Watch Out and Check-in and Take Only Yours.

When a stranger offers you something… from the Watchout Travel Series


Imagine you are waiting in the queue to check in for your bus ride or flight, but the line is long and slow-moving. What do you do?

Me? I like to chat with the stranger next to me.

Fortunately for me, strangers respond to me about 80% of the time. Sometimes those conversations blossom into a continuing friendship, but most strangers simply become a pleasant companion during the hour-long wait.

Other conversations are not as rosy, though. Let me tell you why. I travel light because I want to be kind to my spine. Also, I don’t want to carry my entire house with me on a getaway. But before you read further, allow me to clarify that this article is not about how you should pack. I am sure you are way ahead of me when it comes to that. 😉

As a wannabe light traveller, here are few statements thrown at me when people notice I travel with just a few light items.

"Oh, ma'am, that's all you have? Did you know you can carry 20 kilos of items? This is a total waste, you know. Can you check-in these, too, for us at least?"

 "I have two carry-ons. You have none. Can you take one of mine, just until the gate?”

 "Can you do me an urgent favour and check in with us as part of my travel group? We can combine our weight distribution.”

 "Can I see your ticket? What is your seat number? Can I leave my carry-ons at your overhead compartment?"

 

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Heck no. No, no, and NO! Carrying unknown possessions is a crime. 

Earlier, I mentioned I liked to travel light. Well, that's partially right. The truth is, I rarely shop on vacation trips, so my bags are relatively light, but I do enjoy picking up a couple of unique mementoes for close loved ones. Duty-free shops, you’ll see me again!
 
I recall browsing at a handicraft outlet in a South Asian airport once. As always, I mentally calculated how much I could spend that day. I had enough local currency to purchase a couple of small wood or marble handicrafts. A few other travellers in the store, like me, desperately searched for last-minute goodies to pick up. I could hear discussions among other customers in the background.

"Do you like any of those?” I hear, my thoughts interrupted. I dislike store operators who tailgate customers. I am sure you don't like that either. When I come across such rude store workers, I just stare at them until they get the message and walk away. On this occasion, I looked up, a little irritated at the voice that took my attention away from the bangles. To my surprise, the bloke wasn't a store worker but another traveller. 

"I haven't decided," I told him. We talked for a bit. He told me that he would be stopping over in several other cities, including my home city, Kuala Lumpur. As a kind fellow traveller and to display the Malaysian hospitality, I was friendly but cautious. I learnt that his name was Avyaan (real name is changed for this post), that he lived in Mauritius, and that he was on the same flight as me.

"What do you think of these?" Avyaan, a middle-aged man, pointed at several wooden sculptures of half-clothed women. "I want to get one of these for my wife.”

Offensive, I thought and definitely not something I would purchase for anyone or ask a stranger for opinion on. I just shrugged in response.

"I have to finish off these." Avyaan showed me a stack of foreign currency that was way more than what I would walk around within my pockets. He had a lot of money, and I was pretty sure he wouldn't be travelling by coach with that much in hand. 

 "I hope she likes the gift," I replied indifferently.


reachingdelphi, shopping, coffee



After picking up and paying for a couple of small souvenirs myself, I was relieved to leave the store and Avyaan behind.

I found a comfortable seat next to the window at the boarding gate, sipped my coffee, and was happy to get on with The Orient Express, which was getting more exciting by the page. However, I was still feeling queasy about the person I had just exchanged some details with. But I wasn't in any position to be a Hercule Poirot, so I let the thoughts pass.


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So far, this sounds harmless, right? But hold on, it gets more interesting. As I was boarding the flight, someone taps my shoulder.

"I was hoping to see you," Avyaan said. "Here, for you." He handed me a foot-sized, paper-wrapped object.

"Hey, dude. I don't want this." I declined the gift, but he walked away.

The aircraft's doors closed, and soon we took off. I didn't see Avyaan for the rest of the trip, but I was shaken, and I kept imagining the worst. What if there were drugs inside or smuggled diamonds? I didn't have the courage to open the parcel.

Carrying unknown items, drugs, or any smuggled items for anyone is a serious offence, and the traveller doing so can be jailed. Though I was much younger when this incident happened, I was well aware of these criminal offences. Usually, young girls travelling alone become prey of organised syndicates looking to transfer illegal items. In recent years, I’ve read of horrifying incidents where several criminal organizations offered luxurious travel opportunities to new recruits who very trustingly carried unknown things on their behalf and were detained by customs during inspection.

When I got off the flight, I saw Avyaan, thanked him for the gift, but told him firmly that I wouldn't accept the gift and chucked it back to him. He was disappointed and insisted he needed to talk to me the next day.

In all fairness, this passenger who offered me the gift could have been genuine, but I did the right thing. I chose to decline.
reachingdelphi, coffee


What I Learnt
  • Do not accept any gifts from strangers or offer to travel with anything you have not inspected yourself. This applies to both checked and carry-on items.
  • Your first instinct during contact should indicate when something is fishy. Be prepared to walk away, ask for help, or report suspicious behaviour.
  • Do not compromise your family's safety by giving away any personal contact information or social media links containing private information to strangers. You never know when you might be giving access to a stalker.
  • You have the right to refuse to carry something on behalf of someone else. So don't feel guilty for exercising this right.
  • Opt for online check-in whenever possible. It’s quick, safe and gives you no reason to check-in some random strangers items.


Note: The photographs posted in this post are not from this trip.

Footnote:
Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

This series is dedicated to Doc, SV, who constantly reminded me to 'Watch Out!. Doc was a sensible traveller, while I, quite the opposite. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create an awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.

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