Pickpockets and Purse Snatchers Oh My!

Getting pickpocketed is a terrible thing. If you travel often, the chances are that it’s going to happen. Even if you don’t travel it can happen. If you take precautions and stay alert the risk is greatly reduced but the fact is no one is immune.

Some steps you can take to make you less likely to be the victim:

Pickpockets

There are three proven ways to avoid being the victim of a pickpocket

  1. Keep your valuables secure in a money belt. There are a number of styles and sizes available but the common design is a pouch that secures to a belt and is tucked under your clothes. If you find it awkward to access the pouch, a pickpocket will find it near impossible. If you have to carry a passport, cash or credit cards they really should be in a money belt.
  2. If you won’t need something, don’t carry it. If you are staying in a hotel most now provide in-room safes where things are much more secure than carried with you.
  3. Stay aware. The best thing you can do is avoid getting into crowds. That is the favorite environment for pickpockets. If you do end up in tight quarters be aware that pickpockets are masters of disguise. Most choose to look just like other tourists or well-dressed professionals or a young mother carrying a baby so don’t let down your guard because of hoe someone looks.

Purse Snatchers

There are also some things you can do to foil a purse snatcher

  1. Always expect the worse and keep a firm grip on you purse. Don’t expect a strap hung over your shoulder to prevent a snatching. Often the thieves carry a knife to cut the strap. If you get into crowded areas keep an arm wrapped around the purse.
  2. Never walk around or sit in a public space with your purse wide open. It only takes a second to reach in and run.
  3. There are purses available with a wire inserted into the strap and there are also accessory straps from companies like Pacsafe that prevent cutting.
  4. You should also realize that backpacks have also become popular targets for thieves. Use those same precautions with backpacks and don’t walk with a backpack slung loosely over one shoulder. Wear it over both shoulders. Lately you will also see many people wearing their backpacks on their front. That is not a new fashion look but an additional way to protect a backpack especially on the crowded streets of an unfamiliar city.

If you are traveling internationally, normally you don’t need to carry a drivers license unless you are going to rent a car. Likewise you usually don’t need to carry your passport. Our recommendation is to leave those in your hotel along with credit and debit cards you won’t be needing. You should still have some forms of identification and a copy of your divers license will usually suffice. Another strong recommendation is to have and carry an emergency identification card that includes contact information and any medical needs (a great source of a downloadable card is HERE).

Keep any money and cards you’ll need in that money belt and carry a small card case for that license copy and emergency ID in your pocket along with important information like key phrases, hotel address, and local emergency numbers.

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BEFORE YOU TRAVEL – Things To Do

A Checklist For International Travel

Travel Insurance

  1. ___ Check amounts and terms of international coverage on health insurance policy
  2. ___ Look into travel insurance. Health coverage, emergency transport and general travel insurance
  3. ___ Buy travel insurance on big risk areas and large cost items, such as flights and cruises.

Make a Contact List

  1. ___ Update your phones contact file
  2. ___ Include Embassy and consulate numbers where you will travel
  3. ___ Look up and add emergency numbers for countries you will visit
  4. ___ Make hard copies of those contacts to carry on you
  5. ___ Add copies to carry-on and suitcases

Make Copies of Important Documents

  1. ___ Take photos with your phone of all your cards, passport, itinerary and bookings and store them
  2. ___ Make multiple copies of documents like passport, insurance cards, drivers license, visas and keep copies in your carry on and suitcase
  3. ___ Give digital copies to trusted friends or family

Money Belts and Bag Security

  1. ___ Carry cash and cards in a money belt or pouch. If you don’t have one, get one. Without question they are the safest way of protecting money, cards and ID.
  2. ___ Have extra security for wallets, purses and backpacks. Pickpocket proof clothes, wire reinforcement for straps.
  3. ___ Distribute your cash: Separate your cash and have an emergency stock in a place unlikely to be searched. Inside suitcase liner, in old socks or with toiletries.

Make Sure You Have The Right Debit and Credit Cards

  1. ___ Check your credit card terms and have one that doesn’t charge international transaction fees
  2. ___ Check your debit card and carry one that has international ATM service with which you can withdraw cash for free to avoid fees.

Also a credit card gives you a higher chance of claiming money back in case an airline goes bankrupt or fraud against the card.

Foreign Currency

  1. ___ Convert some money to foreign currency before you leave. Important for tipping, taxis and small purchases.
  2. ___ Look into the ATM networks recommended by your bank. That can save a lot of hassle and money.
  3. ___ Make and carry a list of exchange rates. This helps you understand the cost of things and know if the vendors are being fair.

Know Basic Phrases For The Countries You’ll Visit

  1. ___ Prepare a small cheat sheet of basic questions: “How much?”, “Where are the bathrooms?” “Is a service charge included?” Knowing how to call for help, ask for the police etc can make or break your travel safety.
  2. ___ Write down the address of your hotels and other important locations and destinations to show to taxi drivers etc.

Research Local Customs And Laws

 

  1. ___ Read up on local culture and manners to help you travel safely. You don’t want to offend anybody. For instance in Thailand disrespecting the money is disrespecting the King because his picture is featured. Be careful of religious culture in strongly religious countries.
  2. ___ Look into local laws.Ask questions or refer to travel guides. You do not want to break any laws unintentionally and end up with a hefty fine or in jail. An example is in Barbados it is illegal to wear camouflage clothing (fine and/or jail).

Keep Your Electronic Gear Safe

  1. ___ Get and install a VPN (virtual private network) on all devices that will access wifi (laptops, pads and cellphones.
  2. ___ Get and install a reliable anti-virus software.
  3. ___ Buy and carry a large capacity travel hard drive. Do regular backups and keep a backup system on it. Also never plug in unknown USB sticks (thumb drives).

Be Prepared For Eventualities

  1. ___ Know the costs of using your cellphone internationally. Being in Europe is not the time to learn that you calls are $3.00 a minute.
  2. ___ Discuss communications options with family and friends. Let them know if you plan on using primarily text messages.
  3. ___ Have a plan for when your devices cannot access the internet. Too many devices and apps today operate on the premise that they always have access to the web. Understand the ones that won’t work in such a case and find out if there are there substitutes?

Download Maps To Your Device Before Your Trip

  1. ___ Install a map app on your cellphone or use Google Maps and download maps of cities you will visit. Google will allow you to store their maps for thirty days and there are several apps that let you download maps that display using only GPS.
  2. ___ Get in the habit of picking up local guide maps and carry one as a backup for your phone. Having paper maps and even a compass on you can come in handy.

TSA and the Little Sequined Top

My wife has a sequined top that she has worn while traveling a few times. I don’t believe there is anything seriously metallic in the sequins and it has made its way thru a number of metal detectors. On a recent trip all hell seemed to break out over this top.

While we have never paid for pre-clearance we usually get pre-cleared on our boarding passes (not really sure why). Last October while passing thru the TSA Pre check my wife was directed to go thru the scanner. Feet on the marks, hands above your head and wait, something has gone wrong. It seemed the agent scanned her several times and now she is pulled aside for a thorough search. What went wrong? She was wearing that top!

After a little research we have discovered that TSA screening devices have a lot of issues with some types of women’s clothes. That splash of gold print on a T-Shirt can contain enough metal to set off the metal detector. The same with attached beads. Sequins can literally blind a scanner. Since often these things are part of the fabric, passing a wand over you cannot determine if it is the top you’re wearing or something concealed under it. Time for the pat-down.

A comment Submitted by Cindy M found on the TSA blog from Jan 2018 – When the scanners were introduced I believed they were an improvement. Now however, I see that the machines don’t spot real problems. Instead they seem to be confused by a variety of normal things such as sequins, metal, or other sorts of embellishments on clothing.

Why is it I\we have to dress for the TSA?! Actually you don’t but you can expect to be delayed and/or inconvenienced.  Especially if you ignore some simple tips that help TSA do their job efficiently. They do post a lot of information online that can help avoid these sort of issues. Unfortunately as of now sequins aren’t one of those tips.

 

 

Photo Essay – The Keukenhof

It’s coming up Spring in Europe and that means it’s Keukenhof  time in Amsterdam.

For additional information about the Keukenhof click  HERE.

Open 21 March to 15 May 2019

The Keukenhof is unarguably the largest flower gardens and show in the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Official site click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For additional information about visiting the Keukenhof click  HERE.

Port Of Call Buenos Aries

Cruise Port Buenos Aries Argentina Gateway To Cape Horn And Antarctica

One of South America’s busiest cruise ports, Buenos Aries is one of the largest cities in South America with a lot to see and do. Famous for the Tango and great steaks it is also a treasure trove of history and packed full of interesting sights. Most cruises are using Buenos Aries as a embarkation or disembarkation port but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked as a destination in its own right. You will discover that hotels are moderately priced and good restaurants are plentiful and inexpensive.

Where the Ship Docks
View of the port area

Buenos Aries does not have a very convenient port facility and it has been that way for a number of years. It doesn’t look as if they are in any hurry to upgrade. While it does have a cruise terminal it is located so far from most piers that they use buses to get passengers to the ships after check-in. Be aware that you are boarding the ship from the pier and they us an erector set structure of steep ramps to access the ship. It is very unfriendly for people traveling in wheel chairs. You also cannot walk in or out of the port from the ships. The terminal facility is located only a couple of miles from the downtown area but it is not easy to reach on foot and the only easily available transportation are taxis (more on taxi under transportation).

Cruise port boarding ramps
Transportation

If you are going to or coming from the cruise terminal you are pretty much going to be getting a taxi. While you can walk out from the terminal it is almost a mile walk to the nearest metro station located near the Sheraton hotel and that’s along heavily trafficked roads. It’s an additional half mile to the nearest shopping mall.

Taxis are supposed to be metered in Buenos Aries but there are a number of exceptions and add-on fees which we often have trouble understanding. Because of that taxis can be very inexpensive but also be prepared to be often surprised. For us a taxi from the Obalisque area to the in-town airport was 400 pesos while a ride the other way the next evening cost 700 pesos.

Buenos Aries has an excellent and modern subway system (Subte) with two hurdles to overcome for foreign visitors. First, like much of the city there is very little signage in anything but Spanish and few locals speak anything but Spanish. Second you need a SUBE card to ride which is available at subte stations, or at our eight Tourist Assistance Centers. We did not see any information regarding a one or two day visitor card either. OFFICIAL METRO SITE IN ENGLISH

Taking a taxi to the port is pretty straight forward but we would recommend flagging a cab on the street and traveling on the meter. Several times we paid much higher fares after having our hotel call a taxi for us. Traveling from the Odalisque to the port on a meter should run 300 to 350 Pesos (tipping is not customary).

Leaving the port is another story. There seems to be a system in place to extract significantly higher fares from passengers. Upon exiting we were told that all taxis are on a fixed fare (no meters) from the port and a ride to the Obalisque would be US$15 or 600 Pesos (that conversion rate made the dollar quote much cheaper?). We had similar experiences using taxis to and from the in-town and international airport.

The International Airport is a good distance out of town with a taxi ride from the port recently quoted at US$40. We took a metered taxi from our hotel near the Odalisque for less than US$25 in Pesos. Many taxis actually prefer US$ at this time.

Currency

At this writing the exchange rate is about 38 Argentine Pesos to one US Dollar. Because of inflation rates over the past several years buying Pesos before leaving the United States is almost impossible. It is also very difficult to use American Dollars in Argentina except in high tourist locations. Money Exchange locations are sparse and at high traffic places, like the airport, the rates aren’t very good. In town you can get better rates buying Pesos mostly because there is speculation among changers against the Peso. We eventually used a shop advertising Western Union and got more than fair rate.

The Presidential Palace
Attractions

Buenos Aries is a large metropolitan area and like most it covers a wide range of environments. You will find everything from grand residences, and upscale neighborhoods to large slums. It is home to the Tango and there are stage shows, small clubs and barrios (neighborhoods) where you can see this remarkable tradition. There are great restaurants and cafes and numerous historic buildings. Do yourself a favor and spend a few days seeing this lively and interesting city. One suggestion we offer is try and plan a trip out to Iguassu Falls. It requires a plane ride and probably two days to see but it is one of the world’s natural wonders.

Money and Roads Less Traveled

Financial Considerations for When You Travel Internationally

You’ve got your passport and your bags are packed, but are you ready financially to travel abroad?

We’ve been to some pretty interesting places over the years but usually haven’t had issues with getting local currency or being able to use credit cards.

While some time back our favorite credit card was Discover. It offered a generous point system and claimed no transaction fees when used internationally. It took a number of trips over a couple of years to actually give up on trying to travel with our Discover cards. While they claimed that the card would be accepted anywhere the Diners Club emblem was displayed we found that to rarely be the case. So we arranged for Visa and MC cards with no transaction fees and haven’t experienced any difficulties.

Getting ready for this months trip has proven to be a bit of a new challenge. We’re off to the Falkland Islands, Argentina, Uruguay, and points South and immediately hit problems with Argentina. In attempting to reserve a hotel the first few wouldn’t accept the Visa card. It seems that credit cards are not widely used there. We then went to our bank to exchange for Argentine Pesos and were told they weren’t available. Checked with AAA – same thing.

Next we reserved a guide and 4×4 in the Falklands but were told that we couldn’t use credit cards. No ATMs and they also use their own version of Pound Sterling. After several emails back and forth we settled with being able to pay with cash in British Pounds or US Dollars (no Euro’s).

Because Argentina has had a currency crises over the past few years money can be a problem. Our trip begins at the international airport for Buenos Aries but have been told to avoid the exchange counters there. We have now resorted to planning on using a debit card (which we rarely do), attaching it to an account with a specific balance without overdraft and will access some limited cash at an airport ATM. We will need cash to get into the city. After that we have mapped several locations for Citi operated ATM’s in Buenos Aries with no service fees.

We will also be traveling out to Iguaçu Falls for a couple of days and while the hotel will accept Visa cards most everywhere else will require cash. This need for cash and not being sure where we can use credit cards is making us a bit nervous. We’ll let you know how it works out…

Here are a few tips on money and international travel

1. Let the bank know where and when you will be traveling.

Many banks will freeze your accounts if unexpected foreign purchases show up. It’s important that the bank or credit card issuer is aware of your travel plans so they can ensure the remains active with proper safeguards.

2. Determine if your PIN number will work where you’re going.

Before your trip, call your bank and credit card issuers and ask if your PIN will work at your destination ATM’s. Four-digit PINs work in most countries. If your PIN contains zeroes, however, that may be a problem in some non-network ATMs. Additionally, many foreign ATMs don’t recognize four-digit PINs. Calling ahead gives you time to change your PIN, if necessary.

3. Watch out for international transaction and currency conversion fees.

Since fees and conversion rates vary widely, it’s important to know exactly what you will be paying to make ATM withdrawals or paying with your debit or credit card. A new process that has become common is for merchants to ask if you want to charge in your home currency or local money? Avoid the temptation to ask for charges in your home currency. If you do you will discover that the bill included high transaction fees and a less than customary exchange rate and usually the merchant gets a commission. If you plan to travel with a credit card get one that doesn’t charge transaction fees and let your bank calculate the exchange rate.

Contact your bank before you travel internationally to avoid any financial surprises

4. Ask about daily withdrawal limits on ATMs

Banks may have different withdrawal limits than ATMs. Keep in mind that any individual ATM may have a different withdrawal limit and limits may be expressed in the local currency. Have a backup plan that involves more than one way to pay.

5. Verify your account balance.

Be sure there’s enough money in your accounts to pay for travel expenses once you get there; you don’t want to find yourself overdrawn on your trip. To alleviate any additional stresses of overdraft fees, on top of running out of money, you can transfer funds from one account to the other using a mobile banking app.

6. Carry telephone numbers.

Get all the information you will need to contact your financial institution while traveling in case of stolen or lost cards. Most banks and credit card issuers will have local numbers you can call to report any mishaps that may occur while traveling internationally.

7. When booking your hotel or rental car, use your credit card not a debit card.

It is best to use a credit card for reserving a hotel or rental car because hotels and rental car companies may place a hold on your card for a certain dollar amount for incidentals. If placed on a debit card these funds could be tied up for some time.

Use a credit card to pay for your hotel or rental car in case they place a hold on your card for incidentals

8. When getting cash in local currency, use your debit card.

Your debit card is ideal for getting cash in local currency because you may get the same interbank exchange rate as you do with credit card purchases – this is generally the cheapest way to get local currency. Getting cash with your debit card allows you to avoid the cash advance fees that your credit card would charge. It’s also convenient as there are ATMs available in many international airports. Most major bank ATMs don’t charge a usage fee, but watch out for ATMs that are not affiliated with any banks-they may charge expensive fees.

9. Set up auto notifications on your credit cards.

We also set up options to be notified by text message for all transactions where the card is not presented in person. This has helped on a couple of occasions. Once while in Spain it looked we went on a bicycle buying spree in Rome. Nice to able to contact your bank when something like this happens.

Bon Voyage!

Cruising and Tours

Cruise Ship port of Call Tours

While we are just not “guided tour” enthusiasts, we have been on a fair number of them. To begin with, there are some land tours that make good sense to do. The first is where there is someplace you really want to see and even the bus trip is on a very tight schedule. The one thing you can be sure of is, if you are on a ship sponsored tour the ship isn’t going to sail without you. And yes, we have seen people left behind. We have taken a number of tours also because the costs were just too good to ignore. Sometimes that is because we have onboard credits that we just need to spend and others have been provided by our agency as a perk.

From our point of view the biggest problem we have with guided tours is that you become a prisoner of the tour. It is common for us to get stuck visiting some place that we are just not interested in. Why do we have to spend forty-five minutes at a chocolate factory or a nut packer? I’m sure the tour operator is being paid to deliver people to that business but we resent paying for visit. The other case is visiting a location where we could spend hours and are informed we have to be back on the bus in a half hour. Going it on our own eliminates those possibilities.

There is also the issue of cost. If you understand your options, often you will see that the ships tour will cost you significantly more money. A few examples:

Cozumel Chankanaab

Cozumel Chankanaab National Park – When you get down to it, this is a day at the beach. The park is equipped with bars, restaurant, along with beach and snorkel rental stuff. A taxi ride will cost between US$10 and US$20 each way (make sure you have plenty of singles as drivers don’t offer change) and park admission is about US$21. A recent tour booked through the cruise ship cost $69 per person. That’s $138 for what would have cost $62 on your own.

Mendenhall Glacier Alaska – This is a national park outside of Juneau Alaska. The park is serviced by a bus route from the historic downtown area with round-trip fare being $31. Add to that the admission to the park (NPS standard fees) $20 which totals $51 ($31 if you have a NPS Senior Park Pass). The basic cruise tours usually start around $75. They often will add in a salmon bake for $20 to $30 more. For more on Mendenhall CLICK HERE.

 

Rome from the Port of Civitavecchia – On or first cruise stop in Civitavecchia we booked the “Rome On Your Own” tour at $89 each which included a bus ride in to Vatican City and back to the ship. Six blocks from the Civitavecchia port is the train station and for as little as US$12 you can get a round-trip ticket to the St. Peters station. For two that’s a savings of $154 and the trip in and back can actually be quicker.

For more on visiting Rome from Civitavecchia CLICK HERE.

In order to head off on your own and save some cash you do have to be a bit adventurous. We are pretty independent and prefer to use local buses and trains with our biggest fear being missing the ships departure. Our protection is to always build in a good time allowance in our plan. We are also good at doing research on our destinations and have a good idea of what we want to see and how to do it before we leave on a trip.

On the other side of the discussion here are a few examples of ship tours that we thought were well worth the cost and why:

The Golden Triangle Iceland – This tour was a bit pricy but so were the local tour companies. The reason we selected this tour is because our ship docked in the afternoon and sailed shortly after noon the next day disqualifying local tours. We also considered renting a car but again were concerned about the times. The tour itself was great. We probably traveled over a hundred miles and saw thermal fields, waterfalls(!!) and Icelands rift valley where the earths crust is pulling apart. No shopping stops or misspent time. If you are going to Iceland don’t miss the Golden Triangle.

Ephesus

Ephesus Turkey – The ancient city of Ephesus, located near the Aegean Sea in modern day Turkey, was one of the great cities of the Greeks and later the Romans in Asia Minor and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are a major attraction located some distance from the port. Again not inexpensive but a great experience (it did include a stop at a rug showroom). We might be adventurous but there was no way I was going to rent a car for half a day in Turkey and I still am not aware of any convenient public transportation.

A Wine & Tapas Tour in Palma – This one wasn’t that expensive and included nice stops at three different tapas bars and free time in a nice in-town shopping area. The drive back to the pier included brief stops at the castle overlook above town and a drive along the coast. A good answer to filling an afternoon in Mallorca.  For more information CLICK HERE.

 

This is part one of a three part series we’ve been working on. Check back or subscribe to see the whole series.