Let’s be honest. In some countries, many of us will never pass as locals, no matter how hard we try. But there are ways to mitigate our exposure to hassles, scams and frauds when we’re at our jet-lagged, English-speaking-only most vulnerable selves.
Stay low-key by dressing in business casual style. Choose leather walking shoes instead of white fitness footwear. Forgo fanny and backpacks in favour of a simple tote with a shoulder strap.
I aim to pass for an ex-pat working abroad when I’m on vacation. For an added touch of authenticity, I carry a local newspaper or grocery bag. You can always disprove people’s first impressions later, if you choose.
Scams, like someone spilling liquid on you and offering to clean it up while their cohort escapes with your luggage, are old hat. Signs posted in public places advising to watch for pickpockets usually result in you checking for your wallet, which indicates to a thief exactly where your cash is stashed.
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Though I’ve never had to use it, I carry a second wallet, stuffed with fake credit cards, (the freebees everyone receives in the mail), a few US dollar bills wrapped over leftover low denomination foreign currency and some coins. If you are approached, experts say to toss your valuables toward the assailant; don’t get close enough for them to grab you. Avoid stopping for strangers who ask you for the time.
Sit at the back of the bus, not near the front or side doors. My friend Lisa likes high end travel and took a private excursion to a “secret spot” that her guide said most tourists didn’t know about. The entire group was robbed at gunpoint. Lisa, sitting at back of bus, had time to take her wallet out of her bag and hide it. The passengers at the front of bus were not as fortunate. She thinks it was a set-up and I’m inclined to agree.
I’ve heard stories about bus windows smashed at stop lights and crew bags stolen right off the seats, and a flight attendant whose purse was stolen at a cafe. She lost her wallet and all her cash plus her passport and security ID. Luckily, as a working crew member, she was able to return home. You won’t be as fortunate if that happens to you.
Though some banks may require ID if you want to change currency, usually a photocopy of your passport and other picture identification is enough. A passport is your most important piece of ID when you’re away from home. Keep it safe.
The airline philosophy of back-up systems works in other areas of my life. If you must tour with all your documents, carry photocopies and email copies to yourself. Keep them in separate compartments in your bag, and carry others in your pocket.
FA TIP: Though there are no guarantees, an in-room hotel safe is usually secure enough for most of your valuables. Some are now large enough to hold electronic gadgets like PCs and tablets. If you’re worried about forgetting something, try a flight attendant trick and leave one travel shoe inside the safe.