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What precautions do you take to avoid someone pickpocketing your wallet?

–Kevin

There’s nothing that spoils an international vacation or short-term trip more than a stolen wallet (That is, except for riots, lost passports and intestinal parasites, but you get the idea). As much as we hate to admit it, clueless Americans do make great targets. We carry plenty of cash, have no idea where we’re going and don’t understand the local culture.

But wait! You don’t have to stay locked up at home. Here are a few tips for avoiding the dreaded strike of the nefarious wallet-bandit.

1.  Keep valuables out of obvious places. Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket, for example. That’s the first place they’ll look! Perhaps keep a bit of cash in your front pocket and leave your wallet stowed in your backpack. Just don’t get your backpack stolen. That would probably defeat the purpose.
2. Trust people sparingly. That nice gentleman helping you buckle your seatbelt on the bus? Pickpocket. That kid who just bumped into you by accident? Pickpocket. That nice toothless granny selling you mangoes? Pickpocket. No, not really. What are you, paranoid?
3. Pretend you know where you’re going. Don’t whip out a giant map on the street corner. Don’t crane your neck to look at all the nice, tall buildings. Walk swiftly with a determined forward stare and potential pickpockets might just take you for a local. Well, as long as your Hard Rock Café: Duluth t-shirt doesn’t give you away.

It’s not a foolproof plan. We all get taken by thieves and con men from time to time while traveling. But if you travel smart, travel light and keep your eyes open, you might just return home with everything you brought (plus, a fun new intestinal parasite!). Good luck.

-Barry Rodriguez

 

How do you cultivate a good attitude about inconveniences and cultural differences when traveling?

–Tasha

“Cultivate” is certainly the right word. Growing a positive attitude certainly takes time, and there will always be mistakes along the way. But there are a few things you can keep in mind to help you smile when the bus is three hours late or the restrooms are not quite what you were expecting.

A Learner’s Posture

The single greatest thing that can be done is to adopt a posture of learning. Frustrations usually occur as the result of something unexpected, something we didn’t know about. That means every frustration is a chance to learn something new, and an opportunity to grow in our knowledge of other cultures. This posture can transform frustration into growth and inconvenience into knowledge. And speaking of opportunity…

Seize the Opportunity

A great way to keep a positive attitude is to change something unexpectedly inconvenient into an unexpected adventure.

Waiting for a late bus? Chat with a stranger. Hosts don’t speak English? Opportunity to practice your pantomime skills. No electricity or phone service? Take a walk, read a book, or ask what locals do for fun. The best adventures are usually the ones we don’t plan.

Different, Not Wrong

It is essential to always keep in mind the distinction between “different” and “wrong”. It is very natural to notice differences between cultures, and our first instinct is often to think of other cultures as “wrong.”

But other cultures are not failed attempts to be us. The first question we should always ask when noticing a difference is “why?” Why is it like that? How did it start? Why do people do it? Respectfully asking these questions can honor your host with your interest, and be a great way to learn something new as well.

Have Fun

As an American, my greatest frustrations have usually come from how “inefficient” other cultures seem. I find myself wanting to say “but if you just did it this way it would be so much better”.

My frustrations come from trying to stay American in a very un-American place. Likewise, my greatest peace has come when I give myself permission to be un-American. I have to tell myself it’s okay to be inefficient. It’s okay to do things differently.

So next time there is something frustrating or inconvenient about a culture, try giving yourself permission to be part of that culture for a day. Eat with your hands, don’t worry about the schedule, and genuinely enjoy a three-hour tea break.

Who knows? You might discover something that we’ve been doing wrong all along.

-Brad Miller