Weekly Travel Musing – 2

Q – what do you do if somebody steals your shoes / sandals / thongs if you are in a country where it is common practise to take them off when entering premises?

A – walk barefoot.

Just a day in Bali Paradise…

Just a day in Bali Paradise…

I checked out of the swanky Sanur hotel and I heard a voice shout my name. It was Made (pronounced Mah-day). He was sitting in the lobby and stubbed out his cigarette and smiled at me. Something about his smile was so comforting. He was the kind of character that within minutes of his company I felt like I had known him my whole life, very familiar with kind eyes. He dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans but still had an air of being presentable. He appeared to be in his 40s but I later learned he is only in his early 30s – perhaps life had trodden him down a little. I had met him prior to today as he is the Nephew of an old Balinese friend and he offered reliable transport. Today was different; today Made’s eyes were full of concern. It turned out his Father had a stroke and he needed to get him to the hospital urgently. I asked him why he didn’t cancel picking me up as I would have been happy to get a taxi. He looked stunned and quickly responded, “Nooo!” I also asked him why his father could not get an ambulance. Made told me that ambulances are not sent for ‘trivial’ things like strokes! Being an ambulance clinician myself in England, this really stunned me. A stroke is serious and is treated as a time critical incident in England, yet here in this Balinese paradise, over-swarmed by western tourists to the point that you could be in Sydney, an ambulance was saved for something more serious!! This highlighted even more how the healthcare service in England is abused by so many!! But also, how in the developing world, the idea of turning down paid work to take your urgently sick parent to hospital is impossible. My heart broke a little for Made.

I arrived back to the cosy hotel in Kuta that I have stayed in many times before over the past 7 years. The local shop owners recognise me. One in particular, a young lady called Putu always recognised me, even when I return pasty and white some years later. “Lou!” She shouts as I walk past her shop. Putu was always smiling, come rain or shine. She invited me into the back of her shop where a small child was screaming on a small dirty mattress. I joined Putu on the mattress and she explained to me that Olivia (her daughter; one of four!) was upset because their family friend had left to return to Australia. Putu went on to tell me how blessed and happy she was. I looked around the small cramped room that she lived in with a small mattress to share with four small children and I felt a pang of guilt. Putu was grateful and happy to have her shop and a roof over their heads. I couldn’t help but retrace the thoughts I have had over the past 2 years and all the difficulties I have faced which one would consider ‘first world problems’ and yet here was Putu who had next to nothing but she was so happy and always smiling. It really put things into perspective for me.

Soon after, I left Putu’s shop feeling a little dazed and strolled through the humid heat around the buzzing lanes of Kuta. I found a tailor shop filled with hard working local men working on sewing machines. I am a keen sewist and asked if I could watch them for a while. Within no time they had me working on a machine, for fun of course. However, the thick humid heat swelled in the room with a small dusty fan which may as well have not been there. Whilst I struggled to concentrate and work in that heat with sweat pouring from my entire body, the employees mostly had their shirts off and a cigarette hanging loosely from their lips, casually working away, cutting fabric, ironing, overlocking. I admired them so much. Naturally being a western white woman, lots of tourists walked past and giggled at the sight of me working in this shop filled with Indonesian men, but I didn’t mind. I actually got a glimpse of an insight into what life is like working in poverty-stricken Asia and I noticed that they don’t take ‘days off’, they will work 80 hours a week without a complaint if it pays the bills. This again gave me perspective on my life. Yes, my job is challenging, but I DO have days off and down time to put my feet up. I doubt very many do in Indonesia and similar countries. I stayed in the shop for several hours and found a new sympathy for the local businesses “harassing” tourists for business. Seeing things from the other side softened my heart.

I had been reading a book about he Bali bombings (The Paradise Guesthouse, Ellen Sussman – highly recommended) and felt an overpowering need to visit the memorial site. The book had made the incident feel so real to me, all those who lost their lives. I was pulled to the location of the bombings and stood for a while, staring at the plaque listing the full names of all those who lost their lives on that tragic day. For some reason, I couldn’t walk away until I had read the full names of all 202 people who passed away and tried to imagine a little something about their lives, be it local Indonesians or Portuguese solo travellers.

The rain started beating down, harsher than a power shower and I slinked off into the shelter of a local pub for a beer. What a day it had been! A real eye opener. It’s days like these that keep my desire to travel burning forever.

I later found out that Made’s father was treated for his stroke and is on the road to recovery, much to my happiness and relief!

Cuddle Your Globe

Jan 2017

13 Tips To Help You Avoid Being Scammed While Travelling

We have all been there – a horrible unjust has occurred that feels like your dream holiday has turned into a nightmare. You feel helpless, distressed, scared, angry, maybe even furious… But the worst part about being scammed abroad is being out of your comfort zone and not having friends / family in easy contact and more importantly, having different laws to abide by. Needless to say, it’s a very unpleasant situation that can cost a lot of money and easily ruin your holiday. 

I have been inspired to write a blog to help others avoid a scam situation either abroad or at home and to give advice on what to do if you find yourself a victim. I have based the blog on travel to any country and any continent. Cultures and law varies and sometimes, paying money out that you shouldn’t have to can save heftier unjusts, such as prison. This blog is a guide to differentiate and help you in these situations.

The most important thing to remember when travelling in general is to be savvy and careful. These tips may seem like there is no fun to be left when travelling but that’s not the case, they are really helpful but sadly there are no guarantees of avoidance. 

Scam and con artists are ruthless and genius and will try anything to succeed. I consider myself to be very streetwise and still found myself mugged in the street in Asia – it happens!!

1. The Hotel Scam

Some people consider a hotel a ‘safe zone’. Don’t. If anybody rings your room telephone claiming to be hotel staff and asks for clarification of credit card details, hang up and visit the front desk for clarification. Don’t leave cash or valuables laying around the room. In some cultures, maids accept cash left out as a tip. If it was not meant to be taken, don’t leave it out. Be careful of bulk safes kept behind reception. I have heard of ‘inside jobs’ where the safes have been raided and all cash / valuables / passports were taken. If you have an in room digital safe, use it for all of your valuables. If you are cautious I would recommend ensuring your hotel has this facility prior to booking.

2. The Booking Scam

When booking your trip, the golden rule is if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Shop around and compare prices. They should be reasonable comparable with other companies. If using a travel agent, I cannot stress enough how important it is to ensure they are fully ABTA and ATOL bonded before you hand over your cash. If they are not and they go insolvent, wave goodbye to your money and holiday. Credit card insurance alone is not enough. There have been incidents of people being scammed for over €90,000 from a timeshare con. Do your research before you book.

3. The Overweight Baggage Scam

I will not name individual airlines but I have experienced this scam personally. I have travelled on an international scheduled flight having pre-weighed my luggage and had it verified at check in, only to check in for a domestic flight with a different airline, usually a budget airline when I have pre-paid for up to 20kg to find out that my case that has always weighed 19kg suddenly weighs 24kg, according to their scales and they are demanding $30 per kilo over the 20kg. If you are in this situation, keep calm! Do not shout at the staff, it is not their fault. Politely explain that you are certain the bag is underweight and ask for them to use a different scale. Tell them you cannot afford to pay. Failing these, pay the fee. In some countries, failing to pay this fee can result in bigger fines, deportation or prison. Be warned.

4. The Hire Car Damage Scam

When you collect you hire car, abroad or at home, always check it for existing damage before you get in. Be thorough and report anything you find. On returning the hire car, allow enough time before flights etc to go through an inventory with the staff to ensure you are not left with a larger than planned credit card bill. If there is damage that they think to be caused by you, they will charge you. When you hire the car, always ensure it has CDW (collision damage waiver) and I recommend taking any option extra insurance offered such as tyre and windscreen cover.

5. The Insurance Scam

Separate to the above, when driving abroad (similarly to at home) always be alert and vigilant for other road users. Be prepared for somebody to slam their brakes on in front you. If they do and you crash into them, you just fell victim to the insurance scam which can be more unpleasant than at home as car hire insurance doesn’t always cover for equivalent fully comprehensive.

6. Don’t Get Too Drunk

Yes, most of us like to have a cocktail or two on holiday. Don’t ever lose sight of your surroundings. Alcohol causes a well known delay in reactions and a deluded sense of confidence which makes us all vulnerable prey to scammers.

7. Don’t Buy Drugs.

This one goes without saying really. You are breaking the law. Why on earth would you trust a complete stranger who claims to be selling drugs anyway?! There have been incidents of police offering to sell drugs in some countries, only to arrest and heavily bribe the tourist. This is best case. Other alternatives can include 10 years imprisonment. Just don’t do it.

8. The Crowd Scam

Busy crowds are breeding grounds for this kind of behaviour. Pickpocketing becomes easier and there have been cases of the fake injury scam by ‘bumping’ into a stranger, causing damage to something expensive in which they demand you pay for. If you can’t avoid crowds, be extra careful.

9. The Border Crossing Scam

These are rife in most developing countries, especially on public buses. The bus stops before the official visa check / immigration point and somebody claiming to be official demands money, or worse to check your passport and disappears with it. If in doubt, ask for I.D. Discuss it with other travellers. Somebody else may have done this before and give reassurance. Failing that if there is cause for concern, the scam is less likely to be successful if everybody ‘teams up’.

10. The Hiring Things Scam

This is most common with water sports and mopeds. You get a super cheap deal to hire the equipment, have loads of fun, but when you return it, the staff point out damage and claim you did it and you have to pay a lot of compensation. You can barter, explain, beg, plead, even threaten a lawyer. In many counties, this won’t stand and failure to pay will result in an army of locals claiming they ‘saw you do it’. Try negotiations and pay the fine. It’s easier than prison. The best way to avoid this situation is don’t hire anything without official documentation to protect both parties, unless you can afford to pay.

11. The Fake Cop Scam

It is common is some countries for scammers to pretend to be police in order to gain trust and demand to see passports / money, only to take items and disappear. The bottom line is, if in doubt ask them for identification. If they can’t produce it, say ‘No.’ And walk away. 

12. The Travel Agent Scam

In every country there are thousands of local tour operators. Generally they are fine to use. BUT, be careful. If you are spending a lot of money on a local tour, it is sometimes best to use a reputable agency or the Concierge desk in your hotel.

13. The Dodgy Cab Scam

Never use an unlicensed taxi, period. If you use a licenced taxi, do research beforehand to find out the best company to use. Failure to do so can easily result in a nasty situation where you are locked inside a car with an angry driver demanding much more money than you are happy to pay. If in doubt, agree a fare before you leave. The chances are the taxi driver knows where you are staying – don’t forget that!!

Be safe out there folks!!

Cuddle your Globe xoxo

There are People Still Unaccounted for in this World.

There are People Still Unaccounted for in this World.

In developed countries, busy commuting to college or work, it’s easy to think this is normality for the entire world. We all moan about our governments and healthcare systems etc etc, but we hardly ever stop to appreciate the fact that we have them.

When travelling to the outback, farthest depths of developing countries, it’s only then when it hits you, hard, that there are people, families, children, who are ‘unknown’. They are not a statistic, they do not have a passport, they do not have a bank account. They live in the same clothes day in, day out, perhaps in a tent in the desert with nothing around for miles but their family.

I was fortunate enough to sit with such a family and drink tea with them in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan some years back. There was not a trace of electricity or television. They had simple cushions and blankets under a basic tent to provide shelter from the punishing heat. Two young boys played up in the rocks while their parents sat with us and talked. They were generous and offered what they could and more importantly, they seemed happy. Imagine a life where education and employment doesn’t exist. Only skills for survival..

The youngest of the two boys was coughing, a lot. I work in healthcare so I could tell he had a pretty bad lower airway infection. This family, with their simple means of survival, had no easy access to antibiotics. Even a shower.

In the developed world we lose our minds because our network provider ‘crashes’ for an hour, disabling access to making phone calls. But this family, they had never seen an iPad before.

Really makes you think.

That Flighty Feeling…

… Nothing compares to that feeling you get when you have booked the flights you have been pondering on for several weeks.

I just did it!

Next month, a week in New York City, followed by a trip to Bali and Singapore!

It’s been too long, international travel…

There is no such thing as travelling ‘alone’..

There is no such thing as travelling ‘alone’..

There is definitely a stigma attached to the word – alone.

There shouldn’t be, and here’s why..

We are all alone.

We are all brought into and out of the world equally. People we meet along the way are companions. There to fill us with company and love, sometimes with upset and pain. But the fact remains the same, we are still, always…. Alone. How you fill your time is up to you.

So why is there a stigma attached with travelling alone? I suppose people might consider it a safety risk… But guess what? You can easily be attacked as a two-some as you could travelling alone. If anything, you could be an easier target for attack in a group because you let your guard down.

People may even think… ‘Don’t you have any friends?? You must be a loner to travel by yourself..’ Well, I’m here to tell you, officially – screw them, and their opinions.

Travel can be equally or more amazing when travelling by yourself. But this is not a unique situation of ‘alone-ness.’ It just means you are travelling without company. And it can be incredible.

The stranger in a pub and his advice…

The stranger in a pub and his advice…

I love it when you meet a complete stranger and they say something to you…. A simple sentence that just falls from their lips like an old apple from a limp tree branch. But THAT sentence will stay with you forever. The stranger has no idea that their blaze alcohol fuelled babble with give you a piece of advice that will change your life forever.

I was sat in a bar one summers afternoon with a friend and we began chatting to a man who had flown back into the UK from Japan where he has been living for several years, teaching English. Due to our mutual love of exploring the other continents, the conversation drew in towards my favourite subject… ‘Travel’

At this point, I had never travelled alone before and was toying with the idea of booking a long haul solo trip to Asia and Australia for a few months. But! I was in a long term relationship. One that I thought was very happy at the time. I didn’t want to leave him for several months and I discussed this with the stranger.

What he said to me changed my life.

“In five years time, which will you regret more? Not going travelling or risking the relationship?”

Sure enough, five years have passed since that comment. I went travelling. The relationship didn’t last, and I can honestly look back with no regrets because I found my passion in life and I found myself.