Writ­ing whiles away her plane trips

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL - By Jae-Ha Kim

Europe is a sur­pris­ingly cre­ative place when it comes to travel scams. Many of the most suc­cess­ful gam­bits re­quire a naively trust­ing tourist, but sea­soned trav­el­ers can be taken in too. We should all be wary of the nu­mer­ous sub­tle scams — a cab­bie pads your fare, a ho­tel busi­ness cen­ter com­puter records your pass­word, or a waiter of­fers a spe­cial with a “spe­cial” in­creased price. But if you’re cau­tious and not overly trust­ing, you should have no prob­lem. Here are some of the lat­est travel scams I’ve dis­cov­ered on my trav­els, and how to skirt them.

You’re search­ing the web for a short-term rental in Paris and con­tact the owner Pierre through Airbnb. Sud­denly you get a pri­vate email from Pierre say­ing he can give you a bet­ter deal on the side — avoid­ing the web­site com­mis­sion. The price is right, and the lo­ca­tion is fan­tas­tic, but Pierre wants you to wire the money di­rectly to his bank ac­count. “I’ve got oth­ers in­ter­ested too, so you’d bet­ter do it quick,” he writes. But once you wire the money, Pierre dis­ap­pears along with the list­ing, and there’s no way to get your money back.

De­fense: When book­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions, never wire money di­rectly to a for­eign bank ac­count. Stick with a rep­utable, se­cure reser­va­tion web­site and use a credit card so you can dis­pute any fraud­u­lent trans­ac­tions.

In the heart of Barcelona you are about to use an ATM when an­other tourist

Dr. Jen Gunter has two New York Times col­umns ded­i­cated to women’s health, a Cana­dian do­cuseries called “Jen­splain­ing” and a very ac­tive so­cial me­dia pres­ence where she dis­sem­i­nates med­i­cal fal­la­cies in a way that the gen­eral pub­lic can un­der­stand. Her lat­est pro­ject is the book “The Vag­ina Bi­ble: The Vulva and the Vag­ina: Sep­a­rat­ing the Myth from the Medicine” (Ci­tadel, $18.95) — a Pub­lish­ers Weekly and New York Times best­seller.

Born and raised in Win­nipeg, Canada, the ob­ste­tri­cian and gy­ne­col­o­gist re­sides with her sons in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. An edited ver­sion of our con­ver­sa­tion fol­lows.

Q: You’re fa­mous for all the in­for­ma­tion you share about women’s health, but let’s be real. Your shoe col­lec­tion is fa­mous too. Where do you buy them?

A: (Laughs) Oh yeah, I have a thing for shoes. I wear a lot of Fluevogs. These are the shoes I pur­chase the most be­cause they’re so com­fort­able. I have a huge shoe cab­i­net in my bed­room where I dis­play my most beau­ti­ful shoes like art­work. I grew up with size 101⁄2 feet and no stores car­ried big­ger than a 10. My whole life I wore shoes that were too small and painful or just re­ally ugly, so I think that’s why shoes are such a thing for me.

Q: You do a lot of writ­ing that you share with the pub­lic. Do you write when you’re on the road? stands on the side­walk with a selfie stick and starts tak­ing pic­tures. You don’t think much about it as you with­draw your money and head into the Metro. Five min­utes later, af­ter be­ing jos­tled in a crowded sub­way car, you find that your wal­let is miss­ing. When you fran­ti­cally call your bank, you find out that some­one with your PIN has al­ready with­drawn hun­dreds of eu­ros from a dif­fer­ent ATM. It turns out

A: I ac­tu­ally do. I don’t use pub­lic Wi-Fi ever, es­pe­cially in places like air­ports. So I write a lot on planes and at air­ports, be­cause I won’t be dis­tracted by be­ing on­line. I can usu­ally sit some­where and tune ev­ery­thing out. I re­cently flew to Chicago and worked three hours solid on the way there and back. Writ­ing makes the trip go faster.

Q: What was the first trip you took as a child?

A: My par­ents em­i­grated from Eng­land and we went back there ev­ery few years. The first trip I re­mem­ber would’ve been around kin­der­garten time. It was such a big deal to fly in the early ’70s. You dressed up and had to be­have. The flight at­ten­dants gave you things like wings and lit­tle books for kids to fill out.

Q: Given the choice, would you eat at a street cart or fine restau­rant?

A: There are peo­ple who have street carts who are mak­ing amaz­ing food, but I like the ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing in and sit­ting down to a great meal and I want my kids to have that ex­pe­ri­ence. I cook at home mostly and we only go out to eat ev­ery four or five months, but when we do, it’s to a re­ally nice place like a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant as a treat.

Q: Where are your fa­vorite week­end get­aways?

A: We don’t re­ally go the “tourist” with the selfie stick was ac­tu­ally tak­ing a video as you en­tered your PIN on the ATM key­pad. His ac­com­plice then tar­geted you in the sub­way.

De­fense: Check your sur­round­ings be­fore with­draw­ing cash from an ATM. If there is some­one sus­pi­cious nearby, find a dif­fer­ent ATM. And al­ways cover the key­pad when you en­ter your PIN.

Fresh off a long flight into Schiphol Air­port and

Qaway for the week­ends. My kids do, be­cause they’ll do that with their dad. But when they travel with me, it’s usu­ally on longer trips to see family in Canada or Eng­land. But once we get there, we will take overnight trips to an­other city. It’s so much fun as a tourist to take the train.

Q: What would be your dream trip?

A: I’m des­per­ate to go to Greece. I grew up ob­sessed with Greek mythol­ogy. I want to see the Parthenon and Acrop­o­lis and all the things I had read about. I also love Greek food!

Q: What are some of your fa­vorite cities?

A: I love Cardiff in Wales. Welsh peo­ple are so awe­some, but I’m kind of bi­ased be­cause my dad’s family is orig­i­nally from Wales. It’s cool to have a cas­tle right in the city that you can walk right up to. It’s not crowded or crazy. They have a beau­ti­ful art mu­seum in Cardiff and you walk in and there’s no crowd.

I also like New York. When I took my kids the first time, they were un­pre­pared for the vol­ume of peo­ple on the street. They were a lit­tle freaked out. They’d been to Toronto and Lon­don, but Lon­don’s not as dense as New York. It’s a big city, but ev­ery­body’s so nice and the food is great. ea­ger to get to your ho­tel in cen­tral Am­s­ter­dam, you ap­proach the train-ticket ma­chine with your credit card in hand. But a friend­ly­look­ing passerby of­fers to sell you at a dis­count a le­git-look­ing ticket, say­ing he ac­ci­den­tally pur­chased two. Later when you feed the ticket into a turn­stile, it doesn’t work — the ticket was ei­ther a fake or al­ready had its bar code scanned.

De­fense: Never hand over cash (or a card) to some­one who’s not be­hind a counter.

On your last day in Lon­don you find a Union Jack coaster set you know your sis­ter will love. You push your credit card into the reader, and it de­faults to run­ning the trans­ac­tion in “USD” un­less you se­lect “GBP.” The shop­keeper ex­plains that the U.S. dol­lar op­tion is a ser­vice that lets you “lock in” your con­ver­sion rate. Later when you’re in Ed­in­burgh, an

ATM of­fers two op­tions, “You can be charged in dol­lars: Press YES for dol­lars, NO for Bri­tish pounds.” You think “dol­lars” is the log­i­cal choice and press YES. But when you check your bank state­ments, you see a “fee” for con­vert­ing trans­ac­tions to dol­lars and a poor ex­change rate. You’ve been a vic­tim of what banks call “dy­namic cur­rency con­ver­sion,” which may be le­gal, but is a rip-off.

De­fense: When a mer­chant or a bank asks if you want to be charged in dol­lars, al­ways choose the lo­cal cur­rency. Can­cel the trans­ac­tion if they say you must pay in dol­lars.

In Prague two uni­formed men stop you on the street, flash “Tourist Po­lice” badges, and ask to check your wal­let for coun­ter­feit bills. Af­ter look­ing through your wal­let, they say ev­ery­thing is fine and leave. You don’t even no­tice some bills are miss­ing un­til later.

De­fense: Never hand over your wal­let to any­one. If the “po­lice” in­sist, tell them you’ll do it at a po­lice sta­tion, not on the street.

There prob­a­bly aren’t more thieves in Europe than in the USA. We trav­el­ers just no­tice them more be­cause they tar­get us. But re­mem­ber, nearly all crimes suf­fered by tourists are non­vi­o­lent and avoid­able. If you ex­er­cise ad­e­quate dis­cre­tion, stay aware of your be­long­ings, and avoid putting your­self into risky sit­u­a­tions, your trav­els should be about as dan­ger­ous as home­town gro­cery shop­ping. Don’t travel fear­fully — travel smartly.

Rick Steves (www.rick steves.com) writes Euro­pean travel guide­books and hosts travel shows on pub­lic television and pub­lic ra­dio. Email him at [email protected] steves.com and fol­low his blog on Face­book.


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