Don't get ripped off
--- 10 tips how to avoid tourist scam ---
Most of the people you will meet on your journeys are nice, but as everywhere else in the world, you can find also people who wants to take an advantage of you. Plus most of the countries backpackers like to visit are the third world countries and people there are very poor. And all western people are rich comparing to them. So charging little bit extra shouldn't be such a deal. And they are right, actually. Many travelers don't really care if they pay few dollars more, so it encourages the scammers. Sometimes the difference is so small that most western people don't even know about it. It is not a nice feeling to become a walking wallet, but it is the price for being born in more prosperous countries where we have enough food, healthcare, social insurance and education.
We are gonna talk about small scam that you will see and experience almost every day on your trips. Don't worry, it happens to everyone. You are coming to a new country, you don't know how it works, you have no idea about the prices and you feel little bit lost. The scammers are waiting for people like you. It happened to us many times too. A good thing about travel scams is that the tricks are everywhere the same and when you learn to recognize them, it will get easier to avoid them in the future.
If you are going to a new country, try to get the information in advance. At least the exchange rate for the local currency, the approximate prices and the distances you are gonna travel. Use GPS on your phone (we recommend offline maps MAPS.ME). Ask for the price on many places before you choose one.
Agree on the price in advance
This is the most important advice we can give you. It puts you in the position where you are the one who makes the choice. If you don't like the price, you can go somewhere else and they know it too. If you let the bargaining to the end, you can expect problems, for sure. You give them the advantage of asking for basicaly anything they want. This applies not only for taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, but also for restaurants where they don't state the prices. We ended up once paying for a coke the same price like in Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world :) Ask for the price. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
Make sure what you are paying for
Ask questions. Is the price for the whole day? Is the waiting time included? Is the price in dollars or local currency? Is the price for tuk-tuk ride for 1 person or for the whole tuk-tuk? This is so common scam.
You agree on price, but you find out that the price was for only 1 person or 1 way or similar.
Don't let them to split you if you are a couple. We have heard a story how they took a couple separately to different places on a motorbike, asking for a lot more money than agreed.
Make sure where exactly you are going. Different bus stations, train stations, foreign names and the language barrier can lead to many misunderstandings. Try to communicate with the driver and ask questions. It will be also a sign for him that you are not totally stupid and it won't be so easy to rip you off. It is hard to recognize the final destinations, if you haven't been there before, we know, but use GPS if you can. It happened to us few times we ended up on a totally different place without even knowing about it, so don't make the same mistake.
Scam with accommodation
Very common scam is when someone tells you that the hotel/hostel/B&B you want to go to is closed or overbooked or any other story. The drivers try to get you to a hotel, where they get comission for bringing tourists. If you don't have any accommodation agreed, make sure they will take you to the centre or a place where there are other places to stay. Otherwise you can end up in the middle of nowhere with no other option than to stay where they want you to stay. There is nothing against checking the hotel they recommend, if you want make them happy, but don't feel obligated to stay there. You can always thank them, saying you want to check also other places and you can come back if you won't find anyhting else.
Sometimes it can be just too much for everyone. You spend a whole night in the bus. It is hot, you are sweat and dirty.
The only thing you need is a shower and a bed. So half asleep you are getting out off the bus at a bus station in the middle of nowhere. There are twenty tuk tuk drivers screaming and everybody is trying to get their own tired, stupid backpacker. The drivers could be quite annoying, pushing you, grabing your hands, taking your luggage. It is a hard life for the them, we got it, but it can be too much for you too in that situation. So you just agree on any price. And they know it. So they overcharge you a lot and then take you to an expensive hotel. And you are gonna pay it, because you are so tired.
We recommend another strategy. Take it easy. Tell them you are no interested. Grab your backpack and walk away from the craziness. Get awake slowly, eat, drink. Some of them will try to persuade you, but most of them will focus on the backpackers who wants to leave soon. After everyone is gone, you have two options. Either to bargain with the rest of the drivers. It puts you in a good place, they didn't succed to get anyone, so they may give you better price. Other option is to walk from the bus station finding other drivers. We usually paid like that less than a half price of what all the backpackers paid just few minutes before us.
Be careful with low price
If a tuk tuk driver offers you a very low price, it is suspicious. This scam is common in Thailand. The good price is an exchange for wasting your time at the places you must visit with them. And those places can be pretty much anything. Tailors, booking agents, different souvenir shops. When you are finally there, it is awkward because you suppose to buy something, but you don't. It happened to us once in Bangkok where we ended up with the booking agents who tried to sell us very expensive bungalows in Phuket. The price for one night was actually equal to what we paid for one week in the end. We would never say yes for such a price as we are budget travelers, but it is a great waste of time and it is quite uncomfortable when the driver begs you to go there, otherwise he won't get money from them for the gas. We offered to pay the gas instead of going to those places, but he didn't want to, so there is some kind of scam agreement between them.
Take care of your money
Always check the change. Don't let people to see or touch the money in your wallet. We have seen this many times. While the young backpackers were trying to find the right bill, the guys checked easily how much money they carried and some of them even pulled the money from the wallet in order to help the confused tourist. Never let anyone to stand near you when withdrawing money from ATM even they are offering help with the fees.
Keep your personal zone
Don't let anyone to put bracelets or other things on your body if you don't wish to. You can prevent many embarassing scenes because of that. Don't give your passport to anyone on the street. You can hand the copy if needed. Don't let people carry your bags if you don't know them. It happend to us at an airport when two guys helped us just to take the backpack from our shoulders and put it in the car trunk and asked for money. It took them two seconds. Ridiculous, right? Usually the taxi driver helps you with the luggage, especially if you are a lady, so you don't expect a scam. Be careful with the total strangers from the street. If they start to run away with your backpack, you are screwed, so take care of your things.
Help other ways
The scammers know that it is best to apeal to our emotions. You will meet kids and handicaped people asking you for money. It is very hard to distinguish between the scammers and those who really are in need. It is heartbreaking when a little dirty kid grabs you and asks you for money. Not many of us have the heart not to give them anything. But this is a business for many people who sends the kids to beg. In Cambodia people send small kids to ask for buying a milk. Who wouldn't buy a milk for a baby, right? But it is a scam and it is agreed with the shop owner that they will change the milk for money afterwards. If you really want to help, try to do it other ways and don't support the scammers. Think what kind of people can grow up from those kids. I was intimidated in Myanmar by a six year old with a machete in his hand. He was pulling my backpack and I was so confused that I didn't know if I should be frightened or not. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, actually.
Use your common sense
In most of the cases, it helps when you use your common sense and you will be fine. Listen to your instincts. If you don't have a good feeling about someone, simply say thank you and walk away. They can bother you for a short time, they will walk with you on the street, but they will eventually give up and find someone else. There are many scams you can experience in the world, but we don't want to scare you too much. The most of the scammers are not criminals who tries to kill you, they are just average people who tries to make a living on tourists who don't care. So there is no need to be impolite to them, don't be pissed off, it makes no sense to ruin your day because of that. You can always just smile and let them know that you are not totally dumb.