Dos and Don’ts in the developing world

We’ve been talking a lot here on Gadling about travel safety. Travelers should be aware of potential dangers no matter where they are, but what do you do when you’re obviously the richest person within sight? Here are some tips about what to do and what not to do when your monthly salary is higher than the average annual wage of the country you’re visiting.

Don’t let fear ruin your vacation
First off, most developing countries are as safe or even safer than the U.S. or Western Europe. In two decades of traveling in 26 countries, including places such as Iran, India, and Egypt, the only time someone tried to mug me was in a shopping mall in Danbury, Connecticut! That said, you do need to keep your wits about you.

Do wear a money belt
Yes, they’re dorky looking, but a money belt will foil most pickpockets if you keep it under your clothing. Even though criminals know tourists wear money belts, they’d rather go after easier prey. Developing countries tend to have harsh penalties for crime and scary prisons, so criminals don’t want to take unnecessary risks. Keep the day’s cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull out your money belt in the marketplace. Stuff something bulky in the opposite pocket so the pickpockets go for your inviting bulge. Toilet paper is a good option, and may come in handy in case of a sudden onset of Montezuma’s revenge.

Do be aware of local scams
Scam artists employ different tactics in different countries. Often they take the form of a young man with good English approaching you wanting to invite you someplace, where you’ll be shaken down. Or they might give you a friendly tour of their neighborhood and then demand payment, getting increasingly threatening if you refuse. Your best source for the latest scams is an up-to-date guidebook and locals working in the tourism industry, such as hotel managers. They’ve heard plenty of stories.

Don’t flash your valuables
Why tempt fate? Leave the iPod Touch and the gold watch at home.

Don’t pretend to be poor
There’s nothing sillier than seeing some American backpackers trying to convince someone in Peru or Ethiopia that they’re really not that rich. Nonsense. You may be a struggling student back home, but you’re still living a life most Third Worlders can only dream of. You were able to afford an international flight, after all. Trying to pretend you’re just as poor as the locals is unconvincing and more than a little patronizing.

Do back up your photos
The most common item to be stolen is a camera. It’s easily snatchable and has a high resale value. Don’t run the rick of losing your travel memories. An inexpensive 4 GB thumb drive (also called a flash drive) can hold hundreds of photos. Transfer your pictures regularly at an Internet cafe and keep the thumb drive in a different location than your camera.

Do stay open to personal interaction
The best part of any journey is the people you meet. The majority of people of all nations are honest, so don’t worry too much. Most folks who approach you are simply curious or want to practice their English. Trust your gut and have a great time. Bon Voyage!

[Photo credit: Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

Pickpocket empties business class passenger wallets

Theft from airplane luggage is not new – but when I read about a pickpocket that emptied the wallets of five business class passengers, I realized that these thieves may have found themselves a new place to work.

The thief earned around 4,000 euros ($5,800) from just five wallets in the business class cabin. When the passengers alerted the cabin crew, police in Paris were called and were waiting for the plane. The Air France plane had left Tokyo, so given its length, most of the passengers were probably sleeping when the thief hit.

The lesson here is simple – if you fall asleep on a plane, be sure that nobody can get at your belongings. Sadly, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I’ve read reports of people having their laptop computer stolen, or other valuable items removed from their bags. In some cases, thieves may even be able to remove items from the bag placed under your seat.

A great site with tips on how to be safe on the road, along with stories of theft, muggers and pickpockets is Thiefhunters In Paradise. If you worry about your belongings, this really is a great resource to learn how criminals operate.

Explore five cities with a “bad rap”

I grew up in Detroit. I love my city and will be the first tell anyone who thinks it’s nothing but a boarded up hellhole just how wrong they are. But I know Detroit’s bad rap comes not only from suburb-dwellers and business travelers who just breezed through, but also from the media that portrays it as a city with nothing to offer other than casinos and a punchline. But maybe the tide is changing. Anthony Bourdain went to Detroit – and liked it! And now Jaunted has included Detroit on its list of Five Cities with a Bad Rap that are still worth visiting.

Detroit is recommended for its passionate people and Motown soul, along with great food from every culture. In addition to my hometown, the list includes Kingston, Jamaica – for the hospitable people and cheap flights, Madrid, Spain – which despite its reputation as a haven for pickpockets still lures visitors with fine art and tasty tapas, Naples, Italy – where the government is making an effective bid to clean up the ancient streets, and Oakland, California – San Francisco’s little sibling, where the crime to culture ratio doesn’t lean in the direction you might assume.

With the exception of Madrid (which still sees hundreds of thousands of tourists per year), one benefit of visiting these traditionally shunned-by-tourists cities is that there are fewer crowds and a cheaper cost of travel. Plus, your tourism dollars can help the city governments invest in infrastructure, make the cities safer and cleaner, in the hopes that one day they can shed their bad reputations.

London pickpockets are giving the money back

Visitors to London may find that if they aren’t careful, they could wind up with some strange fingers in their pockets or purses. And while that’s nothing new, this time it might not be a bad thing. A group of former pick-pockets is working the streets of London this month, but instead of stealing money, they are giving it away to their unsuspecting “victims”.

The “put-pocketing” plan is being funded by a local broadband provider called TalkTalk and carried out by 20 former-pickpockets who want to make up for the wrongdoings of their pasts. Between July 1 and the end of the month, at least £100,000 will be given away, mostly in £5 and £20 increments, as a marketing promotion for the company. The covert deposits are taking place in busy areas like Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Oxford Circus and on the Tube. According to the Communications Director of TalkTalk, the areas where the money will be given out were strategically chosen “as we want to give the money to people who actually need it.”

While it would be nice to find an extra £20 note in my pocket at the end of the day, I think I’d stay vigilant. I’m sure there are still a number of unreformed pick-pockets out there who, if they get their hands into your bag, will not be kindly leaving you some cash. And now they have the perfect alibi if they get caught: “Of course I wasn’t stealing your wallet. I was giving you money!”

[via Reuters]