Avoid These Travel Scams On Your Gap Year

picture of Hoi An, Vietnam old town with text "avoid these travel scams"

How to Avoid Travel Scams

Travel scams are pretty common. Tourists get ripped off all the time. Travel long enough and you’ll find yourself the intended victim of at least one of these travel scams that I fell for strictly for the purposes of research to help you out, Dear Travel Buddy, because, I mean, who needs to keep all their money anyway.


The travel scam: In SE Asia, your tuk tuk driver picks you up, but instead of taking you directly to your destination, he stops at a clothing or jewelry store and won’t take you where you’re going until you either make a purchase or spend a sufficient amount of time browsing. The driver gets a commission from the shop for each customer her brings.

My story: In Thailand I was taken by a tuk tuk driver. To a jewelry store. See, it’s common practice around Phuket, Thailand to hire a tuk tuk to take you to your destination, only to have the driver first stop off at a jewelry store or tailor shop so you can look around. Against your will.

tuk tuk ride vaycarious.com/2017/01/28/scams

Most people don’t mind this if they’ve already come to expect it. I was prepared for this to happen. The driver pulled in front of the store and motioned for me to go in. When I walked in, the salesladies greeted me and asked me if I wanted to buy some earrings. I wanted a necklace, so I looked around the display cases. But I didn’t see anything I wanted, so I turned and bowed a little to the ladies and walked out the door.

The tuk tuk driver and I smiled at each other and we started moving. I thought we were on our way to my hotel, but he stopped at another store. He turned to me and said “You didn’t stay long enough minutes for me to get commission.”

Old Phuket, Thailand vaycarious.com/2017/01/28/scams

I didn’t know there was a 10 minute minimum. *blank stare*

I wasn’t in a hurry, and I actually did want a necklace. So I went into store #2 and repeated the process, but at a slower pace. I still didn’t buy, but my driver seemed satisfied and took me home.

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Do the Right Thing

The travel scam: Merchants will sometimes charge tourists a much higher price than locals. It might not be worth your time to argue over a couple thousand Vietnamese Dong (approx 23,000 VND = 1 USD), and the local Vietnamese people largely live on much less money than the tourists who visit Vietnam.

My story: Saigon, Vietnam is hot. With humidity that makes wiping away the sweat totally pointless. If you tried to re-enact the scene from Do the Right Thing where Mookie rubs ice cubes on Tina, you’d fail. The ice would be completely melted before you left the kitchen.


Now, Vietnam has delicious street food. I stumbled on a street cart selling Bahn Mi sandwiches with a line 6 locals deep. This was the Sal’s of the East, and I was eating here no matter what. I got in line and waited for my turn for deliciousness.

The lady in front of me ordered the exact sandwich  I wanted. Pork paté with a fried egg on top. She handed the vendor 10,000 Vietnamese Dong (around 50 cents) and he gave her change back. I couldn’t tell if it was 1000 or 2000, but I figured with the “tourist tax” that’s illegally but commonly charged, my sandwich would be closer to 20,000 dong. I was prepared to pay that price.  No problem.

The sandwich man cut open my baguette, fried the pork and an egg, and piled the vegetables onto my sandwich. He wrapped it in paper and sealed it in a plastic bag. Then as I took the sandwich from him, he sad “Ninety.”

I don’t speak Vietnamese. I at first assumed he had made a mistake with his English. I said “Do you mean nine?” as I handed him a 20,000 dong bill. He said “No, ninety thousand.”

I understand that bickering with somebody about the equivalent of 4 dollars seems like a total waste of time to most of you reading this now, but I had nothing but time. And although I was fine with paying a higher price, no way would I pay prime rib prices at a sandwich cart.

Image result for banh mi egg pork

Photo by bbanhmi.com

I tried to shove the 20k into his hand, but he wouldn’t take it. So I put the sandwich down on his cart. When I started to walk away he started yelling at me. Then I got nervous that other people would assume I was stealing from him or something. So I yelled back in English “You’re cheating me!”

We yelled back and forth at each other for at least a whole minute. Tensions were boiling over like it was late 1980s Bed Stuy. I was hangry. Then I marched back over to his cart, put down 30,000 dong this time and took the sandwich. He smiled.

I said “I hope your paté spoils.” I walked the 2 blocks back to my hotel room squeezing the sandwich in my fist and muttering about integrity. That bahn mi taught me that even as experienced as I was, I could still be a victim. It was delicious.

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The Crying Game

The travel scam: Australia is too expensive! That’s it.

My story: Just south of Perth, Australia is the cutest port city of Fremantle. They have a ship museum, antique car shows on the weekends and bars on every block. Outside of these bars, sandwich boards advertise Happy Hour times and food deals.

Fremantle, Australia vaycarious.com/2017/01/28/scams

One would expect discounted drinks as well. But in Australia the beer prices during happy hour will make you cry. When I complained to locals about the $10 (!) pints, they’d just nod their heads like “yep”.

Perth, Australia vaycarious.com/2017/01/28/scams

Cheap beer in Australia is called wine. Drink cabernet and save the beer for another continent.

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Marley and Me

The travel scam: I’m still not sure.

My story: I was scammed by a dog.

I stayed in a cabin on the Kampot River in Cambodia. The grounds had a wonderful restaurant, motorbikes for rent and a really friendly Black Lab-looking dog who came to me for belly rubs every time I left my cabin. Then at night, when I was all tucked into my mosquito net listening to the geckos make that noise that I thought was a bird, I’d hear the dog walk up the steps of my cabin and lie down in front of my door.

I thought he was the sweetest dog. Guarding the solo woman in the camp at night. He never made a sound, and by morning when I’d get up for breakfast, he’d be gone.

Kampot River vaycarious.com/2017/01/28/scams

Then the time came for me to check out and move to Sihanoukville. I packed up my bag and went to the front porch to get my sneakers. I hadn’t needed them the whole time I was on this resort. That’s when the dog’s true motives came to light.

dog in Kampot, Cambodia vaycarious.com/2017/01/28/scams

The dog ate my shoes.

That’s why he would lie down at my door at night. He ate the shoelaces from both of my sneakers. I didn’t see him on that last morning. I’d like to think he was hiding out of shame, but he probably found another sucker who left their shoes on their front porch.

If this story made you go awwww instead of ARGH!, you might like the idea of pet sitting to get free accommodation when you travel. Read about how to get started as a house sitter here:

But the “scams” don’t all turn out bad.

The Da Vinci Code

You know the book. Two scientists have to solve a cryptic message that leads them to re-examine Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper. Here’s our version.

It was a clear Autumn night in Paris. My cousin Marcia and I were outside of the Louvre Museum taking selfies, you know, as you do. We had less than an hour to buy tickets, make our way through the museum to the Mona Lisa, and take more selfies. While we were walking toward the entrance, a handsome young brother walked past us. We never really made eye contact with each other, but made a friendly acknowledgement of each others’ presence. Then he reached a piece of paper into my hand. He said “It’s still good” and kept walking by.

We turned to look at him only to see the back of his jacket as he walked away. The piece of paper was a ticket into the Louvre. Still intact.

Lourve at night vaycarious.com/2017/01/28/scams

Because Marcia and I share the DNA of my grandfather Willie, we had to give the free ticket a try. We split the price of a second admission and walked up to the ticket takers. They barely glanced down at our tickets, one legit, one questionable, and waved us through. We were in!

After twenty minutes of Are We There Yet-ing through the huge museum, we were face to face with Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa — slightly underwhelmed, but shooting selfies nonetheless. Had we just successfully benefitted from a scam? Oui.

I hope you enjoyed these tales as I lived them.

Let them be a lesson to you: scams are funny. Or maybe the lesson is to be more diligent. I don’t know which. I’ll ask the dog if I see him again.

Since you OBVIOUSLY love travel

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About the Author: Hey! I'm Stephanie Perry. I quit my job to travel the world at 41. Now I teach other women to do the same thing. I also house sit around the world and chase the perfect sunset picture.


38 Comments Add yours

  1. Hilary says:

    beautiful photo of the Louvre at night!

    1. Thanks Hilary. 🙂 It’s such a gorgeous place!

  2. I lived in Paris and luckily was able to avoid scams there. But I’ll never forget the day I saw someone try to scam like 5 people in a row. It’s the scam where they pretend to pick up a gold ring (or something valuable) right next to you and then insists it’s yours and want money for their “good deed”. Or perhaps they try to distract you to steal from you – not sure. I saw a guy hop from one person to the next trying to do this. It was so blatantly obvious. Luckily no one I saw fell for it but I was ready to yell out, “don’t fall for it!” #wanderfulwednesday

    1. I’ve seen people try that too! I think they’re pickpockets. 🙁

  3. Tanja says:

    I got the free tickets to Louvre too:) it happened the same way as it did to you:) #wanderfulwednesday

    1. Hey! It’s the Louvre Angel! Maybe I should try to pass it on sometime soon.

  4. Erin says:

    Love these types of posts, namely because I’m terrified of falling victim to a scam. Good for you for holding your ground with that food vendor and sticking up for yourself. I feel like you can’t show weakness and have to call them out. #wanderfulwednesday

    1. Thanks Erin. 🙂 I just learned to pick my battles. And since I travel on a super tight budget, a scammer can’t get a whole lot out of me anyway.

  5. Isabel says:

    Love these stories! It is sad that you were scammed and that the dog ate your shoes. But you did got a free ticket and a good sandwich and funny stories to last a lifetime!

    1. It definitely evens out, Isabel. 🙂

  6. I’m sure at the time, these scams weren’t funny, but at least you can write about them today with a light heart and a giggle! #WanderfulWednesday

    1. Most of this happened to me when it was one million degrees outside, so my sense of humor was melted and useless. But time heals all…

  7. vanbrune says:

    I did not know that about Thailand and I would get pretty angry if I’d be driven to a tourist shop instead of my actual destination. That’s such useful info to know beforehand!!

    1. Yeah, I’m glad I was forewarned or I would’ve been angry AND scared. But you can avoid the runaround by having the hotel arrange the ride for you. They know the right drivers.

  8. Great read! I’m sorry you got scammed so many times, but they make great stories. I’m glad even though you had to pay a higher price for the Bahn Mi, that it was still delicious! It would have sucked if you got scammed AND it wasn’t good…!

  9. Kay Davies says:

    Useful tips for travellers. Thanks so much.

  10. I can’t tell you how many times I have read about the Tuk Tuk drivers taking tourists to jewelry stores! These tips are super useful for all travelers to read – a really important post. Thanks for sharing your advice!

  11. Excellent information. I think from now on I’ll make sure not to leave my shoes outside my bungalow or any other accommodation.

  12. the tuk tuk is common practice also in other countries. I don’t mind to enter to one shop, but not to 10. I even negotiated with the tuk tuk driver the price and nr of shops beforehand, but even he tried to stop in more 🙁

  13. anayomf says:

    I would’ve fought tooth and nail for my 20,000 sandwich too!
    I think that’s my main motivation for wanting to learn new languages lol I will not be played!

  14. Nadeen says:

    This is such a great post! The titles of the stories are so creative! The jewelry store scam just happened to me in Phuket! Too funny! I had no idea about the cost of beer in Australia. I’m glad you got a free tic to the Louvre in Paris lol

  15. kimssojourn says:

    This brings back some unpleasant memories from going through the same thing in Bangkok over and over. Thanks for sharing so we can know what to look out for.

  16. Ruth says:

    Wow! I think we all have experienced something like this during our travels. I was taken in Bangkok too. When I was about to enter the Palace, a guy told me it was closed because it was the time of the day when the monks were praying. He suggested to pass the time by taking a tuk tuk tours. We ended up in many jewelry stores. It was a disaster when we said we wanted to go back. #WeekendWanderlust

  17. We had exactly the same scam practised on us in Cairo as you did in Thailand. We were not at all interested in the perfume, or whatever it was the shop sold, and so we stayed firmly in the car when the driver drove us to a shop where I’m sure he would have got a commission. The problem was that it annoyed him so much the next day, same driver, he drove so fast that I thought we would be lucky to get out of the car alive. Next time I’m going along with the scam – it is safer.

  18. travelsewhere says:

    Travel scams are a disappointing but eternal part of travel I think. I found the tourist tax of Vietnam frustrating but moreso when I knew exactly how much something should cost. One of the Thai Tuktuk ones I loathed was when they would tell you that the Palace was closed so they could take you elsewhere, even when you had just left the Palace! I still think Morocco was one of the worst places I’ve been for touts/scams, with people telling me they were from the tourist authority and constantly trying to sell me things. As for Aussie Beer, taxes and a high cost of living are to blame for that, but we pay it anyway 😉

  19. I would be so upset with the sandwich story I’d probably have wanted to throw it in his face haha! In Cancun we had similar story to Thailand, except the guy asked if we could go into the store for a few minutes first before leaving so he could get a commission. We also were not in a rush and it was located in our destination so we were fine with it. I think it would bother me if they “forced” me to stop without asking first.

  20. Retrato says:

    Great post! I see getting lost and scammed stories during travels are the ones very memorable. I have my shares too and always put a smile on my face.

  21. Poochi says:

    I was expecting these scams to be more vicious! Thankfully not ☺

    I can’t believe the dog ate your entire shoes 😂 such a cute pic of him too lol

    Even with all those scams, they’re some pretty funny stories AND you have beautifully captured views from them. Very nice.

    You’re not bitter about it and you already knew what you were getting into – you win 😌

    P.S. #LoveLatoya❤️
    IG​ & TW​: @Poochis_Place

  22. Awesome stories, especially the one about the dog and the Louvre.

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  24. Roobens says:

    Hahaha funny dog story ! Yeah as tourists they see us as walking wallets, we always have to pay attention

    1. Yes. Once you’re alerted to potential scams, you’re halfway there.

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