New York Times travel columnist Joe Sharkey was surprised when he found two bills that he’d received when he exchanged his dollars for pesos at the Mexico City airport were refused by a taxi driver.
“This is no good,” said the cabbie. “Counterfeit.”
Which led Joe to look into the issue of counterfeit money abroad. And he was surprised to learn that countries often visited by Americans—Mexico and England, for example—are having problems with fake currency. And tourists who aren’t familiar with the look and feel of the local money are prime targets when it comes to passing those bills.
What’s worse, there’s not a lot you can do if you find you’re holding fake bills. In Mexico, Joe’s hotel general manager suggested he not call the police because, after all, it was HE who now possessed counterfeit money.
The best way to avoid getting stuck with fake money is to look at bills you receive carefully and note the feel of the paper. Even a fake bill in a foreign currency can be surprisingly easy to spot IF you’re looking for it.
I’ve done two Travel Minutes on how much I enjoyed my first trip to Costa Rica. I went there late last month to do a remote broadcast of my weekend travel radio show from the Four Seasons resort in the lush, northeastern part of the country.
But I was most impressed with a program with which the hotel cooperates that offers a great way for visitors to meet the locals and do good by doing well.
A non-profit, community relations organization called (in English) Growing Together works in the province of Guanacaste to help communities in the areas of education, leadership, tradition and cultural values. In Costa Rica’s most sparsely populated region, Growing Together gives a hand where it’s needed most.
As a travel journalist, I see this as an opportunity for visitors to get to know the community and locals beyond the usual cab driver or hotel front desk clerk. Make a reservation on the Four Seasons Costa Rica web site, and click on “Volunteering” under “Services & Amenities,” and learn how you can lend a for a day during your vacation. It’s a great way for parents to introduce kids to community service.
All around the world, folks who lead tours offer helpful suggestions to tourists on where they should shop for local items. Sometimes they can be very helpful, but often they receive a commission for steering you through a retailer’s door.
Recently the state of Alaska blew the whistle on that.
For years, major cruise lines serving Alaskan ports have had on-board folks known as “port lecturers.” Yes, they offer advice on what to see when a ship docks, but they often act more as salespeople than guides. They work for large companies that charge stores in that port to be part of their list of so-called “approved” shops.
The not-so-subtle suggestion is that other merchants might rip you off.
This goes on around the globe. I’ve had guides take me to their “cousin’s”—and I put that word in quotes—jewelry stores in Thailand and India. On the streets of Istanbul or Marrakesh, helpful locals offer to show you the very best carpet store in town often owned by their “cousin,” too.
But Alaska just levied new rules on cruise lines that require port lecturers to be identified as sales people. And they’re forbidden to cast aspersions, subtle or otherwise, on other retailers.
Crowd sourcing has proven useful for all kinds of travel-related things. Consider TripAdvisor that offers up millions of consumer reviews of hotels around the world. Last month, Google paid an astonishing $1 billion for a company you’ve probably never heard of, an Israeli-based start-up called Waze.
Your commute may be shortened as a result.
Waze is an app that lets drivers report road congestion in real time that could lead to shorter commutes which means cleaner air and less fuel consumption as drivers are re-routed instantly.
I have to tell you, $1 billion is a big vote for the future of this app.
At the University of Toronto, some smart folks have developed software that allows traffic lights to read the flow of traffic and then adjust the timing of their reds and greens accordingly. Today the system operates at 59 Toronto intersections, Jeffrey Ball reported recently on Slate.com.
The assertion is that travel time has been reduced by 25% and lowered carbon emissions by 30%. As writer Ball points out, electric vehicles may get a lot of press, but they’re social good so far is a drop in the bucket compared to these two coming attractions.
I was a young Washington Post reporter when the first casino opened in the down-on-its-luck town of Atlantic City, NJ, 35 years ago. I was stunned at the long lines that waited to get in the Resorts International Hotel & Casino that first day. And the dozens of competitors that followed were meant to usher in a renaissance that would rescue Atlantic City.
That didn’t happen.
Visitors checked into the hotels with casinos, ate there, shopped there, but there wasn’t much trickle down of money to the town as a whole. Then the first casino opened in Pennsylvania in 2006, and it siphoned off gamblers who’d been going to Atlantic City for 30 years.
Casino and hotel revenue plunged, thousands of jobs were lost. Now one casino there is hoping a pricey strip club might boost business.
Yesterday the Trump Taj Mahal opened a $25 million branch of Scores, the New York City club that attracts sport stars, actors, and other big spenders. Total nudity and lap dances are prohibited. There are four strip clubs in town, but the Trump folks hope the safety and status of an in-property club will begin a rising tide that will lift all boats.
Call me skeptical.