How to Outsmart Travel Scams
Hide your cell phone on the metro, carry your own luggage, and more expert tips for a safer, hassle-free trip.
Illustration by Olivia Waller
There I sat, confused by the well of emotions I felt because I had let myself get caught off-guard, despite the fact that I make a living as a travel expert — as founder of the Blog Abroad, I’ve traveled to more than 70 countries. I’d been scammed by a taxi driver in Morocco, and that reality check was a tough one to take. Unfortunately, it can happen to the best of us — no matter how seasoned a traveler you are (points to self) or what part of the world you’re visiting.
Even though I’ve witnessed many shady shakedowns in my travels, I believe most people are inherently good, and this has been proven to me ten times over. Still, your best line of defense is to be aware of the most common con jobs and always trust your gut, especially when you’re on your own.
The Old Man Falling on the Metro
After one too many drinks on a night out in Barcelona, our group of partygoers stumbled onto the Metro, and admittedly, we were easy targets. As the car slowed down at the next stop, a middle-aged man fell into one woman, causing a scramble as bystanders helped them up. The next thing I knew, the man had run out the train’s doors as they opened, and the woman’s phone was gone. I learned to avoid having your phone out during stops and to not sit by the doors.
The Fake Entrance Fee
A local tourism boom can lead to an increase in tourist traps, like a stand selling bogus tickets to a free attraction. At Bali’s Tegalalang Rice Terrace, I was greeted by a con artist trying to charge admission. He didn’t realize this wasn’t my first time. My driver, aware of the scam, persuaded the guy to leave us alone. Always research beforehand.
The Newspaper Slide
I was having a glass of tinto de verano on a restaurant’s outdoor patio in Barcelona. A man walked up, offering his newspaper. I politely shooed him away, but not before noticing he had placed the paper directly over my phone resting on the table — so that when he took back the newspaper, he’d also try to pick up my phone in the process. I was quickly reminded to keep all personal belongings on my lap.
The Taxi Driver Set-Up
Once in Morocco, I alerted the cab company of a new pick-up time but was told that I was to be charged for every minute I was late. I canceled my booking, yet the driver insisted I owed him. So I forked over cash for a ride I never took — a small price to pay for safety. There are many ways drivers bully riders: taking you to wrong locations to double the fare or driving to a friend’s store to push you to shop. Book with reputable companies or app-regulated services, and download Maps.me for offline navigation.
The Golden Ring
I was with my mom in Paris when a man bent to retrieve a “gold” ring in front of her. He shoved it at her, trying to convince her this cheap trinket was hers. Since I’ve seen this trick before, often in the city’s parks or near the Eiffel Tower, I knew he was out for “sympathy” money. The exchange is so sudden, people feel obligated to take the ring and offer a few euros as thanks.
What Else to Watch Out For
ATM skimmers that read and save your personal information. To be safe, avoid ATMs without surveillance cameras and that aren’t inside a bank branch. You’ll most likely encounter skimmers on freestanding machines in public areas and squares.
Merchants handing you incorrect change. In Lebanon, one guy accused me of not understanding his country’s currency when clearly he was covering up for the fact that I had caught him attempting to rip me off. My change was the equivalent of $30, and he had given me three bills, counting them out, but it was only $3. Get well acquainted with the foreign money so that you’ll never confuse the value of $1 with $10.
People who offer to carry your luggage. If you find yourself in an airport or on an overnight bus or train, decline the help (unless you really need it). Some folks use this tactic as an opportunity to ask for cash and, in the worst case, rifle through your stuff while putting your bag away.
About the author: Gloria Atanmo is a travel writer and digital storyteller with a narrative set on inspiring others to discover the world of knowledge out there that simply can’t be taught in a classroom. Living out of a suitcase for over 5 years, she’s trotted through 75 countries across 6 continents and takes her readers along for the ride. Visit The Blog Abroad for witty, reflective, and informative stories about her adventures on the road, as well as her Instagram for visual storytelling.