How to Avoid Tourist Traps and Scams While Traveling

We’ve all been there. The plane lands in a foreign and exotic land, you can practically smell a fresh culture, new perspectives and epic adventures, and are jumping out of your seat to explore. You say thank you to the flight attendant in the native mother tongue (because you googled it – smart cookie) and disembark. You eagerly scramble for your bags and then it hits you. You remember the dread and agony of trying to avoid tourist traps and scams in foreign countries. The locals of many countries can be tough, and are happy to overcharge innocent tourists. Luckily, we have a list of common tourist traps and scams to help keep you on your toes, and we offer some handy solutions!

11. Stolen Name Cards at the Airport

This particular tourist trap is a tricky one, and difficult to avoid. Taxi drivers and private cars drivers have started skulking around tourist agencies and tour desks at the airport to get the details of arriving travellers. They then write that passenger’s name and nationality on a card and wait at Arrivals for the passengers. Tourists automatically assume that person is with their tour company, because they have all the information.

Solution

A way to avoid this is to ask questions. Ensure before you leave, that the hotel or tour company writes your name on official stationary. Double check information with the person picking you up – this could be as simple as a hotel name or address.

10. Taxi Meter Jump

This one is just plain unfair. Taxi drivers will have meters; however, they will pre-program them to jump the price at increasing intervals. Keep an eye on the meter to ensure that you can call out any nasty drivers. They also have a tendency to take you on long detours that are claimed to be short cuts. This may include taking you around the city a few times and you’ll end up paying exorbitant fees to the driver upon your arrival.

Solution

To play it safe, you can research reliable companies on TripAdvisor before you leave home.

10. Fake Hotels

Some hotels have opened using the same name as established and reliable hotels. These however, are not. They utilise the reputation of the established hotel, and usually have a horrendous standard and expensive hotel fees. Usually, taxi drivers are co-operating with the fake hotels, to earn some extra cash, and will take you there when you announce your hotels name. It’s difficult, because you see the name of the hotel and assume that it’s correct.

Solution

Make sure that you double check the address of your hotel before leaving home, and have the address written down, so that you can show your taxi driver the correct address. The driver will then be forced to take you to the correct hotel.

8. Hotels that have closed down or have no space left

It’s the oldest trick in the book – but one that continues to trap us poor tourists. You tell your taxi driver the hotel you have booked and they announce (with surprising confidence and earnest) that your hotel has closed down. Never fear though, his brother owns a hotel that has availability! How lucky! In this situation, demand that the driver still drives you to your hotel, just to check. If they refuse, get out and grab a different taxi.

Another method is when the taxi driver has taken you to your correct, chosen hotel, “hotel workers” greet you and inform you that the hotel is booked out. They then offer another “branch” of the hotel. The hotel workers are extremely convincing – wearing uniforms and often have ID badges. The taxi companies and the fake hotel workers join forces and split the extra cash they make.

Solution

The best way to avoid this is to go into the hotel yourself and talk to someone standing behind a desk.

7. Fake Tour Guides

Often, tour guides will approach you in the street or even outside of your hotel, hoping to gain your business. Unfortunately, the map and the camera are an instant giveaway! They’re dressed in a full uniform, have an official looking ID badge and possess a hand written book full of previous customer recommendations. They’ll rope you in by asking where you’re from, and will usually quip back with a common phrase or food from your country of origin, eg. G’Day Mate! They do this to gain your trust and start a friendly conversation before charging you ridiculous fees to show you around the city.

Solution

The best idea to avoid this it to book through a hotel, or even online through a registered company.

6. Pickpockets

Ah this is the classic. We know it’s a concern in every country, but keep in mind that pickpockets have become increasingly talented. They can lift valuables from you without you even noticing. Especially in the Winter, when you’re wearing multiple layers of clothing. Some will even use a distraction. Another person will accidentally bump into you, while their partner is stealing from you.

Solution

Beware of areas with close confines and always keep valuables in a money belt, or in the locked safe in your hotel.

5. The Purchase Switch

This nifty little trap relies on tourists not paying attention when buying items. You will select a product and pay for it. Then, when your attention is elsewhere, they will quickly swap the product for a cheaper and poorer quality product. This usually occurs when they’re wrapping and packaging the product for you. It can also occur when you’re trying to work out your cash and how much you need to pay.

Solution

Keep your eyes on the prize.

4. Beggars On The Street Demanding Money

Children who are poverty stricken on the streets can be very difficult to ignore. As a tourist, your compassion for these children often overwhelms, and you want to help this child in any way. However, unfortunately, this too can be a tourist scam. Some children pretend to be the disabled or orphans, and ask tourists for mercy in the shape of cash. Without knowing the language, many tourists simply hand over the money. This can often perpetuate the cycle of poverty, as the money rarely goes towards food for the child.

Solution

If you want to help, try contacting the numerous, registered charity organisations in the country you wish to visit. You can volunteer with them under safe conditions, and you can have the knowledge that you’re making a real difference in the lives and communities of these children. Organisations such as Children International and Projects Abroad do some incredible work.

3. Confusing Currency Exchanges

This one is all too common, especially for foreigners who are not yet comfortable with the new currency and the maths required to work it out (Maths hurts our brain too). In Asia, many small businesses will advertise their products in America dollars or another currency instead of their native currency. While the confused tourist is trying the work out the exchange rate and produce cash, the shop keeper will step in to offer help and tell you the price in their currency. However, the price will be much higher than the original dollar cost.

Solution

Try using the ‘XE currency converter’ – an App on your phone – it’s free and doesn’t require wifi to calculate exchanges if you’ve already downloaded it.

2. Restaurant scams

This one gets tourists more often than we care to admit. A restaurant will not list the price of their dishes on the menu. They will greet guests very warmly to gain their trust, and provide excellent service. If guests have any questions about the prices of dishes, they often avoid answering, or provide an ambiguous answer. When you receive the bill at the end of the meal, the price is usually preposterous and much more expensive compared to the quality of food and the market price. Tourists have difficulty arguing or refusing to pay, as they ate the food already so they must pay the bill to leave.

Much like the fake hotel scam, many restaurants try this trick too. Predominantly in Southeast Asia, if one restaurant gets famous and is listed in guidebooks, then multiple restaurants using the same name appear on the same block to confuse people. For instance, Pho #1 might have 2 restaurants  on the same block, with seemingly the same address. And both are trying to pull you in!

Solution

Try to only visit restaurants that have clear prices on menus, or that have been recommended by guide books. Be very clear from the start of the meal about prices, before you eat anything! Ask locals about which restaurant is the original one, they’ll know.

1. Hidden Hotel Check Out Charges

This one is very popular in cities across the world, but particularly in Asia. Just as you’re checking out of your hotel, reception will try to tell you that you haven’t paid the full bill. They will persuade you that the amount you paid was only per person, and not the actual total. Or, that you were one person sleeping in a double room and you must double the cost.

Solution

Ensure that you settle the full and total amount when you first arrive, to ensure that they can’t catch you for this one. Another solution is to book through a reliable online booking website. Print off the invoice and confirmation and bring it with you.

Now you’re ready to embrace travel and appreciate the genuinely kind people, dynamic culture and captivating traditions. We don’t want to chase you away from travel altogether! Simply be aware and use the solutions we have given you here. It’s still wise to use common sense and keep your eyes open, but hopefully you can relax now, in the knowledge of these commonly used tourist traps and scams.

Author: Michelle Hyde

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