Common Travel Scams And How To Avoid Them

20 December 2015

As wonderful as travel can be, unfortunately, there are those few out there trying to make a buck out of unsuspecting travellers. Here's how you can avoid becoming victim to these common travel scams this holiday season.

The 'broken' taxi meter

 Always ensure your cab driver has a working meter (all images: Getty)

Whether you're in Rio or Rome, the 'broken' taxi meter is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Dodgy drivers spin stories about broken meters so they can charge you exorbitant amounts or alter their meters to create rapid fare increments; sometimes to the tune of hundreds of dollars!

Avoid it by...

  • Only using reputable cab companies/Uber
  • Agreeing on a price before you get in the car or even think about putting your luggage in the boot
  • If you do see the taxi meter rise exponentially during a trip, tell the driver to stop and let you out immediately

The photo op

 Be mindful of photobombers!

You're at a world-famous attraction, taking in the scene before you, when suddenly you're pulled to the side by some bloke dressed up in period costume for a photo. Then, they're asking you to cough up a few dollars/pounds/Euros for their 'appearance' fee.

Avoid it by...

Keep your eyes peeled for these overzealous posers. A friendly, but firm no usually does the trick.

The hotel wake-up call

 "Hello?"

It's the middle of the night and the 'front desk' of the hotel rings to confirm your credit card details due to an 'issue'. Needless to say, it's some opportunistic thief who has tapped into the hotel phone line trying to drain your bank accounts.

Avoid it by...

Never, ever give your credit card details out over the phone. Any reputable hotel shouldn't ask you to do so anyway. Tell the caller you'll sort it out in the morning and hang up immediately. Let the front desk know so they can either confirm it was them or inform the authorities.

The surprise shopping trip

 Not all tuk tuk drivers are trying to take you for a ride

Occasionally, tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok will offer you a bargain fare to [insert tourist attraction here]. You may think 'eureka!', but really, you're being taken for a ride – literally. The driver will detour to a miscellaneous store, such as a gem shop, tailor or massage parlour as any visitors they bring grants them free petrol or kick-backs from purchases. Being the nice person you are, you oblige and thus have the awkward experience of being trailed around a shop for half an hour. It's more of a waste of time than anything more menacing.

Avoid it by...

Spare yourself the hassle of being hounded by overzealous salespeople and find another tuk tuk driver. Or, take a taxi instead.

The attraction is closed

 Do your research on attraction opening times

This one goes a little something like this: you rock up at a famous site only to find the gate is locked. But don't worry, there's an official-looking guide or staff member waiting around who offers to take you around instead – at a significantly higher cost than the usual entry fee.

Avoid it by...

Large attractions often have multiple entry points. If it's daytime (save for perhaps a Sunday) and not a public holiday, assume the attraction is open, unless you're denied entry at the official ticket booth.

The damages

 Be wary of touts on the street peddling cheap jet-ski hire

Jetskis! Surfboards! Motorbikes! Scooters! All loads of fun at a fraction of the hire cost back home. But be mindful, while you're out and about with the wind in your hair or enjoying the spray of the ocean, the rental mysteriously gets vandalised, scratched or even 'stolen'. Guess who gets blamed for the damage on return?

Avoid it by...

Hiring from an established organisation – if there's no written contract, take your business elsewhere.

The friendship bracelet catch

 Keep your wrists to yourself

"Oh look, this lovely man/woman wants to give me a friendship bracelet and they're even going to tie it on my wrist for me'. Next thing you know, they're demanding you pay for it and causing quite the scene. Same goes for sprigs of rosemary offered as tokens of friendship.

Avoid it by...

Steer clear of overly friendly locals who try to offer you things for free. A firm 'no, thank you' and walk away will do the trick.

Final thought...

The world isn't out to get you – it's full of awe-inspiring, life-changing experiences. But with a bit of common sense, you can thwart any attempts by those unfortunate few trying to put a dampener on your travels.

Anna Howard

Give me street food over Michelin stars, cellar doors over wine bars and small towns and wide open spaces over big cities any day. Travel for me means ticking off the 'to eat and drink' list one regional flavour and wine bottle at a time.