Insurance gets a second look as travel world evolves

Travel insurance was once something that only the most careful of travelers bought – an option that was easy to pass up and rarely used. But talk of airline bankruptcy, problems on a normally safe cruise vacation, and political unrest around the world have travelers taking a second look. Even impossible-to-predict natural disasters affecting travel are pushing consumers to buy. The travel industry has seen its fair share of major changes and developments in recent years, and 2012 shows no signs of slowing down.

“The big, dramatic stories are what get people thinking about travel insurance,” as Carol Mueller, vice president at Travel Guard North America, a major third-party insurer, told Gadling.

The Costa Concordia grounding, the recent robbing of cruise passengers while on a normally safe shore excursion in safety-challenged Mexico, and the disabling fire on Costa Allegra, have left travelers with questions about cruise ship safety and regulations.

Both cruise lines and airlines have tightened cancellation policies, leaving travelers with stiffer penalties when changing itineraries. News of airline consolidations and bankruptcies continue to make headlines across the globe, as the number of seats available to passengers shrinks even more.Travel experts have predicted that the cost of airfare will continue to rise in 2012 due to factors including: oil prices, increased regulation, fees, and decreased competition.

In a recent story in the Seattle Times, Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel, said, “We’re going to see higher airfares.” Additionally, George Hobica, founder of travel website AirfareWatchdog added, “Fares are probably going to inch up.”

Still, travel to far-away, bucket-list destinations has become increasingly common. Exotic, long haul destinations landed on lists of the “must see” destinations for 2012 compiled by some of the country’s top travel editors and experts.

Travel+Leisure’s Hottest Travel Destinations of 2012 list includes Sri Lanka, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Mozambique’s Northern Coast as hot places to visit. Earlier this year, Gadling recommended some highly specific adventures that included traveling to Rwanda for gorilla spotting, a hike and bike tour of Easter Island and a ski trip to the South Pole, among others.

In a world with more places to go and more things that can go wrong, it’s important for travelers to educate themselves on how to cover their investment and safeguard themselves when traveling.

According to Travelguard’s Mueller, “the majority of insured’s file claims are as a result of trip cancellation; interruption or delay; lost or delayed luggage; and medical emergencies. Others take advantage of ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ plans that provide reimbursement in the event that they must call off the trip entirely.”

What travelers don’t realize is that travel insurance plans often do more than just cover the costs of these types of inconveniences. They can serve as a resource for travelers in need, providing assistance services like facilitating cash transfers, making last-minute hotel arrangements, and tracking lost luggage. This type of assistance can be especially helpful in a foreign country, where insurance providers can help locate English-speaking doctors, assist with replacing lost or stolen travel documents, and relay messages to family and friends back home.

Still, buying travel insurance does not protect travelers against all perils. Cruise passengers who buy travel insurance because they are concerned about hurricanes or other weather-related events that might affect their itinerary are often surprised to find out that those are not normally covered reasons for cancellation.

Knowing what is covered and what is not should be a primary focus for travelers considering the valuable protection that a travel insurance policy can provide.

“A good policy can offer you peace of mind for your upcoming vacation,” says consumer expert Chris Elliott, adding “If something goes wrong – if your trip is interrupted or if you have to cancel – you can recover some or all of your costs.”

Flickr photo by F H Mira

10 budgeting mistakes even smart travelers make

When traveling, it’s easy to go overboard and spend more money than you expected. What’s important is that you spend your extra cash having fun experiences instead of on mistakes that could have been prevented with some planning. Read these 10 common money mistakes often made by travelers to help save money on your next trip.

Mistake #1: Overpacking

This is a mistake that can rack up travel costs for many reasons. First of all, depending on what airline you are flying with, you may be charged a fee for each bag you bring. Not only that, but travelers must pay not only based on how many bags they bring, but also on how much they weigh. Once you are off the plane and at your accommodation, if you have brought more luggage than you can carry yourself you will have to consider porter and bellhop costs. Just do yourself a favor and only bring items you can see yourself using and wearing multiple times.Mistake #2: Not knowing the exchange rate

If you’re looking to save money, it’s a good idea to do a little research and figure out what destinations will give you the most mileage for your dollar. For example, many regions in Canada, Australia, and Western Europe have strong currencies, meaning you may end up losing money in the exchange. However, if you plan a trip to, say, Hanoi, Vietnam, or Prague in the Czech Republic, you can end up saving a lot of cash.

When traveling, you should also pay attention to what currency exchange offices offer the best rates. For instance, airport currency exchanges are usually not the best places to change your money.

Mistake #3: Forgetting to check the weather of your destination

Last June I went to Paris, France, traveling under the assumption that France is always hot (on television the French always seem to be sipping wine in sunny vineyards and relaxing in little clothing in quaint little cafes). If I had checked the weather beforehand, I would have known that shorts and sleeveless shirts were not practical for when I was going, and I wouldn’t have had to buy new clothing, a jacket, and an umbrella that I ended up leaving behind anyway.

The moral of the story? Check the weather of your destination before you leave so you can pack appropriately and save yourself from having to buy a whole new wardrobe.

Mistake #4: Not knowing international phone rates

If you really don’t need your phone, leave it home, as you can save a lot of added costs. There are many other ways to stay in touch with people at home, such as e-mail or web chat (find areas with free Wi-Fi or see if your hotel provides it). If you must have your phone, invest in an international calling plan. While every phone company offers a different plan, I have always found that services such as Skype and PennyTalk offer the best deals. Another low-cost option is to purchase a local SIM card in the country you are visiting.

Mistake #5: Traveling like everyone else

Not only is traveling during high-peak season more crowded and chaotic, it’s more expensive. If there’s an activity you love, try an off-the-beaten path destination to do it instead of following the crowd. Instead of going away in the summer, find a destination that offers your ideal weather in the spring. This can not only save you money, but can also introduce you to new, unexplored destinations.

Mistake #6: Not knowing the tipping etiquette

Tipping etiquette differs from country to country, so don’t just assume that just because in your home town you leave 20% gratuity when going out to eat you must do that everywhere. For example, an article on says that tipping in Fiji is discouraged, while a server in Mexico will expect a 10%-15% tip. Know the customs before you go to avoid throwing away money unnecessarily.

Mistake #7: Not purchasing travel insurance

While travel insurance isn’t free, it can also end up saving you a ton of money if an emergency does occur. Hospital bills, cancelled flights, and natural disasters aren’t cheap and you can get very affordable travel insurance plans at Access America and World Nomads. Also, if you have health insurance or a travel credit card at home, call their customer service numbers to ask what you are already covered for abroad.

Mistake #8: Not knowing your transportation options

While taxis may be the most convenient way to get around a place, they are often the most expensive. Using public transportation options such as trains, buses, tro-tros, tuk tuks, and metros can save travelers literally hundreds of dollars. If you are unsure of how to get to a place ask your accommodation to help you plan the cheapest route. Also, before even stepping on the plane to go abroad, contact your hotel and ask them what the most cost-efficient method to reach the hotel from the airport is, what stop to get off at, and specific walking directions.

Mistake #9: Not taking advantage of frequent flier programs

If you travel regularly, it pays to either signup for a frequent flier program or apply for a credit card that will give you miles. Having loyalty to specific airlines may be difficult for some people to commit to, however, it can lead to free flights and discounted travel.

Mistake #10: Always being a tourist

This is an easy mistake to make, as when people are in a place for the first time they usually end up being drawn to all the flashy signs and salespeople offering experiences at must-see attractions. While you should see the big sights, there are often free museums, open air entertainment, and complimentary attractions in every place you visit. This goes for restaurants, too. While the big, sparkling venue with the extensive (and pricey!) menu in English may look good, wouldn’t it be nice to have an authentic (and budget-friendly) dining experience at a smaller, local eatery? Street-food is also a money-saving option, as well as grocery stores (bonus if you’re accommodation has a kitchen or serves free breakfast). Also, ask your hotel when museums, restaurants, and attractions offer discounts and promotions, such as free entry on Monday nights at an art gallery or complimentary tapas at a Spanish restaurant with a drink purchase.

Top five things to look for in a travel doctor, and why you should have one

Despite writing about food and adventure travel for a living, I used to be somewhat blasé about the concept of travel medicine. Multiple incidents of Giardia/dysentery/traveler’s diarrhea/full-body outbreaks of mosquito and sand fly bites just taught me to carry a serious stash of antibiotics in my first-aid kit. At least I’ve always been conscientious about travel immunizations and educating myself about the primary diseases indigenous to my destination.

When you’re young and healthy, it seems silly to have a travel medicine specialist. Although this article is primarily directed at adventure travelers, odds are, the worst thing you’ll come home with is a backpack full of crappy souvenirs. But no one’s invincible, and should you require a specialist for something not responding to conventional treatment or with progressive symptoms, time is of the essence. Many “exotic” diseases progress rapidly, and can cause irreversible damage or death if not properly diagnosed and treated. Even with incurable diseases, the earlier you catch them, the easier it will be to manage symptoms and prevent them for worsening.

No, I’m not a doctor, although I come from a medical family. But I got seriously schooled after visiting Ecuador two years ago. After a fantastic month of adventure activities in remote parts of the Andes and Amazon Basin, I fell seriously ill the last day my trip. Two years of at-times crippling symptoms, 10 CT scans, five medical facilities, dozens of specialists, four surgical procedures, two surgeries, one cancer diagnosis, and near-medical bankruptcy later, I’ve become an expert at being my own advocate.

My infectious disease doctor believes that I contracted a form of bartonellosis called Oroya Fever after being bitten by sand flies. The good news: My health is currently stable, but we don’t know if the disease is in remission or not. But I have permanent cognitive damage, scarring or tumors on most of my internal organs, and intermittent arthritis. But believe me, I feel lucky.

I don’t want anyone to go through the health and medical nightmare I’ve endured, so I’ve compiled a list of essentials in a travel medicine doctor. Ergo, number one with a bullet:

1. Is he/she a travel or tropical medicine specialist?
Pre-bartonella, I used an internist as my GP/prescriber of antibiotics. If you can find an internist, gastroenterologist, or infectious disease doctor who is also a specialist in travel medicine, that’s a huge plus. 2. Does he/she have personal experience traveling or practicing in developing nations?
There are a lot of practicioners who aren’t globally aware, so to speak. You can’t diagnose what you don’t understand, know about, or have first-hand experience with. Period.

3. Is he/she a good listener and empathetic?
It’s difficult to find these qualities in any doctor, especially in today’s medical climate. But it’s imperative to find someone you can communicate with, and who understands what you’re going through if you’re suffering from a mystery travel ailment. Don’t settle, even if you need to travel to another state or country to seek treatment (what stumps doctors here is often commonplace in the country of origin).

4. Does he/she have a good network of colleagues in multiple specialties (including travel/tropical medicine) to consult for additional opinions?
My current mantra is to seek a third opinion, from at least two different medical facilities. That, and to have a travel physician who actively consults colleagues and does additional research to assist with a diagnosis and/or treatment. My infectious disease doctor talked to specialists at a medical school in Peru on my behalf, and even tracked down a relevant medical paper from 1897 as he honed in on a diagnosis. And while I wouldn’t consider it a deal-breaker if the answer is no, see if your doctor is an active and participating member of the International Society of Travel Medicine.

5. Does he/she return your calls/provide you with email, pager, or office number so you can get in touch directly?
I’ve learned that a good doctor who is invested in your recovery will provide an open line of contact to address questions, concerns, and exchange pertinent information. Tip: Please don’t abuse this privilege. Physicians work insanely long hours, under constant stress. And don’t expect to hear back immediately if you leave a non-urgent message; be realistic. A couple of days, fine (many specialists aren’t in clinic every day). A week? Make a polite follow-up.

Whether or not you end up getting a travel doctor, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) provides loads of useful information, including a directory of global travel medicine clinics with English-speaking staff, and a destination-specific travel health planner. And depending upon what you plan to do on your trip, where you’re traveling, and your financial situation, you may want to invest in travel insurance.

[Photo credits: blood transfusion, Flickr user CarynNL;patient, Flickr user kk+; legs, Laurel Miller]

10 stupid assumptions about cruise vacations

It’s almost funny sometimes, the things people get stuck in their heads about any number of topics that turn out to be stupid assumptions. We often just assume things that are convenient. Like that driving rules are the same everywhere, until we go someplace where they drive on the “wrong” side of street. Then, all of the sudden, after our little world has been thrown off a bit, we adjust. Assuming can be dangerous on land but we can always drive back home if we totally fail. At sea, you’re pretty much stuck there with your bad assume-induced decision so let’s see if we can avoid some of the more common assumptions about cruise vacations.

The scary part, I want to tell you right up front, is that these 10 stupid assumptions about cruise vacations that actually do happen.

  1. I bought travel insurance because I am sailing during hurricane season” Well that’s nice, did you buy shoes because it was sunny one day too? Most travel insurance does not cover acts of God (like hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and second-comings) so that false sense of confidence you have is not going to help much if you decided not to go on a cruise because a hurricane looms. Being afraid of hurricanes is a good. Being afraid to cruise during hurricane season is not. Cruise lines will modify itineraries and take you someplace else before the rare occasion happens and they cancel a cruise. Cruise lines don’t make money when ships sit empty. They want to make money. Making money ranks just below keeping you and the ship safe. Even if they did cancel the cruise they would most likely refund your money and/or book you on a different sailing.
  2. “I know final payment is due but surely they will give me more time” Wrong. Cruise lines are more strict all the time on getting paid. Rightfully so too. They ask little of us. They want us to have a good time and go all out for that. There are a bunch of different ships going different places on sailings of varying length, one of which will be perfect for us. They want to be paid on time. If paying for your cruise that you booked a year ago, on time, is not possible, maybe we should not be going on this vacation in the first place. Maybe we need to be a bit more realistic and pay the rent first.
  3. “I have a big group of people I have brought along with me, I will probably get a discount Your group of 12 people may not fit around the family dining room table but they are not a “big group” on a cruise ship. A big group would be 100 or more of your closest friends. Get that many and yes, there should be a discount of some sort.
  4. I bought travel insurance just in case my daughter breaks up with her boyfriend– I actually learned this one the hard way. One of my daughters had invited along a boyfriend which we agreed to pay for. Right after booking I thought “I’m not really sure if this relationship will last until the cruise. I’ll get travel insurance, just in case” To my surprise, travel insurance does not cover “being dumped by your girlfriend” which happened a couple weeks before the cruise. Here’s the scary part: I had been a travel agent and state-licensed insurance agent for five years when that happened and knew better. I just did not think about it, like a lot of people do, and assumed I was covered.
  5. “I bought a modified cabin, where’s my nurse?” This one does not come up much. Most people who are handicapped at a level that requires constant care research like its their job and know exactly what is ahead of them. Recently, a handicapped person booked a cruise in a modified (handicap-accessible) cabin. They booked a suite that came with butler service. They either assumed or misunderstood that the higher level of service would take care of their needs. In reality, the “higher level of service” they required translated into the job description of a day nurse. Constant care is not what a butler does. Shining your shoes, yes. Helping you go to the bathroom, no. See for all the gory details, they pretty much own this story.
  6. Seasick pills will be free, I’ll get it on the ship” I have had people tell me they just assumed it would be free because the cruise line does not want you to get sick and wants you out there gambling and spending money. Reality? You will get sick, go to the ship’s medical center and pay $200 for a shot that will help only marginally more than any number of preventative measures you could have taken care of before getting on the ship for less than $10 ashore.
  7. “I booked Carnival’s Early Saver Fare but changed my mind and want my money back – This does not come up all that often but when it does, it’s sad. What part of “Non-refundable deposit” don’t you understand? Carnival’s Early Saver fare is great for people who have their minds made up and are going on that cruise no matter what. It’s also great for those who have their minds made up, say 75% of the way, and cruise on Carnival a lot. This is not the fare for people who will likely want to make changes to their booking be it change to a different date, change guests, or just about anything else.
  8. Wow, I can’t believe how much my bill was at the end of the cruise” There is a lot to be said about the all-inclusive nature of a cruise vacation. On a purely financial basis, you know about how much your entire vacation will cost right up front. But alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, shore excursions and other on-board purchases NOT included in the price can add up. That’s nothing to be scared of, just something to consider adding to that number floating around in your head as to how much this vacation is going to cost you.
  9. “I got a great deal on my cruise. NOW I will look a the details” – Travel agents know there is a group of people out there that are concerned primarily with price at the time of booking. Make that “obsessed with the price of the cruise at the time of booking” Nothing else matters but getting the best deal which, to them, means the lowest price. So very wrong. Its all about value, not price. But price alone is easy and fast to compare, click and buy. We all live in that world at one time or another. That works well for buying an air ticket or reserving a rental car. But to consider only price when booking the cruise part of the deal means you ignore other variables that can make a huge difference in the overall total cost in the long run.
  10. “I’m sure they will tell me what visas I need” or “I just won’t get off the ship”, I don’t need a visa” Either one of those will get you denied boarding on your European cruise and no refund will be given to you other than the port charges for the ports you won’t be going to. If a visa is required by any country on your itinerary and you don’t have it, the cruise line will not board you, not refund your money and you will have to get back home on your own. Not a big deal if you were driving to the port but if you flew to Barcelona from Denver that can mean a huge last-minute airfare bill to pay and no, travel insurance would not cover that either. It is totally your responsibility to know what documentation you need to enter a country. Not the cruise line, not your travel agent and surely not your click-to-book cruise broker.
There are things we assume that don’t get us in trouble and things that do. Assuming we will get good service on a cruise vacation, whatever “good service” means to us, is fair. Assuming the cruise line will make grand gestures to please you, like automatically lowering your fare if the price goes down after you buy, is not fair.

Flickr photo by quinet

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Top 10 types of travel theft (and how to be safe)

In many large cities of the world, thieves hunt travelers from the shadows. They watch you take pictures at monuments, eat tapas at an outdoor cafe, and if you are unlucky, they will follow your steps with excited eyes as you fall into one of their traps. A few weeks ago while visiting Quito, thieves dumped a bucket of crap on me from a rooftop and then jumped me for my camera. It was horrible.

Fear-mongering aside, travelers are chosen as targets because they are not completely in tune to their surroundings. Maybe you are jet lagged, or you just ate a dangerous meal that has left you weak with intestinal anxiety, or you are lost in an uncomfortable part of Paris – these are all circumstances where you are in a vulnerable state and therefore a target of thieves. Like hyenas hunting for weakened game, thieves seek out confused tourists and map clenchers with wayward eyes.

These crooked opportunists have many breeds: child gangs in Italy looking for sincere mid-westerners, Vietnamese on scooters scoping for a wallet in an extended hand, and fake European police officers searching for rubes to shake down. While your trip will likely pass without incident, it is ideal to be prepared. If you know what to look for, then you can watch for danger signs and situations to avoid. Being a safe traveler is being a smart traveler. Here are ten common hustles to watch out for.

10. Monkey thieves in Bali
If you have ever been to Bali, then you have no doubt seen the clans of macaques congregating in various locales. Inventive locals have trained the monkeys to steal from travelers, and the macaques exchange the loot for monkey rewards. For example, they will snatch a pair of sunglasses off your head and only return them for some Indonesian Rupiah. Presumably, the monkeys later exchange the cash for snacks with their monkey trader. The thought of a monkey exchanging money for food is no doubt hilariously endearing, but no one wants to get their sunglasses nicked on holiday. This heist typically takes place around the cliffs of Ulu Watu and in the Monkey Forest of Ubud, both items on my list of things to do in Bali.

To prevent being robbed by monkey thieves, keep a safe distance, and be careful with your sunglasses.

9. Fake Police officers
This is a horrible scam that preys on your inability to distinguish the appropriate regional police uniform or badge. There are many deviations of this type of scam, but essentially, a faux copper approaches you demanding some sort of assistance. Either the officer is looking for counterfeit money, or needs to check your ID, or something that involves handing your wallet to him. He may just thumb through your wallet and sneakily take a few bills off the top. In some cases though, the fake officer will take off at full gait with your entire wallet.

Another form of fake police extortion happens frequently at train stations. They approach you and ask for your train pass. Nodding their fake cop heads in a discouraged manner they explain that you purchased the wrong pass for the route that you just completed. They give you an impromptu fine, and you hand them a fistful of euros, dong, or rupiahs, because you know no better. While now you do, never hand over your wallet and do not hand over money to police officers. If cops could collect their own fines, then the world would be too crooked to be spin.

8. Bus robberies

One of the most simple heists plays to our sense of humanity and ideological view that we will travel to foreign lands and strangers will be caring and helpful. Sometimes, this is undoubtedly the case, but be wary of helpful men with crooked smiles on public buses. This scam is a classic, happening everywhere from Boston to Bogota to Berlin. One person will assist you with stowing your bag above your seat while another pickpockets you or slashes your backpack. In another variation to this theft, the good Samaritan helping you stow your luggage takes off with your bag or hands it off to a runner near the front of the bus. One of the most notorious buses in the world for thieves is Bus 64 in Rome.

Another variation of the bus robbery involves a small child and a sharp object. While you sit on the bus, reflecting on your spiritual journey or perhaps gazing out the window at the splendid countryside, a small child with a knife or razor sneaks under your seat and slashes the bag at your feet, quietly emptying its contents.

These bus robberies can be completely avoided by never letting strangers handle your bags and keeping close watch of your belongings, especially on public transportation. Since buses are generally very low cost, the barriers to entry are low enough for thieves to thrive. When traveling in big cities on travel days, it is wise to avoid public buses. Nothing signals theft opportunity like a wheeled bag or a massive Osprey pack.

7. Train station distraction
You board a train and the day is young with possibilities. Maybe you are traveling from Prague to Berlin, or Rome to Florence. You are in full observer mode, sensitive to all types of stimuli. You put up your bags and sit in the train on the departure platform. Someone official looking taps on the window and motions for you. As you approach the window, or worse, de-board the train, his or her partner in crime quietly makes off with your stowed luggage. Both take off at a full sprint.

The best way to avoid this distraction heist is to never let your bags out of your sight on trains, and keep your most valuable possessions as close to you as possible. Ignore those outside of the train as well. If a conductor needs to communicate with you, then he/she will most certainly come to your seat.

6. Counterfeit money given at restaurant
This scam is very common in Europe, typically within the countries located on the Iberian peninsula. After you eat a delicious meal of fresh paella at a whimsical restaurant along the Costa del Sol, the restaurateur returns with your bill and bad news. The 50 Euro note that you tendered is a fake. With apologetic sympathy, the man will tenderly ask for a different type of payment. The problem? You gave him a real 50 Euro note and he returned with a counterfeit one.

This is easy to avoid. Minimize your risk by only breaking large bills at banks or other reputable establishments. However, if you find yourself mid scam, call the police and hope for the best. For the meticulous, you can write down the serial numbers of your big notes for insurance.

5. Stop and slash (or pickpocket)
This is a derivation on the classic pickpocket, except it is designed to make you a stationary target. You are walking along and someone stops in front of you. A lady maybe drops her bag, or a couple gets in an argument, or maybe someone just stops abruptly, directly in front of you. While you stop for the distraction, a pick pocket or slasher will come up behind you and relieve you of some of your belongings. It is perhaps the most common type of travel theft.

Slashers are very common and they use a sharp razor blade or knife to cut open a bag, empty a pocket, or slice a strap of a bag or camera. This is an increasingly popular method for the steady handed thieves. Defenses include using slash proof bag straps with reinforced metal wiring as well as stowing money and other valuables in a fashionably null money belt. Hiding your valuables creatively also inhibits the possibility of theft. Personally, I wear a slightly dorky but effective wrist wallet to hold my credit cards and walking around cash.

4. Luggage scanner heist
After you hear about this sneaky maneuver, you will loathe tossing your valuables through a x-ray scanner machine. The process goes like this: two thieves get in front of you in line at a scanning device and metal detector. Keep in mind it need not be an airport, many hotels and sporting arenas have x-ray scanners as well. (In fact, I think this sort of operation would be almost impossible at most airports in developed countries.) The first guy goes through slowly and waits on the other side of the metal detector. The second guy, the one you are directly behind, causes all sorts of problems with the metal detector. He forgets to take out his keys, belt, and whatever else causes the machine to beep. By this point, your bag has traveled to the other side of the x-ray scanner and the first guy has made off with it.

Prevention for this heist is fairly simple – just hold on to your bag until you are ready to pass through the metal detector.

3. The mustard/vinegar/pigeon poop/human feces heist
This is the product of years of thievery evolution. Since you are at your worst when you are shocked or short-sighted, thieves have taken this in mind and formulated a way to really get you to focus in on the moment at hand by blurring the big picture. The scam goes like this: you are walking along, and someone sprinkles bird poop on the back of your backpack, squeezes a mustard packet on your shirt pocket, or maybe, in an extreme case, dumps approximately ten ounces of shit from several floors above. Regardless of travel IQ, you are shocked by this disgusting invasion of space.

In many instances, a stranger will approach with tissues, attempting to assist you with the mess. Ignore this person. He will get you to focus on the situation while his partners steal from you. Also, do not take your backpack or camera off of your body. When I was robbed, I removed my camera strap to inspect my diarrhea flecked DSLR, and it was manhandled away from me by two Ecuadorians with wild eyes and stained pants.

To avoid being suckered into this scam, always be aware of your surroundings. If a foreign substance somehow makes it onto your shirt or bag, chances are someone is about to rob you. Keep walking and look for a police officer. Do not stop and chat, and especially, do not de-strap any of your bags.

2. The nail trick
This is perhaps the most damning heist of all. It is simple, effective, and almost impossible to defend against. It goes like this: you park your car, and while you sight-see or have lunch, an enterprising thief hammers a nail into your tire. Hours later, while driving down a quiet road, you get a flat tire. You pull over and a group of “good Samaritans” also pull over to assist you with your unfortunate situation. Except they don’t help you. They steal all your stuff, and in some cases, your car.

1. ATM scams
It is no shocker that thieves like to convene around automatic teller machines. It is a watering hole for wayward opportunists and droopy eyed bandits with swift hands. There are really two main scams that take place around money machines. The first involves a sticky or plastic slip being stuck in the card reader before your arrival. This will ensure that your card gets stuck in the slot. In many cases, a local will assist you in your troubles, attempting to witness your fingers glide across your pin number. If he finds you especially gullible, the thief may also casually ask you for your pin. Obviously, do not ever tell anyone your pin.

A variation on this scheme involves a fake customer service number being stuck on the ATM. After your card gets stuck, you phone the fake number for assistance, and they ask for your pin. Later, they take all of your money and you feel especially stupid and vulnerable while you wait for a money transfer in a depressing office.

The best way to avoid ATM scams is to only patronize machines inside banks or other structures. Also, if you see a little plastic sleeve hanging out of the card slot, pull that sleeve out of there and stamp it on the ground while glancing menacingly at the environs around you. The sticky fingered peasants will know to leave you alone.

Always carry insurance during your travels, especially internationally. I routinely carry a vanilla World Nomads policy for international health insurance that comes with decent theft coverage as well. I also carry a personal property policy with USAA for my more expensive photography equipment.