by Ryan Ong
As a veteran traveller I’ve been mugged, robbed (there’s a difference), caught in riots, cheated by hotels, and assaulted by white supremacists. Whatever could go wrong, I’ve survived it and learned from it, like a freakish man-roach hybrid. The lessons I’ve learned will keep you safe:
- Never book an AirBnB Apartment Before Checking the Refund Policy
Some renters have a “strict” to “long term” policy for refunds. You can view the definitions of each refund policy here.
Here’s a common way people lose money on the refund:
You book an apartment, without noticing the refund policy, and think everything is fine. Then the person renting suddenly contacts you, and says something like “Oh, you didn’t tell me there was another person. I didn’t hear that. I’ll have to charge you $X more”.
If you get annoyed and back out, they’ll quickly agree.
That’s when you’ll realise that you just lost half the money you put down, because a policy of “strict” or above means a 50% refund. Imagine paying $1,200 for a 10 day stay, and then getting only $600 back (and you’ll still have to pay for a new place after that).
- Never Bring All Your Credit Cards with You
Keep at least one credit card in the hotel safe. If you lose your wallet, the thieves won’t be able to max out all your cards. Also, you’ll still have some credit available even if you lose the wallet.
- Never Use Names like “Mum”, “Dad”, “Brother”, etc. on Your Phone Contacts List When Abroad
Use your family members’ first names. Otherwise, you make yourself a prime target for a kidnap scam. This is when thieves steal your phone, and then send ransom messages to your family. Remember, they have your phone so it’s not like your family can call you to check.
Which leads to my next point…
- Never Fail to Have a Spare Phone
Get a second, cheap phone that you leave in the hotel. This is your emergency mobile, in the event you lose your regular phone.
Always have your whole contacts list programmed in this phone as well. When you are robbed or misplace your phone, the main problem is not finding another phone but retrieving your contacts list.
In the event of an emergency, such as an injury, you will need those phone numbers on hand.
- Never Leave Without Insurance Coverage
I highly recommend that you buy travel insurance from your current agent, instead of online or at an ATM.
Insurance claims can get complicated, and you will want the insurance agent’s guidance. If you are injured, for example, failing to get the medical report or going to the wrong clinic can invalidate your claim.
On that note, check if your health insurance policy applies when you’re injured or ill abroad. If you travel often, consider buying a clause that covers you when you’re overseas.
- Never Leave Before Knowing the Embassy’s Address and Number
Wherever you’re going, always note down the address and contact details of the Singapore embassy there.
The embassy is the first place you should call if you end up in legal trouble abroad. You should also let the embassy know if you have been severely injured, fall ill, or become the victim of a crime. This is even more important when you are alone, as it assures that they will check on you and keep your family updated.
- Always Know Your Credit Card Helpline
You’ll want to call the bank back in Singapore as soon as your credit card is gone. The faster it’s cancelled, the lower the chances of someone getting a free shopping spree.
Also, if the bank decides you took your time to report it*, they will hold you liable for the charges.
(*I was once beaten and robbed in a country where few people speak English. I managed to call the bank after two and half hours, and Standard Chartered still called it “late reporting”. That’s so you know how quickly you have to call.)
- Buy Your Prepaid Phone Card at Your Destination
Sure, you can try and set things up with your telco in Singapore, or buy a prepaid card over here instead.
But what happens if you get there and it doesn’t work?
Odds are you’ll have to buy a prepaid card over there anyway, and you would have wasted your money (or you can go through the hassle of a refund when you get back). This is especially an issue in developing countries, where communications can get spotty.
Save yourself the hassle and buy the prepaid card over there. Then test it in the shop, and let the storekeeper help you.
- Never Reload the Price Comparison Site Before Clearing Your Cache
Comparing airline tickets? Clear the cache before going back to the site. Many price comparison sites raise the prices when you return repeatedly, because they know there’s a good chance you’re going to buy.
- Never Use the Phone in Your Hotel Room Without Checking the Rates
I have seen rates for hotel room phones go as high as $12 a minute. A three minute call to your old friend, to say you’ve arrived, might incur a $30+ charge.
So never, ever, use the hotel phone without checking the rates. Use it for calling the front desk or room service, nothing else.