Traveling may be the greatest hobby anyone can have. But like anything else, it’s not all fun and games 24/7.
In fact, even the most seasoned traveler encounters a sticky situation from time to time. Don’t worry, though. With a little preparation, quick wit, and a backup plan, you’ll be totally fine in the event that anything remotely scary happens to you overseas.
That being said, here are 7 travel scams to watch out for on your next adventure.
1) Complete Your Uber Ride
I’ve never second guessed this one before, but every once in a blue, you may get a driver who wants to take you for a ride. Literally.
In India, I took a cab that was about ₹150. The driver asked if I would rather pay him in cash. He was annoyed when I responded, “No thank you, it’s linked to my credit card.” (He’d pocket way more money if it were cash). Little did I know, after he dropped me off, he drove around for ~2 hours without ever completing the ride.
When I looked at my Uber Receipt it was for a 90km journey that cost me ₹1,600! I didn’t panic; I simply reached out to Uber Support and luckily they refunded me within 24 hours.
It’s always good to keep things in perspective, though. Even if they hadn’t refunded me, that 2-hour ride he took cost me $20 after the conversion rate kicks in. That’s still a cheap cab ride in NYC!
That is, of course, beyond the point. Make sure your drivers complete every ride you take and don’t try to scam you by asking for cash instead. If it’s an Uber, your card will always be charged automatically. Always keep an eye on your receipt emails, too, so you can catch scams quickly before they do happen.
To turn this story around, I decided to Uber the next morning to the airport, putting my faith back into the system. This second driver wound up being as nice as can be. He made a point to show me that he completed the ride (without me even asking).
So never give up! For every scammer out there, there’s plenty of great people to keep them at bay.
2) Use Trusted ATMs
If your bank has a sister bank in any of the cities you’ll be visiting, that’s the first place I’d go. (For Bank of America, Barclay’s is one example).
If you’re like me, an avid Chase user, and your bank doesn’t have any partnerships abroad, you’re fine. Just make sure you visit an ATM affiliated with any bank. You don’t have to know the name of the bank (a Google search couldn’t hurt though) – but it will be obvious which ones look safe and which ones look sketchy. That small unbranded 7-11 on the corner? Probably not a good idea. In fact, be wary in places like Cape Town, SA, because those small store ATMs are notorious for stealing your debit card info.
There are dozens of scams out there, from the ATM “not working” (and therefore needing a human to handle the transaction), to ATMs that swallow your card and copy its info. Even sometimes, store employees pretend to help you and look over your shoulder to get your PIN.
I am not saying everyone who wants to help is a horrible person who is secretly out to steal your money. But what I am saying is, just take your money out at a reputable company, where you won’t even need someone to help you because the transaction will go that smoothly 🙂
3) Flying a Budget Airline? Know The Tricks
This one merits a post of its own, but some key things to know about budget carriers, especially across Europe are:
Print Your Boarding Pass
Expect Everything To Cost Extra
It’s no frills for a reason, so you won’t be getting free food, nor will you have a lot of leg room. That’s how they keep the fares so affordable. Sometimes, they charge you a hefty fee if you don’t have a paper copy of your boarding pass, so come prepared.
Also, this doesn’t always happen, but airlines like Ryan Air have been known to charge extra if your boarding pass isn’t stamped. Essentially, the stamp means absolutely nothing. (They say it’s because you’re a non-EU citizen). But, to obtain one you have to visit a check-in kiosk that’s located right where you’d typically drop off your luggage.
You’ll also want to pay attention to their carry-on limits, as their bag sizes are notoriously small. Usually, you have to stuff your bag inside a metal box just before you board. If it’s even slightly too big, you get fined.
4) Nothing In Life Is “Free”
I’m sure you’ve heard your mom say this one, but it’s true. So please keep it in mind while you’re roaming around touristy plazas and a tuk-tuk driver approaches you offering a free ride. It’s always too good to be true.
In Sevilla, Gypsies walk around offering a piece of rosemary and start to read your palm once you seem remotely interested. They will then demand money for the involuntary reading, sometimes even following tourists to an ATM.
Fake “Monks” have also been known to roam the streets of major cities around the world. I’ve even seen them in Seattle and on the Highline in NYC. They hand you some shiny paper, or maybe a beaded bracelet, telling you it’s a “blessing,” and then demand cash once you take it from them.
Real monks at monasteries will bless you with a bracelet, sometimes, but they would never run around asking you if you want to be blessed. You would have to approach them.
I will say this, though… Sometimes I have gotten free rides, but it’s in exchange for cultural value and friendship. Nothing is actually free just for the hell of it.
5) Write Down Your Hotel Name
In fact, print out all of your paperwork. You can’t guarantee that your international SIM card is actually going to work, or if you didn’t even get one (I never do), that the airport will have WiFi.
A lot of Immigration Officers will ask you where you’re staying, and it’s almost always a necessity for Visas on Arrival. Good thing I knew Shoreditch was a neighborhood in London because I truthfully had not the slightest idea where my friend’s flat was. I may not get away with that next time.
Another time, silly me didn’t write down my hotel address. I had an automatic airport transfer booked so I didn’t think I’d need to worry. But I wound up getting dropped off at the wrong hotel. This can easily happen because some hotels have the most generic names (and there is more than one in a different part of town).r if you’re going on a group tour for instance, the tour operator has a relationship with dozens of different hotels so make sure you know which one you’re going to!
Or if you’re going on a group tour for instance, the tour operator has a relationship with dozens of different hotels so make sure you know which one you’re going to!
6) Be Wary of “Too Nice”
This one will require you using your intuition more than anything else. You will probably find nice people everywhere; if you’re dazed in the corner of a subway station with a giant map in hand, someone’s bound to offer you directions.
But sometimes, people are “too nice” – and that’s an obvious scam. If someone volunteers to take your shiny DSLR camera at the Taj Mahal and photograph you in 7 or 8 different poses, you definitely know he or she is going to ask you for money after doing so.
Little kids are sometimes taught to hustle, too. They guide the confused tourists around, weaving in and out of back roads in Marrakesh to help you find your hotel. “It’s a shortcut,” they say, until they demand cash for their help.
Just be careful as you’re maneuvering your way around anywhere unfamiliar. If a total stranger seems to be a little too helpful, they probably are. Don’t get offended when they ask for money. In fact, if you’re pleased with their help, why not give them a tip? Or simply say “No thank you,” in a stern, confident tone the second they approach you and you won’t find yourself in that awkward situation.
7) Count Your Change
This happens a lot in markets and anytime a tourist uses a large bill to make a small purchase (i.e a 200 Quetzal note on a 25 Quetzal transaction).
In some places where the currency uses lots of zeros, these scams are more likely to happen. They’ll skim an extra zero off the top. In Hungary, for example, $1 = almost 300 Forints. Even better, in Vietnam, $1 = almost 23,000 Dong. These numbers can be hard to wrap your head around in a quick transaction, especially while trying to do conversions in your head.
My advice? Convert in your head before you decide to buy, so you have a sense of how much this product actually costs. But during the transaction, keep your frame of mind in their currency. If you paid 50,000 Dong for a 25,000 Dong product, don’t worry about what that translates to in Dollars/Euros/Pounds at that very moment. Also, think without the extra zeros and just say 50 versus 25.
Your brain will be happy for the easy math.
There you have it. 7 scams to look out for as you embark on your next adventure! What other scams have you fallen for or heard of others getting into? Comment below 🙂