Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

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If you travel long enough, you’re bound to come across a scam or two on your journeys. It’s just an unfortunate fact of travel: for every amazing travel destination, there are people looking to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. And though everyone thinks they’re too smart to get scammed, it can still happen to even the most experienced of travelers.

Most scams are predictable if you know what to look for. Armed with the right knowledge and a cool head, you can avoid getting ripped off on your next trip. To help you stay safe, we teamed up with our friends at Ridge, makers of the massively popular minimalist wallet, to let you in on some of the most common travel scams out there and how you can avoid them.


Taxi Scams

Taxi scams are a tale as old as time and can be found all over the world, from San Juan to San Francisco. The details of each scam may look different from place to place but they typically have the same end goal in mind: massively overcharging tourists who don’t know any better.

Taxi drivers will often wait outside of popular tourist hot spots, hotels, or airports and wait for tourists to appear. When you try to catch a ride, the driver will quote you a price that is absurdly high by local standards – sometimes even 5x the normal rate. The reason this works is that drivers assume (often correctly) that the tourist has no idea if the price being asked is reasonable. Not knowing the going rate for a taxi ride, the tourist happily accepts.

While, in many countries, meters are used (and usually required) by taxis to prevent scams like this, taxi drivers will just turn them off and tell passengers that the meter is broken. Of course, they then offer to charge a “better price” that is still much higher than the average rate.


How to avoid these scams:

First, do some research before your trip and try to get a general idea of how much a taxi ride from the airport should cost. You can also look up what the primary taxi companies in that country look like so you know which are legit and which ones you should avoid. You never want to get into an unlicensed taxi, no matter where you are.

Once you’ve flagged a taxi, negotiate your rate before getting in. Better yet, require them to turn on the meter ahead of time. If they refuse to turn the meter on, just get out and choose a new taxi, as there are probably plenty of others available.

Thankfully, the rise of ride-sharing apps like Uber, Lyft, Bolt, and Grab has given travelers a way to avoid scams like this by having pre-negotiated rates and set destinations. Still, it’s important to stay alert when using these apps as well. Always confirm that the license plate listed in the app matches your driver’s.


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Pickpocket Scams

This is another type of scam that takes many different shapes depending on where you are in the world. 

One scam that’s particularly popular in parts of Europe is the classic “spill on your clothes” trick. In this scenario, someone will either conveniently notice a stain on your clothing or actually spill something directly onto you. Sometimes, they or an accomplice will even discreetly throw it at you from afar.

They will then act very concerned about the stain and apologize profusely while offering to help clean it. But while the spiller or good samaritan is frantically wiping your clothing and cleaning you up, they’re actually distracting you from the fact that they or an accomplice are actually picking your pocket.

Other common pickpocket scams include someone falling down in front of you, bumping up against you on the crowded metro, or even tossing a baby into your arms before picking your pocket. The goal in all of these is to distract and disorient you and then pick your pocket in all of the commotion.


How to avoid this:

Whenever possible, keep people at a distance and don’t let them invade your personal space. Obviously, this isn’t always easy, especially on crowded public transportation or in high traffic tourist areas.

To make yourself less of an easy target, leave any extra money or cards back in the hotel safe and ditch the bulky back pocket wallet. Instead, swap it out for a minimalist front pocket wallet like the Ridge Wallet and carry only what you need.

Ridge wallets are the perfect option for travelers because, although they’re small enough to fit into your front pocket, they allow you to comfortably carry everything that you need. Plus, they’re RFID-blocking to keep your digital information safe. While you can carry plenty of cash and up to 12 cards at once with the Ridge Wallet, we recommend traveling a bit lighter. You should only take what you need for the day and leave the rest of your valuables somewhere safe. This way, if anything does unfortunately go missing, at least you didn’t lose everything at once.

The other reason that we love Ridge wallets is that they’re not only for traveling. With other wallets or bags, you only use them when you travel and then forget about them for months until your next trip. But Ridge wallets are designed specifically for everyday use. They’re built from sturdy materials like aluminum and carbon fiber to ensure that they can stand up to heavy use. In fact, Ridge actually guarantees every wallet for life.


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Closed Attraction or Hotel Scams

These are essentially two variations of the same scam.

In one scenario, you’re on your way to see a popular tourist attraction when a friendly local approaches you. They tell you that the attraction you’re looking for is unfortunately closed right now, either for lunch, a religious holiday, or some other reason.

But don’t worry! To ease your disappointment, they’ll happily bring you to another attraction that’s even better than the one you were originally going to visit. The problem is that, at the next destination, you’ll either be charged an extremely high admission fee or taken to some kind of business (i.e. restaurant, souvenir shop, gem shop) where you’re pressured to buy something. In these cases, the driver who brought you actually receives a kickback from the shop owner for bringing in business. Meanwhile, you got taken for an expensive detour and your original attraction was never closed at all.

This scam can also take place in the form of a helpful taxi driver informing you that your chosen hotel is actually closed or overbooked but he can take you to an even better one. Again, the driver is hoping to take you to another accommodation where he will receive a hefty commission for bringing you in.


Protect Yourself From Travel Scams

Unfortunately, scams are sometimes just a part of the deal when it comes to travel. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best to stay informed and protect yourself from getting ripped off.

To avoid getting scammed on your next trip, it’s important to be prepared. Do your research into popular scams in the specific town or country that you’re visiting. Download any important documents and maps ahead of time. Keep large amounts of cash and flashy valuables out of sight. And finally, invest in things to keep your valuables safe, like a hotel room with a locked safe or a Ridge wallet.

If you want to grab a Ridge Wallet for yourself, Dollar Flight Club members save 10% on their first order. Just click this link and use code DOLLARFLIGHT10!

  • Kyle Maltz, COO & Partner

    Kyle’s an adventure loving Seattleite who’s busy skiing or traveling the world when he’s not helping DFC move mountains. His favorite trips have been to Thailand, Turks and Caicos, and Costa Rica. Kyle stays busy connecting us with some of the best brands in the world and working on new ways for DFC to be the best in the business for helping travelers explore more and pay less. Kyle oversees daily operations and growth strategy for Dollar Flight Club, including the Flight Alerts product as well as the media publishing side of the business.

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