Waiting in lines seem to be an American thing
If you’ve spent any time in America you will know that lines are how you will know when it is your turn (there won’t be anyone in front of you). But this seems to be something that isn’t followed well in most of the rest of the world.
In Slavic countries it is common for people to just walk past people in line in most places. Other popular things is that they will split a group into 2 or 3 different lines. When they think one is going faster or is near the front then the rest of the group will leave the other lines and join the faster one. It is always a lot of fun to be behind a group that does this.
The best methods that are used require no one to be in a line, but to take a number, and this seems to be more common in many of these countries that have difficulty following these lines. So if you walk into a place such as a post office, look for a machine that can print you a ticket. This isn’t foolproof as you will still see people who will walk directly to the counter after walking in and expecting service, but it is less common than line cutting is.
As a tourist or an expat it can be difficult to call out some of these people, especially if you do not know the language, but often if you try to say something, someone else will be as angry as you, and they will tell them in the language that they understand.
Use the hotel front desk to help you find things or get things done
Your hotel front desk can be a lifesaver. They can often help you with a wide range of things like directions to public transportation, or buying train tickets for a day trip somewhere near or even a suggestion for a good restaurant. Don’t hesitate to ask them questions or for their advice on things while you stay with them, as it will make your experience better.
Make a copy of your passport & other documents
You won’t often need your passport while you are in the country you are staying in, so we recommend that you leave it wherever you are staying. In most situations you will only need a copy of it to do whatever you need to do.
By having a copy, you are able to do what you need to do, but you don’t have the risk of losing your passport and possibly destroying your trip. Also if you do have a copy of the passport, it should help you to get a temporary or replacement passport issued if you discover that yours is now missing.
Set up travel notifications!
When you are outside of your normal spending area you will always want to set up a travel notification with your credit card or bank. You can call the number on the back of the card to do this, or visit their website. One thing that is important to do is to include layover stops in your notification. This way if you need something to eat, or are bumped from your flight that you can pay for a place to stay without having your card declined.
Most banks which require a pin will not require a travel notification for ATM cards as the pin is the extra protection on the card. Contact your bank before you travel to find out if your bank requires this or not.
When traveling far from home and especially when traveling internationally, make sure to call your bank and credit card companies to let them know where you’ll be to avoid having a credit or debit card locked due to a fraud alert.
Always know the price before you agree to anything
Let’s be crystal clear, there will always be shady people who will try to cheat others. This seems to be the vast minority of people, but at some time it will happen if you spend enough time away from your home country.
Lucky for me the only time this actually happened to me was when I ordered something not realizing what the weight would be and ended up paying a few dollars extra. Others have not been so lucky and paid a lot more.
Years ago when I was in China there was something called the “tea scam” and it involved people who would approach obvious foreigners and tell them that they would like to practice their English and if they could have tea with them. The scam has the local taking the foreigner to a tea shop they work with and each cup of tea is something like $50, or some obvious ridiculous price. You can watch someone who tried to expose this scam on this YouTube video, it is very informative.
Another incident occurred where my boss took his wife on a trip a few hundred kilometers from Beijing. They went to a restaurant and were brought a menu without prices on it. This should be an obvious red flag. Their meal came out to be over $200 and the police were called when he refused to pay it. Often establishments will have a corrupt police officer who will split the take, so you will not win.
The point of all of this is, if you are going to buy something, make sure that the prices are clearly marked. If you are at a restaurant and the price is $/100g then you know it is that price per 100 grams of food. If you see a measurement that you don’t understand BEFORE you order, you need to know. It is possible you are in a place trying to cheat you and it is $5/gram of food, making a 100 gram steak (3.5 ounces) $500.
Much more likely to happen for most of us will be a taxi who tries to get more from you. Read our how to avoid taxi scam guide here so avoid taxi scams.
A recent scam I encountered was with a fruit vendor. None of the prices were marked, but we were near my hotel and away from any tourist places. For about 1 kg of cherries and a small basket of strawberries he wanted 13 euro. They will argue with you all day and tell you how great the quality is. Just walk away. About 50 meters away was another fruit vendor, with prices marked and while still overpriced, it was a much more fair price.
The last important one to note is tour scams. Quite often if you are trying to get a tour for a place with a line you will find people who will try to sell you a tour on the spot. Most of these are legit people trying to earn a living (I don’t like how they’re doing it, but you can read about that here, but at least most are not a scam).
If you are at all interested in a tour, you really want to know what the average price is for them from a respectable website. Tour prices can vary greatly, so you want to see the cheapest, the high end, and what most sell for. Usually even at tours which are sold out daily (Roman Colosseum or Vatican City), you can almost always find someone who will sell you a tour for very close to what you will see it for online. If the price is wildly different there will be 50 other people selling the same tour. If you find another and it’s still too high nothing stops you from trying to haggle the price down to something more reasonable.
Maybe get a VPN?
For most people this is just not needed, however there are times when a VPN is great to have. If you do a lot of traveling or connect to public WIFI networks like at a coffee shop or the airport network, this is something to really consider.
Also when people like to travel, online content that was available to them at home may not be available to them on the road. With a VPN you can access a lot more country or region restricted content by simply switching what server you are connected to.
Another thing to consider is that for political reasons, various websites you might want to view may be blocked in the country you are in. LinkedIn in Russia, Twitter has been blocked in Turkey. China and Thailand have blocked YouTube. China has previously blocked Google and Gmail before, redirecting the traffic to Bidu, a Chinese based search site.
The last reason may be one of the best however. What I’ve seen is that just by changing the server you are connected to, the country you appear to be in, the price you are given can change greatly. I’ve seen airline tickets drop by as much as $150 per ticket. Something like this could pay for a few years of VPN access with just your first purchase.