Writing whiles away her plane trips
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.