Life Travel Seven travel scams to avoid

Seven travel scams to avoid

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You’ve got your money belt, some padlocks and hopefully a few street smarts. But even the hardiest travellers have been known to slap their palm to the forehead after falling for the oldest trick in the book.

Get ready to be rumbled: here are seven of the most common overseas traveller scams.


Cut loose from the safety blanket of the internet, the average visitor to Cuba is gagging for practical information, which sometimes fortuitously appears smack-bang in front of you in the guise of a helpful local.

“Hey, you wanna see the Buena Vista Social Club play? You wanna dance some salsa lady? You’re so lucky – there’s a salsa festival on right now!”

Before sashaying away to the nearest bar with your faux amigo, get ready to be a tad disappointed. You might have fun along the way of course – until you receive the drinks bill.

You’ll be paying for everyone, and those normally cheap Cuba Libres may suddenly double in price as your instant guide takes his or her cut from the bar.


Putting aside the country’s unfortunate nickname, ‘Scambodia’, for a moment, there are a few old tricks you’d want to watch out for. Border scams are immensely popular at the Thai-Cambodia border crossing. Be prepared to be dropped at the wrong spot, or to be charged much more than the official price.

ankor-watSiem Reap, close to the Angkor Wat temple complex, is also ripe for scams, with bootleg everything on sale – from medicines to CDs, software and shoes.

A section of the town’s busy Pub Street is also popular with young girls holding sleeping babies, who say they don’t want money, only milk, and lead you to a nearby store to buy it. The only trouble is you’ll pay more than you thought, with the girls reportedly often returning their goods to the store shortly afterwards to split the proceeds with the owner.

And the rest of south-east Asia…

Once you’ve negotiated that tuk tuk fare, make sure you’re actually going to the destination you had in mind.

A recommendation to visit a gold jewellery, hairdresser, restaurant or hotel will almost certainly involve a commission down the line – and perhaps an accidental mullet into the bargain. Or are we just being cynical?


Popular on ‘the Continent’, but possible anywhere is the scam that will leave you cursing: ‘oh, sh*t!’. You feel something unexpected splash your shirt – perhaps some genuine bird poo or a squirt from a bottle of sauce – and a seemingly kind stranger helps towel you down, spiriting away your valuables in the process.

Come on, I’m sure you didn’t really need all that money anyway – or did you?


Getting on the train with an oversized backpack, and can’t work out why everyone seems to want to get so close to you? Be assured, it’s not just your magnetic qualities.


There’s a fair chance you’ve also just lost your wallet, but of course you won’t discover this awkward reality until you’ve finally found a spot to dump your backpack, and the nimble pickpocket is safely out of sight.


Let’s face it, you’re probably going to get scammed at least once in India, probably in your first day. Then again, like in most other developing countries, it will pay to remember that real desperation is the cause of so much inventiveness.


As you’re trying to adjust to the onslaught of India, be wary of any taxi driver telling you that the hotel you’ve booked either doesn’t exist or is fully booked.
Perhaps the taxi’s meter is also broken – instead please accept this inflated price! – or has been sped up to go quicker than an Indian fast-bowler.

Mexico (and elsewhere)

When you’re delirious with fatigue after a bum-numbing flight from Australia, you may as well have ‘potential victim’ stamped across your unfortunate head. And if you’re wandering around helplessly trying to track down your lost luggage, just give up the game now.

The nearest taxi driver will be more than happy to charge you an absolute fortune to ferry you to your accommodation. The pain will be made even worse when your hostel roommates tell you they only paid $5 on the bus.


Of course this is likely to happen anywhere, except if it’s in Melbourne, where the extortionate sum quoted to get from the airport to the city will almost definitely be the real price.

Know any other time-honoured travelling scams? Let us know in the comments below. 

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