Tim Warrington discovers how the unwary traveller can win friends and lose money.
Hustled by an old lady in a motorised shopping cart. What are the odds? She was selling snow globes in June. It was on the corner of Thaweewong and Ruamchai Rds, at Patong Beach in Phuket.
On closer inspection, I noticed the globes contained Santas nailed to crosses. Sold.
Her sales pitch was compelling. "Paralysed," she said, pointing to her withered legs.
"Tsunami ... paralysed." I took four globes, and a fly swat with a handle so ridiculously long, I could comfortably beat any insect in my hotel room without ever straying from the comfort of my bed. Awesome.
As I was fumbling through my wallet of baht, she bumped my leg with her vulcanised rubber tyres. "Paralysed," she said again by way of an apology.
Some time later, after satiating my thirst for souvenir fridge magnets with a street vendor who insisted on hugging me after each purchase, I realised most of my baht had disappeared! Curses.
It was snow-globe lady, my inner Nancy Drew told me. She had flogged about a hundred bucks, but in a stroke of luck, as I strolled back to my hotel, I happened upon snow-globe lady again. Not a wheelchair, stroller or walking stick in sight. She was standing on the street corner ... nay, dancing on the street corner, her happy jig no doubt fuelled by my hundred bucks.
She was carousing with a group of locals, laughing between hearty sips from a large bottle of beer. And I had a pretty good idea what she was laughing about. "Oi!" I bellowed, wielding an armful of snow globes and fridge magnets for effect. "Give me back my money!"
Not only could snow-globe lady walk, she could run. Boy, could she run. And not for all the chasing and swinging of my over-sized fly swat could I make contact. She disappeared down a side street, leaving me to drag my self-esteem back to the hotel behind me like a worn-out sack.
It's an occupational hazard. Occasionally, travellers get burned. Chefs spend enough time in the kitchen that they will eventually get sliced or scalded. Spend long enough on the road and eventually you'll come a cropper to some scam or other; lose your luggage; end up in the hotel from hell; get galloping food poisoning and poop your pants in a tuk-tuk on the way to the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
But holidays are supposed to be fun. And there are things you can do to safeguard against the insidious side of travel ... like avoiding snow-globe vendors. You could confine your travel to Butlin's or similar — or have a sanitised Disney getaway. What could possibly go wrong there — the happiest place on Earth?
There's travel insurance, mosquito repellent, Band-Aids and sunblock. Avoid travelling to "shithole" countries? But there's no guarantee.
On a recent trip to the US, my wallet was deftly removed from my back pocket before I'd passed immigration and technically entered the country. Not to worry, I always carry a spare cardholder and once bitten, twice shy. Or not ... as it turned out.
Later, on the same trip, on the other side of the world, on a sleeper train from Bangkok to Ko Samui, more wallet thievery. The second-class carriage attendant asked me if I had correct change for the connecting bus and, for only a microsecond, I flashed the fat wad of baht I was carrying in my back-up wallet. I know, I know.
It wasn't till long after the train blasted its horn and I was settling into my coach seat that I became aware that the bulge in my wallet seemed significantly less bulgy.
Somehow, somewhere, someone had lifted my cash. They left all the worthless notes.
How? It doesn't really matter. What matters is how I allowed myself to become the victim of not two, but three incidents of theft on one trip. Stupidity. Period.
I read reams of travel advice about border crossings, tropical mosquito repellent, but on this trip I paid absolutely no attention to my own person, or what I was carrying, or how obvious my "wealth" was — the pickpocket's poster child.
A fellow traveller once said they refused to wear a money belt. "It looks like a fanny pack," they scoffed. Give me the fanny, I say. In fact, give me anything that conceals my coinage.
Now I keep all my valuables and passport in a money belt or in my knickers. No one goes there.
And it works. I have not lost a cent since.