Travel scams: the bane of every travellers' existence.

Reading about the horrific experience of 3 Malaysian backpackers at Lombok over at The Vocket, I decided to share this with others just so that everyone will be more aware of the types of scams they could encounter when travelling.

Our Lombok Scam Experience

As far as scams go, I haven't personally experienced one (thankfully), although I've had my fair share of haggling that went wrong due to my own stupidity (you'd think I'd know better after having gone through it a few times, but haggling is just really not my strong suit).

I haven't told anyone about our Lombok holiday scam - thankfully I wasn't affected by the scam, but 7 of my friends were. I just thought I'd share this (since it didn't fit into the original Lombok holiday narrative) just to warn everyone that holiday scams aren't restricted to petty pick-pocketers (alliterations are fun!).

Two of my friends and I had to leave earlier than the rest of the Lombok gang back in May. Our friends who came back later than us later recounted their tale as they told us how they got ripped off by the airport staff at Lombok International Airport.

They arrived with their luggages in tow and were ready to checked in - when they handed over their boarding passes with their passports, nothing seemed amiss except one thing: the airport staff told them that they did not have any checked-in luggage allocated to their boarding pass.
As a note: My friends and I actually bought the AirAsia tickets to Lombok without luggage and meal since we thought we could just add it on later when we have more money in our pockets, and so that's what we did. Funnily enough, there was no problem with my two friends' and my checked-in luggage.

Well, needless to say, all hell broke loose - my friends vehemently protested that they have already paid for our checked-in luggage and meal and even showed proof of payment as well as proof of the luggage being included in the boarding pass. They had all the proof they need, to be honest, but in the end everything fell to deaf ears. I think my friends argued with the staff for over an hour, and there was a long queue of people wanting to check in behind them. The airport staffs denied my friends their luggage rights and my friends had to pay extra. Interestingly enough, the airport staffs had originally wanted them to pay cash, but since my friends didn't have enough leftover cash they paid by credit card. (As an additional aside, as far as we could tell, these airport staffs had no affiliation at all with AirAsia.)

Once my friends touched down in KLIA2 airport, they went directly to the AirAsia counter to recount their complaints. The AirAsia staff at hand informed them that there was indeed a record of them having bought the additional checked-in luggage - but the record was deleted a few moment before they checked-in at the Lombok International Airport counter.

To say it was "suspicious" would be too kind - but as my friends had already paid for the additional cost, the damage was done. My friend did try to revert the charge on his credit card, but as the process was a huge hassle with Maybank, in the end all of my friends paid for the additional charge. (Not even AirAsia could help because it happened out of their jurisdiction apparently.)

Our suspicion was that my friends were deliberately targeted due to their large group and the airport staff deleted their luggage record because it was added-on separately - interestingly enough, their onboard meals (which they paid for with the checked-in luggage) was still available on board!

Our Lombok trip was one of the best trips I've ever been on, so this incident shouldn't deter anyone from going there or even travel elsewhere. But you know, I would rather avoid these scams if I could!

So how do you try to avoid travel scams?

Holiday scams are a "norm", but that doesn't mean we have to accept it. These are what I've learned on how to avoid some of the more popular scams:

1. Pickpockets

On my travels, I usually try to have three wallets - one wallet with emergency money stash (usually a mix of Malaysian ringgit and the foreign currency of the country I'm travelling to), one wallet where I put my daily budget it, and one wallet I use for the budget-of-the-day.

  • Put the wallet with emergency money in a safe, locked place (tip #2 applies)
  • Wallet-with-the-daily budget should come with you and stashed safely on your body (in your socks or whatever; I usually prefer to use the money-belt pouch that goes underneath your shirt but they do get uncomfortable!)
  • The daily wallet with your budget-of-the-day you can put in your bag. At least if your bag gets pick-pocketed, you'd only lose a couple of pounds/euro/yen/won/whatever. Don't put too much money in the daily wallet. 

Wear a cross-body bag if possible and ensure the bag is in front of you. Zip your bags up! If you want, you can also rip off a piece from a plastic bag and tie them through the loops of the bag zippers. This would result in the plastic bag rustling if someone did try to open it. (It's also a hassle for you if you plan on zipping & unzipping this bag a lot, but you know, pick your poison.)

Be aware of your surroundings and look at any suspicious people in the eye and give them a "I'm watching you" vibe just so they know you're watching.

That's right, you - no not the guy behind you, YOU

2. Keep Your Passport Safe

If I think I don't need to bring your passport for the day's excursion, I always prefer to leave my passport and other valuables somewhere in the hotel, but we all know that that's sometimes a double-edged sword. If you do leave it in the hotel, ask yourself this:

Does the hotel look trustworthy / safe to you?

It's hard to check of course but I always read reviews of the hotels I'm staying at at TripAdvisor & Booking.com - other travellers often gives out good tips & tricks about their stay, and you could glean their wisdom by spending an hour reading their reviews. If I'm staying in a hostel, I'd lock my passport in my luggage - however, you'd run the risk of your luggage being stolen too, so take your laptop lock and lock your luggage to the bedpost or something of the sort. (Lol, I know, the lengths I go to.)

Hotels usually have a safe which you can utilize, and I prefer those.

Otherwise, bring your passport with you (especially if you think you need it for your travels) - just make sure you keep it secret & safe & close to your body (body wallet, secret pockets, do it by whatever means you have to keep it safe).



3. Don't Give Away Your Credit Card / Passport Details

Yeah this should be common sense, but sometimes during travels you tend to be lulled into a false sense of security (totally understandable if you're on a lazy vacation in Bora Bora for example).

I try not to give my credit card details at all if possible - probably unavoidable with hotels & car rentals, but always be vigilant. If you feel like it doesn't make sense for you to give your credit card or passport details away, DON'T.

If you get calls in the middle of the night claiming they're from the hotel and saying that there's a problem with your card details and could you please re-confirm it along with your CCV code? Yeah, probably not a good idea to give it to them. Instead, go down and check directly with the hotel the next morning. ALWAYS deal with people in person if possible, not over the phone.

Always ensure your credit card transactions are done either face-to-face or if you're doing it online, ensure that it's a safe connection and that you've satisfied yourself that the website doesn't look suspicious (do your research by googling things up online - yes, it's time-consuming, but it's worth it).

If you're asked to produce your passport, show them a photocopy of it instead (make a few photocopies! You can even leave a copy in your luggage for easier tracking). If the other party insist that you show your original passport, claim that you've left it at your hotel. If you're dealing with authorities, let them know that you're willing to go back to the hotel with them to show you your passport. (Lie only if you have to, but know your limits.)

Again, don't leave your passport with the hotel, the rental car company, etc for any reason if you absolutely don't have to!

4. Lock Your Luggage

Yeah this should be common sense too, but I guess some people are lackadaisical with their belongings? Even if you think there's nothing worth stealing, it's always a good idea to be vigilant and lock your luggage.

Also, you can do the "plastic-bag loop through the zippers" trick (see #1) for your luggage too!


5. Be Wary of "Free Wi-Fi"

Sometimes e-thieves (something I'd never thought I'd type out) will try to get your personal information via the free wi-fi you're accessing.

So if you're surfing the web via a free wi-fi you've connected to ("Score!" you thought elatedly), don't log into your banking account, don't do any online transactions if possible (find an internet cafe or a secure wifi) -- unless you want to find yourself out of your bank savings ("...dude, NotScore, NotScore, noooooooo!" you scream dejectedly).

Yeah, and the "Free Wi-fi" is only there to steal your monies

6. Know Your Budget Airlines


  • For AirAsia, I definitely recommend buying your luggage together with your ticket, as opposed to adding it on later via "Manage My Bookings". Hopefully you will be able to avoid my friends' Lombok Luggage Loss as you can prove that you've bought it with your ticket. If you feel safer buying extra luggage beforehand, then do it. Don't leave it to chance. 
  • Consider bringing only cabin luggage to avoid the checked-in baggage fees - I know this is hard especially for parents with kids, but it's just a suggestion :) 
  • Check the limitations of other budget airlines too - don't let yourself be caught having to pay more. 
  • Buy a digital luggage and confirm the weight of your luggage before you check-in, take a picture of it, and bring the digital luggage with you to the check-in counter. This way you can avoid the whole overweight-luggage trick some airports / airlines employ.  
  • Do your research about budget airlines - in other words, google for reviews to see what other travellers are saying about the airlines. For example, I've heard awful things about  Easy Jet - doesn't mean I won't buy their cheap tickets, it just means I will know how to navigate their tricky extra charges.


7. Double Check The Price You've Agreed On

I've personally experienced this in Lombok. We'd hired a tour agent to take us around since it's easier with our large group, and we've emailed the agent back and forth and finally agreed on a price.

When we got to Lombok, we were greeted by our tour agent (although he was not the one we dealt with directly) and it was all smiles when we were dropped off to our hotel for check-in. Then, the agent asked for full payment before we start the tour the next day - fair enough.

I'd prepared the exact amount of money to pay the tour agent, down to the very cent - however, when I checked the bill, the agent had quoted almost double the price! Luckily I checked the amount first and furiously searched for the e-mail stating the price we've agreed on beforehand and told this to the agent in charge of us.

The agent immediately called his boss (the one whom we dealt with via emails and phone) for confirmation and finally agreed on the original-quoted price. Now I'd like to think that this is just a miscommunication as the tour agent was really non-confrontational about the whole thing, but we decided to be alert to any hidden charges from then on.

The outcome of the whole thing is that you should always double check the price you've agreed on previously and the price you're asked to pay now.

If you don't double check, CC shows you what happens

8. And finally... Travel Insurance

At the end of the day, despite of all the careful plans we've cooked up to foil our fraudulent foes, we have to accept that sometimes accidents happen. It won't always happen, but it could.

This is where travel insurance comes in.

For destinations with questionable safety status, I always buy travel insurance. Now that I'm almost always travelling alone, I always buy a travel insurance. I prefer to get a yearly coverage as I know I will at least travel more than 3 times a year - personally I feel it's worth the peace of mind.

Do your research when it comes to travel insurances and look at all the T&Cs involved in it, especially on the ease of claims if you do run into a loss/accident. There are a lot of offers in Malaysia, and there's a few international travel insurance worth looking into as well (although a bit more expensive what with the Ringgit depreciation), so pick the one that you think is worth it. It also depends on what you want to cover - luggage, delay, heck even your travelling gadgets will be accounted for if you want to go for more coverage. So yeah, do your research and pick the one you like most.

TIPS: Make a list of all your belongings (on your phone & on physical paper) so that it's easier for you to keep track of your belongings and easier for claims as well. Also it helps you to see what you should insure and what could do without. To take it a step further you can take a picture of your luggage and all your travel gears just so you can show your insurance company later what condition it was in before it meets with any accident.

When all else fails, always have travel insurance as your backup!



I was thinking about the whole New Year's Resolutions thing and thought I would do one for my travels - just so I can keep the end in mind. I know that it's mid-February already in 2016, but hey we kinda just entered the New Year by Chinese calendar, so I'm totally using that excuse to post this lol.

Ahhh, yes, another last-minute planned trip to Japan.

I find now that I'm getting older, I get a bit more impatient about planning my holidays :P All my previous holidays have been planned a year in advance usually, but all my 2015 travels have mostly been a "spur-of-the-moment-omg-let's-book-that-flight-now-it's-so-cheap!" kind of thing. It's not a bad way to live I guess, but my savings are kind of crying right now.

This trip was brought on due to Sakamoto Maaya, once again. To promote her newest album "Follow Me Up", she held several lives from November 2015 to January 2016. I managed to get tickets to her New Year's Eve show thanks to Maayas.net again, and so I would be spending my New Year's in Tokyo!

What To Do in Tokyo During New Year

Japan-guide has great suggestions on what you can do in Japan during the New Year's celebrations, and will be very handy to plan your trip. NOTE: Some sites and attractions will be closed during the New Year holidays, so do take note of which ones are opened over at japan-guide so that you're not disappointed.

Fair warning: travel activity during New Year within Japan will be increasing, so book any shinkansen seats, hotels, theme park tickets etc. earlier to be safe. Hotels and flights are of course more expensive at this time of the year (as it will be everywhere else around the world).

1. Visit the shrines (Hatsumode)

A popular activity for the locals, where they will pay their first visit at the popular shrines all over Japan on New Year. Yes, it will be extremely crowded - I went to Kawagoe's Kitain Temple on the 3rd of January and it was full of people. Well, part of it may have to do with the fact that there was a Hatsudaishi "festival" going on with food stalls, daruyama and the works - but hey, if you want to experience Japan's culture during the New Year, this should be #1 on your list.

"Oh, well, this doesn't seem so bad," you might say.
...Yep, this was the crowd that greeted us at Kitain Temple #noregrets
A whole lotta daruma in all sizes! The belief is that you fill in one eye to indicate what your goal / aim / wish is for the New Year - when your wish is fulfilled, then you fill in another eye :) It's a great way to motivate yourself, albeit probably a little creepy on account of the no-eyes thing.
My all-time favourite in Japan: takoyaki!

2. Go on Fuji-Q Highland's record-breaking rollercoasters 


I know it sounds kind of weird to go to a theme park on New Year, but honestly what better way to welcome the New Year? :D

Fuji-Q Highland is a 2-hour bus ride from Tokyo / Shinjuku and you can get there by bus or train (the more convenient way would be by bus, which was what we did).

Thankfully when we went, the crowds were either too busy spending time with family outside of Tokyo or they didn't think going on rollercoasters was the proper way to welcome the New Year - either way, most of the rides had an average of 1 hour to 1.5 hour waiting time (the longest wait for us was the 2 hour wait for Dodonpa), which wasn't too bad. You can always buy the express pass, but we opted not to.

Fuji-Q has only 4 rollercoasters, but these are not your normal rollercoasters: Fujiyama is the oldest rollercoaster in Japan (which was unfortunately closed due to strong winds on the day we were there), Dodonpa is one of the fastest rollercoasters at 172km/hr (I couldn't feel my face for the first few seconds, no lie), Eejanaika has a barf-inducing loops while you're falling backwards on the steep coaster track, and Takabisha has the #1 spot of rollercoaster with steepest drop at 121 degrees!


It even has a certificate and everything.
Fuji-Q Highland also has a Haunted House - which apparently lasted for 60min or 900m wth. Tbh I've erased everything about the haunted house once I got out of it, otherwise it will forever traumatize me lol. But yeah, worth it for the experience if you've never been to one or you love being traumatized for life.

You know why I'm traumatized? This is literally what my workplace looks like and now I will forever associate long, dark-lit corridors with the memories of zombies chasing me. Thanks, JM, you owe me an un-scarred brain.

There's also the Ultimate Fort, a labyrinth / maze / escape room kind of game which sounds absolutely fun (anything zombie-less sounds fun!) and supposedly has a success rate of 1/100000 - you might end up being the 1 in a 100,000 ;)

Also, if you're super lucky, you will get an awesome view of Mt. Fuji while you go on all the rides! (We were lucky and managed to see Mt. Fuji the whole day.)

Can you imagine getting this awesome view while you ride on all the rollercoasters? This was the view we had all day. Mt. Fuji was super shy when I was there back in 2014 for the Shibazakura festival
After you're done with all the rides Fuji-Q has to offer, you can opt to go to the awesome onsen nearby (price is of course excluded from the park) to relax before you head back to Tokyo. Or if you so prefer, you can make your way to Kawaguchiko lakes since it's nearby.

3. Go to a cat cafe

Don't judge me, I love cats, okay. Cat cafes are the in-thing in Japan (along with a myriad of other specialized cafes, like owl cafes - honestly it sounds cool and I'd love to go to one), and you can opt to spend 30minutes to 1.5hr with the cats!

Be warned: not all cats will be friendly - remember, cats are our overlords.

Case in point. This cat basically glared at everyone the whole time.
When will my husband return from war.



4. Eat, eat, and eat!

The New Year is the perfect excuse to cheat on your diet for a day or two (or five), and Japanese food will tempt you from all sorts of corners so you might as well give in now.

My ryokan offered an osechi food (Japanese new year meal) for free!
Zouni - tasted better than it looks! Feat. Year of the Monkey.

One of the better eel dish I've tasted
Potato taiyaki! This was so good!!! Had this in Kawagoe

OK this isn't for eating, but lookit how cute!!!

5. Karaoke

...OK, you can judge me a little :P I blame my love for karaoke and singing on my dad (sorry dad, someone's gotta take the blame).

But seriously, Japanese loves their karaoke - you will be able to find countless karaoke chains all over Tokyo! Prices vary depending on the chains you choose, but for the most part you will get cheaper rates if you go during nighttime and/or on weekdays.

For those who are a bit more shy to sing in front of other people, you can always opt for solo karaoke - yep, Japan even caters for solo karaoke-ers! 1kara offers these hitokara rooms, where you get an awesome "pit" for yourself, equipped with professional sound system and microphones! You'll have to bring your own earphones (you can just use any earphones really) or you can rent one at 1kara as well. Bonus: there's a ladies-only floor! Free-flow drinks are available on each floor, but honestly you'll be too busy singing and enjoying yourself to care about drinks.





Et cetera, et cetera

Of course the above is a non-exhaustive list and I don't have the time to list down everything you can do in Tokyo on New Year, but the above should give you an idea of how to occupy your time.

According to japan-guide, you can shop to your heart's content as Japan will have superb sales during the New Year (and you see people lining up for miles starting from NYE nights just to buy the fukubukuro at certain stores), you can choose to go for sidetrips from Tokyo (we went to Kawagoe and had a blast; there's Yokohama, Hakone, Nikko, and so many other places to choose from), or you can just chill around Tokyo and do normal sightseeing should you wish to do so ;)

May 2016 bring in a lot of joy to everyone!

I've always loved Photobook Malaysia's service and products and ever since I've bought and created a few photobooks with them.

I found a deal through Groupon Malaysia for their luggage tags, and since it was relatively cheap, I snapped up the deal and immediately designed my luggage tag using Photobook's online app. Thanks to their luggage tag template, the designing portion of the ordeal itself was pretty easy, and within 30 minutes I submitted my order. I'm efficient when I want to be but I procrastinate the rest of the time.

Photobook Malaysia finished their production within 2 days and the product has only just arrived a few minutes ago - all in all, the whole process only took 3 working days.


Upon receiving the item, I was happy to see how conscientious their packagings are - the luggage tag is wrapped nicely and a care instruction for your luggage tag is included in the packaging.

Tbh my first thought when I got the luggage tag was that it's too pretty to be used lol.




The luggage tag itself is made of steel (it's not overly strong but it's not bendable), infused with a special coating which is supposed to protect the tag from rust and oxidation and is also waterproof. However, do note that the care instruction mentioned that you should not expose the luggage tag to too much sun as it is prone to discolouration - too bad they didn't put any sunblock coating onto the luggage tag, eh :P

Overall I'm very happy with the luggage tag - it comes in two sizes, and I chose the smaller size as I was thinking of using it for my carry-on luggage or just my handbag. 

So if you're thinking of buying a personalized hand luggage tag, you might want to look at what Photobook Malaysia has to offer.

2015 has come and gone. I swear the older I get, the faster time flies - I know, it's because everything is relative and all that jazz, but it still makes me feel sort of nervous to think that it's already February! Where did January go???

Here's a sort of year-end review of My Favourite 2015 Travel Moments, in no particular order:

On my last day in the Netherlands, I decided to visit Edam and Marken. Commonly known as the Waterland area, Edam, Volendam and Marken are often visited together in a day tour. You can get a Waterland Day Ticket to visit these 3 places, which was what I did since it enables you to take the trains in Amsterdam as well as the public buses.

There are options of following a tour to the Waterland area, but instead of following a tour, I decided to just take the bus to visit Edam and Marken because these two places sounds like the kind of places I'd love to visit. I skipped Volendam on this visit since it sounded a bit too touristy for my taste (nothing wrong in it being touristy, I just thought it wasn't for me).

Be sure to make note of the bus schedules as well as the bus numbers - there are apps shows you which bus goes where as well as their respective timings, which will be useful. When in doubt, just ask the drivers as they are super helpful :) (Plus the bus stops are super confusing for me for some reason.) One of the bus driver even stopped the bus to let me know that I should get off at this particular station because I've missed my previous stop - if he didn't let me know, I'm pretty sure I would've just gone back on the bus back to Amsterdam lol.

The visit to these two places definitely exceeded my expectation - I can go so far to say that in terms of the landscapes, I much prefer the Waterland area compared to Amsterdam. (In terms of attractions though, Amsterdam still wins.) Highly recommended if you have an extra day or two and you're a bit bored of Amsterdam.

Edam


This is the bus platforms at Edam where you would wait for your respective buses





Dude, where do I sign up for the house-and-boat-package?
Seriously, it seems like everyone has a boat???




Obligatory selfie
This is similar to Amsterdam, non?

Someone's ready for Christmas

Marken


Having had my fill of Edam, I then made my way to Marken. Marken is my favourite place out of the two, hands-down! Marken gives you the impressions of a rustic countryside living, and the walk around the area is my favourite - they even have a walking path along the coastline! Can you imagine having a daily morning walk along the coast? 




Had chips at the above building, which is actually a restaurant!
These chips are seriously THE BEST THING EVER especially during winter, with the mayonnaise and all <3 Also, I have a bad eating habit whenever I travel alone, and this was my breakfast and lunch. Yeah I know, I'm trying to work on that. 

I took a stroll around the Marken area trying to find the infamous Marken Lighthouse (you can call it getting lost, but again, it doesn't sound as nice).

While I was in Edam & Marken, I noticed that people were really friendly - most of the people I encountered would smile, but some would even go a step up and give you a friendly "hello" with a 1000kW smile. I was infected to follow their way while I was in Edam & Marken and just smiled like a fool and said "hello" to every stranger I passed by - you don't get that kind of friendliness in Amsterdam, that's for sure. (Plus, it would be pretty tiring to do it in Amsterdam, the city with the densest population in the world!)

You know that Robert Frost poem about the road less taken? Yeah, that poem aptly described my situation in this case.
I'm preetttyy sure I'm trespassing across someone's farmland... 



Ahhhh, at last, the light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel! After a 30-minutes walk through someone's farmland probably (sorry I was accidentally trespassing!) I finally saw the silhouette of the Marken Lighthouse.





The walk along the coastline was suuuuper windy! I loved it, except it was also super freezing lol.
I am in love with the coastlines in Marken.



After a satisfying day, I went back to Amsterdam for a last stroll around the area before I had to make my way to the airport and back to Malaysia.

My last lunch-as-dinner in Amsterdam - halal kebab! This was seriously delicious. 

Goodbye Amsterdam, you've been kind to me! 



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