Uncharted Backpacker

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Travel Scams

Wherever you are in the world, when a destination becomes popular for tourists, there will be travel scams. These scams range from simple theft, trickery and can even result in much more serious events that can ruin your holiday. After being exposed to almost all of these scams in my eleven years of globetrotting I have created this Travel Scam Guide to help you become a Travel Scam expert without having to actually be scammed! Follow me as I discuss the top Travel Scams I have encountered!

The Rigged Taxi Metre

Hopping in a taxi in Saigon, Vietnam I was in a rush to get back to the hotel. Traveling only three blocks I look at the taxi metre and realise that it was already at 30 USD! When I asked the taxi driver about it he explained that I would have to pay it as that is the standard fare. I refused and the taxi driver got very violent!

Avoiding the Rigged Taxi Metre Travel Scam

Well I never ended up paying the driver and it resulting in a scary experience as he threatened to fight me.

There are many ways to avoid this pesky travel scam. The best is knowing how much a taxi should cost by asking a local, and keeping a close eye on the metre. Even doing that if you get stuck with a rigged taxi metre the best way to diffuse the angry taxi driver is to threaten to call the police. Even if you do not have a phone, just say your calling them now! This worked for me and the cab driver eventually let me go.

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Always agree to taxi fares if there is no taxi meter

Broken Taxi Metre

Tired and grumpy I exited the New Delhi trains station from a twenty-hour train ride. Taking advantage of an exhausted traveler is what the looming taxi drivers want. When I approach the taxi he says the metre is broken and I will have to pay a very high price to go somewhere very close. He ensures me this is the “local” price.

Avoiding the Broken Taxi Metre Travel Scam

No matter how tired you are don’t give in! if you do, this travel scam will continue to be rampant. After asking the cab driver to please just turn the metre on he refused. Lucky that this being India, and like any busy transport hub in the world, there were hundreds of taxis. If you want the metre just simply say “ok I will get a taxi with the metre”, This is usually enough to convince him too put his metre on. If he still doesn’t turn it on simply go and find another taxi.

Be weary if you do get in the taxi that he does turn it on, more times than often he will forget to turn it on!

Closed Hotels

Arriving by bus into Siem Reap, Cambodia I am attacked by hundreds of unsuspecting hotel touts. Getting off the bus all of them tell me the hotel I want is fully booked. Ignoring them and getting into a taxi to my hotel he stops half way through the journey and tells me “sorry sir, the hotel you booked closed months ago”.

Avoiding the Closed Hotels Travel Scams

Feeling trapped and in the hands of this closed hotel scam I simply say “well I have a booking?”. Yes, the best way around this scam is to just say you have booked ahead of time. Even if you haven’t, just say that you do. This will also fend of the “my brother has a very nice hotel” follow up response from the taxi.

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

In Siem Reap near Angkor Wat there is many bogus hotel scams!

Closed Attractions Scams

While walking to Bangkok’s famous Wat Pho Temple a friendly local approaches me to ask if I need directions. Simply asking where wat Pho was lead to the response of “Oh sorry, Wat Pho is closed, the monks are praying”. While this might seem logically to the unjaded traveler, in reality the “local” is a scamming taxi driver.

Avoiding the Closed Attractions Travel Scams

“Well I guess Ill take my chances” I respond to the smiling scammer. Even with saying this he followed me all the way to the door of Wat Pho. You see, do not believe these kinds of stories. Massive tourist sights are rarely closed and you should always investigate to see if they actually are closed.  Don’t be rude, just be stern!

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

South East Asia is famous for the “closed attraction” scam

Free Bracelets or Religious Items!

Entering the Ghats in Pushkar, India, a priest approaches me. “you must be blessed and receive a Hindu bracelet when entering here”. While this seems like a legit offering its not. This is not the custom, and this is not even a real priest.

Avoiding the Free Items Travel Scams

Do not accept anything for free! Always except that anything in the third world will cost you. This sounds harsh, but it is reality. Travel scammers are smart and know that being insensitive to culture is something us westerners are very worried of. They use this to their advantage and you are left with a big bill or a bad feeling. Just refuse any Free Offerings.

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Although Sadhu’s in Varanasi are legitimate, it doesn’t mean you wont have to pay up for that religious bracelet!

Motorbike Scams

Fresh off the trail from my motorbike journey through Laos central region, my scooter rental company looks at me with a stern look. They circle the bike with a notepad in hand shaking their head as they write down a bunch of random notes. They explain there is a lot of damage and I will have to pay a massive fine to fix the bike.

Avoiding Motor Bike Travel Scams

I was in no accidents and the bike only had the previous damage on it. This is the scam however. The bike owner will try to tell you that YOU did the previous damage and will give you a highly inflated price to fix it and then will not actually fix the bike. Best way to avoid this one? Before agreeing to take the bike tell the owner you are going to take photos and show him that you have photos of all the previous damage. This is usually enough to stop him from scamming.

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Always be sure to check your motorbike out before you leave. Leh, India

Fake Police Scams

“Please sir buy me a bag of rice” a friendly beggar asks me on the streets of Nairobi Kenya. I tell him I don’t have the money and I proceed to go to the mall. When entering the mall, the police approach me and tell me I have just aided an illegal immigrant and I am under arrest.

Avoiding Fake Police Travel Scam

First ask for the police badge, more than often they will provide you with an obvious fake, or refuse to give it to you. Next ask to talk to their “chief” at the station. Since there probably is no station they will begin to panic. By now you should know if these are real police. Do not pay a bribe and just simply walk away. A real police officer will surely arrest you anyways right? Well these ones won’t.

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

The police in Pakistan are incredibly friendly and helpful, not like everywhere!

Fake Transportation Scams

Trying to get from Delhi to Agra in India should be simple right? Well not according to the scammers who just approached me at the Delhi train station. You must buy your ticket from the Official Tourist office they tell me.

Avoiding Fake Transportation Travel Scams

Guess what, there is actually an official tourist office. The location however is not where any friendly local is going to take you. In fact, they will take you to an office that will charge you ten times what the actual price is. Instead just say no to these friendly people, and look in your guide book where the official office is. If there is no office, then look online where the cheapest ticket can be found.

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Finding decent transport in Mongolia is hard, but when you do find it, its awesome!

The Overly Friendly Beautiful Women

Sitting in a retro pub in Cartagena, Colombia I order my second beer. Just then a stunningly beautiful Colombian goddess sits down beside me. With her perfect smile she asks for me to buy her a drink. In Canadian culture this is a common way to flirt so my response should be and resounding yes!

Avoiding the Colombian Goddess (Friendly Women) Travel Scams

Well unfortunately my ego must take a hit here. This gorgeous woman is not here for my dashing good looks, instead she is here to either to try and get me to a hotel where she can sedate me to rob me or more commonly she works with the bar and wracks up an insane bill that I will be forced to pay. Sorry, not this time you beautiful thang!

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Sometimes even taking a picture you will have to pay up! Like the fruit women in Cartagena Colombia!

Money Magic

I’m in a rush in Egypt. As I exit my cab I hand him 100 Egyptian Pounds. He looks at me puzzled and say “sir this is only 20 Pounds?”, baffled I try to remember if I handed him the right amount!

Avoiding the Money Magic Travel Scams

This time I refused and the driver got angry, but I learned my lesson from this. Now anytime I take a cab I count my money. If I know the fare ahead of time I take out the money beforehand, otherwise as the metre goes up I take smaller notes out. I also count the taxi fare out in front of him so he sees it, this stops this travel scam.

Gemstone, Perfume, Carpet Dealers

Last but not least is the gemstone, perfume and carpet dealer scams. Gemstones being India and Thailand, Perfume being Egypt and Carpets being Turkey. When companies need to do shady business they hire touts, very Sauvé well mannered people to do their biddings.

Avoiding the Gemstone, Perfume and Carpet Dealer Travel Scams

This one is simple, if someone says they know a great place or you need to stop there on your tour just say no. Shops selling good quality products don’t need to hire touts to bring you to them. If you want these products, look in your guidebook or online for reviews. In the end there are many cases of fake gems, low quality perfume and “old carpets” just being dirty new ones.

Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Afghanistan has plenty of authentic buys!

 

 

 

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Stephen Gollan

Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

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  • This is awesome Stephen! An excellent round-up and I loved the way you explained everything. I also had the “fake art exhibition” in Beijing where “students” ask you to come see their school’s art exhibition. Next thing you know you’re taken through a rat maze of buildings, alleyways and lifts only to find yourself in a tiny little room crammed with paintings and a whole bunch of other worried-looking tourists.
    Then the hard sell begins and they unofficially threaten to not let you leave until you buy something. Incredibly overpriced, of course.

    Amusingly, I ended up picking one I liked, asked the “artist” to sign it for me specifically on the back and when the signatures didn’t match I told them I’d pay $5 for it and was very unimpressed with the scam (I speak some Mandarin but they also spoke English, plus I love to bargain). They sort of ashamedly agreed and I now love that little black and white painting of Beijing for all it represents.

  • Great article! I have been to 21 countries so I know you must have even more scams to write about having been to over 70 .
    My 1st time in Asia was the Philippines and a taxi driver was supposed to take me to an internet cafe. He then says he will take me to his brother’s for free to pick up tickets to a pool party at a hotel ,which I have read online are popular there. He takes me several blocks and there are 5 guys with knives waiting for me and take $450 from me and leave me with $10. This was back in 2002.

  • Excellent article, Stephen. One of the most comprehensive pieces I’ve ever seen about travel scams. I’m going to post your link on my social media! Nicely done, sir!
    Regards, Roy Stevenson

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