people we want to send our holiday postcards to on sticky labels before we leave, to save time on holiday.
  • Take an umbrella: good for when it rains and to use as a shade when the sun gets too hot.
  • For fresh, crunchy vegetables when abroad: grow your own!  Mung beans, lentils and alfalfa, for example, sprout in water and, in hot climates, will grow in a day.  You can use any container to grow them in, but make sure you use purified water.
  • When visiting hot countries where you need to use long drop toilets or head for the bushes, rub your bottom with insect repellant! 
  • If you want to cool a bottle of beer or wine but don't have a fridge or ice, just pour water over a sock, place the bottle in the sock and hang in the shade.  The breeze helps the water evaporate, taking heat from the bottle and cooling it.
  • Save out-of-date and useless plastic cards to form the basis of a dummy wallet that could fool muggers when abroad.  
  • Only write your destination address on luggage labels when you are departing on holiday.  Put your home address on them only when you are returning.  If you print your home address on the way out, someone could read the label at the airport and pass it on to burglars.
  • Take the empty cardboard cylinders left over from kitchen rolls on holiday with you.  It's a great way to bring back those eye-catching prints.  Roll and gently place in the cylinder and the prints will be ready for framing when you return.
  • Pack only one set of clothes and fill the rest of your bag with washing powder (not be confused with certain 'powers' which people may smuggle!).  This will not only dispel the myth that all travellers smell, but your bag will get lighter as you travel.
  • Cut out pieces of brown paper and put them in your shoes or socks when flying.  A way to avoid jet-lag(!?)

  • On some 747 long-haul flights you can slip into a spacious curtained area with seats reserved for cabin staff at the back (as long as they are busy serving passengers). Of course you move out when the stewards come off-duty.

  • Always take a few tea bags.  You can't beat a good cup of tea in the middle of nowhere when you've been away from home for a few weeks.

ANORAKISH (sounds like me!)
  • Take a piece of credit card-sized cardboard on which the Sterling equivalent (of the currency of the country you're visiting) can be summarised in graduated amounts on both sides.
  • Take sticky-back clothes' hooks, in case your hotel doesn't have enough.
  • A multi-pocketed waistcoat can act as an extra piece of luggage, holding in-flight necessities, without taking up vital room in your hand luggage.
  • Cover your travel guidebook with brown paper to extend its life and also to avoid looking like a tourist.

Most Obvious Tip: Go to places we intend to like!
Now . . . where did we put our passports?

And. leading on from the above - The Oldest Tricks in the Book
Tourists are often easy prey for muggers, but by following these simple guidelines you can avoid becoming a victim.

Any con artist will tell you that tourists make easy targets.  But being aware of some of the classic tricks perpetrated on innocents abroad might just h elp you to avoid becoming a victim.  Watch out for following time-honoured tricks and remember these rules described by a Metropolitan Police Officer: "Avoid overt signs of wealth. Avoid looking too much like a tourist. Only carry the amount of money you need each day and conceal it around your person. Be extra careful with rucksacks, which easy to rob while on your back.  If you are robbed, don't resist. Don't put yourself at risk".

The red herring: working as a pair, Bandit A creates a decoy to attract your attention while Bandit B picks your pockets or steals your bag. A popular decoy is the 'soiled shoe' scam, in wich Bandit A draws your attention to the fact that a bird has deposited something unpleasant on your shoes.  In reality, the bandit will have squirted toothpaste on you.  While he helps you clean up, Bandit B makes off with your bag.
Also watch out for old ladies dropping groceries in your path, clumsy people bumping into and the 'student' who seems particularly keen to try out his English.
Counter measures: If anyone makes any attempt to slow you down, put your hand on your money and documents which should be kept close to you in a body belt or inside pocket.

The friendly warning: Taxi drivers sometimes get paid by hotels to introduce new customers.  If a taxi driver tries to talk you out of going to your hotel and suggests a 'superior' alternative, be suspicious.
You might be told your hotel is rife with Legionnaire's Disease or has just burnt down.  Drivers sometimes work in pairs.  Be sceptical if a seemingly unconnected person flags down your cab and explains in excited tones that the body count at your disease-infested hotel has risen to 25.
Counter measures: Insist on stopping to call the hotel.

The sex trap: No-one admits to falling for this one, but it does happen.  An attractive female - or, indeed, male - charms you into inviting her to your hotel room where, while you county your blessings in the bathroom, she escapes with your credit cards and duty-free gold watch.
Counter measures: Men in particular often let optimism cloud their judgement.  Trust your instincts.

Daylight robbery: Sometimes you can find yourself in a position where it's almost impossible not to buy some cheap made-for-tourists tat at a ridiculously inflated price.  Anyone who has travelled in Morocco or Turkey knows how difficult it can be to escape a carpet seller once you've entered his den.
Scamsters try to tempt tourists into such shops through trickery.  Beware of the 'guide' who offers to show you around the market then leads you to his cousin's carpet emporium. 
Be wary of roadside breakdowns. Apart from being a regular decoy used by out-and-out thieves, supposed victims of breakdowns might be so grateful for the lift which you felt obliged to offer that they invite you for tea in ... their cousin's carpet emporium.
Counter measures: Know which souvenirs you want to buy and how much you are prepared to spend.  Be firm but polite in refusing a purchase.

The bogus official: This can be a little more serious.  Police and government corruption is rife in some countries.  Beware any illegal activity.  Occasionally the police work with drug dealers to frame tourists.  A dealer offers you drugs and, even though you refuse, the police arrest you for consorting with a known dealer.  In these cases the police might be looking for a bribe.
Bogus officials often hang around government buildings, so when you go to buy a trekking permit or renew your visa, you find yourself intercepted by a scamster.  At best, the scamster helps you cut through the red tape for a hefty fee or, in the worst case, you hand over your documents or money to someone posing as a government official who promptly disappears.
Counter measures: Avoid any activity which might interest the policy.  Ask public officials for identification unless you are confident you are dealing with the right person.  But if you don't mind paying extra it can be worth using a local person to help you fill out those complex forms.

The Suzy Lamplug Trust (http://www.suzylamplugh.org/ and http://www.suzylamplugh.org/personal-safety/worldwise-general-personal-safety-travelling-advice/) gives lots of information regarding safer travel.  Also Lonely Planet (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/) has lots of advice.  They say that the most important thing is not to look like a victim, if you do, people will pick you out.

However, there was not much that could be done by one tourist: he was driving a hire car in Brazil and a con man threw a boa constrictor through the open window at a traffic light.  Of course, he then jumped out, and the con man got into the car and drove away.

. . . And another article: 10 most common scams

It's the violent muggings that make the headlines but there are slealthier crimes against tourists.  Here are some of them:
Hit and Run: Busy streets, lifts, markets and stations are the obvious venues.  While moving through the bustle you bump into a passer-by; you both proffer apologies, you brush yourself down and move on.  It's only later you notice you're travelling light - your keys, wallet and phone have long gone.

Flat Tyre: You're driving along the motorway and a driver pulls up alongside you, pointing to one of your rear tyres and gesturing to you to pull over.  You stop on the hard shoulder and the good samaritan draws up behind, insisting on helping.  While you lift the car with the jack, he lifts all your valuables from the front seat and with a friendly wave is on his way.

Scanner Scam: Going through congested airport security checks might be less safe than you think.  You place your new laptop on the belt while waiting for a couple of people to go through the metal detector. The first passes but the second person triggers the alarm and laboriously takes out all his coins, jewellery and boiled sweets from his pockets.  By the time you go through, the first person has long gone, as has your laptop.

Clean-up: You're walking down the street admiring the sights when you feel the unmistakable splat of bird droppings on your shoulder.  As you stop to examine the damage, an amiable local appears at your side.  He helps you take off your jacket and clean off the mess.  He also cleans out your wallet.

Bent Exchange: Blinded by the apparently great exchange rates offered by the hustler on the street corner, you hand over your readies for what seems a huge pile of notes.  Wary of your new currency being stolen, you tuck the notes away.  It's only when you open them in the safety of your hotel that you realise they have been padded out with newspaper cuttings or Monopoly money.

Credit-card clones: Credit-card fraud has gone hi-tech.  When you pay for a meal in a restaurant, the waiter takes away your credit card and swipes it - twice; once through the payment machine and once through a palm-sized electronic devise, which records all the information contained on the magnetic stripe.  It takes only a few seconds.  Your card is returned and you're none the wiser that it has a clone - someone somewhere will be enjoying a spree at your expense.  These card-cloning scams are just as common in shops and service stations.

Slow count: Unscrupulous cashiers adopt suspect counting methods when handing over money to foreigners.  With irregular pauses they miss out number sin the count back in the hope that tourist is not concentrating or does not understand.  More often than not the inadequate change will be gathered up and with a cheerful 'thank you' the traveller will be on his way.

Passport, Please: Wearing a stolen hotel uniform, the conman approaches the guest, saying that he needs his or her passport to make a photocopy for the hotel's records.  He never reappears. A stolen passport can fetch thousands of pounds on the black market.

Fishy Business: On the Continent fish restaurants often allow patrons to choose the catch they intend to consume.  The price is given per kilo, but owners often overestimate the weight and charge extortionately.  If you don't ask the price first, it might be difficult to prove your case once the evidence has been swallowed.

Beggar, Me?:  Doleful-eyed child beggars carrying placards pleading for money can fool even the most experienced traveller.  Naturally you bend down to read their desperate message; in the mean time your rucksack, bag or wallet is being rifled by a light-fingered accomplice behind you.

I'm sure we wouldn't fall for any of these . . . or would we?

And a few more:

How to see off the world's swindlers

All over the world, tourists are easy prety for scammers and street criminals.  Statistics are notoriously difficult to compile because the vast majority of victims don't want to take time out of their holikday to report what is often only classed as 'petty crime'. But some do.

Last year the police in Barcelona, one of Europe's top 10 holiday destinations, were told about more than 100,000 individual thefts.  Figures in Britain show that ppickpocketing has risen 17% in the past two years.

Here is some interesting information from the makers of Scam City TV show for the National Geographic Channel:
In each episode they went under cover in a different city to investigate the criminal gangs that prey on tourists and travellers.  They wanted to find out who these people were and, more importantly, to document how they operate.  Here are the most common scams to which travellers fall prety - and some advice on how to avoid them.

Bangkok gem scam:  A must-see tourist stop in Bangkok is the temple at Wat Pho. The scammers are wise to this and take up positions 500 yards or so from the entrance.  As you arrive they helpfully inform you that today the temple is closed, even though it isn't.  The scam involves them offering to take you to see an alternative, which their tuk-tuk-driving friend will take you to free to charge.  It sounds great, until you realise he's taking you to a few jewellers' shops along the way, all of which sell over priced gemstones.
Tip: In the first instance, check for yourself whether the temple really is closed.  If you find yourself ushered into a jewellery shop, smile graciously, thank them for the advice and leave.

The Istanbul fake friend scam: You'll never walk alone in Istanbul for long.  The city is full of friendly young men waiting to be your new best friend.  They'll approach you in the street or in a bar and welcome you to Turkey by buying you a beer.  What could be friendlier? Then they invite you to another bar.  The only problem is the drinks in that bar cost £80 each.  When it's time to pay you're left with a whopping bill.  Your new friend offers to pay half but of course the bar never charges his credit card.  After he has said goodbye he doubles back to get his commission.
Tip: The best way to avoid this is something your mum told you years ago - never accept drinks from strangers.
Pickpockets in Barcelona: In Barcelona, they infiltrated a gang of pickpockets to get an insider's view of how they work.  These gangs have rules - never steal from locals and always work in crowded areas.  
That means they work the Metro during the day and the Ramblas at night.  They target bulging back pockets and bags slung over shoulders.
From: http://traveltipsbook.com/how-to-prevent-against-being-pickpocketed/
Their skill levels are incredibly high - undoing a bag zip while climbine a flight of stairs is no problem to them.  Within an hour spent with my new 'friends' they had pilfered four wallets, a phone and a pair of reading glasses.
Tip: When you're on the Metro in Barcelona, carry all your valuables in front of you where you can see them, it may feel uncomfortable but not as uncomfortable as gueuing up to report them lost at the police station.

Guided tours in Rome: People often ask me what they can do to prepare for their trip before they leave home.  Booking activities in advance is a great idea - especially in Rome, for sights such as the Vatican or the Colosseum.  
Guided tours are a lucrative business for scammers and some of the tour operators are controlled by the mafia.  They charge a premium rate, but your guide turns out to know less than you do about the Romans or Renaissance art.
Tip: The reputable tour guides are all online so if you book ahead, you avoid the risk.  So far the scammers haven't caught on to the online potential but it won't be long before they do, so be sure to pick a company with good reviews on websirtes such as Tripadvisor.com.
Counterfeit currency: Watch out fgor counterfeit money, especially outside Europe.  Many businesses that deal with tourists have become willing distributors and taxis are notorious for passing off fake bills in their change.  The time to be on your guard is just after you've handed over your fare.  Keep your eyes on your driver - this is the prime time for them to slip in a few dodgy notes.
Tip: Keep your eyes on the cash during a transaction, always check your change and don't be afraid to return a dodgy-looking note and ask for another.  Better still, carry lenty of change, so you can hand over the exact fare.

Rug shopping in Marrakesh:  If you're off seeking winter sun in Marrakesh this year then beware.  No trip to Morocco is complete without buying a carpet.  The general rule is the older it is, the more valuable.  They discovered a rooftop factory bleaching rugs to make them look aged and these were being sold to tourists as 'antique' for many times their real value.
Tip: If you genuinely want to buy an old rug, the safest bet is to head out of the souk to Marrakesh New Town.  You may pay a little more but the bigger shops have cleaned up their acts.

Delhi doctor's visits: Tourists are not always the victims of the scammers' crimes.   One of the most shocking scams uncovered was in Belhi.  Initially, they'd been tipped off that many of Delhi's doctors have fake credentials and are in fact no more qualified than the rest of us to prescribe medicines.  
However, they then toured the clinics with the fake sore tummy that they'd perfected during school days, a shocking truth emerged, it's the real doctors you need to watch out for!
On several occasions genuine, bona fide, registered doctors suggested that together they could inflate the medical bills, and therefore the insurance claim, by adding treatments and drugs that had never been prescribed.  The costs for this unorthodox service?  50% of the profits.  Of course, client confidentiality was 'assured' but if your insurance company catches you engaged in this kind of activity, they you'll need another type of processional altogether!
Tip: If you're ill, go to hospital, not a doctor's surgery.

Footnote: Watch a woman confessing to drugging tourists and stealing their belongings in Argentina (see: telegraph.co.uk/travel).  I know this can happen, it happened to a close relative only last year.

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