9 Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

9 Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

5pm on the last day of work before vacation hits. HALLE-FRICKIN-LUIAH!!

You’re riding the best high of the year as you hop on a plane to travel ANYWHERE (whether it’s domestic or international). All you want to do is throw away all your cares, let your guard down, loosen those purse strings and enjoy the sweet sweet bliss of being on vacay.

Spending Money

But at this point you’re ready and primed to be the target of travel scams. Scamming tourists is like shooting fish in a barrel for willing locals. All they see is dollar signs. Be aware of the problems that can happen and know how to spot and prevent them.

We’ve been scammed so many times, learn from our mistakes and do yourself a favour, read our list of 9 scams that you should avoid while travelling abroad:

1. The Over Dramatic Pan Handler

Dramatic Death

Pan handlers are prevalent in major cities all over the world and in even greater numbers in warm-climate overpopulated cities like across Asia or Central America. The personal stories of many of these people are heart breaking. But there are also some willing to take advantage of anyone’s generosity especially foreigners who aren’t as able to identify local characters.

Like one example in Manchester, England late at night near Canal (Club) Street. I passed by a girl on the side of the road who looked to be bleeding from the head who I of course immediately went to the side of to help even though nobody else was. She needed money for a cab to go to the hospital so I immediately flagged down a cab to put her in it but she refused to get in.  She only wanted the money.

At this point my local friend came to drag me away to enlighten me that this girl had been sitting on a blanket next to her fast food and a dozen beer that she had been drinking and that she spends her whole night every night there collecting money in this way.

How to Prevent:

In these instances I want to be clear that I think that NOBODY should ignore a potential victim or injured person even if there is a little bit of doubt that it could be fake. Always offer your help but just be smart about how you act on it so as to not become the victim yourself.

2. The Closed Temple

Tuk Tuk Driver Scam

This seems to be a scam famous specific to Bangkok, Thailand but could easily happen anywhere. It’s a common scam that we have seen, but luckily didn’t fall for, when visiting some of the major temples in Bangkok. They are so big to walk around that tuk tuks will try and grab you as you’re walking around them to the front entrance and say it’s closed today.

As an alternative, they offer to bring you to another one farther and out of the away (that’s never that impressive) so they can get you to pay for the ride. To make things worse, drivers then sometimes recommend you go to a specific jewelry place where you get conned further on the price of local products. All the while both the driver and this shop are sharing in the profits of the scam. This is an EXTREMELY common scam in Bangkok and you’d be surprised how often it works.

How to Prevent:

Don’t take everything at face value from locals if it results in spending extra money. Whenever possible make sure to sense check what you’re being told like in this example where you just have to walk around to the front of the temple to prove whether or not it actually IS closed.

3. The Lost Little Old Lady

Little Old Lady

It’s hard not to want to help frail little old ladies you see in public whether they need help in the supermarket, getting across the road or getting their walker up or down the bus, etc. SO HELP THEM! But any time money comes into the discussion you need to immediately perk your awareness up.

Like in Sydney, Australia, right next to where I worked I ran into the sweetest little old lady. Think Joey’s grandma from Friends. Cute little Mediterranean looking woman kerchief and all. She didn’t have enough money for the bus to get home. So to save her walking I told her to sit down and walked the few blocks to the store to buy her a bus ticket. She was super sweet and grateful and I thought I had done my good deed for the day. But thought it strange when I saw her walking around still an hour later. And then stranger still when all day every day for the NEXT 5 YEARS I still passed by her asking people for money.

How to Prevent:

I would never leave a little old lady stranded but I would always recommend talking to them first and always avoid giving cash if there is a way to break their story and figure out their true intention.

4. The Bottomless Exchange Rate

Currency Exchange

Sometimes it’s cheaper to bring your own cash to a country and exchange it for local currency. If you’re willing to shop around you can find better exchange rates than your bank will give you plus you can avoid the additional % and fixed fees that accompany taking cash from an atm.


Airport exchange banks ALWAYS have a million hidden fees and ways to scam your money.

So we normally wait til town and shop around for the place with the best exchange rate. But when you do this, be EXTREMELY aware of what’s happening with your money, yourself,  your pockets and your attention.

If you’re not paying careful attention you can get money skimmed off the top.

Like that time in Bali when our friend was told and shown he was being given $XX, but through sleight of hand and distraction from a friend of the booth owner, had 20% extra taken from his exchange.

How to Prevent:

If you can, it’s best to go with a friend (or several) who can help keep an eye on the room and situation for extra assurance that nothing strange is going on and to further help intimidate the exchanger to not try and pull anything funny.

Confirm the exchange rate you’re getting and double check the amount you should be getting on YOUR OWN calculator/phone using your own hands. Do not trust them on their own as this is an easy way for them to scam you.

Once you’re both agreed on the amount you should be getting, and it’s been counted out in front of you, count the money again in your own hand and be sure nobody else’s hands touch the money after counting and before leaving the store.

5. The Switched Menu

Ordering Food

When they switch the menus on you after you’ve already ordered like that time in Beijing, China that we got charged $300 for TWO TINY GLASSES OF WINE.

The further lead on this is we had met a local Chinese girl who was super friendly and spoke great English. We chatted for hours and she had brought us specifically to this particular tiny out of the way dingy restaurant that we should have realised was too specific to be random or anything but a precisely planned con from the start.

How to Prevent:

NEVER EVER order anything unless you’ve been clearly quoted the price beforehand.

6. The Bait and Switch Fake

Little Old Lady

When you’re shopping, in particular at open markets and stores, you find a product you a like, a cologne or a brand name bag or pair of shoes which look, feel and smell real in store. You go to buy them but they offer you the product already wrapped or in a box. What you may not realise until it’s too late later is that they gave you a fake.

Like that time in Istanbul, Turkey where I thought I was buying Hugo Boss cologne (that smelled great on display whether it was real or not) and later realised that I had been given a bottle of water.

How to Prevent:

Never buy expensive SEALED products from international markets. Always check or test the actual item you’re buying before you leave the store by opening the box or bag to check, and make sure you’re the last one to have held it before you leave.

7. Local vs Tourist Prices


We all know this happens in so many places where there are different prices for tourists vs the locals. Like where a can of Coke is $0.20 for a local but $4 for you simply because they know you’re used to paying it.

You can’t always prove it.  Not being able to speak the language can make this harder to get around and especially hard to escape in more formal settings like restaurants or hotels.

But when buying things in markets you BETTER be doing your negotiating. Because no matter how real that Gucci purse looks or how one-of-a-kind and artisan that mosaic bowl appears, if you are in a market, they are almost always fake and/or mass produced and super overpriced.

How to Prevent:

A general rule we go by is pay no more than a third of the initial price.

But of course in some places prices just get so absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel cheap that we just can’t push off the guilt of asking for cheaper so we don’t bother.

8. The Runaway Cab

Taxi Cab

This one. We have ALL experienced this, even in our own cities. Some cabs will take advantage of you the second they think they can get away with it especially if they know you don’t know the area or if you’ve had a few drinks. They take you on a long unnecessary expedition to rack up the cab fare.

Like that time in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam when a cab took us on a 20 minute journey from the bus stop all through the city to literally, LIT-ER-AL-LY TAKE US ACROSS THE STREET.

How to Prevent:

This has gotten way easier to avoid than when you used to have to use a print map to try and prove you were going the wrong way (Which was nearly impossible in a place like Asia). For any long trips you know you’re taking, prepare by pre-downloading detailed maps of the area to your phone and be aware of the general trip you’re meant to be taking. Usually Google Maps still tells you where you are on the map even without connection to wifi or mobile data so you can keep a general eye.

EVEN BETTER, apps like Uber, Lyft, MyTaxi and other cab ordering apps all track the route you take so even if you don’t have access to the internet til later to double check the route you took, the record and receipt is kept on your phone. If there is any obvious issues (Like you can see on your route map that the guy drove a giant circle) you can just file a complaint against the driver within the app in a few taps and the group will credit your money back to you! Seriously, you’ll never want to order a cab the old way again.

9. The BATHTUB Vodka Bucket

Drink Buckets

In many beach party areas, especially in Thailand, the “bucket cocktail” consisting of a sand pale and a bottle each of select booze and mix is one of the signature trophies to prove you are somewhere getting ABSOLUTELY LOOSE!

But if you’re somewhere like Koh Phangan island and you’re buying these things from completely random characters from homemade booths on the beach, there’s a very high reason to be careful. That is unless you want to receive a bottle of homemade bathtub vodka or rum masked as Smirnoff that will make you go blind. And we’re not talking about the “Had an awesome night, we got totally blind!”.

How to Prevent:

As you want to do with any drinks you buy abroad, double check that the cap is original, and completely unbroken.

Have you fallen for any of these? Did we miss any?

There are lots of things to watch out for but that DOESN’T MEAN you need to be paranoid!

Have fun with travel and don’t be too uptight. If you make a mistake (or a bunch) and get scammed, laugh it off and write a blog about it some day! But NEVER EVER let a scam ruin your trip or future travels! Because in the end, it’s always worth it.

Thanks for reading and let us know what you think! What other scams should we watch out for?

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Thanks guys!

Chris & Larry


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