There's a certain group of travellers who are very easy to take advantage of. They're absolute suckers; total chumps.
You'll see them get themselves into all sorts of dangerous situations and you'll cringe at their stupidity. You'll watch as they get fleeced by people they thought were their friends. You'll see them get robbed or swindled in situations no one else would get themselves into. They're so much easier to fool than the rest.
This group of travellers? Men. Blokes. Dudes. They're the ones who are ripe for the swindling. They're the suckers who will always get done.
This, at least, is a theory I've been thinking about since it was first put to me a few weeks ago. The producer of traveller.com.au's new podcast, "Flight of Fancy" (subscribe via iTunes here or listen below), mentioned to me that there could be a good reason why I'm always getting scammed, and why one my guests on the first episode, Tim Charody, has also been fleeced many a time, and why my other guest, Traveller writer Ute Junker, has never been tricked: male travellers aren't so sharp.
Flight of Fancy: The Traveller.com.au podcast
Specifically, we're not used to being put in situations where we have to trust our judgment in regards to the motives of complete strangers who've come over to talk to us. We're not suspicious. We're not clever.
Generally, in our day-to-day lives in Australia, men aren't forced to make snap decisions about the trustworthiness of people we've never met before. No one approaches us on the street "just for a chat". No one threatens us or attempts to draw us into situations that are potentially dangerous.
So when that happens to men when they're travelling, as it tends to do in certain countries, particularly throughout South-East Asia and the sub-continent, we can't rely on a lifetime of experience to deal with it. When hundreds of strangers approach men to talk to them in, say, India, our intuition is all out of whack. Should I go to drink chai with this friendly guy? Sure, why not?
Men don't recognise the warning signs straight away. They have a naive trust in the good intentions of strangers that isn't always rewarded. They take risks with the assumption that everything will turn out all right.
This has happened to me on numerous occasions. I was tricked into paying a huge amount of money for a lunch in Hanoi by a local guy who seemed like he was my friend. I found myself embroiled in a jewellery smuggling ring in Jaipur after I trusted a couple of new "mates" to show me around the city. These things happened because I move through the world with this naïve assumption that anyone who acts friendly really will be friendly, and that everything will work out fine.
Contrast this with the experience women have of everyday life. They're forced to move through the world differently to men. They're constantly being approached by strangers in bars, and nightclubs, and restaurants, and bus stops, and shopping malls, and pretty much anywhere else they stand still for more than a few seconds, usually by men whose intentions, at least to begin with, will be unclear.
They have to make instant judgments about those interactions. They're forced to be wary of every approach. They soon get to learn the signs of an untrustworthy person. This is not done consciously, I'm sure. It's simply a mechanism for existing in the world.
That's probably part of the reason why Ute, my friend and Traveller colleague, has never been scammed on her many travels (she's also sharp as a tack, which doesn't hurt). It's why many female travellers have never allowed themselves to get into the sort of questionable situations I've found myself in, where I've placed blind trust in a stranger and hoped it would work out OK. Women can't afford to do that. The consequences of things going wrong are often so much worse.
I've become savvier over the years. I've come to learn the warning signs, to realise that strangers don't often befriend you in an overly enthusiastic way without having some sort of ulterior motive. I've become a little less naïve, I guess, in the way I view the world.
But this is a learned skill, and it's far from perfected. I'm sure it's the same for many other male travellers, too.
The women I've travelled with, however, have had this stuff down pat. The scammers have got no chance. Men could certainly learn a thing or two.
Have you been scammed while travelling? Do you think women have better instincts for this than men? Why?
To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy, click here.
See also: Five of the best travel scams