Travel scams, we all fall for them. To be honest, I have fallen for quite a few scams myself. Based on my personal experiences, I have compiled a list of the most common (and tricky) travel scams that you will find in almost any country.
1. Unsolicited Directions
In this scam a local person will approach you and offer to show you to your destination. They will be polite and even make small talk. You might even think ‘wow what a nice person!’ However, once you arrive at your destination they will ask you to pay them for guiding you. They may try to guilt trip you or tell you that they know you have money because you are a tourist. They may even start to make a scene and demand for you to give them money.
If a person approaches you to provide directions, it is probably because you have that unwanted ‘tourist look’. We all know the look and as much as we try, we cannot always avoid it. This does not mean that everyone is just out to make a buck. Many people are generally nice and may just want to help you.
Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, then it is better to be safe than sorry.
If you aren’t lost, then politely thank the person and walk away. If you are actually lost, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, then it is better to be safe than sorry. If someone approaches you when you are lost and you feel that they ‘may not have the best motives’ then you should just politely thank the person and ask someone else for directions.If you do find yourself in a situation where someone is demanding payment from you the best thing to do is to walk away. Do not engage with them.
2. Free Stuff Doesn’t Exist
I have been approached many times by street vendors to be given something for “free”. In Mozambique it was a free bead in my hair, in France it was a free bracelet. The list goes on. And believe me, I have fallen for this scam quite a few times. Street vendors will “give you something” and then demand payment once you have accepted. A vendor may say that they are giving you something because you are pretty or nice. These lines are designed to get you to take something from them so that you have to pay. If you don’t pay them they may start yelling or accusing you of stealing.
Operate under the assumption that nothing is free. In the past, when I have bombarded by people trying to give me something I have taken it just so that they will leave me alone. Don’t do this! You will be forced to pay for it once you take it. The best way to avoid this scam is to avoid eye contact if you are being bombarded by street vendors. If you are being followed (yes I have been followed) you should not acknowledge them, eventually they will go away. You may feel like this is rude, but it is not.
3. The Helpful Stranger
You are standing in the airport looking for your ride. You may be confused or out of it after just having flown for many, many hours. A nice person approaches you and asks if you need to use their phone to call your friend, hotel or shuttle. You think to yourself ‘just my luck!’ And you make your call. After finding out where your ride is waiting you thank the stranger and turn to leave. They then demand that you give them a large sum of money for using their phone.
This happened to me in South Africa. I was alone, my phone was out of minutes and I could not find my shuttle. A person in the airport offered me their phone and then demanded waayy too much money for using it. Luckily, I knew the cost of cell phone minutes in South Africa so I was able to get away by paying a small sum of money.
There are many information desks and security guards in the airport and most speak English. If you are lost or confused about where you are supposed to meet your ride don’t panic! This was my biggest mistake. Ask someone who works at the airport. It is their job to help you. if you miss your ride you can always get another one.
4. Taxi Meter Not Running
You get into a taxi and the driver either doesn’t turn on the meter or says “it’s broken”. You decide to proceed with your ride because you are already in the car (or you may not have even noticed the lack of a running meter). When you arrive at your destination the driver tells you that you owe him an astronomical amount. If it is your first day in the country, then you may not even realize that you are being ripped off. Even if you do realize that the driver is trying to scam you, it is pretty difficult to get away without paying what the driver is demanding, especially if you have luggage in the trunk.
First of all, make sure that the driver turns on the meter when you get into the car. If this is not an option then negotiate a set price with the driver before you begin your trip. This scam tends to happen a lot at the airport because drivers recognize that this may be your first time in the country. I like to do a little research before my trips to find out how much I should expect to spend on transportation from the airport to my hostel. Then I will be prepared to negotiate with drivers.
5. Kids Begging for Money
If you’ve ever traveled overseas then you have most likely seen kids begging for money in the streets. The children may be disabled or be carrying even smaller children with them. Our first thought is to give them a little money because we feel bad. They are just little kids!
As sad as it is, giving money to kids begging in the streets is not the answer. Many of these children have “pimps” who they bring the money back to. Some of these children have even been disfigured for the sole purpose of trying to trick tourists into giving them money. This is not an industry that tourists should support. In Nicaragua, I was told by my local guide not to give money to the kids begging because if they make money on the streets then they won’t go to school.
6. Tickets, Tickets, Tickets!
You get on the bus or train and purchase your tickets from the driver. You go to your seat and wait to arrive at your destination. However, the driver has given you the incorrect type or number of tickets. The driver then calls the public transportation “security” and they are waiting for you at the next stop. They haul you off the bus or train and demand to see your tickets. You show them thinking ‘this is all a misunderstanding’. The security team points out the problem with your ticket and insists that you pay a $75 fine. The security team is scary and tells you that you are lying. The only thing you can do to get away is pay the fine. THIS HAPPENED TO ME IN FRANCE!
Do your research ahead of time. Make sure you know how much each ticket costs, which stop you will be disembarking and what class you have paid for. If you are not sure if you have the correct ticket ASK! In my case, I paid for two tickets, but was only given one. I figured the ticket that I was given covered both me and my companion. I also did not realized that I was supposed to validate my ticket when I got on the bus. I learned that you should always pay attention to what other people are doing. IF I had been more observant then I would have realized that each person had their own individual ticket and that they were validating them.
I learned that you should always pay attention to what other people are doing.
7. Valuables in Checked Luggage
You left your wallet and cash in the front zip pocket of your checked baggage for safe keeping. Once you’ve landed, you go to pay for transportation and find that your wallet and cash are gone! You immediately notify the airline and they state that they will do an “investigation“. You are now in a foreign country with no money arrggh!!
Experienced travelers know that luggage handlers are known to unzip or slice checked baggage to see if they can find anything of worth. Keep all valuable items in your carry on luggage! If there is an item of worth that you feel you cannot keep in your carry on then I would suggest shrink wrapping your luggage at the airport. Many airports offer this service for a small fee to deter luggage handlers from taking a peak.
Good luck on your trip! And if you do get scammed, don’t feel bad. It happens to the best of us. Use your experience as a learning tool. Please comment if you know of any other common/tricky travel scams!