Thriftygal’s Travel Tips

By | February 29, 2016

There is no way to protect yourself 100%, especially when you’re in a foreign country wandering. I think you can still take some basic precautions. Here are my sacred rules when I travel.

Tip 1: Don’t engage with people who approach you.

Hustlers look like normal people.

When I’m out exploring a city or sightseeing, especially at classic tourist destinations, I never engage with anyone who comes up to talk to me. When they approach me, I just continue walking and ignore them. It might seem rude, but the vast majority of the time, they are either trying to sell me something, scam me in some way or pick my pocket. When I don’t acknowledge them and simply move on, they find an easier target and a different schmuck. Don’t be that schmuck. Strangers who saunter over to you want something from you and their desires are often nefarious.

This is especially true in airports where loitering people will ask you if you need a cab. Anyone who is offering to give you a ride should not be giving you one. Use only the official taxi line.

There are a lot of scams, too many to list, and criminals are always evolving. I’m constantly reading up on new tactics used by the minority of unscrupulous souls out in the world in an attempt to avoid them, but ignoring people who approach me is a pretty universal strategy for all sorts of deceptions.

Tip 2: Don’t put all your financial lifelines in one place

My last night in Santiago, Chile, I went out to dinner and took a cab back to my apartment. I woke up the next morning and realized I had left my wallet in the taxi. D’oh! Luckily, I lost no money as I had used the rest of the pesos in there to pay for the cab fare. I did lose my credit card and debit card though.

When I realized my stupidity, I remembered my mantra: I refuse to waste time and brain cells worrying IF something will go wrong. I trust myself to problem-solve WHEN something goes wrong. Okay, time to problem-solve!

I checked my accounts online and found no unusual charges, called both banks to cancel the cards and requested new ones be sent to my address in the United States. I then mourned the black wallet my law firm had given me as a parting gift, grabbed the pesos I had put aside the day before to purchase a ticket for the bus to the airport and some food for the day, took out my extra debit card from my suitcase, put it all in my purse and went to Buenos Aires.

Problem dealt with, confidence boosted, minimal damage done, anecdote for the blog, bright side located.’t put all your cash, credit cards, and debit cards in one place in your purse or bag or wallet. I usually keep one card (debit or credit) in the zipper in my purse, one in the zipper in my carry-on bag and one in my rolling suitcase (but make sure to take it out if you check your bag). I keep US dollars in my wallet, in the zippers and in the rolling suitcase (again, don’t put cash in a checked bag) as well. When you’re out and about in a new city, keep at least one card back at the hotel/airbnb/wherever you’re staying so that if you’re robbed or forget your wallet somewhere, you’re just a little bummed out and annoyed with yourself, but not thoroughly devastated.

Tip 3: Remember that thing about safety.

This tip has a terrible title, I know. When I tell people that I travel around the world, mostly solo, they evaluate my stature, gauge my weight, raise an eyebrow and ask me if that’s safe. I always assure them that it is and then ask them how they raise only one eyebrow.’s the thing about safety. It’s an illusion. I believe in common sense and avoiding obvious dangerous situations. I have no plans to visit certain places like Saudi Arabia, North Korea, or Papua New Guinea and I don’t walk around in dark alleys at night by myself, but I believe the odds of being seriously injured or killed in Montevideo are the same as the odds of getting shot or killed in a mass shooting in the United States and the odds are lower than the odds of losing a prolonged battle with skin cancer in Australia. As much as it sucks, you can get robbed in any giant city, any small town, any empty road at any time. You can die or be maimed in a car crash. You could collapse of an aneurysm tomorrow.

Life is uncertain and if you let fear dictate your life, well, that’s a darn shame. There is evil in every society, but there is also so much good to find, so much ground to explore, so many sites to see, so much to experience. So while I don’t engage with people who approach me on the street, I do reach out to people via the Facebook (asking friends if they know anyone in my current city),, and often just googling “expats in [country I’m hanging out in at the moment].” I suggest to my Airbnb hosts that I’d love to get dinner. I swap numbers with interesting people I meet on tours.

There are no guarantees. Even if you follow all this advice and pack well and go out to conquer the world, you might still have a terrible time, you may still forget something, you may still be scammed. You just have to accept that and do it regardless.

I mean, if you have any desire to travel, that is. If you don’t want to travel, then why are you reading this?

6 thoughts on “Thriftygal’s Travel Tips

  1. KangSik, Seo

    Please prepare the spray also so that you can avoid the jika virus from mosquitos.
    Thanks for the WONDERFUL GUIDE-

  2. Renan

    I think there is some exaggeration about violence and risks in underdeveloped countries.

    I live in Brazil since 1990 and I’ve never been robbed, never got my car stolen, never witnessed a murder or something like that.

  3. KS

    I also diversify my payment options at home – I have some cards in my fitbelt, some cash and a public transportation fare card on my bike and in my socks, etc. Also a good idea to have someone back home with a copy of your passport who can help with that and/or wire you money if needed. Also better to use credit cards because of their $50 liability limit in case of theft or loss. I know, that means more currency conversion fees, but you’ve got to trade off some costs for some peace of mind sometimes.

    I get the raised eyebrow for driving my own car on US interstate highways by myself. Really? They are one of our country’s greatest assets and since I am funding them, I am gonna take advantage of them as long as airlines keep charging exorbitant fees for traveling with a bicycle , and making trips of 200 – 300 miles consume nearly the same amount of time to fly commercially as they do to drive on interstates.

  4. Robin

    I like the post. I believe the media is the problem when it comes to reporting travel issues. I’m a Canadian who travelled with three women and my wife to Morrocco during the Danish cartoon debacle of 2006. My mom was saying you can’t go as the cartoon issue may get you in trouble as a foreigner.
    Well we went to Morrocco and had the trip of a lifetime. Not once was there anything in the news or mentioned to me about it.
    My advice is go see the world and use caution and always smile when you are in a tough, scary situation with locals.

  5. Ppd111

    Good tips !

    A few ones that I use:

    I keep 100 usd taped in the bottom of my shoe. It goes under the insole of the shoe. Good hiding spot.

    I keep three copies of my passport and visa page. Also keep a photocopy of ” what’s in my wallet” so if lost I know where to begin to cancel stuff

    Never talk to strangers at a tourist spot – that rule works.

  6. Don Mertle

    Here are some things I learned once upon a time. Ask about rooms (in a home) instead of hotels, especially in expensive places like European Cities and Resorts. Town tourist departments will often set you up. One woman From Finland went to every single door in a French Ski Resort until she found a farmhouse, kind of into the forest. There the old woman spoke no English and had a room for $7 (when Hotel’s were $40 many years ago) of course it included coffee and a croissant. Private hostels and youth hostels are fun places in those expensive destinations. The small sailing ship cruise allowed us to survey many Caribbean Islands that would be expensive to island hop. It included snorkeling, windsurfing and great small harbors. New islands every day that I had never seen and an active crowd. Nevertheless I also like the big ships for my disabled girlfriend to see the show and dining room without going to far from the room. I only cruise to see new ports, with stops every day. Then the high rise factor is still value because, I am exploring on shore all day every day. Relearning to bring and buy less stuff remains a challenge… Even on a bike overfilling the saddle bags remains my constant temptation. The best experiences are the people and knowing languages has been the single most valuable asset. I would say that language classes are the best travel investment of all. It always demonstrates your worldliness; it leads to the most unique attractions and invitations from all classes of people. Languages also take no no space in the luggage!


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