Archive for February, 2017

Watch out for these common travel scams

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

If you have an impending trip, you may already be scouting the best hotels, applying for travel-friendly credit cards, and researching local culture. But according to Brian Acton, contributor to Credit.com, there might be one set of local customs you aren’t prepping for: travel scams. “Scam artists around the world often try to separate tourists from their money or possessions.”

Acton lays out four common travel scams and tips to help you avoid these cons and traps so you can enjoy your vacation without the headache of being scammed.

taxi scams

  1.  The Taxi Scam

There are a few variations on the taxi scam. In one version, your driver will claim their meter is busted and negotiate a dramatically over-inflated fare. In another, the driver might take you on a long detour to your destination, artificially driving up your fare.

To avoid these scams, you could decline any ride with a “busted meter.” You may also want to bring a map. While you probably can’t memorize all the local roads, you can study the map before and during your trip, gaining a general idea of the area’s layout. If you must, you can negotiate a price before you get in the taxi to help avoid surprises.

  1.  Card Skimmers & Readers

Card skimmers and readers are devices that pull data from credit cards and bank cards used at a register, kiosk or anywhere you swipe your card. Once you’ve scanned the card through an unauthorized device, the skimmer sends thieves your card details, which can then be transferred to a fabricated card.

To help you improve your odds that this won’t happen to you, you may want to avoid giving anyone your card unless they’re about to process a purchase. Try to only use ATMs located inside a legitimate bank. For credit card readers, you can consider using a secure wallet. And, because this one isn’t entirely avoidable, it’s a good idea to always monitor your statements for any suspicious activity.

  1. free wifi“Free” Wi-Fi

Scammers can set up unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots in public places, then wait for people to access the network with their phones, laptops or tablets. If you unknowingly access one of these hotspots, it could leave your account, passwords, and computer vulnerable to thieves, who can then get hold of your personal information, potentially subjecting you to identity theft.

To help you avoid falling victim to this scam, it’s a good idea to avoid using unverified and unsecured Wi-Fi networks. If you’re in a hotel or restaurant, ask which network is the official one. When in doubt, keep using your data plan — it will be less costly than a hacked device. If you do end up a victim of identity theft, you will have to go through the process of disputing fraudulent accounts and getting them removed from your credit reports.

  1.  The Friendship Bracelet & the Gold Ring

The friendship bracelet is a common scam in Europe, particularly in Paris at the steps of the Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. The scammer will approach tourists warmly, offering a friendship bracelet as a gift. They’ll then tie the bracelet onto the tourists’ wrist. But, according to Laurence Noah, travel writer at Finding the Universe, there’s a catch.

friendship bracelet and gold ring scam“Usually they will say this is a gift, but once they’ve got the bracelet tied, they will start to harass you for money,” Noah said. “Basically, don’t let anyone tie anything to you, and if they do, just refuse to pay or walk away.”

The “found golden ring” is a similar scam. Scammers will “discover” a gold ring and ask if it belongs to you. “Obviously, you’ll say no, at which point they’ll say they think it’s worth quite a lot, and if you take it to a jeweler, they’ll give you a handsome sum for it,” Noah said.

He said the person who found the ring (aka, the scammer) won’t be able to do this themselves for some convenient reason, and so they’ll suggest you just pay them a small sum for the [finders] fee. Of course, that fee will turn out to be far more than the ring is worth.

Travelling can be a great source of adventure and inspiration. But you might want to avoid the kind of wisdom gained by becoming a victim. By staying vigilant and protecting yourself from potential scams, you can increase the chances of an incident-free, pleasurable trip.

Brian Acton is a freelance writer and contributor at Credit.com. Several years ago, as he worked to pay down debt and purchase a home, Brian became interested in personal finance and credit. He has been covering these topics ever since. Brian has a BA in History from Salisbury University and an MBA from UMUC. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two dogs.

You, a backpack and the wilds of Africa

Even with its abundant wildlife, stunning landscapes, precious gems and distinction as the cradle of humanity, Africa still leaves some travelers uneasy despite their fascination and longing. To dispel your fears, we caught up with Valerie Bowden, Africa travel expert, author, and blogger at BackPackingAfricaforBeginners.com. Valerie shares her personal account and love story with the continent, and how anyone — even a solo woman traveler –can explore the wilds of Africa safely.

WATCH our video interview with Valerie Bowden

Tell us about your website and what you do?

After my seven-month backpacking trip across Africa, I realized that a lot of people want to travel the continent, too, but they don’t know how. So I decided to start a blog and write an ebook, both called Backpacking Africa for Beginners, to help more travelers choose Africa as their next destination. While I share some personal stories, I mainly concentrate on providing practical how-to information to make their journey safe and fun.

How does a young woman take on the intrepid adventure of backpacking Africa alone? 

I was never that adventurous growing up, but I always wanted to go to Africa for some reason. After months of searching the internet, I finally found someone who had traveled the continent and was willing to give me some advice. He didn’t say much, but he told me that I’d be safe, and that he had seen other girls traveling solo. That was enough reassurance for me, so I booked my ticket.

To be honest, my original plan was limited to visiting five countries in two months, but the more I traveled, the more comfortable I felt. Plus, I realized Africa had a lot to offer. So I just kept going and going. Eventually, my trip ended up including 13 countries and took seven months. 

Africa is known for political instability, crime, and violence in some areas, but you say Africa is safer than Europe is today. Talk about that, because the big question on the minds of many travelers is, will I be safe? 

Most African countries are very safe to visit. The rise of crimes against tourists in Europe along with the threat of ISIS is making enough people, including myself, reevaluate what destinations are safe to visit. For the average tourist, the biggest crime they have to worry about in Africa is getting pick-pocketed. I recommend following basic common sense (not walking alone at night, not walking off with people you don’t know, etc.) and asking locals for safety information specific to the area. For example, everybody told me in Kilagi that I could walk down a dark alley with all my valuables, and I would be fine. But in Nairobi, I was told to take a taxi once it got dark even if I was only going a few minutes away. By following suggestions like this, I never put myself in a compromising position.

I actually just met a backpacker from Colombia, and he expressed that African countries are even safer to visit than South America. He cited the kindness of locals in Africa as a big advantage.

Which areas offer beauty, wildlife, and adventure while ensuring one’s safety, particularly if you’re a woman traveling this country alone?

Ironically, as women, we feel like it’s harder to travel alone. But in some ways, it’s actually easier. Throughout my trip, locals would help me, citing, “This is how I would want someone to treat my mother (or sister, or wife, etc).” And when I hitchhiked, I felt like individuals and families were much more willing to pick up a female traveler than male. I met dozens of other girls traveling Africa solo along my trip, and they all agreed with me.

As a woman in Africa, I think you can have a great time in almost all the countries. Just be more careful not to wander off at night or drink so much that you’re unaware of your surroundings. But again, that’s basic common sense that you should follow anywhere in the world. 

How would you categorize ways to experience Africa – we know safaris are a big one, but what are other options and what would one see and do? 

Besides safaris, travelers can enjoy outdoor activities (hiking, climbing mountains, visiting waterfalls,), adrenaline-pumping experiences (shark cage diving, sand surfing, bungee jumping), rest & relaxation (spas, wine tastings, luxurious resorts), historical sight-seeing (the pyramids in Egypt &Sudan, the churches

in Lalibela), cultural immersion (visiting rural communities, seeing huts, going to local markets, meeting locals), animals/marine life (snorkeling, scuba diving, walking safaris, riding ostriches, petting zoos, gorilla trekking, rescued animal orphanages), festivals, shopping, and so much more! 

How much time do you need to plan for a safari and how does one go about planning this type of trip?

If you’re new to Africa, I recommend going on a safari in one of the three most popular spots. This means visiting the Kruger Park region in South Africa, the Serengeti in Tanzania, or Masai Mara in Kenya. You’ll have a much smoother experience given that their tourism industries are more built up. You can explore lesser known, more rugged areas the next time.

It’s best to plan your trip around the time of year you can go, and what you want to see. Do you want to see the Big 5 game (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros), the Great Wildebeest Migration, etc.? As far as which resort or tour guide to pick, check out reviews online from other travelers. They’ll give you the latest and most specific up-to- date information. Resorts will prefer you pay online before you come. But it’s not necessary. Once you arrive in the country, you’ll find dozens of tour agencies and resorts willing to help you make your trip spectacular. 

Obviously, different types of explorers and demographics will come at Africa in vastly different ways. For a younger person with limited resources, what’s the shoestring approach to getting to Africa and which country would you recommend as a starting point for first timers? 

For the shoestring budget, I recommend bringing a tent and sleeping in the camping section at backpacker lodges. Frugal travelers can also save money by taking local buses and eating at cheap local restaurants.

Malawi and Mozambique were two of the cheapest countries I found. But for someone who is really apprehensive, start in South Africa. It’s the most developed and easiest country to travel in Africa. Go there first. Travel around until you get the hang of backpacking. After that, you can explore cheaper countries.

What about the more mature traveler who has more disposable income and may want to experience a wildlife adventure, but on a gentler scale? 

There are many beautiful and luxurious resorts in Africa– especially in safari areas. They offer international comforts with a taste of Africa. It’s great for someone who wants to see animals and experience Africa, without the typical discomforts and annoyances that budget travelers will no doubt face.

This kind of traveler will find Africa a joy to travel. I think they’ll even be surprised how comfortable and extravagant it can be. My only warning is that at times some roads and paths may be uneven. Just make sure you’re in good walking shape, and you shouldn’t have a problem. 

What is your favorite African destination and why? 

I love Malawi. It’s cheap, locals are friendly, and Lake Malawi is unbelievably gorgeous. Uganda is a great destination for an adrenaline junkie. When I was there, I trekked gorillas and went white water rafting on the Nile.

When is the best time to visit Africa?

Right now! But practically speaking, it’s best to look up weather information per country so you travel at the right time. For example, in Ethiopia, I would avoid coming during the rainy season (July-September) because it’s a lot harder to travel then. But sometimes coming off-season has its advantages. Visiting Kruger Park in South Africa is actually better in the off-season because it’s cheaper and the colder weather brings more animals out of the shade. So do your research before you come based on the specific area you want to visit. And keep in mind some of the countries are so big that rainy season will occur at different times depending on which part of the country you’re visiting at that time. 

Any final thoughts or advice for our viewers/readers?

Just come! I know it’s hard to believe that Africa can be so magical and safe to visit. But it is! According to the Africa Tourism Monitor, over 65 million international tourists came to the continent in 2014 alone. While the media might pick up on the few cases that something bad happened, the majority of people who come will have amazing, lifelong memories.

Following the hippie trail for deals and cultural authenticity

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

hippie backpacker travel

Wanna know where the hot destinations are before the tourism industry’s commercialization removes the authentic charm and affordability?  Ask a hippie or talk to Steve Bramucci, Life Section managing editor at Uproxx.com.

WATCH our interview with Steve Bramucci

According to Steve, hippies and backpackers are guiding the trends in travel. A self-proclaimed hippie traveler, Steve defines this traveler persona as someone who is:

  • Not averse to staying in close quarters
  • On a budget
  • Emphasizing experiences over luxury
  • Interested in lifestyle markers, such as holistic living, health, fitness, adventure and the like.

“I knew that Iceland was going to be big before it was big because there was this certain segment of society kind of buzzing about it,” says Steve. “Travel in Iceland from foreign countries got really big over the past five years – increasing exponentially – and you felt that coming if you were someone who was in that backpacker world.”

Backpackers have eschewed Costa Rica of late because it has become too Americanized and expensive. This led to a surge in travel to Nicaragua, which has similar weather, jungle experiences, access to authentic culture, and a surf set up at a lower cost than Costa Rica.  “People were buzzing about Nicaragua a few years ago, and now that’s being replaced by places like El Salvador, which is friendly for adventure travelers for a whole bunch of reasons,” adds Steve.

“Greece is another good example. There are going to be a lot of great travel opportunities in Greece right now and there will be a lot of backpackers flooding the country to take advantage, which is great because tourism really drives economies and in Greece, it certainly works like that.”

If you want to take a page from the Hippie Guidebook, Steve recommends setting aside the last few days of your out of country vacation to wander a bit. “Don’t plan anything. Go back to the places that you liked. Have experiences that don’t have an agenda. Talk to taxi drivers; go to the post office and mail a postcard; get a haircut; go to religious services. Do things that take you out of the tourism industry and put you into a more natural environment. Those are some tips you can take from the backpacker hippie traveler that can really benefit your travel experience.”

You can check out Steve’s post on hot travel destinations and hidden gems here.

WOW, what big seats you have!

wow logoBoarding Area’s Travel Skills blog posted updates on international discount carrier, WOW Air’s new premium seat offering for travelers flying from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami to Reykjavik.

While photos were not readily available, WOW says the seats, known as The BIG Seat, “…is an entirely different seat, bigger with a foot rest and will at first only be in our A330 planes.”

Travel Skills reports that the section will offer 37-inch pitch (vs. 31 in regular economy), and fares for the premium seats will include carry-on bags, checked bags, in-flight food service and priority boarding. Typical economy pricing on WOW includes nothing but the ride and a single under-the-seat personal item.

Read the full post here.