How to Avoid 7 Travel Scams Around the World

The crowds in Hanoi Vietnam

By Zara Quiroga from Backpack ME

When we travel, we often get carried away by the excitement of being in a new place. As such, we sometimes let our go of our ‘sixth sense’ too.

Not knowing the local culture and habits can make being taken advantage of easy. Most people around the world are friendly and will welcome travellers into their country with open arms. Some others, unfortunately, see curious backpackers as targets.

Here are some of the travel scams I have suffered myself or observed from up close. Hopefully I can help you avoid falling victim to similar scams yourselves.

 1. In India: “You have hit my cow, now pay for it!”

This has happened to my travel companion, Ashray, and a couple of our friends. If you decide to go on a road trip around India (and congrats if you have what it takes!) be very careful with the cows that roam free in the streets. As you may know, these animals are considered holy in India. If you have an unfortunate traffic accident involving one of them, it could be seen as offensive.

Furthermore, you may have locals claiming that they own the cow. Even if the animal is alive and well after the impact, they will pressure you to pay “for damages”. You will probably have to pay a little to be let you go, but don’t let them take advantage too much, especially if the cow seems fine. I know this sounds silly but, you know, they do call it ‘Incredible India’ for a reason!

01. Regular traffic in India

2. In Thailand: “The Temple is closed, let me take you somewhere better!…”

While visiting Bangkok a couple of years ago, I was looking for the famous Wat Pho. When I asked around for directions, a tuk-tuk driver quickly approached me and informed me that the temple was closed.

“But don’t worry” he said “I can take you to ‘expo’. It is a nicer place, you will like it. I can take you there for free, I am heading that way.”

Although he didn’t explain, ‘expo’ stands for a mega souvenir shop, where the driver would obviously get a commission if I bought something. After laughing at the fact that he would actually think I’d fall for this, I politely declined. A little further up, I found the temple not only to be open, but to be as gorgeous as I expected.

Yet inside, I saw posters as bizarre as this one, alerting potentially vulnerable tourists to common scams:


3. In Ethiopia: the notebook scam

I have met some of the most amazing kids while backpacking around Ethiopia. Welcoming and chatty, they always look forward to practicing their English with foreigners.

Although most of the children were friendly and genuine, there was the odd one that would ask you to buy them a notebook for school. It seems like a harmless thing to do, right? The catch is that the kid will take you to a specific shop. There, you’ll buy them the notebook, after which, they’ll sell it back to the same shop. The shop gives them a percentage of the transaction and the store gets to sell the same item multiple times!

If you’d like to help out the kids, it’s better to do it through the NGOs working with them, rather than by feeding this sort of scam.

4. In South-East Asia: “HEY! Your shoes are dirty! Let me help you with that…”

This happened to me in Vietnam, but I have read that this is common in tourist hot spots all over South-East Asia. Fortunately, I had read about this before it happened and was able to avoid it. So if this happens, you can too!

This scam involves two people working in tandem. The first, normally a kid, will point out that your shoes are dirty. More often than not, they will squeeze some goo on your shoes or clothes themselves in the cover of a crowd (watch out particularly in markets!). When the first scammer comes forward to help you clean the stain, a second will make the most of the distraction and empty your pockets. All the while you’re focussing on how nice and helpful your distractor seems to be… how ironic!

04. The crowds in Hanoi_Vietnam

5. South-America: the double-taxi bill

In some South-American countries, taxis don’t always run with meters. That is why it is important to negotiate the fare before you hop in.

If you are in a couple or a group, make sure it is clear that the price is for the total and not per person. Dodgy drivers will try to pull this stunt once you have arrived to your destination – don’t give them the chance!

05. A ride in South America

6. Kenya: the students fund scam

This happened to me in Nairobi and, I have to say, I am not proud. This was in my early travelling days when nativity allowed for a guy, who supposedly represented a charity, to extract funds that were meant to be for some poor kid’s wheelchair.

It is decent to help good causes, but make sure the person asking for money has a badge or something that looks legit, proving they are who they say they are. If they don’t, they’re most probably just pocketing the money and using charity as a trap.

Variations of this scam happen all over the place. They involve the most colourful characters, from young people, supposedly representing students’ groups, to others dressed as monks who pretend to belong to religious organizations.

How to tell if they’re for real? If they are targeting only tourists and ignoring locals, then you know they are there to make a quick buck at your expense.


7. In Vietnam: when a travel agent commission costs more than the ticket price itself!

This is the most recent travel scam I experienced and it left a bitter taste in my mouth for the rest of my stay in Vietnam.

In Hoi An, I decided to book train tickets at the reception of the hostel we were staying with. They would obviously charge commission for this, but as it was only a couple of dollars, I thought the price difference would be worth it. Otherwise I would have to go into town to buy the tickets myself.

To lure me into purchasing the ticket from reception, the lady showed me the price of a regular ticket on a website called “Railways of Vietnam”. Here I could compare prices and see that their commission was minimal. It turns out that this site was not the official train company site, but rather an agent’s site.

When I later found out the real price for a ticket at the train station, I realized I had paid more in commission than for the ticket itself! Long story short; buy the ticket yourself at the station or, if that’s not possible, make sure you find out the real price from a reliable source.

07. Hoi An in Vietnam

Just make sure you keep an eye open and enjoy your travels!

Don’t let a little scam hold you back, take the jump and book now with Hostelbookers.

Have you ever been scammed? Tell us in the comments…

Author bio: Today’s guest blogger is Zara, a Portuguese girl who quit her job in Dubai 2 years ago to travel around the world with her now-husband Ashray, from India. They’re the team behind Backpack ME, a travel site that aims to share tips and ideas with people all over the world, inspiring them to go travel, no matter where they come from! A&Z are East meets West and Backpack ME is all about a multicultural perspective on travel. Say HI on Twitter @piggybackrideAZ and join them on Facebook too.

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