A Travellerspoint blog

How to Minimize the Chances of being Scammed while Traveling


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A lot of people fall to scams while traveling. This happens because travel usually involves a lot of money, primarily for accommodations which often can be a whole month’s wages in some countries for just an overnight stay at a five star hotel. So naturally, thieves and scammers gravitate towards tourists since there is a big chance they will have excess cash compared to what locals would carry. So how can we minimize, if not prevent ourselves from being scammed?

First, decide what your purpose of travel is and stick to it while avoiding distractions.Often travelers try to squeeze everything into a trip even if it is just for a few days. Is the purpose of the trip just for exploring the culture of a country or place? If yes, then not much money should be involved. Is it for a gambling binge? In that case, lots of money will be involved and it is best to focus on the task at hand. Any distraction will keep you off your guard and your wallet or pocket vulnerable. Not to mention alcohol is among the top distractions anyone can encounter on a trip.

Second, bring just enough money for a particular day activity and keep the rest locked up in a safe place.Or better yet, distribute your money (on your person via money belts, different wallets, hotel safe, and so on. Put the bulk of your cash in a safe location, and just have a simple wallet with local currency to take out all the time when making your transactions. Even if this is lost, at least you have a stash hidden and you won’t feel totally helpless. And having less money is a really good excuse, “I don’t have enough money. Period.” Not to mention you avoid overspending.

Third, do not flaunt wealth.This is the number one attractor of thieves and scammers. If going to an unfamiliar place, don’t wear jewelry or wear cheap ones that don’t draw attention. Thieves have mastered the art of spotting and staking out their victims, so the idea here is not to look like a potential victim. Try to look as local as you can without being too obvious. Also try to avoid showing cameras (especially DLSRs) until you reach a place which looks safe. Scammers don’t have to steal directly from you to part you from your money.

Fourth, don’t dress like the typical tourist.There is a stereotype of such a tourist – wearing fanny packs, baseball caps, t-shirts with prints or logos, shorts and running shoes (especially white colored branded ones). Anything that doesn’t look like a local. If you compare the outfit vs that of the locals, you will notice that many of them don’t wear shorts even in hot countries (except those in the islands). To me, shorts are best at an establishment where they are expected attire, such as sports clubs, beaches, and gatherings of friends in an exclusive place – not so much in public. By wearing simple clothing that covers most of your skin and possessions, you greatly decrease the risk of being targeted.

Fifth, don’t always believe any stranger on the street or bar who approaches you.Locals will generally not approach tourists unless they have a hidden interest in doing so, whether for business or even a scam. If you need help, approach people – not the other way around. However in certain places (like Japan) there are really very helpful locals if they notice that you seem to be lost and trying to find your way to a destination. Learn how to distinguish who is generally helpful and expects nothing in return vs. those who have an obvious ulterior motive.

Finally, pretend that you know where you’re going and what you’re doing(even if you don’t really know)! A big air of confidence makes potential thieves and scammers a bit wary of you, but don’t be too obnoxious. And if you do get scammed or something is stolen from you, take that as a learning experience on how to prevent future similar episodes from happening. Often it is better to have experienced something minor and learn from that early on that to be caught in a life threatening situation because you weren’t informed beforehand. It always pays to be on your guard and yet look confident.

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How to Make Friends while Traveling (as a Techie)


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large_1840343_14385818813802.jpgYou’d need a mirror to take a selfie like this. Definitely easier when someone does it for you.Techies can be people you really like or detest. Either they have a lot of answers (and hope that they explain these in a simple way) or they can get outright boring or arrogant by the way they are self centered and have the couldn’t care less attitude. But not all techies are nerds, some have a softer side to them. Here are some of the ways you can gain friends while traveling:

Offer to take photos for people who obviously can do better with someone doing it for them.With the dangerous situations people get themselves into while take selfies (not to mention the risks of getting hit by a selfie stick), photos still look best if taken by another person – provided that person knows how to take basic but interesting photos.large_1840343_14385818833429.jpgDon’t you just love hotels with free Wi-Fi not to mention multi-chargers?And when taking photos – take at least two or three in different lighting scenarios so that the subjects can choose which of the photos they like. Always offer to do so with a smile, and show them proudly your photographic accomplishment. From that moment you will have won some degree of their trust and it is a good opportunity to make friends considering most people hang out at the same area while taking photos. And it works both ways – you get them to take your photo as well. Just don’t overextend the generosity and ask them to take 50 photos. [https://travelexpounded.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/img_0440.jpg]

Offer to share your Wi-Fi connection if it is unlimited.This is one of the best ways to make people grateful to you, and it doesn’t cost much. Wi-Fi is still a limited resource in many countries and the person you offered free Wi-Fi to would likely have people back home that he or she is trying to keep updated so they don’t worry too much. You can do the same with smartphone tethering. Just make sure they don’t stream video or download malware because you’ll end up with more harm that good that was originally intended.

Bring a power strip or multiple USB charger when traveling.This works especially well at the airport where power outlets are in short supply. Some power strips have up to six or even twelve ports (the latter is too bulky for travel though), and some have USB chargers built in. And make sure your power cord is at least three to six feet long, so five of you won’t be crowding the outlet area while charging. Sometimes an extension cord of up to 10 feet will work, since that is also practical in some hotel rooms which have minimal power

outlets. By sharing the power, you get the opportunity to meet new friends as well. Just make sure you inform everyone way before you’re leaving so they can finish their charging until another generous soul with a power strip shows up after you’re gone. [https://travelexpounded.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/img_0340.jpg]

Offer to find out a location using your mapping apps or Google Maps.Many travelers tend to get lost and confused especially in a place that they’ve been to for the first time. Even you as a first timer need not go through that issue. Aside from maps, there are tools on your tablet or smartphone that work in offline mode, so you don’t have to use your data plan to incur costs. Saving somebody a few minutes and the headache of getting to their destination is a big deal. And yes, make sure they understand exactly how to navigate there or at least have a visual idea of where they are headed.

During my travels I have learned that sharing is good, and you don’t need to obligate people to return the favor. I have made quite a few purchases like Wi-Fi hotspots, multi-USB chargers and the like in the past few years after having learned what I need to bring while traveling to be efficient. Sharing techie resources freely in addition to some skills like photography, direction giving, even a common resource like power is bound to make people grateful to you, and in good cases, strike up a conversation and add a new friend.

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Enjoying the Train Ride Experience Anywhere in the World I g


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When I was a young boy, our house was located beside the railroad tracks in a compound which housed a sugarcane factory. Every morning I could hear the chugging of the steam locomotives hauling sugarcane all the way to the sugar mill. These trains dated back to the 1920s and were still operational in the 1980s until they were replaced by diesel locomotives. Of course, these were not passenger trains so it would take a while before I actually rode a real train (and this doesn’t count the ones in Disneyland and other theme parks!)

Passenger trains are classified in many ways – but one way of dividing them is by the gauge of the rail tracks. Narrow gauge (commonly used in Japan, some parts of Asia, Africa and Ocenia) is usually about 1,000-1,067mm wide and allows for speeds a little over 100kph. These are usually the British influenced territories that have gained independence since the 1940s (Southern Africa, New Zealand, Indonesia). “Standard” gauge is the most dominant in many geographical regions, and is generally understood to be 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1?2 in). Most of Europe, the USA, Canada, China and Australia use standard gauge and these are suitable for high speed trains like the TGV, Acela, some Shinkansen lines, and most light rail or subway lines). Then you have extremes like 7+ foot wide track gauges in Brunei. India and the former U.S.S.R. countries also have their own gauges, usually wider than 5 feet. Just like a car, the wider the distance between the wheels, the lower the center of gravity and smoother the ride.

[https://travelexpounded.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/img_6655.jpg]Watching the world pass by at 200kph onboard the TGVThis became obvious to me when I rode the overnight train in Myanmar, from Yangon to Mandalay. The tracks were from the British colonial era (as well as the trains), and they were falling into a state of disrepair. The area where the train cars were coupled to each other sounded like the banging of steel roofing against each other – and it was a bit scary to try to cross from one car to another. Nevertheless, it was a train ride never to be forgotten. Since then, I’ve ridden on the high speed trains (TGV, Thalys and Shinkansen) many times and in speeds exceeding 250 kph – and there were hardly any rough vibrations coming from the undercarriage.For someone who grew up with trains a few meters away from my bedroom window – it was a great experience trying all sorts of rides from the outright inconvenient to the super smooth and fast ones. And yet I haven’t really explored fully the beauty of trains – so I have come up with a bucket list of train rides I will be checking off one by one:

1. theTrans-Siberian Railway [http://www.transsiberian-travel.com/]from Beijing to Moscow. A ten day trip, across some of the most unforgiving terrain on this planet. Over 9,000 km in total
2. theShanghai Maglev [http://www.smtdc.com/en/]from the airport to downtown – over 300 kph and the trip only lasts 8 minutes
3. theEastern and Oriental Express [http://www.orient-express.com/]from Singapore to Bangkok – one of the classic luxury rides of all times
4. theVenice Simplon Orient Express [http://www.orient-express.com/]within Europe – reminds me of the sophistication of train rides during the Roaring Twenties
5. theIndian Pacific [http://www.greatsouthernrail.com.au/gsrhome/]from coast to coast in Australia – cross a whole continent and meet the ends of two oceans
6. thePride of Africa [http://www.rovos.com/]from Capetown to Dar Es Salaam – all glamour for a select 72 passengers
7. theMaharajas’ Express [http://www.the-maharajas.com/]from various cities in India – travel like the great Kings of India in absolute luxury
8. theQinghai–Tibet Railway [http://www.chinatibettrain.com/]– experience train rides at over 5,000 meters above sea level between Xining and Lhasa, Tibet
9. theGlacier Express [http://www.glacierexpress.ch/en/Pages/default.aspx]within Switzerland – experience breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps and pass through almost a hundred tunnels and 300 bridges
10. theCanadian [http://www.viarail.ca/en/explore-our-destinations/trains/rockies-and-pacific/toronto-vancouver-canadian]from Vancouver to Toronto – exploring the great expanse of rockies, tundra and prairie in Canada

But for now, I am happy with most train rides I have the opportunity to ride on – whether it is a 40 cent ride in Colombo, Sri Lanka, or one across a creaky bridge in Myanmar – each and every one of these has its unique story to tell.

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My Fascination with Maps from an Early Age


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I have been fascinated with maps since I was very young. My parents had this large Atlas by National Geographic from the late 60’s (probably the First or Second Edition), which we have kept until it became worn and tattered. During those days Africa was mostly known for the countries still in colonial rule, and even countries which were non-existent were still part of another country whose name is gone from the schoolbooks already (think Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Dahomey, Upper Volta and others). Even Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar were known by their colonial names (Ceylon and Burma – although many people still refer to Myanmar as Burma up to now).

In grade school we were also taught about the 50 U.S. states and their capitals – I still remember them up to now, even the way the were positioned on the map. I’d start off reciting the New England States (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and so on), continue with the states on the Eastern Seaboard, move into the Midwest and South, then the Rockies, then the Pacific, finally topping these off with Alaska and Hawaii. Not to mention territories too … Guam and Saipan came to mind.

One of my Favorite games on Facebook is Traveler IQ challenge, where you try to pin the city in a blank world map and depending on how close you are to the actual longitude and latitude coordinates, you get higher points. I managed to score at the top of my friends list, even though it’s been more than a year since I last played it.

Whenever I travel one of the first things I do upon arriving at the airport is to look for the free maps – something I’ve been doing since the early 90s. And I always get 2 – one for actually navigation and writing on (that gets folded and crumpled and eventually thrown away when torn) and another one for filing purposes which I use to study in case I return to that destination. Since I traveled often to Singapore I had at one time so many Singapore free maps, that I usually give away one to a friend who would be visiting Singapore soon. It’s definitely a way of keeping informed and being helpful to fellow travelers at the same time.

Now that mapping applications have gone onto the web and as smartphone/tablet apps, I always have at least three of them in my iPhone/iPad. The most utilized are:

Google Maps [http://maps.google.com/]

Pocket Earth [http://www.pocketearth.com/]

National Geographic [http://www.nationalgeographic.com/]

I love PocketEarth for the ability to be used offline, although the full world map that is zoomable is over 14GB in size – even my 64GB iPhone has challenges keeping all the maps so I just download individual regions when I travel. These maps are best viewed on a tablet for zooming in purposes, but often you need them on your smartphone for navigation purposes. Pocket Earth also embeds wikipedia articles in points of interest (POI) that are saved offline, which explains the huge file size. Nevertheless, these are useful enough to warrant occupying over 5% of my iPhone space for each app.

Even if I were to be stuck in a place for many hours, I can manage to keep my imagination alive given these maps, whether static or online.

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How Google Maps keeps an Online Journal of your Travels


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large_1840343_14377889881010.jpgGoogle Maps "My Timeline" view of our roadtrip to the South Rim, Grand CanyonHave you ever wondered what places you visited on your last trip? Like where you were, how long you stayed there, and where you went to next? Or even down to the detail of the time and duration you were actually there? Sounds too complicated for our memories to remember the specifics. But there is a way of documenting it, down to a fairly accurate illustration using Google Maps.

Google recently rolled out “Your Timeline [https://www.google.com/maps/timeline]”, which is a new feature ofGoogle Maps [http://maps.google.com/]that allows viewing of the recent places you’ve visited (provided you were logged on to Google Maps then). It allows you to see the route you took on a road trip, and the exact address if you used a search plus navigation for directions on how to get to your destination. If you checked into a place, a clickable icon will display details and even the duration of your stay. It is like an online journal that keeps track of your movements between destinations.

I have used Google maps primarily for searching and navigation to places I have never been to for the first time. It has its own voice guidance, which can be quite persistent. On a recent roadtrip to San Diego I had to disable Google Maps from time to time because it was reminding me to “turn right, turn left in so and so meters”… and was competing for airtime with myGarmin [http://www.garmin.com/]GPS and another app running on my phone, which wasWaze [http://www.waze.com/]. But it definitely helpful for searching where we were, how far we were, and how many hours and minutes to the next waypoint. That alone made it useful, not to mention the journaling ability which the GPS and Waze do not have (although Waze was bought by Google a couple of years back for a cool $1.3 billion so they would have incorporated similar features sooner or later).

Your Timeline is available on the desktop, as well as Android devices. Not sure if and when they will make that available for iOS devices as Apple has its own competing Maps app. But it certainly suits me well – with a locked iPhone to the telco providers here, I make sure I bring my Android smartphone an link it with a local SIM in the country I’m traveling to so I get to use this neat feature of Google Maps.

As this feature is activated by use of your mobile device, only you using your Google login can see it. You can also choose to pause reporting your location history if you find it too much of an Orwellian “Big Brother”. I generally use it when traveling and it helps in providing those details to my blog, or even during conversations that reminisce the great trips I’ve taken.

Thanks to social media, reliving memories of your turn-by-turn travels is just a matter of logging on to your Google account!

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