Survival Guide for China » Top Ten Tips for Traveling Smart in Europe » European Gestures » Packing Tips » Travel Safety » Scams to Avoid »
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Crime Guard against pickpockets, especially on public transport and in crowded places such as train stations. A money belt is the safest way to carry valuables, particularly when travelling on buses and trains. Hotels are usually secure places to leave your stuff and older establishments may have an attendant watching who goes in and out on each floor. Staying in dormitories carries its own set of risks, and while there have been a few reports of thefts by staff, the culprits are more likely to be other guests. Use lockers as much as possible.
Loss Reports If something of yours is stolen, report it immediately to the nearest Foreign Affairs Branch of the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Staff will ask you to fill in a loss report before investigating the case. If you have travel insurance it is essential to obtain a loss report so you can claim compensation. Be prepared to spend many hours, perhaps even several days, organizing it. Make a copy of your passport in case of loss or theft.
Road Safety The greatest hazard may well be crossing the road, a maneuver that requires alertness and dexterity. It can seem like a mad scramble on the streets as vehicles squeeze into every available space. Traffic often comes from all directions (bikes, in particular, frequently ride the wrong way down streets), and a seeming reluctance to give way holds sway. If right of way is uncertain, drivers tend to dig in their heels. Ignore zebra crossings; cars are not obliged to stop at them, and never do. And take care at traffic light crossings: the green ‘cross now’ light doesn’t necessarily mean that traffic won’t run you down, as cars can still turn on red lights and bicycles, electric bikes and motor bikes rarely stop at red lights.
Teahouse Invitations Refuse invitations to tea-houses from sweet-talking girls around Tiān’ānmén Sq or Wangfujing Dajie – it’s an expensive scam.
Art Exhibitions Similar invitations by ‘art students’ see tourists pressured into buying over-priced art.
Rickshaws Riders at the North Gate of the Forbidden City are particularly unscrupulous. The ¥3-trip really is too good to be true – it’ll end up costing you ¥300!
Taxis If any city-center driver refuses to dǎ biǎo (use the meter), get out and find another taxi. Note, for long journeys, eg to the Great Wall, you’ll have to negotiate a non-metered fee.
- Air quality can be a problem, especially if you’re particularly sensitive to pollution. Consider wearing a smog mask, and check the air quality index (www.aqicn.org).
- Try to avoid visiting during national holidays (especially May Day and National Day) as the main sights can get ridiculously crowded. Conversely, Chinese New Year is relatively quiet, as most people spend time with their families.
- Be on your guard for unscrupulous taxi drivers (always insist on using the meter), rickshaw riders (always clearly agree a fee first), and English-speaking Chinese people who approach you around major tourist sights, offering to show you to a tea-house or an art gallery (an expensive scam).
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by By Rick Steves
When the economy is jittery and the dollar is down, there is no need to put your vacation plans to Europe on hold. Americans need to travel smarter in order to turn their trip into a safe, smooth, and affordable reality, says Rick Steves, author of 30 plus books on European travel and host/producer of Rick Steves’ Europe.
1. Fly “open-jaw” (into one city and out of another): Save time and money by avoiding a costly return to your starting point. Try to start your itinerary in “mild” countries (such as England) and work into the places with greater culture shock (such as Turkey) to minimize stress. Save countries offering the cheapest shopping — and greatest health risks — for the end of your trip.
2. Use ATMs rather than travelers checks: You will get your cash cheaper and faster using an ATM. Just keep in mind that while ATMs give the best possible rates, they do come with transaction fees. Minimize fees by making fewer and larger withdrawals. Store the cash safely in your money belt.
3. Shop cheap and interesting: Do most of your shopping and gift buying in the cheaper countries where gifts are more interesting and your shopping dollar stretches the farthest. The difference is huge: for the cost of a pewter Viking ship in Oslo, you can buy an actual boat in Turkey.
4. Adapt to European tastes: Cultural chameleons drink tea in England, beer in Prague, red wine in France, and white wine on the Rhine. They eat fish in Portugal and reindeer in Norway. Going with the local specialties gets you the best quality and service for the best price.
5. Consider driving as a group: Four people sharing a car travel cheaper than four individuals buying four railpasses. Even at $6 a gallon, cars get great mileage and distances between sights are short. A single two-hour train ticket can cost you the price of a full tank of gas.
6. Pay with local cash: While credit cards get you a good exchange rate, many places offering Europe’s best deals — from craft shops to bed & breakfasts — accept only cash.
7. Explore no-frills flights: Europe’s highly competitive no-frills airlines (i.e. Ryanair, easyJet) can get you from one city to another faster and cheaper than the train . You generally book the flights yourself by phone or Web. Beware though: cheap airlines often use small airports located far from the city center, which can cost a little extra time and money for transportation.
8. Go business: During summer and weekends year-round in Brussels and the Scandinavian capitals, you can get a fancy business hotel room at a cheap one-star hotel price. It’s not unusual to score a $300 double room for $100. Ask at each city’s tourist information office.
9. Don’t over-tip: Only Americans tip 15 to 20 percent in Europe, even tipping when it is already included or not expected. Ask locals (who are customers rather than employees of a restaurant) for advice. Generally, 5 to 10 percent is typical if service is not included.
10. Buy museum passes: Passes save time and money. The Paris Museum pass, for example, pays for itself in four visits and saves you hours by letting you skip long lines. With a pass you can also pop painlessly into sights that might otherwise not be worth the expense.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
By Rick Steves
In Europe, gestures can contribute to the language barrier. Here are a few common gestures, their meanings, and where you’re likely to see them:
Fingertips kiss: Gently bring the fingers and thumb of your right hand together, raise to your lips, kiss lightly, and joyfully toss your fingers and thumb into the air. This gesture is used commonly in France, Spain, Greece, and Germany as a form of praise. It can mean sexy, delicious, divine, or wonderful. Be careful — tourists look silly when they overemphasize this subtle action.
Hand purse: Straighten the fingers and thumb of one hand, bringing them all together and making an upward point about a foot in front of your face. Your hand can be held still or moved a little up and down at the wrist. This is a common and very Italian gesture for a query. It is used to say “What do you want?” or “What are you doing?” or “What is it?” or “What’s new?” It can also be used as an insult to say “You fool.” The hand purse can also mean “fear” (France), “a lot” (Spain), and “good” (Greece and Turkey).
Cheek screw: Make a fist, stick out your index finger, and (without piercing the skin) screw it into your cheek. The cheek screw is used widely and almost exclusively in Italy to mean good, lovely, beautiful. Many Italians also use it to mean clever. But be careful: In southern Spain, the cheek screw is used to call a man effeminate.
Eyelid pull: Place your extended forefinger below the center of your eye and pull the skin downward. In France and Greece this means “I am alert. I’m looking. You can’t fool me.” In Italy and Spain, it’s a friendlier warning, meaning “Be alert, that guy is clever.”
Forearm jerk: Clench your right fist and jerk your forearm up as you slap your right bicep with your left palm. This is a rude phallic gesture that men throughout southern Europe often use the way many Americans “give someone the finger.” This jumbo version of “flipping the bird” says “I’m superior” (it’s an action some monkeys actually do with their penises to insult their peers). This “get lost” or “up yours” gesture is occasionally used by rude men in Britain and Germany as more of an “I want you” gesture about (but never to) a sexy woman.
Chin flick: Tilt your head back slightly and flick the back of your fingers forward in an arc from under your chin. In Italy and France, this means “I’m not interested, you bore me,” or “You bother me.” In southern Italy it can mean “No.”
“Thumbs up,” “V for Victory,” and more: The “thumbs up” sign popular in the United States is used widely in France and Germany to say “OK.” (Note that it also represents the number one when counting throughout Europe.) The “V for victory” sign is used in most of Europe as in the United States. (Beware — the V with your palm toward you is the rudest of gestures in England.) “Expensive” is often shown by shaking your hand and sucking in like you just burned yourself. In Greece and Turkey, you signal “no” by jerking your eyebrows and head upward. In Bulgaria and Albania, “OK” is indicated by happily bouncing your head back and forth as if you were a bobblehead doll and someone slapped you.
To beckon someone, remember that in northern Europe you bring your palm up, and in the south you wave it down. While most people greet each other by waving with their palm out, you’ll find many Italians wave “at themselves” as infants do, with their palm towards their face. Ciao-ciao.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
- Don’t pack anything in a carry-on bag that could be considered a weapon (scissors, knife, nail clippers, etc.).
- Always carry your travel documents, medication, jewelry, travelers checks, keys, fragile items and other valuables in your hand luggage. Items such as these should NEVER be packed in luggage that you plan to check.
- Pack tightly. Packing loosely wastes precious space and causes clothes to wrinkle.
- Some recommend that before you put any garment into a suitcase, zip all zippers, button all buttons, and fold the garment along its natural creases.
- The first items to go in should be the heavier ones–shoes, belts and books–that tend to fall to the bottom anyway.
- Shoes should be packed in shoe mittens or an old pair of socks to protect other clothes from being soiled. You may also want to stuff your shoes with rolled-up socks or other soft clothing items inside so that they won’t be crushed during your flight.
- Suits, dresses, shirts and blouses should be packed in plastic dry cleaner bags to limit wrinkling. Take some extra plastic bags as they can have a multitude of uses while traveling.
- Roll pajamas, nightgowns, sweaters and other casual wear to fit into small spaces, where possible, but don’t cram your suitcase full. If you have to force your luggage to close, remove a few items to prevent broken hinges or zippers along the way.
- A small traveling alarm clock is generally useful as it is often difficult for hotels to make wake-up calls to the entire group at once.
- A small collapsible umbrella and a needle and thread can be very useful.
- Hotels rarely provide enough hangers. Plastic ones are most practical.
- You may want to consider the “interweaving method” of packing. Drape longer garments such as dresses and pants across the suitcase with the ends hanging over the sides. Then fold shorter items such as jackets, shirts and blouses around the longer garments so that the clothes cushion each other. Placing a piece of tissue paper between each layer of clothing will also discourage wrinkling.
Packing Security Tips
1) REMOVE OLD CLAIM CHECKS to avoid confusing baggage handlers about your destination.
2) IDENTIFY YOUR LUGGAGE, both inside and outside with your name, address and telephone number and make sure the outside tag is securely fastened to your luggage. This will help if your luggage is lost or stolen and will save time when you are picking up your bags at the claim area. Also, put your address inside the suitcase (American Tourister advises that you use your business address instead of home address so if bags are stolen, the thieves won’t have the address of your vacant home). Make a mental note of the first thing someone would find when opening it. When it’s time to pack, make a list of the items in your suitcase and keep a copy with you when you travel. If your bag is lost, you will know exactly what you are missing. You may want to keep the list as a timesaving guide for your next trip. Take duplicate keys for your suitcase and keep bags locked at all times.
3) A COPY OF YOUR ITINERARY (including telephone numbers, if possible) should be included in your luggage in the event you and your bags get temporarily separated. This information will help minimize any delay in retrieving lost luggage. We suggest that you tape a copy of the hotel list that is sent to you by IBS inside your luggage.
4) CHECK YOUR LUGGAGE EARLY to insure that your bags not only make your originating flight, but your connecting flight, if you have one. Make certain your bags are checked through to your final destination–in the case of your IBS Seminar, to the appropriate European city.
5) TRAVEL INSURANCE IS IMPORTANT if you will be traveling with valuables not covered under the normal luggage allowance provided by the airlines ($1,250.00). For information on travel insurance, call IBS (480) 874-0100.
6) REPORT LOST LUGGAGE IMMEDIATELY before you leave the airport. Make certain you have a complete list of the contents of your bags as well as a detailed description of your luggage. If your luggage is missing for more than 48 hours, and you must purchase emergency supplies, retain the receipts for the items purchased. Most airlines have a maximum allowance they will pay for lost luggage.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
By Rick Steves
Europe is safe when it comes to violent crime. But it’s a very dangerous place from a petty purse-snatching, pickpocketing point of view. Thieves target Americans — not because they’re mean, but because they’re smart. Loaded down with valuables in a strange new environment, we stick out like jeweled thumbs. If I were a European street thief, I’d specialize in Americans. My card would say “Yanks R Us.” Americans are known as the ones with all the good stuff in their bags and wallets. Recently I met an American woman whose purse was stolen, and in her purse was her money belt. That juicy little anecdote was featured in every street-thief newsletter.
If you’re not constantly on guard, you’ll have something stolen. One summer, four out of five of my traveling companions lost cameras in one way or another. (Don’t look at me.) In more than 30 summers of travel, I’ve been mugged once (in a part of London where only fools and thieves tread), had my car broken into six times (broken locks and shattered windows, lots of nonessential stuff taken), and had my car hot-wired once (it was abandoned a few blocks away after the thief found nothing to take). But I’ve never had my room rifled and never had any money belt–worthy valuables stolen.
Remember, nearly all crimes suffered by tourists are nonviolent and avoidable. Be aware of the pitfalls of traveling, but relax and have fun. Limit your vulnerability rather than your travels. Leave precious valuables at home and wear your money belt on the road. Most people in every country are on your side. If you exercise adequate discretion, aren’t overly trusting, and don’t put yourself into risky situations, your travels should be about as dangerous as hometown grocery shopping. Don’t travel afraid — travel carefully.
Money belts are your key to peace of mind. I never travel without one. A money belt is a small, nylon-zippered pouch that fastens around the waist under your pants or skirt. You wear it completely hidden from sight, tucked in like a shirttail — over your shirt and under your pants. (If you find it uncomfortable to wear a money belt in front — as many women do — slide it around and wear it in the small of your back.)
With a money belt, all your essential documents are on you as securely and thoughtlessly as your underpants. Have you ever thought about that? Every morning you put on your underpants. You don’t even think about them all day long. And every night when you undress, sure enough, there they are, exactly where you put them. When I travel, my valuables are just as securely out of sight and out of mind, around my waist in a money belt. It’s luxurious peace of mind. I’m uncomfortable only when I’m not wearing it.
Operate with a day’s spending money in your pocket. You don’t need to get at your money belt for every euro. Your money belt is your deep storage — for select deposits and withdrawals. Lately, I haven’t even carried a wallet. A few bills in my shirt pocket — no keys, no wallet — I’m on vacation!
Precautions: Never leave a money belt “hidden” on the beach while you swim. It’s safer left in your hotel room. In hostel or dorm situations where your money belt shouldn’t be left alone in your room, you can shower with it (hang it — maybe in a plastic bag — from the nozzle). Keep your money-belt contents dry (sweat-free) with a plastic sheath or baggie.
Tips on Avoiding Theft
Thieves thrive on confusion, crowds, and tourist traps. Here’s some advice given to me by a thief who won the lotto.
Keep a low profile: Never leave your camera lying around where hotel workers and others can see it and be tempted. Keep it either around your neck or zipped safely out of sight. Luxurious luggage lures thieves. The thief chooses the most impressive suitcase in the pile — never mine. Things are much safer in your room than with you in a day bag on the streets. Hotels are a relative haven from thieves and a good resource for advice on personal safety.
A crowded train station…it’s enough to bring tears to a pickpocket’s eyes.
On trains and at the station: On the train, be alert at stops, when thieves can dash on and off — with your bag. When sleeping on a train (or at an airport, or anywhere in public), clip or fasten your pack or suitcase to the seat, luggage rack, or yourself. Even the slight inconvenience of undoing a clip foils most thieves. Women shouldn’t sleep in an empty train compartment. You’re safer sharing a compartment with a family. Be on guard in train stations, especially upon arrival, when you may be overburdened by luggage and overwhelmed by a new location. If you check your luggage, keep the claim ticket or key in your money belt — thieves know just where to go if they snare one of these.
Public transit and flea markets: Crowding through big-city subway turnstiles is a popular way to rip off the unsuspecting tourist. Imaginative artful-dodger thief teams create a fight or commotion to distract their victims. Crowded flea markets and city buses that cover the tourist sights (like Rome’s notorious #64) are also happy hunting grounds. Thief teams will often block a bus or subway entry, causing the person behind you to “bump” into you. While I don’t lock my zippers, most zippers are lockable, and even a wire twisty or key ring is helpful to keep your bag zipped up tight. Don’t use a waist (or “fanny”) pack as a money belt. Thieves assume this is where you keep your goodies.
Your rental car: Thieves target tourists’ cars — especially at night. Don’t leave anything even hinting of value in view in your parked car. Put anything worth stealing in the trunk (or, better yet, in your hotel room). Leave your glove compartment open so the thief can look in without breaking in. Choose your parking place carefully. Your hotel receptionist knows what’s safe and what precautions are necessary.
Make your car look local. Take off or cover the rental-company decals. Leave no tourist information lying around. Put a local newspaper under the rear window. More than half of the work that European automobile glass shops do is repairing windows broken by thieves. Before I choose where to park my car, I check if the parking lot’s asphalt glitters. If you have a hatchback, leave the trunk covered during the day. At night take the cover off the trunk and lay it on the back seat so the thief thinks you’re savvy and can see there’s nothing stored in the back of your car. Many police advise leaving your car unlocked at night. Worthless but irreplaceable things (journal, spent film, etc.) are stolen only if left in a bag. Lay these things loose in the trunk. In major cities in Spain, crude thieves reach into windows or even smash the windows of occupied cars at stoplights to grab a purse or camera. In Rome, my favorite pension is next to a large police station — a safe place to park, if you’re legal.
If You are Ripped Off…
Even the most careful traveler can get ripped off. If it happens, don’t let it ruin your trip. Many trips start with a major rip-off, recover, and with the right attitude and very light bags, finish wonderfully.
Immediately after a theft, get a police report if you intend to make an insurance claim. Traveler’s check thefts must be reported within 24 hours.
Before you leave on your trip, make two sets of photocopies of your valuable documents and tickets. Pack a copy and leave a copy at home. It’s easier to replace a lost or stolen plane ticket, passport, railpass, or car-rental voucher if you have a photocopy proving that you really owned what you lost. A couple of passport-type pictures you’ve brought from home can speed up the process of replacing a passport.
American embassies or consulates are located in major European cities. They’re there to help American citizens in trouble, but don’t fancy themselves as travelers’ aid offices. They will inform those at home that you need help, assist in replacing lost or stolen passports, and arrange for emergency funds to be sent from home (or, in rare cases, loan it to you directly).Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
By Rick Steves
Many of the most successful scams require a naive and trusting tourist. Be wary of any unusual contact or commotion in crowded public (especially touristy) places. If you’re alert and aren’t overly trusting, you should have no problem. Here are some clever ways European thieves bolster their cash flow.
Slow count: Cashiers who deal with lots of tourists thrive on the “slow count.” Even in banks, they’ll count your change back with odd pauses in hopes the rushed tourist will gather up the money early and say “Grazie.” Also be careful when you pay with too large a bill. Waiters seem to be arithmetically challenged. If giving a large bill for a small payment, clearly state the value of the bill as you hand it over. Some cabbies or waiters will pretend to drop a large bill and pick up a hidden small one in order to shortchange a tourist. In Italy, the now-worthless 500-lire coin looks like a €2 coin — be alert when accepting change.
Oops! You’re jostled in a crowd as someone spills ketchup or fake pigeon poop on your shirt. The thief offers profuse apologies while dabbing it up — and pawing your pockets. There are variations: Someone drops something, you kindly pick it up, and you lose your wallet. Or, even worse, someone throws a baby into your arms as your pockets are picked. **Assume beggars are pickpockets. Treat any commotion (a scuffle breaking out, a beggar in your face) as fake, designed to distract unknowing victims. If an elderly woman falls down an escalator, stand back and guard your valuables, then…carefully…move in to help.
The “helpful” local: Thieves posing as concerned locals will warn you to store your wallet safely — and then steal it after they see where you stash it. If someone wants to help you use an ATM, politely refuse (they’re just after your PIN code). If a bank machine eats your ATM card, see if there’s a thin plastic insert with a tongue hanging out that crooks use to extract it. (A similar scam is to put something sticky in the slot.) Some thieves put out tacks and ambush drivers with their “assistance” in changing the tire. Others hang out at subway ticket machines eager to “help” you, the bewildered tourist, buy tickets with a pile of your quickly disappearing foreign cash. If using a station locker, beware of the “hood samaritan” who may have his own key to a locker he’d like you to use.
The attractive local: A single male traveler is approached by a gorgeous woman on the street. After chatting for a while, she seductively invites him for a drink at a nearby nightclub. But when the bill arrives, it’s several hundred dollars more than he expected. Only then does he notice the burly bouncers guarding the exits. There are several variations on this scam. Sometimes, the scam artist is disguised as a lost tourist; in other cases, it’s simply a gregarious local person who (seemingly) just wants to show you his city. Either way, be suspicious when invited for a drink by someone you just met; if you want to go out together, suggest a bar of your choosing instead.
Fake police: Two thieves in uniform — posing as “Tourist Police” — stop you on the street, flash their bogus badges, and ask to check your wallet for counterfeit bills or “drug money.” You won’t even notice some bills are missing until after they leave. Never give your wallet to anyone.
Young thief gangs: These are common all over urban southern Europe, especially in the touristy areas of Milan, Florence, and Rome. Groups of boys or girls with big eyes, troubled expressions, and colorful raggedy clothes play a game where they politely mob the unsuspecting tourist, beggar-style. As their pleading eyes grab yours and they hold up their pathetic message scrawled on cardboard, you’re fooled into thinking that they’re beggars. All the while, your purse, fanny pack, or backpack is being expertly rifled. If you’re wearing a money belt and you understand what’s going on here, there’s nothing to fear. In fact, having a street thief’s hand slip slowly into your pocket becomes just one more interesting cultural experience.
The found ring: An innocent-looking person picks up a ring on the ground in front of you, and asks if you dropped it. When you say no, the person examines the ring more closely, then shows you a mark “proving” that it’s pure gold. He offers to sell it to you for a good price — which is several times more than he paid for it before dropping it on the sidewalk.
The “friendship” bracelet: A vendor approaches you and aggressively asks if you’ll help him with a “demonstration.” He proceeds to make a friendship bracelet right on your arm. When finished, he asks you to pay for the bracelet he created just for you. And, since you can’t easily take it off on the spot, you feel obliged to pay up. (These sorts of distractions by “salesmen” can also function as a smokescreen for theft **an accomplice could be picking your pocket as you try to wriggle away from the pushy vendor.
Leather jacket salesman in distress: A well-spoken, well-dressed gentleman approaches you and explains that he’s a leather jacket salesman, and he needs directions to drive to a nearby landmark. He chats you up (“Oh, really? My wife is from Omaha!”) and gives you the feeling that you’re now friends. When finished, he reaches in his car and pulls out a “designer leather jacket” he claims is worth hundreds of dollars, which he gives to you as a gift for your helpfulness. Oh, and by the way, his credit card isn’t working, and could you please give him some cash to buy gas? He takes off with the cash, and you later realize that you’ve paid way too much for your new 100 percent vinyl jacket.
Crooked cabbies: The scam you’ll most likely to encounter in Europe is being overcharged by a taxi driver.