Tourist Scams: What You Need to Know (Part 3 of 3)

Here’s the final segment on what to keep a wary eye out for during your travels.  May you all have safe and scumbag-free journeys, wherever they may take you!

11. Driver or hotel claiming you damaged their property
I sat in the back of a taxi last fall in Morocco that had a large tear all the way down the middle of the opposite seat. I had my luggage over the seat for the whole ride, and when I paid the driver and got out, all of a sudden he started yelling that I had “ruined his seat” by destroying it with my bag wheels. He started swearing and demanding money, and people at the train station stared. A policeman came up and took my side, I think without even knowing what my psycho cabbie scammer was upset about, and the taxi driver quickly got out of there, so I got lucky (the policeman had dealt with this taxi driver before.)

Lesson learned? When taking a ride or accepting services from unscrupulous-looking individuals, avoid contact with all signs of physical damage as much as you can, because you can be blamed for them. Of course, shoddy hotels are also known for claiming that unsuspecting patrons have damaged the room. In general, when staying for several days at a place, you should clean up any cigarette butts, broken glass, or anything else potentially damaging before the maid comes in, or the hotel can get ideas about charging you for old burn marks, tile scratches, etc.  Also, remember to report any existing damage to the room as soon as possible after you check in, or you could be blamed for it.

12. The tap water is “unsafe to drink”
Hotels in foreign countries (especially in Eastern Europe) will post “helpful” warning signs around your bathroom and/or kitchenette warning you that the tap water is not potable, and that drinking water must be purchased from the front desk (or worse, from the minibar). In many of these countries, water is perfectly safe to consume, but the hotel wants to sell you bottled water. In some cases, they’ll give you bottled water, implying that they’re free, but then add it on as a hidden charge later; this happened to me in a hostel in Australia a few years ago (and I actually believed that the tap water in Canberra was unsafe to drink…).

To know whether or not the tap water is safe to drink somewhere, do your own research on the internet (preferably your country’s embassy guide), or ask a local. If you’re unsure one way or the other, then buy bottled water — at the nearest supermarket or mini-mart, not from the hotel.

13. Accommodation recommendations
Your tour guide or taxi driver will tell you that the hotel you’ve booked is closed, “no good,” or too pricy, and that he knows somewhere nicer. While this might be true, the “nicer” place is giving him a commission for his referrals, and if you say yes and let yourself be taken somewhere you weren’t planning, you make yourself vulnerable to more unexpected costs and detours. Furthermore, a stranger who is friends with your hotel owner now knows where you’re staying.

What can you do? Stick with your planned hotel. An unfamiliar, flashy hotel that your scammer has just pulled you up to is always going to look more glamorous than your reserved hotel did when you saw the tiny pictures online; don’t fall for it, and trust your original arrangements. If it’s a “reputable” tour guide who’s telling you to change all your plans at the last minute, you might consider ditching them altogether.

14. Help with buying the metro ticket
Do you love being self-sufficient by buying your own metro ticket in Paris, Rome, or other large cities — but get tired of locals huffing and sighing behind you as you stumble around on the screen to choose the right train or fare? Local opportunists will gladly appear out of nowhere to help you purchase your ticket — and demand a “little something” for their help. You should be very careful since at this point you probably still have your wallet out and you’ve just stepped away from the machine and no longer have the attention of the people in line who might actually intervene if your “helper” very discreetly mugs you.

In general, be leery of non-service person who goes out of their way to help you without asking you if you need them. If you’re “stuck” as to how to purchase a ticket, remember that the person waiting behind you has an obvious interest in you getting what you want and moving on. Try asking them rather than waiting for someone to approach you in your moment of ineptitude.

15. “I’ve just been robbed!”
A clearly distressed person (often a woman, but can also be a man) posing as a fellow tourist will approach you and ask you if you know where the nearest police station is. They’ll tell you they’ve just been mugged or robbed and don’t have enough money to get back to their hotel, much less get back to their own city or country. When you suggest they talk to the police, they will tell you that the police “couldn’t be found” or that there was a language barrier. The person will continue to be emotional (but not overly aggressive) until you break down and give them some money. Even if you don’t give them much, these people can make a lot of money in one day playing the same dirty trick over and over.

16. Forgetting your change
A friendly ticket seller at a tourist site takes your cash, then takes a long time processing your ticket(s) all the while chatting up their colleagues, asking for your ID, and perhaps answering the phone on top of it. While you’re busy looking around and waiting, your large bill has gone into the till and nothing has come out yet. A few minutes later the seller gives you a bright smile, some instructions, and says “bye!” so you’ll leave. Once you step through the gate you remember about your change, but have no way of getting it — or if you do, it’s the ticket seller’s word against yours.

To avoid being a victim of this scam, try vocalizing your transaction, such as saying “I’m getting 30 back in change, right?“ as you’re handing over your money. Don’t let your eyes and attention wander until after you’ve gotten your money. The scammer will notice you’re on the ball and find a more distracted person to shortchange.

One final note: beware of outright robbery committed by motorcycling bag-snatchers out there (not that these cool Bangkok locals would even think of it)

One final note: beware of outright robbery committed by motorcycling bag-snatchers out there (not that these cool Bangkok locals would even think of it)

 

 

Tourist Scams: What You Need to Know (Part 2 of 3)

Calling all travelers, explorers, vacationers, and wanderlusts who don’t want to be taken advantage of abroad:  here’s the continuation of last week’s series on scams you need to be aware of in cities around the world.

7. Forced Upgrade at a Hotel
You book and pay for your hotel online through Expedia, Hotels.com, Priceline, or another well-known vendor. When you arrive at the hotel, you’re told that there was a “mistake” with the online booking, that it’s all the online vendor’s fault, and that your room is not available and you have to pay for a higher-priced room if you want to stay. You either have to pay for the more expensive room or find another hotel, which is often impractical unless you know the area well.

What can you do to avoid this scam?  If you’re staying at an independent hotel that isn’t highly rated (and that you‘re unfamiliar with), try emailing them a week or two before your trip with a question, concern, or any other excuse that involves forwarding your confirmation email right along to them. Bring a printout of your correspondence with you when you check in. It will be a lot harder for them to claim that they don’t know about your existing reservation.

8. “Free Tour”
You are approached by a cab driver or tout outside your hotel and offered a free tour of a historical district or exclusive area a considerable distance away. You take them up on it after getting a nod or a shrug from the man or woman behind the reception desk. You’re then driven to a store or restaurant (owned by the cab driver’s or tout’s friend) where you’re pressured to buy expensive, inferior-quality items. When you ask about your “tour,” your scammer says it’s coming, but there are a few places he’d love for you to see first. Meanwhile you have no idea where you are and are wasting your money and time.

It’s tempting to think that in the most beautiful, least expensive countries in the world (where this scam often takes place) you can truly get “something for nothing.” Nope, nothing’s free in life, not even in these places, so stick with your planned tour and don’t let anyone “take you for a ride.”

9. “Amenity Fees”
Unscrupulous hotels will charge you an additional fee just for the use of certain things in your room, such as the safe, the microwave, the iron and ironing board, or the refrigerator. Some will charge only if these items have been used; others will charge even if you haven’t touched them. You’ll see the “fees” on the final bill and be given a bewildered look by the receptionist when asked why the use of your “amenities” don’t come with the price of the room.

If you’ve prepaid for your room through Priceline, Expedia, etc. it becomes a little harder for the hotel to assess the fees. Beware though that they might disguise the charges under a “city tax” in a city where there is no such thing. Online booking websites will usually warn you when there will a city tax to be collected at the end of your stay. At any rate, the best way to fight “amenity fees” is to print out a receipt of your reservation including all the amenities right above your room charge — or find out about and stay away from nickel-and-diming hotels by reading reviews on TripAdvisor or Hotels.com.

10. Distraction Opportunists
Lots of us are pleasantly distracted when we’re touring. We want to be unexpectedly delighted or drawn in by something new and different. Unfortunately, scammers and thieves thrive on our distraction. These scheisters often work in pairs or small groups: one person will distract you, while the other will rob you while you’re distracted.

If you’re traveling alone, you might be approached by a very attractive member of the opposite sex and offered advice, help, or the privilege of their company. While spellbound by Ms. or Mr. Hottie, another person slips something out your bag or pocket.

Scams that employ children are becoming more and more common as poverty and desperation make thievery a family affair. A smiling kid will come up to talk, sing, or “perform” for you until an adult (who may or may not be the kid’s real parent) comes up to apologize for the bother. While the parent is sweetly engaging you in their apology, the kid is robbing something out of your bag.

Another common distraction scam features scammers pretending to be hit by bicyclists, or starting to drown in the hotel pool, or otherwise the victim of some major trauma that makes everyone, including you, stop and stare — and possibly step away from your belongings. The “victim’s” friend may rush by you on their way to the scene, making a big swipe for your valuables in the process.

It's easy to get distracted on city streets in other countries.  Self-awareness, and knowledge of the most typical scams, go a long way towards keeping you safe.

It’s easy to get distracted on city streets in other countries. Self-awareness, and knowledge of the most typical scams, go a long way towards keeping you safe.

Tourist Scams: What You Need to Know (Part 1 of 3)

Few things are going to cause you stress on a trip abroad like getting cheated, duped, taken advantage of, or just plain screwed over.  When we travel, we often let our guard down, because we’re curious about people in our host country, we want to be liked, and we want to believe that we’ll be treated fairly; however, there are plenty of scammers, schemers, and slimy scheisters looking to cash in on our trust and optimism.  And when we go someplace we’re not familiar with, we’re vulnerable: we often don’t know our way around, may not be in charge of our transportation, may have very limited language skills, and may not know where to go for help.  One of the best ways to defend ourselves against scammers is to know what their tricks are, and how to avoid them — then you can go back to actually enjoying your vacation.  This special series covers 18 of the most common universal scams. 

1. Currency Swap
Many seasoned travelers keep a wary eye out for crooked cashiers and clerks around the world who give back the wrong change in bills (e.g., a 10 bill instead of a 20) in shops large and small. A less common, but more effective, scam is to give you back a 20 bill — but it’s the wrong currency. For example, a clerk in Beijing may give you back a 20 ruble note instead of a 20 yuan note. Since you see “20,” you think all is good, and don’t even notice the different currency — but the clerk has just given you something worth 1/3 of what you’re owed (and hey, who wants to visit Russia these days anyway?).

With so many countries using different size notes and distinct colors for currency (a notable exception being the U.S.) you may think it’s hard to get confused — except when you’re country-hopping, outside the Eurozone, or just in too much of a hurry to see if that somber guy drawn on your bill is from the country you’re actually in.

2. “Non-Exportable” Gifts and Souvenirs
If you’ve fallen in love with (and immediately purchased) a unique handicraft made out of natural materials such as preserved plant products or small amounts of animal skin, feathers, or fur, beware of these items being confiscated by border police — not because it’s prohibited to take such items out of the country, but because corrupt cops want to sell them back to the tourist shops (who peddle them to other unsuspecting travelers). This is a particular problem in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa.

What should you do? Only buy natural product/”heritage” items from larger stores that provide information (such as in a product insert) about where the product came from. A good bet is to buy such items from government-operated museums, zoos, aquariums, or the like. At the other end of this scam, remember that legitimate border police should be able to produce written regulations stating what natural product items cannot be exported.

3. The “Red-Light Bag Grab”
Think your bags are safe beside you when you’re sitting in your taxi at a red light? Not always so. In Southeast Asia, South America, and South Africa, thieves on motorbikes (or even on foot) may simply open the unlocked door across from you and grab your carry-on, briefcase, or purse. What’s worse, your innocent-looking cab driver might be in on the scam.

To reduce the risk of this scam, make sure your taxi door and the one across from you is locked — and by all means, try to avoid taxis with roof-top luggage racks which make the temptation even greater for crooks.

4. Dual Menus
A bar or restaurant can scam you by providing a menu with inexpensive prices, then taking the menu once you’ve ordered. Later you get a bill with double or triple the prices, and once you make a fuss, the manager produces a menu with the higher prices on it. This scam is most common in China and parts of Southern Europe.

A fairly straightforward way to avoid this is to simply hold onto the menu until you’re ready to pay — or better yet, stay out of bars or restaurants with too-good-to-be-true specials, and that clearly cater to tourists. Your hotel will probably be happy to tell you which restaurants in the neighborhood may give you indigestion in more ways than one.

5. “Per Person” Taxi Charge
Before you get into an unmetered taxi — especially an independently-operated taxi in a country not known for treating tourists well — ask the driver if the quoted price for you and your partner/friends is for the ride, or per person. Nothing is going to sour you and your (possibly) drunken group more than being told at your destination that you owe three or four times what you thought you did. Of course, you can always give the driver the price he gave you when you hired him, and walk away — but it’s inadvisable as you could be harassed, followed, or worse.

6. Your Passport as Security for Equipment Rental or Debt
The news that two passengers aboard Malaysian Air Flight MH370 traveled with stolen passports has generated a flurry of reports on how many passports are stolen every year — and how easily people make themselves vulnerable to such scams. It’s remarkable how many people will hand over their passport to people behind a counter in a foreign country — even for things like kayak or motorbike rental. If a clerk in a beachside or roadside establishment demands your passport — in addition to your credit card information — in exchange for equipment rental, beware. Pay cash wherever possible, demand a receipt (even handwritten) and hand over some other form of identity (such as your work badge) instead.

Next week: lodging scams, “free tours,” forced upgrades, and other things that will make you fume, rage, and rant unless you wise up.  Stay safe out there, and stay smart!

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How to Find a Quiet Place to Relax in a Crowded Foreign City

Do you often come back from a trip and feel like you need a “vacation to recover from your vacation?”  You’re not alone.

Many people feel this way because they didn’t let themselves decompress at any time while they were away.  Given the greater emotional and physical energy exerted during a trip, it’s easy to feel drained or overstimulated during and after travel.   Finding a tranquil place to relax and regroup during your trip is one of the most obvious ways to prevent mental or emotional burnout — and keep every day of your vacation feeling (almost) like the first day you arrived.

Unfortunately, traditional “quiet” places may turn into anything but if everyone else decides to go there for their own relaxation.  Think of oceanside cafés that get so loud you can’t hear the waves washing up; well-known churches that sound like malls inside; and parks that put you in the path of an impromptu tag game – hardly anyone’s idea of peace.  Don’t think you have to return to your hotel room mid-day, or wander into an isolated (and potentially dangerous) area in order to “get away from it all.”  Here are a few universal, but often overlooked, places to unwind.

Botanical gardens.  These can sound like a bore to those not interested in plants, but botanical gardens have all of the relaxing characteristics of parks, but because of the (usually) small entrance fee, attract a different crowd; your chances of encountering skateboarding teenagers, drunks, or soccer practice are slim to none.   There is usually no shortage of places to sit down, and you can generally stay as long as you want after paying the day’s admission.

Universities.  Many universities have the look and feel of self-sustaining villages, and you’d have a hard time finding one without some green areas and benches (and often a pond and some wildlife).  Frat and sorority houses are less common outside North America, and while there’s obviously going to be plenty of activity on the main thoroughfares on weekdays, the overall atmosphere – especially on weekends – is subdued.  Another plus is that many universities are easily accessed within metropolitan areas, and even the grounds of most private universities are open to anyone.

Zoos.  You’d be hard pressed to find a zoo without an attractive, natural setting – and interacting with (or just watching) animals can quickly pull you out of your head and back into the moment.  About half of all major world cities have a zoo within three miles of tourist areas.  Try visiting on a weekday evening, or mid-afternoon after school groups have cleared out.

Embassy areas. These neighborhoods are particularly prominent in capital cities, and are often in easily accessible areas.  Although there aren’t many places to sit down, they are certainly a great place for a quiet stroll.  Embassy neighborhoods are rarely crowded, aesthetically pleasing, and you can let your guard down because security is second to none.

Stationed trains.  Particularly in European cities, long-distance trains pull into a station well before departure – by an hour, and sometimes more (especially if your city is the route terminus).  A parked train can be a very peaceful alternative to trying to rest your mind and feet in the chaotic main station hallway.  I’ve done it many times and not been bothered by attendants or conductors (unlike airplanes, which are usually swept and cleaned after every flight, the usual train is only serviced at the end of the day).

Obviously, you need to make sure the train doesn’t roll away taking you someplace you don’t want to go, but the chances of this happening are minimal as you’ll notice people start trickling in about ten minutes before departure.

Off-hours and hideaways in hotels.  After the maids have come through, and before the next round of guests check in, is an ideal time to get some peace in your hotel room, especially if it’s anything but tranquil in the evening and early morning. The ideal time window is usually between noon and three p.m.

If you’ve already checked out of a hotel, don’t feel bad about relaxing in the lobby a few hours after giving up your key.  It’s unlikely that any hotel employee will ask you to leave just because you’re done and paid for; after all, they want you to come back on your next trip, and write a nice online review about your stay.

Finally, a surprising number of hotels – particularly in Europe – have rooftop terraces.  These are often underutilized, because 1) guests aren’t aware of them, or 2) they simply forget to head up there.  The terrace can be a great escape when everyone else on your floor seems to be checking in, or coming in and out of their rooms, at the same time.  An added benefit is that you get to see the city from a bird’s-eye view, which can make it look less intimidating and give you a better perspective of where you are.

Airport quiet spots.  For some peace and space, many people know to head to the waiting area of a deserted gate.  Less commonly sought, but equally quiet places include interdenominational chapels (many international airports have one, and you don’t have to pray in order to use the room), and the lobbies of pre-check-in areas.  Most people automatically rush to the check-in counter and through security when they arrive at the airport, passing by many empty waiting areas adjacent to the airline ticket counters.

It's not always practical to find a place like this to unwind, but there are still plenty of places to relax if you know where to look. ( Pictured: Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland.)

It’s not always realistic to find a place like this to unwind, but there are still plenty of places to relax out there — if you know where to look. (Pictured: Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland.)

Addressing Common Stress Triggers while Touring a City: Part 2

We’ve covered how to manage detours, crowds, and making eye contact with so many strangers.  What else can make you wig out on a vacation, and what can you do about it?

Accidents.  Seeing an accident while touring – whether it involves a slip, trip, fall, or a vehicle – can jar your confidence and make you feel like you’re next to have disaster descend upon you.  Depending on how much you can relate to the person who suffered the accident, and just how bad it was, you may put sudden limits on your physical activities or transportation that can rapidly develop into a phobia.  There are some things to understand about accidents before your healthy precautions build into a cage of fear.

I once saw a middle-aged tourist do a full somersault down the departures escalator at London’s Heathrow Airport.  He was distracted by writing on the luggage tag of his carry-on bag, and lost his balance as the escalator belt hit a bump followed by a small jerk.  The next thing the man knew he’d flipped upside down, and then lay dazed on his tailbone on the bottom step.

Interestingly, about half the people at the scene (the ones who hadn’t seen him writing up his luggage tag, completely oblivious to his surroundings) were shocked and horrified; the others (who’d seen what the man had been doing) had a look on their faces like, “Well, what did he expect?”

The point is that most of the accidents you see or hear about – perhaps of a taxi driver backing into a tourist, or of someone twisting their ankle between cobblestones – are not true “accidents,” but mistakes.  An accident implies that nothing could be done to prevent the incident from happening, when really a lot could be done in most cases – if people were paying attention and taking the proper precautions.   Once you realize this, and understand that it takes two people, places, or things to have an “accident,” the less anxiety you will suffer.  Instead of blaming an elevator or a door or a moving vehicle, you recognize that by being vigilant you not only make up for hazards and for other people’s carelessness, but you give yourself a lot more control over your surroundings.

Perceived sounds of distress.   Anxious people have often experienced a significant trauma in their past.  Certain noises, particularly screaming and shrieking, can cause you great alarm and induce sweating, heart palpitations, and other physiological manifestations.  If you suffer from this phobia, screaming is not an expression of a good time, but a sign of an emergency.  Screaming children at play can make you think someone is hurt, and I know several women who are haunted by images of sexual assault when they hear teenage girls screaming.

To keep your reaction from escalating, take a quick look at what screaming children or teenagers are doing, and observe other people’s reactions to them.  If there was really something wrong, wouldn’t others notice and step in to help?

In general, someone else’s noise rarely has anything to do with you.  If it’s still a significant anxiety trigger, try to stay away from amusement parks, carnivals, and other places where you’re most likely to hear excitement bordering on terror.

Avoiding confrontation when taking photographs.  If you’re a visual person and want to relive many moments of your trip, then taking pictures will be one of the most rewarding and essential parts of your journey.  Unfortunately, it’s the one thing you do in the normal course of touring that can cause some provocation – usually because people are concerned that they’ve appeared in your photo (or video footage).  In general, the more elaborate your camera is, the more attention you’re going to attract using it.  Snapping shots with your cell phone is going to draw the least attention; setting up a tripod with a camera the size of your head will attract a lot more; and walking around with a videocamera constantly raised and pointing will attract the most.

You may be aware of all of this, and have reluctantly resolved to hold back your shutterbug impulses.  However, there’s no need to restrict yourself like this, and later regret what you didn’t get on film.  Here are some tips to avoid confrontation and ease anxiety when out and about with a camera.

Portray clear intentions.  If you want to photograph a famous landmark and there are people constantly milling around, look directly at what you’re shooting and don’t make eye contact with the people around it.  This will reassure others that you’re not interested in them or in invading their privacy.

If someone confronts you about whether you’ve taken a picture of them, or included them in your shot or video footage, offer to erase the photo.  In almost every case they won’t actually take you up on this; they just want some reassurance that you’re a tourist and not a voyeur.  If they do take you up on it, then wait until they’re out of the picture, so to speak, and re-shoot.  It’s a lot faster than arguing with someone and getting yourself significantly distressed.

Watch what others are doing.  If there are signs or graphics around a place indicating that photography isn’t allowed, take a look at whether others are shooting photos anyway.  I have been in museums or churches that officially ban photography (and state so right on the front door), yet people were taking pictures left and right and no one stopped them.  If you want the same picture everyone else is taking, then take it.  The worst that can happen is that a grounds person comes by and chastises the whole lot of you.

The opposite can hold true for military buildings and embassies.  Military buildings can be surprisingly difficult to recognize, and it’s usually understood that absolutely no pictures can be taken even if there are no signs indicating such.  Embassy districts are usually filled with attractive buildings and landscapes that make for great picture opportunities, but keep in mind that they often prohibit photography as well.

In poor areas where local or indigenous people depend heavily on tourists for economic survival, check to see if you’re expected to pay to take a photograph (of a person, place, or item).  Save yourself embarrassment and stress by abiding by the rules.

Don't get stressed out: these Moscow port-o-potties smell as nice as freshly carved matryoshka dolls

Imagine my embarrassment when I stopped to take a quick picture of these cool port-o-potties in Moscow, then thought in horror that the woman to the left forgot to close the door for herself (she was just the babuskha collecting the rubles)

Addressing Common Stress Triggers While Touring a City: Part 1

Part of the fun of traveling is getting to explore the unknown.  Unfortunately, the delight of discovering something new and different can sometimes come with significant distractions and aggravations.  Addressing and managing several of the most pervasive “travel anxiety triggers” is easily possible, and will help you get back to enjoying your trip.

Detours.  The more you travel, the more you’ll realize that the world is an unfinished work of art.  The average metropolis can have at least half a dozen construction projects shaking the ground at once, while a mega-city can have a dozen or more.  Popular tourist destinations become even more popular and congested when they win a bid to host a major sporting event, or cultural or political summit; new coliseums, arenas, hotels, and rail tracks suddenly spring from the dirt, outdating your map and giving you a new challenge in the form of blocks-long rows of pylons and yellow tape.  Although construction detours are the most common you will find, you might also encounter detours to accommodate marches, protests, security lockdowns for government officials, biking and marathon events, and others.

Unfortunately, pedestrian detours can lead to confusion, disorientation, and getting very, very lost if you don’t know how to handle them.  Your stress level is going to shoot sky-high if you “follow the orange signs” only to find yourself in an alley at dusk with no idea which direction to turn.  Here are some useful guidelines for managing detours.

  1. Trust the logic of the detour.  City planners and engineers have to get a number of high-level approvals to implement one, and while not all detours are intuitive, the basic goal is to get you as close as possible back to where you need to be, in the shortest amount of time.  You may have to let go of your initial assessment of where you should be, and go with the flow of a detour even if it feels like you’re going the wrong way.  As any construction worker would tell you, there’s a reason why two U-turns gets you headed in the right direction again.
  2. Before you go through the detour, clearly understand where you are by picking a landmark that you can identify from blocks away (i.e., at the end of the detour).   This is essential if you need to retrace your steps, but the detour only allows foot traffic one way (this usually occurs with detours from a train or metro station).
  3. If you have no idea where you’ve ended up at the end of the detour, see where the majority of other people (especially commuters) are going, and follow them.  Tourist areas in most cities back right up to central business districts.  If you still can’t find the tourist area or where you want to go, and it’s too stressful to ask a stranger, then head back to the detour exit and try another direction.  Improvising after you’ve followed a bunch of people two blocks down the road is not a good idea.
  4. Recognize that detours can take you up or down as well as north, west, east, or south.  You may have to take stairs, tunnels, or escalators to avoid a construction zone.  If you think only in terms of traveling across, you could find yourself staring at a dirty wall.

Crowds.  There’s nothing like a throng of humanity crammed into a small plaza or a narrow street to aggravate even the most extroverted people.  Anxiety triggers include noise, getting jostled around, fear of pickpockets and other thieves, and feelings of constant self-consciousness.

The key to dispelling anxiety about crowds is to understand that they’re made up of smaller units of people.  In social settings, people rarely interact in groups larger than six or seven, and are so tuned in to each other that they won’t even notice you.  Except at private functions, each group knows very little about anyone outside their group.  And each group can look cliquish simply because they’re a little uncomfortable about all the strangers around them.

As a tourist, managing a crowd (i.e., bunches of groups) is usually a matter of either getting around it, or through it.  Groups in dining halls, plazas, or other confined settings can be the most challenging given the potential to get “stuck” for space between one group and another.  You’ll find that walking the perimeter of a gathering area can be less stressful as you reduce the number of times you have to break “through” people, and are simply going around them.

Crowds in line are often less intimidating.  People will pay attention to you at the beginning, for long enough to see if you’re going to cut in front of them; otherwise, their attention will be diverted to how fast they’re moving forward.

A third type of crowd gathers to fill a theater, stadium, or other event venue; their focus is on what’s happening in front of them, not on you.  Take a look around the rows and you’ll see that people are too absorbed to watch you.  If you still feel considerable anxiety being part of an audience, then sit in the back (or towards the top) where you won’t feel so many pairs of eyes staring at the back of your head.

Eye contact.  One of the most unnerving things for those of us who are shy, sensitive, and/or anxious is to pass, see, or be passed by hundreds or even thousands of strangers every day – many of whom, for whatever reason, want you to look back at them.  Stressful emotions that arise from unwanted eye contact include feelings of intimidation from being stared down; intense self-consciousness from people who sneer for no good reason; uneasiness from sexually suggestive ogling or once-overs; and the glares or grimaces of angry or sad people.  People carry a tremendous amount of emotional energy in their gaze, and making eye contact with every single person you come near could be so draining that you’re distracted from sightseeing.

One of the reasons people think they need to make eye contact is to avoid bumping into others.  The truth is, you don’t have to make eye contact in order to navigate sidewalks, shops, squares, and tourist attractions; if you look in the direction you want to go, then people will not bump into you.  Even if you have sunglasses on people will generally be able to tell by your body language what direction you plan to steer, since both your body and attention tilt slightly (but perceptibly) depending on what you’re focusing on.  You can make a similar evaluation of others by doing a split-second assessment of their focus and movements.

Is avoiding eye contact a way of giving into (or developing) a phobia?  Given the number of cultures that discourage direct eye contact between people on the street – and particularly between the opposite sex – it would be difficult to say yes.  Save the emotional energy it takes to make eye contact for the people who matter more – hotel staff, store clerks, and others who are helping you have a pleasant journey.

Just the idea of bumping right into strangers in crowded areas can stress people out.  In Japan, the authorities don't want to see you embarrassed (or bruised); the question is, does the translation really mean "crash"?

Just the idea of bumping right into strangers in crowded areas can stress people out. In Japan, the authorities don’t want to see you embarrassed (or bruised), and post “warning” signs that you might not see elsewhere.

What is A Transit Hotel?

Originally posted on International Airports Guide:

iag-header.jpgFrequent international travelers know how rough layovers can be. Trying to curl up and sleep on a hard plastic airport chair is nearly impossible. For a long time it was the only option for those waiting for hours between flights, but the rise of transit hotels has made multi flight trips far more comfortable.

A transit hotel is a short stay spot located inside the security checks in international airports. They are usually close to the terminals for further convenience. You can literally walk off your plane and check into a comfortable room to rest and refresh between long flights.

Many have a minimum required stay – these are typically six hours. The rooms are basic and usually include a bed, desk, and shower. Most also offer Internet access. Some of the more premium hotels offer spas and gyms as well. You don’t need a visa to stay over in…

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