7 Common Travel Scams Around the World—And How to Avoid Them
From unfamiliar geography to cultural customs to language barriers, there’s often a lot to figure out when you’re visiting a new destination. Unfortunately, this naivety can make even the savviest of travelers susceptible to being taken advantage of—and there are plenty of unsavory characters out there who are willing to capitalize upon this.
But you don’t have to let the scammers get the best of you and turn an otherwise incredible trip into an experience that you’ll remember for all the wrong reasons. Here, a primer on seven common travel scams across the world—and how to avoid falling prey to them. Because sometimes you have to be prepared for the ill will in the world in order to really appreciate all the good in it.
1. Third-party Booking Debacle
The Scam : There’s an increasingly popular scam in the hotel industry that the American Hotel & Lodging Association estimates costs travelers nearly $4 billion a year. After using a search engine to find hotel deals, the traveler clicks on a link on what appears to be the hotel’s website, with the hotel’s logo and perhaps even the name of the hotel in the URL to book a room. But here’s the catch: The traveler has been directed to a third-party website, through which he makes the hotel reservation. Booking through these third-party sites usually means additional fees, usually around 25 percent higher, and sometimes ending up with a different type of room than what you had asked for. Other problems: no awards points, and no recourse if you need to cancel or change your reservation, since these sites usually require up-front payment. Sometimes, travelers arrive at the hotel and find that they don’t even have a reservation.
How to Avoid It : When booking online, take a close look at the URL and make sure that it is actually the site you intend to be on. In addition, after your initial search to get an idea of rates, go directly to the hotel’s website to book instead of clicking the link after your search, which can also reduce the risk. Finally, be aware of sites that require up-front payment; most hotels don’t require payment in full until the end of your stay.
2. Broken Taxi Meter
The Scam : After hailing a cab at the airport in a new-to-you destination, you ride 20 minutes to your hotel. "How much?" you ask the cabbie, only to be astounded by a number that seems astronomical. When you ask to see the meter for confirmation, the driver tells you that the meter is broken—but insists he’s charging the fair price.
How to Avoid It : "Negotiate rates ahead of time, or ensure the meter is in fact working before you get in the car," travel blogger Matthew Karstenwrites. If the driver doesn’t have a working meter and won’t settle on a rate before you start the trip, hop in a different taxi. In addition, do your research ahead of time to find out approximately how much the fare should cost to your destination.
3. A Sticky-Fingered Guide
The Scam : By hiring a guide, you’re instilling a lot of trust in a total stranger: You’re likely relying on your guide to keep you from getting lost and to keep you and your possessions safe. Sadly, some guides aren’t actually all that trustworthy. When San Francisco-based traveler Katy A.* was trekking to Machu Picchu at the end of a summer in South America during college, she went for a walk one evening out of camp while her guide watched over her stuff. Upon returning, she discovered her camera was missing from her tent. She asked her guide about it, and he said he had no idea what had happened to it. Later that evening, however, when her guide had stepped away, she snuck a look in his tent—and found her camera beneath his sleeping bag. She grabbed the camera back, and when she brought it up with her guide, he feigned innocence. Katy says she wished she could have taken off on her own after that, but in the middle of the trek she felt she didn’t have much choice but to continue with the group.
How to Avoid It : Hire guides from reputable services with good reviews, or those who are personally recommended to you. Keep in mind that the guide-client dynamic can be particularly fraught for women—especially if they are traveling alone.
4. The "Accidental" Spill
The Scam : While in a crowd, a passerby bumps into you, spilling the contents of her lunch or drink onto your shirt. She profusely apologizes, pulls out a napkin, and attempts to clean up the mess. Once the kerfuffle is over, you reach for your wallet … only to discover that it’s gone.
How to Avoid It : From New York’s Times Square to the Colosseum in Rome, pickpocketing is one of the most common travel scams across the world, and pickpockets use a variety of distraction tactics—like the accidental spill—to get the job done. So keep your wits about you and stay aware of where your valuables are at all times. "Treat any commotion (a scuffle breaking out, a beggar in your face) as fake— designed to distract unknowing victims," travelwriter Rick Steves recommends.
In addition, choose travel gear that’s specifically designed to keep your valuables safe. All of ExOfficio’s products, including men’s and women’s tops and jackets, feature inside pockets perfect for storing passports and cash.
5. Bad Currency Exchange
The Scam : When traveling abroad, travelers must rely on a way to exchange currency. Unfortunately, there are many scams out there that profit from this necessity. From modified calculators that misrepresent the exchange in the exchanger's favor to exchange booths that use an inaccurate rate or charge a large fee, there are any number of ways you can lose out when swapping out your dollars for the local tender.
How to Avoid It : First off, look up the exchange rate before you travel so you’ll have an idea of what to expect. If exchanging currency at a booth, make sure to do your own calculation to check against theirs, and count the cash as soon as it’s handed to you. However, it’s usually better to avoid money exchangers altogether: According to Consumer Reports, the best strategy is to use your debit card at an ATM for cash and a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees for larger purchases.
6. "Gift" Bracelets
The Scam : When Elizabeth S.*, who lives in Los Angeles, went to Africa for the first time, she stopped in an area frequented by tourists while she was traveling in Tanzania. She was approached by a friendly woman who, after making conversation, asked for Elizabeth’s wrist. The woman tied on a bracelet and told her it was a gift. Taking the woman at her word, Elizabeth said goodbye and tried to part ways—only to find out that the woman had been expecting to be paid for the "gift."
How to Avoid It : If a stranger or new acquaintance makes gift offerings, he or she likely expects payment. Maybe you’d like to buy whatever is on offer anyway, but keep in mind that there’s almost always a price tag for tourists.
7. Motor Bike Scam
The Scam : Whentravel blogger Robson Cadore was in the Philippines, he rented a motorbike that had a dent in the side. No mention was made of doing a damage check beforehand so, assuming the owner already knew about the flaw, Cadore took off on the bike. When he returned, however, the owner charged him for the damages. This is a fairly common scam in Southeast Asia—and sometimes the damage fees requestedcan be in the thousands.
How to Avoid It : Even if the place you’re renting from seems like a casual outfit, make sure you review the bike damages with the owner, and back up that conversation with photos of any dents or impairments before you go.
* _ Editor’s Note : We chose not to use last names with the travelers we interviewed for this story._
Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.