How To Avoid Tourist Scams When Traveling or Backpacking

We’ve all been there! This is exactly how you’re going to make your next travel experience better…

Boy oh boy, I sure have some stories on the topic of tourist scams. Over the years, I’ve learnt a LOT about how to spot a likely scam. I mean sure, it’s no secret locals may try to take financial advantage of tourists. However, what may be more shocking is that small actions often lead to the biggest red flags.

Seeing as I’ve had first-hand experience during my travels of being in these situations when I was younger, I’m keen to expose it all. Let’s get right into the lowdown of what to look out for, how to deal with being ripped-off and when you should RUN.

No Price Tag? Approach With Caution.

I’m sure most of us have been in a situation where a store doesn’t display prices. Of course, not all sellers will have unpleasant motives. Although, you have to start thinking about why prices aren’t being displayed at some point. Usually, no fixed price gives flexibility to the seller for creating their own price depending on the person interested in buying.

The thing is though, the price guides can vary A LOT. One person might be charged 2 euros for a bottle of water whilst another person might be charged 5 euros for the same bottle. Yes, it happens. You might not be too bothered about lack of clear pricing, but just know you could get a more genuine price point at a different spot.

I’ve actually asked why something has no price before. Not to be difficult, but more so as an indicator that I’m aware something might not add up. It’s harder for sellers to scam tourists when you stay one step ahead. The responses that follow might range from a simple ‘I forgot’ to a less believable ‘My pet ate the prices’ type of excuse. It goes without saying, be polite. However, be cautious too. Little things like a postcard being 2 euros might not break the bank, but being ripped-off is annoying. It’s the sheer principle.

Asking Where You’re From.

As soon as you approach, small talk is made. Then a not-so-subtle ‘so friend, where are you travelling from’ escapes. Usually, I think nothing of it until I realised when I said I was from the UK, prices were inflated. I found this out as my friend from another part of Europe approached the stall, got asked the same question and was given a lower price. Genuinely. Countries which are deemed ‘ wealthy’ in the eyes of society are particularly attractive to market sellers. This is because some stall owners will assume you’re accustomed to paying more or have more money to spare.

Be mindful of the information you hand out.

Pressure To Buy Within A Certain Timescale.

You know, ‘for today I’ll do a special price’ etc. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing, nor is it always suspicious. However, desperation to seal the deal isn’t always down to enthusiasm. I’ll give you an example to explain my point. A few years ago, I fell into the trap of purchasing a ticket for an event in the streets. The ticket was presented as an ‘exclusive event only available tonight’. In hindsight, I should’ve known better. Now it makes sense why the seller was desperate to leave once I handed over cash for the ticket. The event didn’t exist.

My friends have also had a similar situation, this time with being pressured to book a hostel. It turned out to be an abandoned building. That seems like the ultimate scam for tourists. Yikes.

Speaking of accommodation though, here’s 5 things which you should do next time you’re staying at a hotel. Hotel travel tips to elevate your night, if you will.

Vague, To The Extent It’s Borderline Weird.

Speaking of accommodation, please do check if a room has measurements added. Skip past the vague listings with minimal info but plenty of photos. The moment I found out some hotels use a fish-eye lens to make a room look bigger in pictures, I instantly started looking at descriptions more. If the price is too good to be true and all that…

Being Rushed To Pay The Food Bill.

How many of you actually check the bill to ensure everything is accurate? I’ll be honest, I don’t do this enough. In tourist hotspots, which I try to avoid eating at, waiters may shove card machines in your face as soon as you finish your 5th drink. Perhaps nothing to think about in the moment, but this could essentially be a method to distract you from tracking the bill amount. Other red flags might be tap water being charged as bottle and additional starters added when you didn’t order them. Sure, sometimes it may be a genuine mistake but drunken tourists won’t always notice these things. Locals know this.

That Classic Rose.

You know the one. The red rose which gets handed to you when exploring a tourist hotspot. Honestly, just start running. At the very least, walk away very quickly. The roses are never a ‘gift’ and they definitely aren’t ‘free’. You won’t be left alone until you hand over coins.

Solutions. Yes, We Need Them.

The above tourist scams giving you chills or hitting too close to home? Even the most street-savvy traveller can fall into uncomfortable exchanges. Need some help getting out of those moments? The below tried-and-tested tips work pretty well in my experience.

The Yes/No Method. Essentially, simply learning how to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in the language of the country you visit. That’s it. You can wiggle your way out of awkwardness by sounding like you have some level of understanding, even if you don’t. I found this little bite of information to be a real game-changer when I travel solo.

20 Questions. If you come across something you’re considering worthy of a purchase, play 20 questions. Going back to my example of purchasing tickets in the street, if I asked more about locations, timings and logistics I would still have my dollars intact.

Change The Game. If you’re buying something from a market, keep coins with you. Especially if items aren’t visually priced. The moment you’re waving around a shiny $10 bill is the moment someone can pluck any price out of thin air.

+ on the topic of money, here’s the best budget travel tips I’ve picked up from 8 years of travel

Walk The Walk. Feeling like you’re being overcharged? Start to look uninterested/ walk away. Watch how the starting price ‘magically’ drops to something more reasonable. Don’t rush into buying something, basically. Note to self…

After visual content? I think you’ll like my vibe-y inspo posts on Instagram. I’ll catch you over there.

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