Global Street Smarts: How Not to Get Swindled
First-time tourists might as well walk around with a target sign on their backs. Wiley fraudsters can spot them from a mile away, with that trademark doe-eyed gaze and overzealous pointing. Alas, even clever cookies crumble when they realise they’ve been bamboozled, hoodwinked or duped by a cunning con-artist.
Yes, a global circuit of Dodgy Bros is out there waiting to prey on the hapless tourist – probably whilst twirling their moustaches and painting dollar signs on hessian sacks – but there’s no reason to be anxious about travelling abroad. We’re here to pull the wool away from your eyes and teach you what Ross Geller would call “unagi”: a state of total awareness (not freshwater eel). Keep your wits about you, double-count your change and steer clear of scam city with Student Flights' guide to travelling safe, savvy and street smart.
DON'T GET TAKEN FOR A RIDE: tackling tuk-tuks
The Thailand tuk-tuk scam is almost a rite of passage for travellers. Drivers of the spluttering motorcycle-cabs and the “tour guides” they are in cahoots with are persistent and cluey, schmoozing you in excellent English and boasting “excellent” deals. They will tell you the site you want to see is closed (nope) but luckily they know some fantastic temples and will take you around all day for only 10 or 20 Baht. Are your sceptic sirens ringing? They should be.
Along the way you get taken to a jewellery store / a tailor / a travel agency where you can get something cheap cheap while the driver gets petrol coupons. Long story short, you’re being fleeced. It’s not a big deal, but it does cost you time, money and patience. Try to take metered taxis for longer trips, negotiate the price with a driver before you get in (find out what the locals pay, if you can) and don’t tell anyone it’s your first time in Bangkok – that's basically saying you’re ripe for the picking.
GIRD YOUR LOINS: namely, your pockets
Pickpockets are nimble-fingered wizards. If you weren’t so incensed about being rolled, you’d almost be impressed. Almost. Don’t be naive though, pickpockets don’t just work the pockets – they can unzip a backpack like a phantom, especially in busy areas like crowded town squares or on subways. In packed areas of major cities like Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Prague, you can justifiably keep your hands in your pockets and not look like a total creepo. Just a clever one.
There are plenty of travel bags out there designed to prevent such deviancy and even camera straps lined with wire so opportunists can’t do the ol' snip-and-grab. It’s a fool move to have all your money in the one place too – keep smaller notes in your pocket if you must, but squirrel the larger currency away somewhere else (shoe, bra, etc). Just remember, nobody likes to touch sweaty shoe money.
KNOW HOW TO NEGOTIATE: not-so special prices
Haggling over the outrageous price of your latte probably won’t get you anywhere but, in the right setting, knowing how to barter can save you a bundle. Bargaining over goods is the done thing in a lot of places, namely Northern Africa, India and several South East Asian countries. Marketplace merchants know how to make a mean dollar and will tell you whatever you need to hear to part with your cashola – if you’re a sucker for flattery, it will be your downfall.
If you’re confident enough to strike up a deal, here are a couple of easy pointers: don’t flash your cash or dress to impress, start by offering half the asking price, be polite and charming, don’t be afraid to walk away and always keep haggling to the bazaar or souk where it belongs. Also be aware of bogus branding – if Gucci jeans don’t cost you a week’s wage, you’re doing it wrong.
THE ART OF BLENDING IN: look the look
Surprising thought it may seem, people in Pisa don’t generally take selfies propping up the Leaning Tower and native New Yorkers wouldn’t be caught dead in “I Heart NY” attire. If you’re wearing a bum-bag or wandering around looking befuddled at a map (possibly upside down), you will stick out like a sore thumb. Whatever that means.
You don’t have to go all Parisian chic or spend your rent getting the “London look” to camouflage with the crowd. The best thing you can wear is an air of confidence – put away the guide book, learn a few key phrases and don’t stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to take photos. Things to avoid for your own safety (and our eyes) are cargo pants, socks with sandals, anything emblazoned with the Australian flag and Bintang singlets. Stick to basics, neutrals and layers. Because fashion.
A final travel tip for the ladies: head to Collette or a similar accessories retailer, stock up on bargain bling and leave your good jewels at home for peace of mind.
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