6 Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

If you’re anything like us then you love to get out there to new countries to experience strange cultures, smells and sights. Travelling opens up a world of possibilities with amazing adventures, lifelong friendships and remarkable memories around every corner. Unfortunately, trips don’t always go exactly as planned and occasionally we end up being the victim of a travel scam or crime.

Many of the countries we visit have a large proportion of people living under the poverty line and as such, they seek more inventive and sometimes, unsavory, ways to make money. It’s important to recognise that in some cases, this really is their last resort and being slightly overcharged for something won’t exactly be the end of the world. Stock up on empathy and compassion, get clued up on the facts and you’ll be in for a much more rewarding experience. To help, here are 5 of the most common travel scams and how you can avoid them.

1. The currency exchange

The travel scam:Upon crossing a border a ‘friendly’ local or driver will recommend a place for you to exchange currency. They will claim it is the best rate you will get in the country or that ATMs are very hard to come by. The truth is that you will be given an atrocious exchange rate and the person who recommended you will just get commission.

This also goes into my experience in South East Asia, we were travelling from Thailand to Cambodia over road. At the border between Thailand and Cambodia, our driver advised that we can use Cambodian Riel or US Dollars in Cambodia. However, the Cambodians prefer using Riel. We can change our Thai Baht at a favourable rate with a money changer at the border. He advised that we need 20,000 Thai Baht per day to survive in Cambodia. He even brought us to an ATM where we can withdraw our money.

Only when we enter Cambodia then we realise that Cambodian prefer USD over their own currency. And we were overcharged by close to 25% in the money changer the driver brought us. Fortunately, we only changed 2000 Thai Baht instead. We know of an English couple who have changed 20,000 Thai Baht!

Avoid it: Be aware of the exchange rates so you know when you are being ripped off. Generally, if someone on the street is trying to persuade you to use somewhere it means it is not the cheapest.

2. The taxi rip-off

The travel scam:Taxi drivers may take advantage of your lack of knowledge of the area by taking longer routes with more traffic to your chosen destination. In some cases, drivers will even alter their meter so that the fare increases at a much faster rate than usual resulting in a very expensive trip indeed.

Avoid it:The best way to deal with this scam is to research the journey beforehand if possible to get an idea of how much it should cost. Depending on the country, it can often be best to negotiate a price before getting into the taxi.

3. The overnight bus

The travel scam:Common in Asia and other developing nations, this scam is centred on extremely cheap overnight buses that take you on long journeys from city to city. Despite the affordable ticket, it often ends up being a rather expensive journey due to people rummaging through your luggage to seek out your valuables.

Avoid it:Make sure anything remotely valuable is with you and in a safe location at all times. That way, all they will be able to steal will be your dirty clothes. Be aware that some people even try to pickpocket you while you sleep, so really think about where you keep your important items.

4. The visa scam

The scam:This is common in various developing countries but not many are more notorious than Poipet on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. In the border town there will be many ‘helpful’ locals who will try to convince you to buy your visa through them instead of at the official border post. In some cases they will downright lie about it and then you will end up paying twice as much as it should cost.

Avoid it:Research how much the visa should cost you before leaving home, make the journey with a reputable company or government/local transport and stick to your guns. Make sure you look into possible scams for specific borders too.

5. The closed hotel

The scam:This con can take many forms but it is often perpetuated by taxi drivers who you will use to get from transport hub to your hotel. The driver will tell you that your hotel is either closed, fully booked or just downright rubbish and they will try to persuade you that they know another place that is a much better alternative. The reality is that they were probably lying, the other place will be more expensive and they will get commission.

Avoid it:The best way to deal with this is to make bookings online beforehand. That way you know for sure that your hotel or hostel has space and you can stick to your guns when the driver tries to persuade you otherwise. If he continues, threaten to get out of the taxi.

6. The tea party

The travel scam:This is a common scam that took place in 2 cities in China, Beijing and Shanghai. It will start with a Chinese man approach unsuspecting tourists for small talks, and later offer to bring them to a good restaurant. Inside the restaurant, the tourist will be served Chinese tea and some other local delicacies. Only during the payment, the tourist will find that it is overly priced. You can read the recount of our friend who has experienced this scam here.

Avoid it:Do not go for a meal with people you do not know. Also, make sure you know the price before you place the order.

Conclusion on travel scams

Travel scams are inevitable when you travel. They can come in different forms, from paying an overpriced meal, to losing your valuable belongings. One common rule of thumb to avoid scams is to ignore touts and whoever that approaches you. If you need a taxi, find the taxi yourself. Do not succumb to taxi touts as they are usually overcharged.

Have you encountered any scams which are not listed above? We will be happy to hear it.

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