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.

Discover Your True Self – #Studyabroadbecause

From time to time I’m asked to do interviews about my travel or study abroad experiences.  In the past I’ve been bad about sharing those here on VirtualWayfarer.  These interviews surface a different side of my travel experience and offer me a chance to offer advice through a slightly different lens.  As a result, I’ll aim to be better about linking to the most content rich of these interviews when I do them. The latest of which was an invitation to weigh in on why people should study abroad while simultaneously sharing my own study abroad story. I’ve re-produced the first two questions in the Q&A here. Make sure to click over to Wandering Educators for the full interview.

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

My story is fairly complex. As a kid, my parents homeschooled my brother and I in place of 5th and 7th grade. 5th grade was spent backpacking Europe. 7th grade was spent in a 32-foot 5th-wheel trailer as we took a year and drove across the United States. I did my first study abroad the summer of my Freshman year of College. I was incredibly nervous despite the childhood trips. It was a 6.5 week Honors study abroad program in the British Isles. I debated doing a full semester or year and really wanted to, but could never work up the nerve. The summer program ended up being a great experience. Despite loving it and really flexing my travel muscle, I still never quite worked up the courage over the remaining 3 years of my BA to do a full semester or year abroad.

When I graduated, I turned around and tossed caution to the wind. After 4 years of being worried about doing a solo semester abroad, I closed my eyes and jumped into a 3 month solo trip through Europe. I figured it was now or never. It was amazing. I returned to a full-time job in Mergers and Acquisitions, where I managed two 16-21 day trips a year for the next 3 years. Then, tired of Arizona and eager to return for a Master’s, I applied to a number of schools selected based purely on reputation, the appeal of their location, and if they had a communication program. My methodology? A list of the top 50 Universities in the world and an afternoon of research. I ended up with 8 Universities split between 4 PhD programs (trying to skip the MA) and 4 MA programs. Of these, 3 were in Europe. All of the PhDs rejected me and the MA decision came down to Georgetown in D.C. or the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Georgetown wanted $30k in tuition a year. University of Copenhagen offered me a complete tuition waiver…as well as a 2 year visa to live in and explore Europe. The opportunity to do what I hadn’t had the nerve to do previously was too enticing to resist (and that tuition waiver helped).

Despite having only spent 2 days in Denmark during a trip the year before, I relocated figuring I’d see what happened and give it a go. It was one of the best and most pivotal decisions of my life.

Malaga In January – A Pleasant Surprise

Seville, Granada, Cadiz … these are the cities that spring to mind when you talk about southern Spain in winter. Cities with rich architectural history, stunning old towns, vibrant cultural attractions and a charm guaranteed to steal your heart.  Malaga? Not so much. Unless, that is, you’re on the hunt for ugly cement resorts, overly crowded beaches, shady tourist restaurants, and an old city swallowed long ago by the forward march of industry and excessive tourism.  At least, that’s the Malaga I expected. My lazy Google pre-trip search did little to assuage my concerns. Photos from above showed me a modern city with beaches and a skyline marked by the jarring sight of ugly hotel elbowing its way in front of ugly hotel.  A perusal of a few top 10 things to do in Malaga lists further cemented my plan to use Malaga and more specifically its airport as a cheap way-station to get into and out of as quickly as possible.

Hostel Etiquette – Sleep In Your Own Damn Bed

There is a pandemic raging through hostel culture…and no, it isn’t bed bugs.  In a sleepy dorm room somewhere nearby a tired individual has made the grand trek up four flights of stairs, down a long zig-zag hallway all while fighting the never ending battle that comes with magnetic keycards. You know the battle i’m talking about; the first attempt never works, then you try it again … slower … no luck.  Confused, you then rotate the card and try the other end … but, no, that’s not it … then on the fourth, fifth, sixth, or sixteenth try you get the timing and pressure just right and the door makes that loud grinding noise causing the hairs on your arm stand on end in a mixture of discomfort and relief.

With every bit of Elven deftness you ease into the room and carefully navigate to your bed praying you don’t trip over a backpack or pair of carelessly tossed shoes. You may be returning from a night out on the town or be freshly arrived.  Either way; eager to kick off your shoes, slide into bed, and rest…you notice a lump and mess of disheveled sheets in the bunk you’ve been assigned.  Careful not to bathe the whole room in light, you use your cell phone to check the bunk number and the number on your card. Then the annoyed conundrum strikes. You’ve been the victim of a bed thief. What to do? Do you dump your water bottle on the person? Storm to the door and turn the light on making a scene and waking up the rest of the room? Head back to reception?  Is there another bed available? Is it a bed you want?

Fun Fact: The Day is 37 Minutes Longer in Southern Denmark

The dark depths of winter in the Nordic countries is a topic often discussed and in some ways synonymous with the various nations’ identities. As an Arizonan who has re-located and spent the last few years in Denmark, the pressing darkness of the winter months was definitely a challenge to tackle. Still, with a trove of Vitamin D supplements and a small army of candles I’ve not only survived but thrived during Denmark’s long, dark, winters.  Though, perhaps, I exaggerate a bit unjustly.  After all, while the days are often frustratingly fleeting during winter, we still have the luxury of enjoying bursts of sunlight which can genuinely be called days.  This, unlike our northern brothers and sisters, who at times see little more than the briefest, twilight infused tease from the sun.

It is also often bordering on the impossible to talk about Denmark at any great length without being reminded by both Danes and foreigners alike that it is, after all, a tiny little country with only 5.6 million residents. I would even go so far as to say that among Danes it is a badge of honor. Given all they accomplish and their impact on the world at large? … perhaps rightly so.

I share all of this because I think it sets the tone for why so many of us often forget just how large the world we live in actually is and the quirky dynamics that result when a nation’s borders and the mental identity we associate with  those borders collides with the realities of the earth’s rotation and orbital tilt.  If you, like me, often find yourself thinking about Denmark as one semi-homogeneous country in almost all things the following may shock you.  Had you settled in for a Carlsberg on a beach outside the Danish town of Hirtshals near the northern tip of Jutland yesterday (December 28th) and called a friend in Sønderborg, a lovely town situated at the base of the Jutland peninsula and just next to Denmark’s border with Germany, you would have learned that your friend’s day was a full 37 minutes longer than your own. Jealous? I know I am.

Despite only being a three and a half hour drive to the south (and as a result at the opposite end of Denmark) the difference between sunrise and sunset between these two cities is significant.  That’s a distance just longer than the space between London and Leeds in the UK, Berlin in Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic, Santa Barbara and San Diego in the USA, and between Washington D.C. and New York City. Not bad ehh?

Want to have some fun? Calculate the difference in the length of your day against other locations within your own country. There are a few services on the web that will tell you how long the day in various cities will be, or you can calculate it on your own using Google to pull the sunrise and sunset for various locations. Also, thanks to Maja, a friend and local Danish expert, who tipped me off to this simple but surprising mental exercise.

Oh, and I suppose I’d be remiss in my responsibilities if I didn’t answer that age old question – just how large IS Denmark?  The country is roughly 368km [229 miles] from north to south and about 450km [280 miles] from east to west (excluding Bornholm). Who is ready for a roadtrip?