Travel is, as Mark Twain once said, a salve for narrow-mindedness and an opportunity for greater understanding. It’s also risky, with crime an ongoing concern in various parts of the world. Before you pack up and head out on your next adventure, know about the more prevalent travel scams and how to avoid them. Here are a few we think you should know about:
1: Want this ring?
We’ve seen this one in several European countries. In essence, a local claims to have found a gold ring (showing you some fake markings on the band to “prove” it), then offers to sell it to you for cheap. Naturally, it’s a knock-off, so don’t waste your money.
2: Here, wear this bracelet.
More aggressive vendors and shop-keepers, both in Europe and Asia, will often approach you as you amble down narrow, shop-lined streets. They’ll drape you with a shawl or put a bangle on your wrist, then tell you they can sell it for cheap — if you pay cash right away. As you’re already wearing the item, it’s hard to remove it and say no, but be firm: You didn’t ask for it, you don’t want it, you shouldn’t pay for it.
3: Got money for the bus?
This one is common in countries across the globe. A distressed homeless person comes up to you asking for change to help them secure a bus ticket or a meal. Even more insidious are those who look like well-to-do kids or adults asking for a couple of bucks to get something they need — usually a transportation ticket. Always say no; someone in real need wouldn’t approach a foreigner, but would look to a native or ask a friend instead.
4: Let me show you to the ATM.
Never agree to follow a stranger to an ATM. Map out the closest one(s) before you head out, or get directions from a trusted source (like a vetted tour guide). It’s not uncommon for locals to guide you to an ATM and watch where you put your wallet, then stealthily steal it as you’re leaving. In short: Never let people know where you keep your money.
5: Can you take this quick photo of me?
If you’ve ever seen a breathtaking landmark in person, you know how common it is for tourists to request passersby to take their photo in the foreground. A picture is worth 1,000 words, right? But be wary; some people will loiter near monuments and iconic buildings waiting for an unsuspecting tourist to happen by, then request that they take their photo. As you hand the camera back, they’ll purposely fumble and drop it, then demand you pay cash to replace it. To avoid this scam, take your own photos and avoid taking photos of strangers.
6: Wait, let me count your change again.
This is less an issue in established shopping areas and more an issue in smaller local markets. In essence, a vendor will accept payment for an item then very slowly count out the change. They’ll even fake a mistake and start recounting. The sheer amount of time they take to give you correct change can trigger you to impatiently just take whatever they’ve counted out and move on. Be careful, though; they often intentionally introduce the wrong bills or coins to short-change you. As you leave in a hurry, you won’t have any idea that they took more money than they were owed for what you purchased.
7: No, I’m sorry, this monument is closed.
In countries where the customs and language are distinctly foreign, natives sometimes prey on tourists’ disorientation at major tourist sites. They’ll put up signs or halt you on your way in, claiming that the monument you want to visit is actually closed. Most will then offer an alternative: another iconic building they can take you to, or a shop where you can browse instead. In the vast majority of cases, the landmark you arrived at is open and swindlers are just trying to get you to pay them for a side tour or unneeded product.
8: My taxi ride cost how much?
There are so many taxi scams around the world, it’s kind of ridiculous. A few, however, stand out as the most common. The first is the broken meter routine. The driver will start the meter, then claim at the end of your ride that it wasn’t working and the actual fare is much higher. It’s not; go by the meter.
In another scenario, the driver may claim they are offering a flat fee rate for transportation, but this is almost never the case — especially if they have a meter in the taxi you can see. Politely ask that they turn on the meter instead.
9: Your ticket won’t work, sir/ma’am.
Many popular tourist destinations require ticketed admission. Be sure you get your tickets from an official source — and not people standing outside the entrance claiming to be ticket-checkers/sellers. If you’re ticketless, they’ll sell you bogus tickets. Or, if you purchased tickets in advance, they’ll check your tickets and claim they are no longer good. Then, they’ll sell you some fake ones.
10: I can get you across the border faster.
We’ve seen (and heard about) this one a fair amount in Africa and Asia. Basically, a local will claim to be able to get you across the border faster than official means — if you pay them X amount. If you’re lucky, they’ll then escort you to a bus or taxi station and tell you to follow the same route you would have taken anyway. Worst case, though: They tell you to meet them at a designated location at a set time in the future, but fail to show up, leaving you stranded. It may take a bit longer, but use the official, designated routes.
11: How about a drink and a rub?
Young Western gents are often the target of ladies in Asia. The women will flirt with you shamelessly until you agree to a free massage or take them to a bar of their choosing. If you opt for a massage, you may find yourself empty-pocketed by the end of it; if you head to the bar, you’ll likely be paying ridiculous amounts for drinks, subsidizing kickbacks for your dates.
Do you know of other travel scams we should be aware of? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.