6 Great Tips on How to Avoid Some of The Biggest Travel Scams
When we think about travelling, we normally associate it with great unforgettable times. However, sometimes we find ourselves unprepared or vulnerable, and end up getting involved in one of the many travel scams.
So, with that in mind, I decided to write a post that will give you a sense of some of the biggest scams that there are out there and hopefully help you avoid them. Unfortunately, there are people all around the world with bad intentions, especially when it comes to deceiving and taking advantage of travellers, and we must be aware of some of the dangers and disappointments that travel can bring.
For tips on how to get to know the local culture while travelling, you can click here ;).
Taxis and Different Charges
One of the most common scams can be seen right from the moment you arrive at the airport and want to take a taxi to your hotel. In certain countries, you will notice that the taxis do not follow the meter, and those are the ones you should be aware of. Those taxi drivers know that most of you do not have any idea of the costs related to the distances when ordering a cab, and a lot of them will take advantage of that. The first place that they will know you still haven’t learned the standard rates is obviously right when you arrive, and so they will charge you a much higher amount for the ride than if you were a local for example.
In this case, what I recommend is first researching about how much taxis should cost you and different rates. You can also find a sheet with standard rates depending on the country. Knowing this will help you negotiate your costs and be aware of shady taxi drivers. One great source that covers this topic in many locations is WikiTravel. Some blogs also provide you with this kind of information.
Another taxi scam that happen in certain countries are related to “fake” and “official” taxis. You should really watch out for the fake ones as this can also endanger your safety while travelling. Some of those taxis have all the wrong intentions and will try to rip you off with a much higher rate, or even rob you. I remember when I went to Saigon in Vietnam and had to watch out for those, as they look very similar to the real ones.
In order to avoid this, I would recommend you research what the reputable companies in the country are and how those taxis should look like. You can also check if they have a fare chart inside the car and/or a meter, and most of all have the drivers ID and number visible. In the Vietnam example, where they can rip you off with the price, some companies display a very similar or misspelled name to a reputable one seeking to trick you – but don’t take those!
Getting the Local Money
Another way that people and institutions can take advantage of you is when you want to get the local currency. Many currencies are only found and accepted in that specific country you are going and often you can only buy it when you arrive there. Based on that, dealer and even banks can charge you an enormous amount for the exchange, while you could have gotten a better rate elsewhere. Each country works differently in that matter, so you should do your research in advance. I will be mentioning again WikiTravel, because you will often find this kind of information there.
One example I can give is when I went to Burma. If you go to the official bank there they you will only give you 10 percent of the actual value of your money. However, when you leave the airport, you can go to most hotels to exchange money there for a much better rate. You might also get approached by locals mentioning that they can exchange money for you and who are considered to be part of this “black market”. Even though some of those guys will offer you a much better and fairer rate than the official banks would, I would still be cautious and stick to the hotels since there have been many instances of stolen money by scammers.
Buying local Gifts and Artefacts
Who doesn’t like to do a little shopping when travelling to a new country? Well, it is all fun and flowers until you realize you may have been tricked and paid much more for something than you should have. I know that feeling as I have been there before. Also, in many countries, the tourist agencies and agents may often take you to a rip off place that will charge you “tourist prices”, so be aware of them as you may be paying sometimes over 10 times the amount you could have paid elsewhere.
In this situation, always look around first and don’t buy it from the first place you visit. Research what good rates for something you have been eyeing are. Check if the country allows you to bargain and what a fair price to pay for it would be. And finally, don’t fall for any aggressive, salesy and overly nice situation (meaning some people may give you something expecting you to buy something else in return) – you are in control here and you should be the judge of the fair amount to pay for something based on your experience.
I went through this myself when I was in Marroco. It was our first day exploring the city and we decided to take a tour. The tour guide showed us around, but soon after we were taken to a place where we could buy species, perfume, teas, etc. I was first very excited and wanted to buy everything as it all was so different and the place looked legitimate. After picking our products and having been offered with teas and a presentation of what everything does, we were presented with the total amount, which was higher than prices we pay in premium stores in Europe. We ended up not getting it, and as soon as we walked around the souks we saw those exact same products for at least half the price! At the end we were glad we didn’t buy there and ended up getting everything for about one fifth of the price we would have paid before.
Booking Through Fake Travel Agencies or Websites
This is a very common travel scam, more than you can imagine. You enter a beautifully presented website with amazing pictures and you buy a package for a hotel or activities there. When you arrive at the place, you either cannot find the hotel or company, or your reservation was never there in the first place. These criminals create similar websites to the original one, or a new one altogether offering very similar services to the official ones, that make it really hard to discern whether it's fake or not. They buy Google or Facebook ads, collect all the money, and in a month or so the website no longer exists and a new one is created. So how can you avoid this terrible scam?
In some countries, when you are crossing by land, you may find yourself being taken to a fake border. This one can be very tricky as locals may give you signs for you to follow a certain way and you end up paying for a fake visa (or an increased amount for a real one). These offices are normally located before the official one and they will charge you much more than what you are supposed to pay.
As a foreigner who is visiting for the first time, you can easily get scammed that way and you do have to really have all the correct information in order to get to the right border. One example of a place with many “fake” offices is the border of Aranyaprathet-Poipet between Thailand and Cambodia, known to be the worst in Asia.
So how can you avoid this scam? First of all, you need to again research how much you will be charged for the visa and if you have anything above that walk the other way. The next advice may sound a bit weird but if you can, bring a photo of the official border office along with you so that you can roughly recognize it when you see it. Also, in the example above of the border between Thailand and Cambodia, you will notice that many transportation and taxis will take you to the wrong border. Being aware that they can do that allows you do be ahead of the game. And finally, if you are asked to pay for a visa before you have an official stamp on your passport, it is a scam!
Tourist Activities and Additional Charges
This one happens quite a bit in many different parts of the world. You are at a destination and you would like to book a certain tour or activity so that you can get to know the country better and have a great time. You may be approached by local sales people, visit some agencies looking for ideas or even book it online. In any case, be aware that many agencies will hide a lot of the costs involved with an activity - don’t let it catch you by surprise. I find this very irritating as they present you with a price that seems to be the final one, and sometimes you end up spending over double the money you paid for the tour itself.
An example here was when I went to Greece and wanted to take a trip to Albania. The tour agency wanted to sell us the package and told us the final price, but did not mention that there would be visa and boarding charges, and we ended up paying double the price for those.
What you can do in this case is research about the agency and the tour if you have time beforehand and look at their reviews when available, and always ask if there are any extra charges involved, even if they say this is the final price.
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