Expect Scams When You Travel, and a Lot of Them
Travelling is undeniably one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Whether you’re backpacking through Asia or enjoying a luxurious honeymoon in Europe, traveling opens your mind to new cultures, customs, and experiences. However, traveling also exposes you to the potential risk of being scammed. After a six-month trip to Asia, it’s safe to say that I learned this lesson the hard way. I was ripped off on several occasions, and I found myself getting caught up in scams that I never would’ve imagined. Here are 17 scams that I encountered, and some tips on how to avoid them, so that you can enjoy your travels without bringing back any bad souvenirs.
1. The Tea Ceremony Scam
Picture this: You’re walking around People’s Square, admiring the stunning architecture, when a Chinese girl approaches you and asks you to take a picture of her friends. After a quick exchange of thanks, she strikes up a conversation with you and invites you to join them for a tea ceremony. You’ve heard warnings from friends about how unsafe Shanghai can be, so you’re hesitant, but your curiosity wins out. You tag along and end up trying a variety of teas before they pressure you into purchasing the most expensive one. When the bill comes, it’s much higher than you anticipated, and you’re unsure if you’re being scammed or not.
How to avoid it: The best way to avoid this scam is to decline the offer from the start with a firm “no,” and never show hesitation so that they won’t bother you with more lies trying to convince you.
2. The Uncertified Guides Scam
When you’re exploring places like the Forbidden City in Beijing or the Grand Palace in Bangkok, you’ll encounter locals who offer to give you a guided tour. However, these “guides” aren’t official, which means that they might give you false information or charge you an outrageous amount of money. Head to a tourist information office, and ask for an official guide. If you don’t see one, keep note that the real guide would have a flag with a group around him, unlike the fake ones who only target individuals.
How to avoid it: Decline the offer with a simple “no.”
3. The Special Massage Scam
This scam is common for solo western-looking men who are walking on Nanjing Road in Shanghai. A local will approach you and offer you a cheap price for a happy ending massage. If you fall for it, you might find yourself with two or three large men that walk you to an ATM and take all the money you have, or even apprehend you for doing something illegal.
How to avoid it: Keep walking and decline the offer firmly.
4. The Student Art Gallery Scam
Another version of the tea house scam, you’ll be approached by people on the street who often claim to be students. They will tell you about their studio and ask if you want to take a look at their paintings. Once inside, they will pressure you into buying their overpriced artwork.
How to avoid it: Tell them you’re in a rush or that you don’t like art, or check out the art without making any purchases.
5. The Tuk Tuk Scam
As you take a stroll around Bangkok, a local will approach you, ask you a few questions, and show you multiple attractions on a Tuk Tuk ride. It sounds like a fantastic deal for the few cents you give the driver. However, your tour ends up in a travel agency, and you find yourself forced to check out some stupid stores where you act as a potential buyer for nothing.
How to avoid it: As soon as some Tuk Tuk driver offers you a ride for as cheap as 20 baht, ignore him.
6- The Taxi Ride Scam
When you’re in touristy places, never catch a taxi right away. Instead, walk away from the zone and catch one. You might be ripped off with taxis that won’t use the meter and give you a fixed price that is double or triple the real one or would use a modified meter that runs faster than normal ones or even take a longer way they call “shortcut” to maximize your fare to your destination.
Tip: Get an idea from someone else of how much the fare would be before taking a taxi.
7. The Cheap Restaurant Scam
In Bangkok, around noon, a local will approach you and offer to take you to their favorite restaurant where you can eat for a cheaper price. However, the food might be drugged. You’ll end up losing all your money and being unable to remember much of anything.
How to avoid it: Don’t accept food from strangers.
8. The Go Go Bar Scam
In Bangkok’s red-light district, Silom, people will show you their menu offering ping pong shows, no cover and other discounts. Once inside and after you’ve seen enough, you will get up to pay your tab at the counter, only to discover that your 60 baht beer turned into a 2000 baht bill. When you complain, they say that watching the show is not included, and they may even get violent if you show fear or hesitance to leave the place.
How to avoid it: Act like you’re giving them all the money you have agreed on, then leave immediately.
9. The Travel Agencies Scam
If you’ve ever stayed in a hostel or taken a bus tour, you’ve probably heard of the travel agencies scam. These agencies will try to sell you an overpriced tour or package, and what they don’t tell you is that there’s often a commission involved. I remember talking to a French guy while traveling in Thailand in a van. He had his two-week itinerary sorted out, but the travel agency kept telling him that the places he wanted to go were closed and that he should change his plans. In the end, he had to pay extra for something he didn’t even want to do.
How to avoid it: Research before you go and book your tours online, if possible.
In conclusion, scams are an unfortunate reality of traveling. However, with a little bit of common sense and by following the tips mentioned above, you can avoid most of them. Don’t trust strangers too easily, keep your guard up, and always do your research. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Happy and safe travels!