A Disturbing Travel E-Mail Scam and the Western Union Problem

There’s probably not a week that goes by that you don’t find at least one e-mail scam in your inbox.  Most play on the desire to win the lottery, greed, or a less-than-selfless desire to help strangers out.  The most famous of these are the classic Nigerian e-mail scams. You know the drill – some prince/king/billionaire/princess has died or needs your help and has a ton of money waiting for you. All that’s needed are your contact details/bank account details/ or a small down-payment to help get the money out. These mostly prey on the profoundly gullible, technologically un-savvy, or elderly and believe it or not, they’ve actually been the subject of a fairly significant amount of academic research.  Some of that research has suggested that these scammers make their e-mail approaches intentionally cliche (eg: ever wonder why they ALL supposedly come from Nigeria?) because it automatically weeds out the more skeptical or technologically savvy recipients.  In short, they’re perverse and disgusting but ultimately somewhat harmless to the vast majority of internet users.

The e-mail I woke up to this morning, on the other hand, was vastly different. It’s cold, it’s calculating, it’s brutally exploitative, it’s well researched, and it had just enough truth to it that even I, as a hardened internet veteran, sent a just-in-case Facebook message to ensure all was ok. It’s a variation on the “Grandparent Scam” but with a travel twist.

Christiania Has Lost Its Charm

During my initial visit to Copenhagen in July of 2009 my host made sure that Christiania was part of the two-day whirlwind tour.  The small freetown of Christiania is a fascinating place.  With a history that dates back to the 70s, the town considers itself an autonomous kommune completely independent of the Danish Government. This, despite being situated on what was in the early 70s, an abandoned Danish military base, in the very heart of Denmark’s capital.

The freetown, which has become most famous for its green light district called Pusher’s Street and the open sale of marijuana, was far more than just that. It was a fantastic artist community awash in creative and earthy experiments. It was not only safe, but felt it as well.  All while being family-friendly and the type of place where everyone congregated – be it businessmen in suits, families with young children, or the typical crop-cut washout thug.

A Video Guide To Exploring (and Learning) Danish Culture

The Danes are a famously quirky bunch.  They’re much beloved, generally liked the world over, and a bit of an enigma.  These are the people that gave us Vikings, Lego, and Danish design. They are a people and country famed for their work-life balance, straight to-the-point style of communicating, odd blend of extreme homogeneity and their contrasting sharp brand of Danish individuality. They have been hailed as both the most shameless people in the world (in a mostly good way) and as some of the most humble people in the world. Talk to anyone who has spent time in Denmark (and yes, that includes most Danes as well) and one thing is consistent – folks are fascinated by the Danes.

In the past I’ve talked a bit about the difference between Danes (and the Dutch!), Scandinavians, and the Nordics.  I’ve also delved into communication styles and the ways in which the Nordic style of communication differs from the North American style and approach.  As part of my increased focus on video content, I recently decided to expand that exploration into a video series focusing on Denmark, the Danes and my own special mix of observations, advice, and opinion.

Use Exciting History Podcasts To Revolutionize Your Travel

Exciting history podcasts. That’s right. I used those three words in one sentence without a hint of sarcasm or satire. They’re few and far between, but they do exist and holy smokes will they surprise you and revolutionize how you understand world history and the destinations you’re visiting.

Unless you were a history major (and even then), chances are good that you haven’t done a deep dive into a specific region or civilization’s history since you were a kid.  The history you got as a kid was useful, but also likely full of holes and deeply biased. Upon landing in a new city, it’s common to do a very shallow and cursory dive into the city/country/region’s history but that rarely goes beyond “This wall was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD.”  Who was Hadrian?  Where does he fit in the greater Roman history?  Why was he building a wall? Who the hell knows. For most of us those are the mysteries that are lost to time – both in the sense that even if we did know the answers we likely forgot them, and if we didn’t …. well, time is precious and even those of us with a desire to read historical texts like Meditations or in-depth period histories rarely find (or make) the time for them.

Turning 30 – Birthday Reflections On Life, Achievement and Travel

Prolific travelers often joke that we have commitment issues.  It’s a joke I’ve often made – after all, when folks asked how on earth I could pick up everything and re-locate to Europe for a 2-year Master’s or how I seemed to perpetually be traveling I would flash a smile, shrug, and explain, “No mortgage, no dog, no girlfriend”.   There is, undoubtedly, some truth to this somewhat cavalier statement…but it’s simultaneously an equal part bullshit. I don’t have issues committing and I’m most certainly not running from things.  There is a path I chose a number of years ago, mostly aware of the trade offs. I do not commit casually and I do not commit without reason.  Why?  Because each commitment is a rope (or chain) which binds us to a place and time.  The weight of these can, at times, be light or transient but even the smallest commitment, when taken seriously, is binding.

All Abroad - Train Travel

In life I can be uncompromising though I combine this with a personality and lifestyle which might seem in direct conflict due to its fluidity and socially-engaged but relaxed approach. How can someone who grew up with a mediator-oriented personality and leadership style be simultaneously uncompromising? As I’ve matured as a person and grown increasingly confident in myself, my abilities, and the decisions I make I find myself less inclined to doubt myself and more ok with the trade-offs that come with decisive decision making.

Family in Europe - 95

Today I turn 30.  It is an interesting opportunity to step back, reflect, and share some of my observations to date. Below you’ll find a mixture of items I think you may find interesting – either as insights to reflect upon, or as advice garnered from life-lessons I’ve learned and am happy to share.  Others are just general musings about issues I find interesting, which weigh on my mind, or which have shaped the person who I am today.

I Decided Against Travel Blogging As A Career – Here’s Why

I recently accepted a full time job. With that acceptance I concretely closed a chapter of my life during which I came very close to pursuing full time travel blogging as my career. Make no mistake, VirtualWayfarer isn’t changing, it just isn’t going to be a platform for my full-time career either.  Over the last two years many friends have expressed surprise that I chose not to pursue travel blogging as a career. Here’s a somewhat simplified explanation of why I made the decision to return to the corporate world and how I shaped that return to maximize my travel opportunities and work-life balance.

Back in early 2012 I found myself on the ground floor of the travel blogging industry’s professionalization.  Between 2011 and 2013 the industry underwent significant changes as travel blogging grew up.  Now, granted, there’s still major room for maturation and the industry lags behind similar blogging sectors like Fashion and Food. Still, what has been accomplished and happened to the Travel Blogging industry is extremely impressive and has been driven, in no small part, by a handful of individuals.

I’ve had the deep pleasure of knowing many of these individuals and enjoyed the opportunity for candid conversations and late night brainstorming sessions.  I’ve also had the opportunity to observe as they struggled to re-shape the travel blogging industry, to stand out, and to craft their own business.  These conversations and observations combined with my own first hand experiences as a fairly well-recognized travel blogger guided me to where I am today and have played a pivotal role in my ultimate decision.

It wasn’t an easy decision but looking back there were two key watershed moments.

A Grand New Adventure – Working in Denmark

July 21st, 2011 found me tearfully saying goodbye to my Parents.  I’d just sent three hulking bags through security and had a knot in my stomach that left me sympathizing with Atlas – at that moment we both felt as though we held the world upon our shoulders.  I was about to launch a grand new adventure, one that had a very unknown ending.  A few long hours later I arrived in Denmark and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I arrived in Denmark I only had one contact through a friend of a friend of a friend. In previous posts I’ve talked about how he saved my butt and deserves no small amount of credit for me making it through those first few months (Thanks Søren!). Those stories and so many more are archived here on VirtualWayfarer. They mark grand adventures, realizations, and a slow series of basic decisions – yes, or no – that led me forward. The conclusion of my Master’s marked the end of one grand chapter, just as it gave birth to what came next: the decision that I wasn’t done with Denmark yet, and that I needed to stay. The last year and a half was another chapter.  One that came with incredible challenges, wonderful growth, and the attainment of a number of life goals. Now, with today’s announcement, that chapter winds to a close and another, equally exciting one begins.
The Beach Visit

The News

What’s the big announcement?  Well, have no fear. I’m not pregnant. Nor did I manage to go diving with great whites and get eaten.  In fact, for this news I’m not even leaving Denmark…or perhaps I should say, that IS the news.

Copenhagen Under Siege

It’s just after 2:30A.M and I’m freshly returned to my apartment.  As I write this quick update the majority of the Copenhagen Police department is mobilized with what looks like military backup.  An active shooter remains on the loose in the heart of Copenhagen.  Trains are bypassing Norreport station and all vehicles entering and exiting the area are being checked at Police checkpoints.  In addition to a level of mobilization you almost never see from the Danish Police, they are also armed with assault weapons and in heavy bulletproof gear. They are on high alert and have been targeted repeatedly by the gunman. Right now it looks like at least five officers have been injured by the gunman, one civilian is dead, with a fifth individual also likely dead or in severe condition after being shot in the head.

*The suspect was engaged in a gunfight with Police early Sunday morning and has now been shot and killed* – 11AM (2/15/15)

I spent my evening dancing Salsa and Bachata in the city center.  My evening ended around 1:20AM…shortly after the apparent second shooting by the gunman, which took place near Norreport station at a Synagogue (about a 5 minute walk from where I was).  As we approached Nyhavn my friend and I noticed that it was extremely quiet for a Saturday evening (and Valentines Day no less).  There were two officers standing guard with assault rifles clearly visible.  I assumed it was a show of force for tourists as a precaution after the shooting which had occurred earlier in the day.  It was only as we got closer that I realized they were likely standing guard over the French Embassy which sits kitty corner to Nyhavn.  We spoke to them briefly and they informed us that a second shooting had taken place and advised that we return home.  Abandoning our stroll along Nyhavn we turned towards the Metro. As we did an unmarked van pulled up. It was full of what looked like a strategic military response team.