Tourist Scams Around the World

I came across this infographic in my Quora feed today and found it informative. Some of these scams sound over the top, but the sources are legit. There are some crafty hustlers in the world. Be careful out there!


Italy for Idiots?

Hey there readers! There’s this place in Europe. It’s called Italy? I guess it’s pretty popular? What do you know about it? What to see, what to do, where to stay? Do they make good food there?

I ask all these questions because I am helping (“helping”) my sister with stuff for her wedding, and part of my duties involves honeymoon planning assistance. She wants to go to Italy. But here’s the thing: I freaking HATED Italy. I had the worst time there. The weather was hot, muggy, and miserable. Everything was crowded and expensive. (Did I mention I was there in August? I’ve gotten smarter since then.) The food was not nearly as tasty as everyone made it out to be. (Except the gelato. That was tops.) The men were terrible; I got groped basically every day. I met the dumbest girl in the world there, and then one of the sketchiest dudes. It was top-to-bottom the worst part of my backpacking trip, and I doubt anyone could ever convince me to return.

So I look to you, loyal readers, for advice. Has anyone had any actual good experiences in Italy? Who can convince me that this is a place worth visiting, so I can get excited about helping out my little sis?

Six Degrees of Travel Advice

I travel a lot, it’s true. But I have some friends–some of whom have shared their stories from the road with us here–who travel even more. And so I’m lucky, as I begin making plans for Argentina, to have access to some of the best advice there is: real stories from real people who were really there. That’s how I got a recommendation on an underground supper club in Buenos Aires and learned that what says the exchange rate is may be wildly inaccurate once I hit the ground and find a casa de cambio.

If you don’t have friends who’ve visited the place you’re going, what can you do? Of course, there’s always TripAdvisor, ThornTree, and so on. Those are real travelers’ experiences, and they’ll be more up-to-date than whatever you read in a guidebook and less biased than you’ll find on tourism websites (or at least, they’ll be biased both for an against, and hopefully you can sort it out). But those people don’t know you personally.

The next best thing to being able to directly ask a friend for their advice is just putting the question out there on Facebook or Twitter: where should I stay / what should I eat / is it worth the hike to go here? If your friends don’t know, their friends might know, and if they’re good friends they’ll spread the word and ask around. Case in point, on this trip, a freelancer of mine reached out to a former coworker of hers who lives in Buenos Aires to get some pointers for me. I don’t know anyone who lives there, but I know someone who knows someone, and that’s nearly as good.

Fellow Traveler: How to Be (Moderately) Healthy on the Road

Dear Fellow Traveler,

I’m entering into the conference season at my job, which is very exciting. It’s really great to connect with industry peers. It provides plenty of time to network, which is important.  However, “networking” usually translates to “late nights at a hotel bar.” Sometimes, being at these conferences can make you feel like you’re back in college–lots of late nights networking followed by early morning plenary sessions, a full day of conferences, working lunches, afternoon planning sessions, company dinners, and then back to “networking.” All of these things are important; they’re the reason I go to the conference!

That said, I try to live pretty healthily day-to-day. I like to go to the gym, but I find the hotel gyms to be a bit depressing. I have to manage my weight, and being at a conference means that I have a lot less choice over what I have to eat. (I generally can’t even order for myself!) It’s not like this is just for a couple days, either: in October, I will be spending twenty days among two conferences. That’s twenty days of hotel gyms, banquet hall food, lots of alcohol, and not cooking my own meals. How do you manage a diet/exercise routine when you travel?

Wondering in Walla-Walla

Dear Wondering,

You can try all the usual tricks—drinking vodka-sodas over beer or wine while “networking;” asking for the vegetarian option at meals (which at most banquet facilities means “Triple up on the cheese order for next week, Chef”); resisting the afternoon snack tray and morning pastry platter (good fucking luck doing that with a “networking” hangover)—but the thing is, you don’t “manage a diet/exercise routine” at away games. Not really. You can’t, and the idea that you can is flawed right from the outset.

Your schedule, and much of your intake, is going to be out of your hands for those twenty days. Conference schedulers are interested in their priorities, not yours, so the time you spend in the Wichita Convention Center is going to focus around what the organizers want, which is for you to spend every possible waking second discussing the nuances of, advances in, and strategies for maximizing revenue from the packaging and marketing of gluten-free organic dog food. (Or whatever it is you do.) You aren’t going to be able to touch all the career-bases expected of you and still manage to eat healthily three times a day plus find a couple hours to squeeze in some meaningful exercise. You’re just not. If you think you can, you’re just setting yourself up to be pissed at yourself for failing.

What you can do is prepare for those twenty days in October in advance.

During the conferences, treat the events like the non-fun vacation they kinda are. Don’t go berserk on the treats. Try to be good. Do what you can. But cut yourself a little slack. The odds are stacked against you.

The good news is that you will have some room to fail, because you will have spent the previous month getting ready.

First, figure out what you will miss if you get no exercise for those twenty days beyond dithering over whether or not to leave your wedding ring in the room safe for the duration of the conference. Then, up your exercise load for September accordingly. Take one extra spin class a week and add a mile to each of your triweekly three-mile runs, or hit the elliptical for an hour on the days you’d normally take off. If that seems burdensome, remember, you are not upping your routine forever; you are getting the exercise you will miss out on in Wichita before you go. Lose five pounds, too, knowing they will come back when you give in to the doughnut tray during the morning sessions on advances in determining canine flavor preference. You need to see your goal in a larger context than those twenty days: You aren’t out to hit a peak of fitness on Day Nineteen. You just want to look the same in your Slutty Chris Christie Halloween costume as you would have if Halloween parties had been held on September 1.

Career success, like physical fitness, requires sacrifice. Sacrifice September for October. Then when you get back, make up anything you missed. Because the holidays are coming, and the same strategy applies to those.

Fellow Traveler: Our New Advice Column


Dear Fellow Traveler,

I am taking my first flight in a couple years and, since I’m only going to be gone for a couple days, I’m not planning on paying $50 to check my bag. (Highway robbery, if you ask me!) I used to fly a lot, but that was pre-9/11 when you could get on a plane with just about anything. I once even made it through security with a pocket knife on my key ring! Anyway, I looked at the TSA website, and the rules seem very strict. I’ve had people tell me that I can bring water through, as long as it’s closed, but it doesn’t say that on the site. I also had someone tell me that you can bring your own lunch through, even if it’s not packaged food. Also, I heard that you don’t have to take off your shoes any longer, but then I heard that wasn’t true either. Frankly, I just can’t keep up. To top it off, I’m one of those people who always gets stopped. It’s not just the airport. I’m the guy who holds up the grocery line, who buys the shirt with the tag still attached at TJ Maxx, and if there’s a cop within five miles, you can bet he’s pulling me over. Wait times are long, and I just want to get on the plane.

What’s the best way to get through security? I don’t want to get hassled on my vacation!


Perplexed in Peoria

Dear Perplexed,

The way to avoid getting hassled by the TSA is simpler than you’d think. First, put everything you want to take with you on vacation in your suitcase. Then, put a toothbrush, a deodorant stick, your laptop, and some books in your carry-on bag. Then, take your suitcase and your carry-on, put them snugly in the trunk of your car, and drive to your vacation destination. Have a wonderful time.

If that’s not an option, I can offer only strategies to minimize your chances of officious interference.

TSA agents, like teachers and meter-maids, have nearly unlimited power to enforce rules and face very little downside for being assholes. This presents an opportunity that is difficult for most humans to resist: the opportunity to exercise complete authority over another person. I’m sure many of them are very nice off-duty—well, not meter-maids—but when you give a certain type of person this level of control over others, something bad happens to the mind. Combine that with the fact that the rules they enforce are made by people who do not themselves have to enforce those rules, and you will begin to appreciate the anguish behind many of Yakov Smirnoff’s jokes.

Planning ahead will minimize your annoyability potential.

• Nothing makes you sound more like you have just left the farm for the first time than saying to the guy behind you in line, “Since when do we have to take our shoes off?” Since Richard Reid, the man who looked like a cartoon terrorist, attempted to give himself the Ultimate Hotfoot a decade ago. So unless you’re a senior, yeah, you have to take your shoes off. (Seniors vote in large enough numbers that here, as everywhere, they get special treatment.) Don’t expect this rule to ever be lifted; just accede to reality and wear flip-flops. Not kidding. In the winter, wear Ugg boots without socks. The more easily you can get your shoes on and off, the less hassled you will feel.

• Toiletries are widely available and inexpensive on the other end of your flight. Shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream…if you aren’t checking a bag, your life will be made nicer by buying them on the other end of the flight. (Or using the ones provided by the hotel.) If you must bring your own personal goat placenta and honey shampoo, check it in your suitcase and when they charge you $50, remember that you chose this path.

• Also, in my experience, “toiletries” means “liquids and pastes.” Things I have been leaving in my carry-on throughout the x-ray process for years: stick deodorant, toothbrush, Mach 3 razor.

• Pack your carry-on with the fact that you will have to remove your laptop, tablet, and toiletries in mind. Acting as though the demand that you feed these onto the conveyor separately is an unwelcome surprise because you put those items at the very bottom of your bag under your neatly folded clothes and the presents for your grandchildren makes you look ridiculous, not the badge enforcing rules that he did not make.

• Water-bottle-wise, you cannot carry a full bottle of water (or whatever) through security, open or closed. You can, however, carry an empty water bottle through and refill it on the other side of the gatekeepers.

• As long as you’re willing to feed your lunch through the x-ray, and it isn’t liquid or paste, you’ll be fine. I’ve brought cheeses, baguettes, charcuterie, and fruit through security without a problem.

• That said, understand that if they say “No,” there is no appeal or argument in the world that will get a government employee to break a Rule, so you want to be emotionally detached from your airplane picnic before you try to bring it past the checkpoint.

• Why on earth you would check a bag for a trip of less than a week is beyond me. Even if it were free to do so, you lose at least an hour of your trip in the baggage checking-and-claiming, plus if they send it to the wrong place you’re apt to get it back after your trip anyway. For less than the $50 you would pay to check a bag you can get a nice rolling duffel bag that fits in an overhead bin. Costco has good ones.

• On airlines charging for bags: Stop bitching. The airline has not put this price into your ticket for a reason—bringing a bag is your choice. You might as well express outrage that you have to pay for your seat. Furthermore, this is not a secret surprise fee that goes undisclosed until you get to the airport. Stop acting like they put pay toilets on 727s.

• Pro tip for the frequent flyer: If you have a regular route, pay attention to security on both ends. I know who the mingy nitpickers are at the two airports in which I spend the most time, and I avoid their lines.

Sadly, dear writer, you are of the passenger type that most contributes to the TSA problem from the passenger side—the kind who doesn’t fly much and therefore expresses outrage and/or surprise at every idiot policy. Keep it to yourself. All your harrumphing and ruffled-feathers do is irritate the people in line behind you who know how to do this. We are often told that the TSA is price of freedom. This is true, but not in the Constitutional sense. The TSA is part of the price of the freedom to travel. If you want to get on the plane, you have to pay money to the airline for the seat. If you want to check a bag, you have to pay extra money. And if you want to get on the plane, you have to obey whatever policies the TSA invents. Take a deep breath, empty your flask before you have to put it on the conveyor, and enjoy your trip.

(And be glad Richard Reid packed that C-4 into his kicks rather than into his keister.)

[Go Go Go’s Fellow Traveler is Alan Brouilette, a writer, the Miscreant-in-Chief of Chicago theater company League of Miscreants, and one of America’s best food writers, according to the people who make the books as well as anyone who’s ever read his food writing. He also knows his way around an airport and a truck stop—at least, that’s the word on the street.]

Tips for Cruising

Cruises are a great option for folks who haven’t done a lot of traveling or want to get a sampling of a particular region of the world. You can hit up a few Caribbean islands, see the coast of Norway, travel along the Rhine River, or weave through the Inside Passage in Alaska, all at a reasonable price.

I’m not an expert cruiser by any means, but I’ve been on a couple, and I can offer you two bits of advice based on my experiences.

1. Book excursions with local companies, not the cruise ship. The ship’s excursions will cost you two or three times as much as the same trip with a local guide, and you’ll likely end up in a huge group of other cruisers. Instead, use’s forums or do some independent research to hook up with a local tour company at each port.

In Belize, we found Nacho and Cynthia, a local couple who took six of us in their van to a cave tubing and zip line adventure, with lunch. (Cave tubing is pretty fun—you float down a river that runs through dark caves in the rainforest.) We paid about half what the ship was charging for the same excursion. We also beat the huge cruise-ship crowd by at least an hour and had the place largely to ourselves. Because our group was so small and therefore quick, we were able to do more and see more.

2. Before you choose a cruise, look at the dining options. Most cruise ships assign you a time and a table for dinner. So you have to show up at, say, 7:30pm, and you have to sit at a large table with other passengers. You’ll spend all week with your tablemates. If you like to meet new people, this is a great way to do it. But if you get a loud talker or a close talker or a nonstop talker, then you’re stuck.

Some cruise lines, like Norwegian, offer “freestyle dining.” You can eat whenever you want, sit wherever you want, and visit any of the many restaurants on the ship. This route offers more flexibility and more privacy.

Cruises aren’t for everyone. While they do make traveling easy, they are also pretty limiting. You usually get only a day at each port, and between ports you’re stuck with whatever (usually cheesy) activities the ship offers. But if you can avoid some of the bigger pitfalls—overpriced and overcrowded excursions and annoying dining room experiences—you’ll have a memorable trip.

Travel Advice: A Middle-Seat Dilemma

Q. I am a thoroughly un-ideal flyer. I have moderately severe flight anxiety, I tend to fly by myself, so I don’t have a friend or loved one to act as a buffer, I can’t sleep on airplanes, and due to a combination of sensitive skin and a tendency towards headaches, on average I drink at least a liter of water every four hours while airborne. Due to this thrilling mélange of issues, I find it essential to be in an aisle seat when flying, both because of a reduced sense of claustrophobia and easy access to the restrooms. However, despite my consistent efforts towards requesting an aisle seat at booking, or politely asking to switch when boarding, there are times when I find myself in the middle seat. On flights lasting only a couple hours, it’s fine; I’ll suck it up and deal. But on longer flights, particularly trans-oceanic, when nearly everyone surrounding me in the cabin is asleep, a passenger etiquette question consistently arises that I don’t know the answer to: if you’re in a middle seat (or by the window), and the person(s) in the aisles seat(s) blocking your route to the bathroom is a sleeping stranger, when and how often is it okay to wake them to ask if you can get up?

It’s a thorny issue: for one, it’s not pleasant if you’re one of the few individuals still awake on an airplane, suffering through the terrible movie that you watched three times on your outbound flight ten days ago, but the unpleasantness is compounded if you also really, really have to pee. But my mother would be horrified at the suggestion that I might wake-up a sleeping stranger at what, due to time-zone confusing-ness could be 8pm or 3am. And if those passengers are lucky enough to have managed to fall asleep, how could I rob them of their interludes of sweet airborne oblivion? I like to think that most denizens of the coveted aisle seats would be charitable to their middle-seat neighbors, but aside from trying to broach the subject in advance, is there a polite and reasonable way to request to be released from your centralized, claustrophobic cage? 

A. Airplane seats are packed so tightly these days that our personal dignity is sacrificed every time we board. The sudden intimacy with the strangers in our row requires a higher level of consideration as we jockey for armrest space, recline only partway (if at all), and sneeze carefully into our shoulders. It also requires stoic patience for those passengers who do none of those things.

Most fliers, especially those on long, international flights, will be understanding of your need to get up and pass your butt or your crotch (a whole other dilemma) past their face every hour or so. If they become visibly annoyed, a simple apology with a bit of disclosure may due the trick: “I’m so sorry. I have some health issues that make flying a challenge.”

However, you do have a few options to avoid this awkwardness altogether. Get to the gate well in advance—at least an hour—of your departure to increase your odds that the gate attendant will still have aisle seats available.

While the gate attendant may not be able to honor your request for an aisle seat, your seatmate might. Warn them right away that you get up a lot during long flights. At the very least, they know to brace themselves for frequent interruptions. At the very best, they may decide a middle seat is less annoying and offer to trade.

Better yet, when you book the fight online, look carefully at the options. Many airlines allow you to choose your seat assignment when you book. If not, call the airline after you book and see if they can assign you an aisle seat at that point.

If you aren’t able to secure an aisle seat at the time of booking, then be sure to check in online as soon as you’re allowed. Most of the time, that’s exactly 24 hours before your departure. You are often given the option to change your seat assignment at that time.

If all this fails and you find yourself pinned in the middle or window seat, don’t feel bad when nature calls. Things could be a lot worse for your sleeping seatmate—I’m sure they’d choose you over a screaming baby or someone with nasty BO.