✈️ How to not get scammed in North Africa (based on a true story)
January 9th, 2023
Estimated read time: 4 minutes and 33 seconds
Good morning from Tunis International Airport. It's VERY early, but I'm excited to fly on Tunisair, an airline that's been on my bucket list for a while now, in their A330.
Thankfully, I have coffee to keep me artificially awake for my journey this morning...
Today is going to be a bit different...
I'll share some travel hacks I've been using recently, and some tips for staying safe when traveling to new places based on a rough experience I had here in Tunisia.
Let's jump into it:
🏃 Mike on the Move
😬 How to not get scammed in Tunisia (tips for staying safe while abroad)
🏃 Mike on the Move: how I'm using points, miles and travel hacks this week
I blast your inbox every day with travel hacks that are awesome, in theory.
But you may not realize that I'm using tons of these hacks myself every single day as I travel around the world.
So in this new segment, I'm going to share recent and upcoming travel hacks (mainly ways I'm using points and miles) that I'm using in real life.
First, I'll tell you about my hotel in Tunisia, which turned out to be one of the highest-value uses of points I've ever had.
I stayed at the brand-new Marriott Tunis Hotel for five nights, booked entirely on points.
Despite being a 5-star hotel and costing $170 USD per night, it only cost me 11,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, which is definitely a steal.
Since Marriott gives you every 5th night for free when booking on points, the 5-night stay only cost 44,000 points.
To make things even better, my Titanium Elite Status earned me a food and beverage voucher worth 60 Tunisian Dinars, or about $19 USD, for every night of my stay. Tunisia is not an expensive country, so that voucher bought me a full dinner, dessert, and a couple of drinks - every night. 👇
I also received free daily breakfast, a free upgrade to their executive suite, and 1,000 welcome points.
So in total, my 44,000 points got me the following:
$170 hotel night x 5 = $850
$19 food and beverage voucher x 5 = $95
Free breakfast (usually $15) x 5 = $75
In all, I received $1,020 of free hotels, food, and drinks. That means I got a value of 2.3 cents per point, more than twice the typical value of Marriott points.
And that doesn't include the suite upgrade, which I don't really place a specific monetary value on since I wouldn't otherwise pay cash for a suite like this.
Here are a couple of things I have coming up:
Today I'm flying on Tunisair from Tunis to Paris on their A330. I could've used points to book a flight on Air France, Lufthansa, or a couple of other airlines, but I found an even better travel hack:
This flight only cost about $50 when I bought it last month, probably less than my Uber from Paris Orly airport to my hotel will cost me...
I always jump at the chance to fly on new airlines anyway, so this was a no-brainer.
This week, I'll also stay at an amazing hotel called Le Dokhan's Palace in Paris. It's only steps from the Arc de Triomphe and typically costs around $500 or $600 per night.
Thankfully, I had a Marriott Free Night certificate and was able to book this hotel for $0 and 0 points, which is obviously as good as things can get.
Those are my travel hacking highlights for this week, and I hope you found them interesting and useful.
Next week will be really exciting, and I'll tell you how I'm using points and miles to travel through the more challenging destinations of Iraq and Tanzania.
😬 How to not get scammed in Tunisia (and anywhere else)
I've loved my time here in Tunisia, but things actually started off a bit rocky...
Okay, it was REALLY rocky... Here's what happened:
After arriving at the airport, I ordered a taxi with the Bolt app (basically Uber for Europe and North Africa).
Unfortunately, my taxi was stopped by the police, who promptly forced both the driver and myself to get out of the car. I was not quite sure what was happening, but the police officer explained that my driver was "not a real driver" and that I should get into this other taxi...
Not having any reason to distrust the police, I did.
Unfortunately, this driver proceeded to drive straight past my hotel, slam the gas pedal, and get on the highway heading toward the desert, at which point he asked for my money and possessions.
You can imagine his surprise when I told him to go f*** himself (pardon my English) and refused to comply.
Here are some of the reasons I didn't freak out and how I navigated the situation:
1. I always have my location shared with a few people
I have an iPhone, which allows me to openly share my location with friends and family. That means that at any given time, multiple people can locate my precise location. This is very easy to set up, and Apple has a great step-by-step on their website.
2. I always register my travels with the U.S. State Department
This is something you should always do, even while traveling with tour groups or in places you feel comfortable.
The State Department lets you easily provide your travel itinerary online with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). Here's a link to the exact site. Most countries have something similar, which you should be able to find with a quick Google search.
If something happens in a country you're visiting (major weather events, terrorist attacks, or any other possible danger), you'll be contacted by them and kept in the loop about their recommendations.
It also gives you a failsafe in situations like mine... more on that in a sec.
3. I always ensure I have cell phone service before leaving the airport
Whenever I'm in a new country and traveling alone, I always make sure I have access to cell phone service. Sometimes this is with eSIM cards (which I explored in more depth in this newsletter) or buying a local SIM card.
This is mainly for practical reasons like ordering a taxi, navigating to my hotel, and using translation apps to communicate with drivers.
It also comes in handy when you're being driven into the desert unexpectedly.
I was able to quickly call someone who had my location, explain the situation, and instruct them to contact the police and the U.S. Embassy if my driver didn't change his tune in the next minute.
Since this person had my location, they could easily share it with the local police and U.S. Embassy if things went south.
4. I do my research
There's nothing sexier than cold, hard well-researched data.
And thanks to my research, I knew that Tunisia has not been known for violent crime in recent years. Most of the time, people pulling scams like this will not harm you but merely want to intimidate you.
When you decline their demands, they don't have many options but to bring you where you want to go. After all, stealing some money from a tourist is a lot different than harming them in the eyes of the local law.
Quick note:I have to mention that I'm a tall, white male and have it easier than most people in these situations. I can't speak to what it must feel like to be a solo female traveler, someone of another race or ethnicity, or a less-experienced traveler (or all of the above). Sadly, there are some places in the world where people may have a particularly difficult time because of these factors. Therefore, I can only speak to my own personal experiences rather than recommend you do exactly what I do.
Anyway, the driver turned around when he heard me talking on the phone about calling the police, sharing my location, and coordinating with the U.S. government.
Once he got off the highway downtown, I promptly got out of the car and made my way to my hotel, where I shared my experience with the hotel staff.
They explained that, sadly, the police and local taxi drivers at the airport work together to scam tourists like this, comparing them to the mafia... yikes...
As it turns out, the Bolt car I got into initially was very much legitimate, and it was just the police abusing their power.
If I come back to Tunis, I would do one of the following:
Order a Bolt again. If the police pull the same move, I'd simply return to the airport and/or order another Bolt - I would NOT get into the taxi that the police try to nudge me into.
Coordinate with the hotel. Even if they don't have an airport shuttle (which my hotel didn't), they can at least schedule a pickup with a reputable taxi company.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened to me, and with the amount of travel I do, it won't be the last.
I'm thankful that things worked out the way they did, and I hope that using some of these tips will help you out should you be unlucky enough to find yourself in a similar situation.
Aside from this unfortunate incident, my time here in Tunisia has been fantastic, and I've really enjoyed seeing the history, eating all the amazing food, and watching some of the best sunsets of my entire life.
So I still recommend you visit if you ever have the chance.
I know today was a bit different and quite long-winded... But we don't often talk about hands-on tactics for staying safe and more logistics-based travel tips like this.
Since it was so fresh on my mind, I thought it would be the perfect time to dive into the topic.
We'll be back to normal fun travel hacks tomorrow, so don't worry. 😉
Have you ever been in a scary travel situation? How did you navigate it? Do you enjoy hearing about real-world travel hacks that I'm using?Let me know by replying to this email or reaching out on social media.