How Not to Look Like a Tourist
The most important thing to keep in mind is that many travellers go abroad ignorant not only of the types of scams they may see, but also unprepared in general. While it’s not unreasonable to be disoriented in a new city and to struggle with directions or understanding a foreign language, the more you look like a lost tourist, the better your chances are of being targeted. The best way not to look like an easy mark is to do your homework.
Some of the general preparations that should be undertaken before travelling to any foreign city are to obtain a map and study it so that you can navigate without having to stop every five minutes and also research the types of places you want to go so that you are not wandering around aimlessly trying to find that monument or gallery or restaurant.
Ou est la Toilette?
Put forth an effort to learn and properly pronounce a few basic lines of whatever language the locals are speaking. This is a sign of respect that you can show to the locals in whose country you are a guest and they will be friendlier and more likely to stop and talk. If you cannot question the statements of airport employees, taxi drivers and restaurant staff, you run the risk of being pressured into paying extra fees for services you may not want or that may not even exist.
Also, do some research to find out what the weather is usually like in your destination and bring appropriate clothing. Try to find out about any social mores, appropriate manners in addressing service staff or other behavioural standards. All of these things will help you to fit in better and appear as a savvier, more experienced traveller — in other words, the kind of person a thief would be wise to avoid.
Trains, Planes and Automobiles
Before arriving at a city proper, your choice of transportation brings with it different potential dangers. Jewellery and other valuables can be stolen from the conveyor belts of airport metal detectors, so always pay attention to your belongings. With that said, planes and airports are often a better bet than travelling by EuroRail, where stories abound of unwitting tourists being charged bogus fees by train staff for having their luggage stored.
Trains are also risky because they are often crowded and there are many opportunities for pickpockets to grab a wallet in such close quarters. For those who prefer to rent a car, rental agencies (and cab drivers … and businessmen for that matter) are capable of short-changing tourists with whom there is a distinct language barrier preventing the traveller from forming a coherent objection.
Not Kansas Anymore
Once you’re in London, Paris or Rome, the variety of scams you’ll encounter is almost exciting. These places aren’t like North American cities where, short of brazen thievery, the only con artists you’ll ever encounter are beggars and salespeople. First you have the relatively benign hawkers of cheap goods. You’ll see dozens of merchants selling trinkets, souvenirs and even knock-off designer handbags. It’s common to pay two euros at one merchant for an Eiffel tower keychain only to find someone selling them for 1.5 a block down the street.
I’ll Give You Four Bucks and a Cookie for That Louis Vuitton
I recall having a conversation with a man selling his paintings on a street in Rome that finally left, because in ten minutes he was unable to name a price for me. This goes for the bag sellers, too. If they ask you, “How much would you pay for this?” you might as well leave, because they are only going to play off the initial figure you throw out there. (Of course, if you like to barter, then it’s your lucky day). What these people do is illegal, yet they have a knack for spying oncoming carabinier, packing up their operation and returning to the exact same spot mere seconds after the officers pass through. It’s sort of like a horse flicking its tail to momentarily shoo the flies away.
One of the most easily avoidable scams involves someone approaching you and tying a colourful bracelet around your wrist, then asking a ridiculous price after the fact. Pressure tactics like this are a great way to coerce tourists, but you don’t have to reciprocate or show sympathy for these scammers — don’t give them a cent.
The Stranger Isn’t Just Being Friendly
The most professional scammers you’ll encounter are pickpockets. Anybody who would take the risk to rob you in broad daylight is either crazy or damn good at it, and neither of those things bode well for you. In Paris, I was walking with some friends on the subway and one of them bumped into a man for just a moment. Minutes after he passed, she looked at her backpack to discover that the zipper had been opened without any of us realizing it.
Although nothing was taken, it’s alarming to imagine the speed with which experienced thieves can operate. Some enterprising pickpockets work in groups to distract travellers by talking while others quickly snatch their valuables. Younger people and even couples with babies have been said to serve as distractions, so never let your guard down around anybody and keep your money in a secure place like a money belt.
Don’t Forget to Enjoy Your Trip!
Awareness is key to keeping all of your valuables where they belong. So be aware of all possible circumstances during your trip and once you’ve done all of your homework you’ll be so prepared that your chances of falling into a tricky situation are slim. Read up on your desired destination and your trip will go a lot smoother.