Innocents abroad

Jun 25th, 2010, 03:23 AM
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Innocents abroad

As we enter the height of tourist season in Europe, I got to thinking about the travel precautions that are in every guidebook. When was the last time any of those sections were rewritten, and for what country?

Let's take the moneybelt, for example -- always a great debate subject. A lot of people swear by them, the guidebooks often recommend them and will even suggest the brand to buy.

So, okay here you are out on the streets of Paris or Rome or Berlin or London, feeling clever because you are protecting your valuables in your moneybelt, even if it gets hot and sweaty from time to time and you have to find and hide in a toilet stall if you want to get anything out of it while abiding by the 'moneybelt safety rules'.

Look at all of those people around you now. All of those thousands of Parisians and Berliners, etc. Oh, they must be so stupid! Are they wearing moneybelts? No. They are taking out wallets and opening purses in front of everybody. They probably do not have their passports on them either, or even their official identity card in many cases! Isn't that against the law? Are police stopping people in the street and asking to see their papers? Well, at least you'll have yours, just in case.

All of those other people may have left valuable items at home without even putting them in a safe. Europe is a crazy place!

Or maybe some of the travelers have misunderstood and merged all of the countries in the world into a big scary blob titled "foreign hotbed of fear and crime."

Have I ever worn a moneybelt? I certainly have. I've worn one on night buses crossing the island of Java, and in the markets of Addis Ababa and Dakar. I've even worn one on the first day in places like Hanoi or Havana before realizing that there was absolutely no reason to do so.

I have also carried my passport on me -- when Istanbul was under military control and there were sandbags and machine guns on every corner, in Saudi Arabia where the police enjoy taking it into a back room to check (and do god knows what else with it), into supermarkets in Georgia (USA) where you have to show official ID to buy a can of beer even if you are visibly 85 years old, in Cambodia where soldiers have checkpoints for no particular reason along some roads...

Some people apparently don't see any difference between Europe and certain other parts of the world. Safety first? Better safe than sorry? Why then do Americans not wear moneybelts in their home country, with its scary mugging statistics?

Just a little rant. You may now return to your usual activities.
kerouac is online now  
Jun 25th, 2010, 03:32 AM
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avalon is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 04:37 AM
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This is hysterical, because I had this exact same conversation a few days ago. My husband and I came to Europe on our honeymoon several years ago, and we totally did the paranoid-American-tourist-with-the-moneybelt thing. But we've recently moved to London, and now we're traveling all over Europe, and it's just become normal! (We were from NYC, so have a good amount of street smarts!)

I always tell people that if you are comfortable traveling in a big city, or on the subway, with lots of crowds, then you'll be just fine taking normal precautions (wallet in front pocket, purse with cross-body strap, etc.). But if you're Cousin Joe from Iowa and have never been off the farm, then by all means get the moneybelt because it will make YOU feel more secure. You want to be able to look around and enjoy the sights without being terrified!
Asterodeia is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 04:53 AM
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I have a friend who spends several months a year every year in Europe. She feels comfortable in her surroundings and isn't unaware. She wouldn't think of wearing a money belt. But last year, while shopping, she had her wallet with E300 and all of her credit cards stolen. Was it unwise of her to have that much money in her wallet? Yes. But there you have it. She never thought she could be taken.
There are pros and cons for everything.
Sher is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 05:00 AM
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What amuses me are those tourists who walk around my town wearing their daypacks stapped to their fronts. It looks very odd.
lauralamb is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 05:06 AM
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I think because a lot of the people who post on here do not live in big cities and many others live in the suburbs of big cities, which they rarely visit.

If you live or have lived in a city, you develop a sixth sense for when it is time to cross the street, when someone is a little too close to your personal space, and when you can and cannot go into a funky looking restaurant or bar.

You also greet the world with a neutral expression rather than a grin, and you don't carry more cash or wear more jewelry than you can afford to lose in a neighborhood you don't know.

If you are a male, you know where your wallet is, and you don't keep things in it that you don't need. Just for an example, when I arrive in the city, I take out the AAA card and put in the transit pass. That way the wallet is not fat and easy to lift.

Women in cities know where their handbags are. My wife uses a classic Coach bag with a foldover, twistlock flap and lots of zips inside.

Professional thieves target visitors the world around because visitors generally have money, they are easy to identify, and they aren't going to be around to prosecute if the thief is caught.

On this list, we laugh at people who try not to stick out abroad (very different from "trying to look Norwegian". People try to control what they can control -- carrying money, locking up passports, etc -- without controlling what they can -- dressing neutrally, acting neutrally, trying to learn and observe local manners.

If I took pictures of people in Boston, like your photos in Paris, we would see the same variety of dress, mostly informal, in locals as you see in Paris (well, perhaps fewer djellabas) But you wouldn't see locals wearing Tilley Endurables sun hats and multipocket vests, opening freebie tourist maps in the middle of the street, or wearing a stickers for their on-off trolley rides.
Ackislander is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 05:19 AM
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I follow pretty much none of the standard advice - I put my wallet in my back pocket, I don't set aside back-up cards or money, I leave my passport in the hotel room, I often simply leave the laptop on the hotel desk, I don't particularly care if I blend in, I'm not ashamed to consult a map in the middle of the sidewalk, I sometimes even wear a 'fancy' camera around my neck or pull out my iPhone. I do all of this at home and abroad.

And I've never had a problem. Never. Now, perhaps I am lucky, but the numbers also suggest that being mugged is a relatively rare occurrence. I don't think it has anything to do with some highly tuned Spidey Sense, either.
travelgourmet is online now  
Jun 25th, 2010, 05:21 AM
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There are some other factors to consider. In many locations, especially those with large numbers of tourists, there are criminal elements (usually of the pickpocket or snatch-and-run variety) who target tourists in tourist areas. This is true of many large cities in Europe. Among reasons to target tourists: They are often distracted or disoriented; if the thief is caught, the tourist will probably not hang around for any trial should charges be brought; many tourists carry a chunk of cash, expensive cameras, etc. So tourists do need to take some extra precautions in many places.

I don't leave valuables in my hotel room because many people (especially hotel employees and their friends and relatives) can get easy access to pretty much any room in the hotel. Why tempt someone who might be having long-term or temporary money problems by leaving valuables in your room? Of course, the best thing is not to take unnecessary valuables on your trip--about all we take are passports and cameras.

Yes, some people do go overboard on the entire safety and crime issue, but that does not mean that it is not an issue at all.
Paul1950 is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 05:36 AM
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Encore un bravo a Kerouac.

So far the only place I have had my wallet stolen was in Bloomingdales in New York - and while I wouldn't say it was my fault, I recognize that I made classic mistakes, not being aware of my surroundings, having too much cash, plus credit cards I wasn't going to use with me.

That said, I think that most people who live in big cities don't necessarily hang out around big tourist sites on their way to work. I was in Paris last week, a big change from my normal Dordogne surroundings. I was amazed at the number of people around the Tour Eiffel (we were just going for the Batobus) and certainly felt it was a good time to be very aware of my surroundings. But I just had a solid hand on my bag, which did NOT contain my passport. No need for secret moneybelts.
Carlux is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 05:51 AM
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I have never had anything stolen while traveling, but I am a bit scatter brained. I tend to lay things down and walk off without them. This happened in SML a couple of years ago. I left my day bag with my camera on a bus from Portofino. I remembered about the time I got to my hotel. I rushed back to the bus. It was still parked there, and the bag was still in the spot I left it. This also happened in a town 35 miles from where I live. We were at Baskin Robbins and I left my purse. Didn't realize it for about 6 miles down the road. We rushed back and the girl working there had picked it up and was looking through the phone for a number. I had too much cash in it, to say nothing of the value of the purse and wallet inside. So my problem is more myself than others.
scatcat is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 05:52 AM
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Well, maybe I looked too much like a tourist at the time but I was quite happy I had my valubles in my moneybelt when 2 Parisian gypsies managed to pick my empty wallet from me while I was on a Metro going to Montmartre. Since then I've learned to leave my passport in the hotel safe and only carry enough cash around for the day. Usually most of my daily cash and my credit cards go into my velcro closed front pant pocket that even I can't easily open when I need it. I know the pickpockets will have a difficult time getting to it.

Fanny packs not only look stupid but definitely put up the 'look at me, I'm a stupid naive tourist' sign. Are those an American thing or do other countries use them?
pauljagman is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 05:57 AM
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My first ever trip abroad was a Contiki tour of Europe. I arrived with $5,000 in traveller's cheques in my waist money belt, along with my passport, it was August, it was hot, sweaty. I thought this was what you did.

Fast forward to 2005. I'm going to Ghana. Summer, wearing cargo pants everywhere. The neat thing with Ghana is that $100 would get you a stack, measured in inches, of bills. How do you transport all this money. Well, cargo pants had zippered pockets, so wallet stuffed in one, passport in another, and camera in a regular pocket. Yes...still had inches of bills, so put that in backpack. We travelled in tro-tros, roughly speaking mini-vans, and stuffed our back-packs into the hatch. Last little observation...we were, 95% of the time, the only non-native looking people everywhere we went, in some cases, the only caucasian people we saw for days. And yet....nothing happened.

France, Turkey. My last two trips. Turkey, wallet/passport in pockets, camera in hand, France, wallet/passport in pockets, camera in zippered pocket.

I live in a big city, so I guess I am aware. I've travelled alone within N.A. as well as overseas. Maybe I've been lucky, or maybe I'm doing what I should be doing.

Locals get pickpocketed too, so it's not that acting like a local guarantees some kind of immunity. I try to act "local" because I don't want the attention that looking like a tourist attracts. I've leave wardrobe questions out of this

Having a fanny packs or an inordinate amount of "stuff" I think would identify me as having something worthwhile to take, and showing those interested where to look for the stuff.
Michel_Paris is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 06:00 AM
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If using a moneybelt is not discomforting or inconvenient to you, why not do it? We never do when we have rented an apartment but sometimes do if staying in a hotel we are not confident about. It's not as if you get a scarlet "MB" carved into you for using one. As an allegory(teaching there is no need to fear being out on the streets in European cities) the advice has some instructional value, but really . . .
d_claude_bear is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 06:01 AM
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Well put Kerouac!

Sher, your friend's cards and money could just as easily have been stolen in her home town, wherever that is.

I leave my passport in my hotel room/holiday home. We leave my netbook/his laptop, and in the evening often my complete camera gear in there. Not locked up but on full show. If he's paying I may even leave my purse behind.

I have only used a money belt once - in Africa, but soon abandoned it.

The only time we have "lost" anything was his iPod. We may have left it behind on checking out, though it seems odd we would as we always check. Anyway the hotel didn't find it, so maybe some maid's kid has an iPod now engraved with my husbands name. The insurance paid out and he got a newer better model.
hetismij is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 06:11 AM
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Never worn a moneybelt - I put the cash I need for the day right at the very bottom of my purse with guidebook, tissues, lipstick etc., on top. DH changes his wallet from his back pocket to his front pocket of his jeans and puts a handkerchief on top of that. So far so good.
tod is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 06:13 AM
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I look very american. I have the freckles, blond hair blue eyes standard apple pie look. I am probably more of a target in a foreign city. I worked in New York city for many years so know how to keep my wits about me. I travel with DH who is like clark griswold reincarnated and my teenage daughters.

We went to europe two summers ago. i brought the money belt. I never wore it. Too hot. I put our passports and excess cash and credit cards in the hotel room safe. I wear a fossil brand close to the body small purse. We rode the metro in Paris. We looked at Maps in public. We rode the train in Munich at night, but the truth is no one even glanced at us.

I did my homework and we were aware of the gypsies and the schemes near the eiffel tower in Paris. One gypsy woman approached DH and asked if he could speak english and he replied no. We didn't do foolish or crazy stuff. We didn't walk the streets late at night.
The truth is we had an excellent time. We are off to England this summer with our daughters' soccer team to play some football, see some pro games, sightsee and the whole nine yards.
I think if you do your homework and you take the taxi late at night and you try to be polite, but don't even acknowledge the gypsies, don't flash the cash, you will be fine.
I also know there are countries or cities, that yes I would definitely wear the money belt.
I lent the money belt to a friend's daughter who was 16 and living in Spain for three weeks last summer. She was taking a two day trip to Morrocco with her group. I told her to keep her passport and her credit cards in the money belt at all times and just have some cash in your pocket. Stick with your group at all times and observe the proper clothing while there.
It really all depends really on where you are traveling.....
girlonthego is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 08:13 AM
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Hi K,

>Why then do Americans not wear moneybelts in their home country, with its scary mugging statistics?<

Tourists (no matter where they are from or where they are) are easy targets for pickpockets because they leave their brains at home.

ira is online now  
Jun 25th, 2010, 09:28 AM
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Anyway, since someone mentioned it, I will mention it again: Velcro is the greatest invention in history against pickpocketing. It makes such a horrendous noise when you pull it loose that no pickpocket could ever touch it without you noticing.

I have a few Velcro items and put all of my worries behind me when Velcro is protecting anything of value.
kerouac is online now  
Jun 25th, 2010, 10:11 AM
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I agree, kerouac. I never wear a money belt-- well I did when i was 19 in London for the first time. But it was so miserable and inconvenient that I have never worn one since. Never had a problem anywhere in the world.

I put everything in the safe--if there is one-- passport, wallet, etc and just take a credit card and some cash when I go out.

Here is an interesting scenario: I was in Buenos Aires last year (first time to SA) with my girlfriend when a man came up to us and asked her if she had some ideas of what to get for his "American co-worker that was in town." I immediately suspected a scam, so I stood a bit away from the exchange and surveyed for his potential assistants (never saw any). I stood about ten feet off while they window shopped and my girlfriend offered some ideas for gifts. It was only about 3 or 4 mintues. Finally, the guy thanked us and left.

I am still not sure if he was up to something or not. Was it an innocent encounter? Or did we thwart off a scam? Anyone ever come across this?
krgystn is offline  
Jun 25th, 2010, 10:15 AM
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I suppose I should say bravo, but I won't because I think stressing precaution is good for a lot of tourists who just do stupid things. A lot of them are very careless and need help.

In reality, I don't use a moneybelt in most places (I do sometimes in some with more potential danger, but not in Europe). I don't like them and I've never been pickpocketed. But I do live in a big city and I also am just a careful person by nature. I also am not really a target too much of all these scams, I must look mean or something, but people don't try these scams are me much at all (the ring thing, etc.). I don't even talk to any of these people at all, not even if they ask if I speak English (which sort of means you do if you answer that). Most times when they do that, it's one person going along the sidewalk just saying that in general to a group.

However, I will refute some of the statements people make a lot on these kinds of threads about how some of these types of crimes "can happen anywhere" or that "it could just as easily have happened at home". This is just not true, why do people say these things. Crime rates DO differ by locality and lots of places do have higher risk of these things.

For example, Europe seems to have lots more pickpockets than the US. Don't know why, more the crime du jour over there. don't someone say oh I know someone who was pickpocketed on the BMT or whatever -- yes, I know it exists in the US, but it is not as common. I live in Wash DC and we have a big metro system and no, pickpocketing is not a big risk on that system, nothing like in Spain or Paris, even though it happens at times.

Mugging is not really that big a risk in the US, either, despite what people think. It happens, sure, but not as much as pickpocketing of tourists in Europe in some cities at tourist attractions.

One American tourist I saw in Paris on the metro is a typical example -- tall guy with his wallet in his side pants pocket, talking very loudly, standing near the metro door (extremely stupid) with his arms and hands over his head!!! gee, guess what, when the metro stopped, some pickpocket stole his wallet on his way out the door and the door shut right behind him. It all happened in about five seconds. Then the guy curses and acts surprised. Well, how stupid do you have to be to have your wallet in your pants pockets, be standing right in front of a metro door and have your arms/hands over your head? I forget what he was doing, either holding onto some overhead bars because it was crowded (which I don't think) or just stretching his arms because he was acting stupid. He was also drawing attention to his American touristness by talking loudly to others in English, of course.

People like that need all the help they can get.
Christina is online now  

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