Avoiding Scams And Thieves While Traveling Abroad

Flickr user Modenadude

My wife and I had just left the Musee D’Orsay when a young woman came running up to us clutching a ring.

The pretty brunette spoke in halting English, saying she saw it drop to the ground as we walked by. After a quick scan of our fingers, we told her we weren’t missing any rings, but she placed the ring in my hand and insisted we take it for friendship. Before my heart could swell with the joy of international love and brotherhood, she then asked for money for a cup of coffee. At that point, I realized it was a scam and handed her back the ring, which she no doubt tried to foist onto another hapless tourist couple.

While our stay in Paris was overall a wonderful experience, criminals threatened to put a damper on our trip. Before our flight out of Charles de Gaulle Airport, we would be accosted by other scam artists several more times, and my wife was pick-pocketed on the Paris Metro. Luckily the hipster shorts I bought in a Parisian boutique were so tight, I could barely get my fingers into my pockets, let alone a common thief do the same.

Unfortunately, theft and scams are all too prevalent in most major metropolitan areas. Staff members at the Louvre actually went on strike for a day earlier this year, protesting the unsafe working conditions caused by thieves and scam artists. Bob Arno, co-author of Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Crime While Traveling, estimates about 70 percent of Barcelona tourists will be approached by a street criminal; of those incidents, about 33 percent result in the loss of valuables.

According to the US government, Paris, Barcelona, London, Rome, Amsterdam and Naples have the highest number of scam artists looking to take advantage of naïve or distracted tourists.

Travel expert Rick Steves recently noted some of the most common international travel scams and ways tourists can avoid them. Other advice to consider:

  • Forgo purses or strapped bags in favor of body wallets or buttoned pockets.
  • Leave fancy jewelry or expensive watches at home. Don’t flash expensive electronic equipment –- particularly iPhones, thieves love them –- around. Have the number for the local police department saved in your phone.
  • Keep your passport and other important documents in the hotel safe, after you’ve scanned or photographed them and saved them in a file-sharing app or program like Evernote or Dropbox.
  • Stay alert. While you might be tempted to buy that second bottle of wine after dinner, realize drunk tourists are easy targets.

What are your tips for staying safe abroad?

Travel Smarter 2012: How cloud services are changing the way we travel

cloud services

One of the most often hyped facets of the upcoming tech industry is the concept of the Cloud. The term is often used to describe a set of services or functions that exist online and independent of a user’s devices, allowing one synchronous access to information and other content across multiple web-based clients. While that sounds simple in theory, the concept has remained a bit nebulous for many consumers, who still haven’t connected with how cloud services and computing work or how it can benefit them in the long run.

As a bit of an earlier adopter and a self confessed gadget geek, I’ve been excited about the potential for the Cloud for some time. And over the past few months I’ve jumped into the technology with both feet, seeing now the of what it can bring to the table, as well as how it can benefit us as we travel.

One of the simplest and most productive cloud services in existence is Dropbox, which has been around since 2008, but really seems to have taken off in the past year or two. Dropbox is quite simply a cloud storage solution that gives you the ability to quickly and easily share files with friends, family, and coworkers. It can be accessed through the web or by installing a small program on your computer, which then automatically syncs your designated Dropbox folder and files to the cloud. There are also apps available for Android, iOS, and Blackberry which grant access to those same files on your mobile device.

Dropbox is a handy tool for travelers who may have a need to access their files while on the road or might want to share something with those back home. It is particularly handy for grabbing important work documents while away from the office or getting the most updated version of a file that is still being worked on by co-workers. The service is great for working collaboratively with others while not in the same location, and it allows for the sharing of documents that are too large to attach to an email. Dropbox photo albums make it a snap to share images from your travels while still on the road, and it is a great place to save a back-up of the manuscript you’ve been writing about your big travel adventures.Aside from providing access to your files or sharing with others, Dropbox doesn’t do much of anything else. But its simplicity is what makes it great and sets it apart from some of the other cloud services out there. It is also part of what makes it so attractive to travelers who just need something fast and easy to use. A Dropbox account includes 2GB of free storage, which can be upgraded for a nominal monthly fee.

iCloud is Apples cloud serviceOne of the biggest entries into the cloud services arena in 2011 came courtesy of Apple, who introduced iCloud for iOS, Mac, and Windows users. iCloud does both more and less than Dropbox, and has proven itself to be very useful for those who are firmly ensconced in the Apple ecosystem. The service allows for seamless and almost instantaneous syncing of apps, music, and data between devices while also keeping your contacts, calendars, and “to do” lists completely up to date. It also provides cloud storage for Apple’s iWork suite of productivity software, which much like Dropbox, gives you access to those files from any iCloud capable device. Unlike Dropbox however, you can’t simply drag-and-drop files from your computer and have them saved to the cloud.

iCloud has several unique features which can be a direct benefit to travelers, not the least of which is the “Find My iPhone” service. Despite the name indicating otherwise, this service allows iCloud users to locate not only their phones, but also iPad or Macintosh computers as well. Being able to track down a device that you’ve left behind in a cab or in a restaurant can be a real lifesaver, but should you find that your electronic toys have fallen into the wrong hands, you can also remotely lock the device or even wipe its memory completely clean.

The iCloud photostream is also a great option for travelers, who are increasingly using their iPhone as their primary camera while on the go. A few years ago I would have laughed at that idea, but the iPhone 4S sports a camera that is on par with many dedicated point-and-shoot models, and when connected to photostream any photo you take is also automatically uploaded to the cloud. This service essentially provides a backup of your photos immediately after they are taken while simultaneously making them available for viewing on your iPad. Photostream also syncs with your computer’s photo library, integrating the photos into your favorite editing program. It is a very slick process that anyone who has lost a camera mid-trip will definitely appreciate.

As if all of those iCloud features weren’t enough, its functionality is extended a bit further through the use of a free iPhone app called Find Friends. While not strictly speaking a part of iCloud itself, the app does use some of the same technology to allow you to track the location of friends and family who are also iPhone users. When traveling together, this can be an invaluable tool, as it helps eliminate any issues that arise when trying to find each other in a large crowd. The app is especially useful in places like Disney World, a national park, and large museums or shopping malls. The service is purely optional and can even be used over a specifically defined temporary basis, such as a two-week trip through Europe.

iCloud is a free service that provides 5GB of storage. Additional storage can be purchased for a monthly fee.

Skydrive brings cloud services to WindowsMicrosoft’s entry into the consumer cloud services space is known as Skydrive, and it shares a lot of things in common with Dropbox and iCloud. Skydrive lets you sync any and all files onto a virtual hard drive and then access them from anywhere that you can connect to the Internet. It works great with the Microsoft Office suite of productivity tools, and even allows multiple users to create and edit documents at the same time. In short, it is a great collaboration tool for work that also has plenty of application for our personal lives as well.

Skydrive sets itself apart from the other services in two very distinct ways. The first is in the amount of free storage that Microsft makes available to users. Where Dropbox is content to offer up 2GB of storage and iCloud provides a fairly limited 5GB, MS gives Windows users 25GB of storage, which is a lot of room for Word documents, photos, and even video. That storage space is available not only on your computer but also on iPhone, Android, and of course, Windows Phone devices.

The other area in which Skydrive distinguishes itself is in how tightly woven it is into the Windows operating system. Not only does it integrate nicely with the Office web apps, it also can be set-up to automatically sync a user’s most important files to the cloud, providing access on any web-connected computer in the world. Skydrive access is even built into the latest editions of Windows Live Photo Gallery and Movie Maker, making it an incredibly simple affair to share images and video from your latest vacation while you’re still on that vacation. It is a powerful service, and one that Microsoft is already improving with Windows 8, which will likely be launched later this year.

Because of how well Skydrive is integrated into Windows, carrying your laptop with you on a trip means that you’re also bringing a full fledged photo and film studio along, giving you unprecedented power for sharing your adventures with others. Image and video editing is simpler and more powerful then ever before, and Skydrive allows you to document and share the travel experience as it happens. Users even have very precise control over who exactly sees the files they share, allowing restrictions at designated levels.

Unlike the other cloud services, Skydrive doesn’t currently have an option to expand its storage capacity, though it its defense 25GB is fairly generous.

Of course, an Internet connection is required to take full advantage of the cloud, but these days, those connections are a lot easier to find than they once were. On the other hand, we often travel to get away from the trappings of modern life. In that case, the cloud is still useful when we return home too.

[flickr image via quinn.anya]

Gadling Gear Review: ioSafe Rugged Portable hard drive

ioSafe Rugged Portable Drive

2011 may go down as (yet another) “year of the cloud”, but that doesn’t mean the cloud is the solution to everything. On my travels, I rely on Dropbox, Google Music, Amazon Music and Sugarsync to provide instant access to my files, but the “instant” part relies heavily on having access to reliable and speedy Internet access. Since speedy Internet can be just as hard to find in downtown Las Vegas as it is in downtown Tallinn, I also trust locally stored files on a good old hard drive and a variety of USB drives.

Of course, the biggest risk of carrying a hard drive is always going to be physical damage – the thing is after all designed around rotating platters with magnetic heads floating micrometers above them. To combat this, there is the rugged drive. One of the most popular names in rugged storage is ioSafe, long known for their line of fire and waterproof drives for at home, but now also the name behind a variety of portable rugged storage.IOSafe Rugged Portable Drive

For this review, we’ll take a closer look at the USB 3.0 ioSafe Go-Anywhere Rugged Portable Hard Drive. On the outside this thing is actually surprisingly slick – taking some of its design inspiration from the gorgeous single piece aluminum products from Apple. The rest of the product is pretty simple – a MicroUSB 3.0 connector (which will work on USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports), an activity LED indicator and a Kensington lock port. The included cables work on any USB port, though most computers will need two ports to power the drive – which also means you don’t need to carry around a power brick.

As soon as you pick the drive up, you’ll feel that it isn’t in the same league as your everyday portable drive – it weighs significantly more and feels like a small brick. The weight (along with some pretty smart innovations on the inside) and single piece aluminum case design are what make it possible to protect against drops up to 20′ (that is 6 meters to those of us that prefer Metric), crushes up to 5,000 lbs and full immersion in water for up to 3 days.

The drives come in a variety of flavors too – spinning platters (500GB and 1TB) and SSD (120GB, 300GB and 600GB). All varieties offer the same rugged protection. Every Rugged Portable drive from ioSafe comes with 1 year of data recovery service (up to $5,000) with options to add up to 5 years of additional coverage. To clarify – this coverage is offered on top of the warranty provided by the manufacturer.

Rugged or not?

Of course, any company can make outrageous claims about their drives, so I decided to do things to this drive that I’d never consider doing to a “normal” drive. For starters, I left the poor thing outside in a pile of snow overnight, then on my way inside, I “accidentally” dropped it on a concrete garage floor. Amazingly, I think the solid aluminum case did more damage to the floor than vice versa.

The target audience

With prices starting at $249, the ioSafe rugged drive is definitely not as affordable as a 500GB drive you’ll find on the shelf of your local Target – but once you calculate the value of your content, the initial purchase price is quite easy to justify. In my case, I use external storage to hold photos and video, as well as images of my laptop in case I need an emergency on-the-road restore. In those cases, the extra $150 for the security of a rugged drive is well worth it.

Final thoughts

There is very little inherently interesting about an external hard drive, but the ioSafe Rugged Portable Drive definitely gives you a sense of security – you can tell that this thing is designed from the ground up to travel the world and be thrown around. Performance is fantastic (especially when on a laptop with USB 3.0) and with sizes up to 1TB, you are bound to have an available option that will hold your storage needs. Prices start at $249 for the 500GB HDD version, up to a painful $1,999 for the 600GB SSD.

Still, once you go back to the whole “how much are my files worth” part, the price really isn’t hard to beat, especially when there are no reasonable alternatives on the market. When you need to store 1TB of content, the cloud just isn’t an option.

You’ll find the entire lineup of ioSafe drives at iosafe.com, along with more of their rugged products and information about their data recovery services.