Avoiding Scams And Thieves While Traveling Abroad

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?

Does Online Sharing Diminish Real Life Experiences?

When we travel, we love to share our experiences. Whether via blog posts, tweets, Facebook status updates or photo sharing apps, broadcasting experiences – particularly those involving travel and food – has become as much a part of life as, well, life itself. But is that a good thing? Does constantly live-sharing experiences diminish the experiences themselves? Watching this video for the new Evernote Food app left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by social media.

Don’t get me wrong; I share photos of my meals and tweet about my travels as much, if not more, than the next guy. I’m guilty of this. But something about this video – and the app itself – has me feeling that we might have reached a tipping point in social media.

We already run the risk of seeing our trips through viewfinders rather than our own eyes. Now we seem to be sacrificing conversations and interaction with the people around us for popularity online. When meals are placed on tables across the world, servers are ignored, dining companions are told not to touch anything and smartphones emerge to document the food from all angles. Only after the appropriate number of glamour shots have been posted to Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and now, apparently, Food, can people actually, you know, eat.

At some point, we all need to remember that the urge to document and share our experiences is born from the fact that the experiences are enjoyable to us first. In order for our online social networks to live vicariously through us, we first need to do some living. If you’re only doing activities for the stories or clout (or worse, Klout), are you really doing anything at all?

So, maybe we should put down the smartphones and cameras for a bit, take a break from sharing everything online and enjoy the company of the people sitting right next to us. Savor ours meal for our own sake. If we don’t, it’s a slippery slope to this becoming a reality:

Let’s create memories that live more vividly and richly in our minds than they ever could in a status update. Life was in HD long before our cameras were.

Photo by Flickr user adactio.