Even moderately experienced and normally intelligent travellers have their weak moments. I’m prepared to confess to two in recent times. I don’t doubt you’ll think I’m stupid, but it may drive home the possible dangers of a ‘weak moment’.
I’d landed in New York after flights from Melbourne and Los Angeles, tired but elated. I’d planned to find a regular Uber ride to East Village but was overwhelmed by the chaos, ended up in a private Uber without checking the price, and paid about $US100 over the odds. I’d realised my mistake soon after getting into the vehicle, but then just prayed I would end up at the right destination with bags intact. At least my stupidity only cost me money. I’ll never make that mistake again. I hope.
Years earlier in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, eight of us jumped into two taxis without negotiating a price. Again, my cab driver wanted about 10 times a fair price, locked my son in the car and was starting to drive away with him. We paid. Stupid us. Maybe I should just holiday in Oz.
So, notes to self.
1. Prepare your transfer plans from arrival to lodgings in advance – and stick to them
If the travel time was long, you’ll be tired and probably not thinking straight. You may be stressed. Females will look like particularly attractive game. Remind yourself of your research, which should have given you a ballpark figure as to the price of private transport or where to catch a train or bus. Ask at an information desk if you need further guidance. Don’t be drawn into conversations from drivers offering ‘quicker and easier’ ways to get to your destination.
2. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it
The pressure to buy can be enormous: a never-to-be-repeated price, a charming salesperson. You may have been taken into the carpet factory by your tour guide and sat watching an elderly woman deftly tie knot after knot – as she has for decades. But do you really want a rug? Or a scarf? Picture the item back at home. Does it work? Has it been ethically produced from quality products? Again, be polite as you decide whether to accept the ‘amazing’ offer.
Alternatively, if you do want to buy, have you done your research and compared prices from different venues? Have you haggled hard enough? There’s nothing quite like leaving a store to induce a dramatic price drop. Have fun, but also be kind.
3. Be sure about your currency conversions
There are enough good apps available now that you should not be guessing the price of goods in Australian dollars. Doing the maths on Vietnamese dong (16,608 to one Australian dollar) or on Laotian kip (6076 to a dollar) can test even the most agile mathematicians.
4. Don’t be hurried
One of the surest ways to be ‘had’ is bowing to pressure, allowing yourself to be rushed. Whether it’s the tout at the airport, the super salesman, a car hire firm with a great deal, take your time. And research is key. At the very least, have a vague idea of what something should cost before you commit. Be careful who you ask for advice.
5. Beware visa scams
I’ve been there and done this one, too. I ordered an online visa before a trip to Cambodia. It never arrived and no amount of correspondence yielded a refund. The Consulate General of India warned late last year that fake visa websites were operating on the internet and claiming to provide e-Tourist Visa services to visa applicants desiring to travel to India. Of course, they looked authentic.
The Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website www.smarttraveller.gov.au says you should only ever apply for visas with “links or organisations recommended by the diplomatic or consular mission of the country you are going to visit”.
Have you been ripped off on your travels? Or are you a master researcher?