8 Common Travel Scams (and How to Avoid Them)
Even experienced travelers can become victims of crooks that prey on tourists – and we’re not just talking about pickpockets. Perpetrators use a number of ploys to dupe tourists.
The good news? There are steps you can take to avoid these eight common travel scams and swindles.
Fake booking websites
Fraud can occur before you even pack your bags. Fake travel reservation websites are common culprits. In fact, a whopping 15 million online hotel reservations are made on bogus third-party sites every year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association reports.
How to avoid it: The easiest way to protect yourself is by going to the official website of the hotel, airline, or rental car agency to book reservations. If you’re considering using a third-party booking website, though, look up the business on the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints lodged against the company for fraud. Also, make sure the booking site’s URL starts with https:// – this ensures it’s a secure website.
The broken taxi meter
Sadly, some taxi drivers take advantage of tourists by telling them that their meter is broken and then charge them significantly more money than the fare should have cost.
How to avoid it: If a taxi driver refuses to turn on the meter, get out and opt for another driver. Don’t have another taxi to choose from? Negotiate the rate ahead of time.
Phony Wi-Fi hotspots
Connecting your computer, smartphone, or other electric device to an unsecured Wi-Fi network can put your personal data at risk, since the perpetrator can gain access to what’s on your device, including sensitive information like credit card account numbers.
How to avoid it: Instead of using public Wi-Fi, create a mobile hotspot from your smartphone. This entails sharing your phone’s mobile data connection wirelessly with the other device you’re using. If you don’t have a large or unlimited data plan, though, creating a mobile hotspot may not be a financially feasible option. If you must use a public Wi-Fi connection, use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which is “a private network that only you can access, hiding your important data from potential hackers,” says Hailey Benton of Global Travel Academy.
Your hotel accommodation or attraction is "closed"
We’re not trying to give taxi drivers a bad rap – most cabdrivers are honest providers – but some drivers mislead travelers by telling them that their desired hotel or attraction is closed, even though it’s open. The driver will then try to pressure you to stay at a different hotel or visit a different attraction, which offers the driver a kickback for bringing the company business.
How to avoid it: This one is pretty simple: if a cabbie tells you that your hotel or attraction is closed, call directly to see whether it’s truly open or closed.
Renting a car? You need to have your guard up. A fraudster may tell you to pull over because there’s a problem with your vehicle, like a broken taillight or a flat tire. Instead of inspecting your car, the person robs you at gun- or knife-point.
How to avoid it: Don’t pull over. If there’s a genuine problem, you’ll likely hear a noise or see an emergency light pop on, at which point you should find a repair shop.
The bag slash
A purse may seem like a good place to store cash and other valuables. However, crooks target tourists by riding on a bicycle past the person while slicing the strap of a bag, then pedaling away with its contents.
How to avoid it: Though some people think they look silly, storing your valuables – money, passport, and credit cards – in a money belt that you tuck into your pants is the safest way to stroll the streets.
The shell game
It’s an age-old scam: a game operator on the street places a ball under one of three shells or cups, shuffles them around, and you place a bet on where you think the ball is. The trick? Associates acting as tourists guess correctly, leading you to think you can win. The perpetrator has removed the ball using sleight of hand, or you win and the person pays you with counterfeit money.
How to avoid it: Don’t play. Don’t even stop to watch – you could get pickpocketed by a conspirator while you’re distracted by the game.
The souvenir switcheroo
You stop at a stall to buy a keepsake. You find the item you want to purchase and pay the vendor, who then goes to wrap up your purchase. When you get home, though, you unwrap your souvenir to discover it’s not the item you purchased – it’s actually a cheaper trinket.
How to avoid it: Don’t buy souvenirs on the street. Instead, go to a brick-and-mortar store that can be held accountable.
21 Ways You Could Get into Trouble as a Tourist in Italy
It can be hard to stay afloat of Italy's wave of bans on visitor-related misbehavior. From snacking on the street in Florence to riding a bike in Venice's city center, there are specific everyday activities that could see you slapped with a fine of up to €500 ($550) or daspo (temporary ban). Italian authorities have introduced a slew of new rules aimed at curbing unacceptable behavior, many of which are in response to issues with overtourism. Some have been introduced with a zero-tolerance approach. In June, a Canadian tourist was fined €250 ($278) for sunbathing in her bikini in Venice's Giardini Papadopoli. While in July, two German tourists were fined €950 ($1058) and immediately asked to leave the city after they were found making coffee on a portable stove beneath the historic Rialto Bridge. Officials confirmed that this was the 40th time since May that visitors have been ordered to leave town for breaching the rules. "Venice must be respected," mayor Luigi Brugnaro said at the time, "and bad-mannered people who think they can come here and do what they want must understand that, thanks to local police, they will be caught, punished and expelled." It's not just Venice taking firm action. Two French tourists were caught allegedly taking sand from a beach in Sardinia this month and could face up to six years in prison. And in Rome, police have been encouraging lounging tourists to move from the Spanish Steps as sitting on them is now subject to a fine of about €400 ($450). At first glance, the rules may seem harsh but residents in Italy are really starting to feel the strain of overtourism. Many have had enough of visitors treating their cities like theme parks. You obviously don't want to be that person who could cause offense (or worse, commit an offense). Simply respecting Italy and its citizens should be enough to keep you out of trouble but even the most well-intentioned visitor might slip up from time to time. With that in mind, here's a quick brief at what not to do on your next visit to Italy: 1. Purchase unauthorized tours from touts in any city. 2. Purchase "skip-the-line" tours outside historic monuments in Rome such as the Vatican. 3. Join organized pub crawls in Rome. 4. Eat or drink at famous sites in any city, like the Spanish Steps. 5. Sit or lay down in front of shops, historic monuments and bridges. You'll more than likely be moved on. 6. Eat on the streets of Florence's historic center – Via de' Neri, Piazzale degli Uffizi, Piazza del Grano and Via della Ninna – from noon to 3pm and from 6pm to 10pm daily. 7. Drag pushchairs or wheeled suitcases up the Spanish Steps in Rome. 8. Jump into fountains or otherwise damage or climb on them. 9. Set up picnics in public spaces or pause too long on bridges in Venice. 10. Ride bikes in Venice city center. 11. Drink alcohol on the street between 8pm and 8am in Venice. 12. Busk on public transport in Rome. 13. Attach love locks to bridges in Rome and Venice. 14. Take part in group celebrations such as hen and stag parties outdoors during weeknights in Venice. They're only permitted outdoors during the day or on weekends. 15. Let your mouth touch the spout of Rome's public drinking fountains, known as nasoni. Instead cup your hands under the spout of place your finger under the stream to direct an arc of water to your mouth like the Romans do. 16. Drink alcohol out of glass containers on public streets, public transit and in non-enclosed green spaces in Rome after 10pm. Or drink alcohol out of any container after midnight in these spaces. 17. Dress up as a historical figure or character like a "centurion" (gladiator) in Rome and pose for photos with tourists. 18. Walk around shirtless or in your swimwear in any metropolitan area. This state of dress is strictly restricted to the beach or lido. 19. Wear sandals or flip-flops while hiking in Cinque Terre. 20. Swim in the Blue Grotto on the island of Capri. You can visit by boat but swimming in the grotto is strictly forbidden, just ask supermodel Heidi Klum who was fined €6000 ($6696) for taking a dip in the waters this summer. 21. Steal sand from the beaches of Sardinia (or any beach for that matter). You could face up to six years in prison.
6 Things to Know Before Buying a Timeshare
The US timeshare industry’s sales volume hit a whopping $10.2 billion last year, up 7% from 2017, according to the annual State of the Vacation Timeshare Industry report by the American Resort Development Association (ARDA). That marks nine consecutive years of growth. However, buying a timeshare isn’t right for everyone. Here are six things you need to know before purchasing one. 1. How timeshares work Owning a timeshare can be a great way to have access to a vacation property that you love without having to shoulder the high costs of owning your own home, like property taxes and mortgage payments. Traditionally, timeshare buyers pay a lump sum of money upfront, which allows them use of a specific unit at the same time every year. Some timeshare units are located at big-name hotels or resorts, while others are located at off-site communities. A one-week interval is most common – meaning there might be 52 people who share ownership of a property – but the time frame can be shorter or longer depending on the contract. Some timeshares, though, offer “flexible” or “floating” weeks that allow owners to choose when they want to stay at the property (subject to availability) from year to year. 2. Timeshare presentations often use grueling, high-pressure sales tactics Timeshares are frequently sold during on-site presentations, and to attract prospective buyers, many timeshare companies will offering attendees freebies like dinner vouchers or discounted vacations. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? Not exactly. These presentations are led by trained salespeople who know precisely what to say to persuade people to buy a timeshare, which is why many consumer advocates recommend people take time to mull things over – and do some comparison shopping to see if they’re getting a good deal – before deciding whether to purchase a timeshare. Pro tip: if you’re the type of person who is especially susceptible to high-pressure sales tactics, you may want to avoid timeshare presentations altogether. 3. Watch out for high maintenance fees Most timeshares come with annual maintenance fees to pay for expenses like landscaping, amenities upkeep, and business costs (like recordkeeping, scheduling, or staffing), and these fees can add up. According to the ARDA, timeshare maintenance fees cost, on average, $1,000 a year. Unfortunately, maintenance fees can increase over time. Thus, it pays to look a timeshare community’s maintenance fee history, and find out whether any large expenses (e.g., construction of a new fitness center) are coming up, before purchasing a timeshare unit. 4. Timeshares tend to depreciate… Though timeshares enable buyers to freeze their future vacation costs, they tend to depreciate in value. Unlike buying a vacation home, which can increase in value as home prices increase, buying a timeshare doesn’t tend to yield a great return on investment. Why? Because timeshare owners face the uphill battle of persuading someone to pay more for a used unit, when they have the option to buy a brand-new timeshare directly from a resort or vacation club – making it challenging for owners to make a profit 5. …but they’re not always money traps Typically, timeshare owners have the right to rent out their week(s) through exchange programs, such as Resort Condominiums International (RCI), Interval International (II), and Trading Places International. This gives owners the opportunity to travel to cities around the world and stay at rental properties that may cost significantly less than standard hotel rooms or resort rates. The caveat? Most timeshare exchange programs charge an annual subscription fee (generally between $100 and $300), and some charge an additional fee for each transaction that can vary depending on the length of stay, unit size, and time of purchase. 6. Timeshare scams run rampant The timeshare industry has been a target for fraudsters since it was born in the 1970s. Because scam artists have developed a number of deceptive practices to dupe consumers, it’s important to look out for red flags. One common scheme is where a company calls to offer you an exceptionally low price on a timeshare if you book today; the only thing you have to do is pay a large upfront fee of say, $15,000 – except you learn later that no timeshare exists. There are also resale scammers who target timeshare owners during tough economic times, promising that they have a buyer lined up who is ready to make them an exceptional offer in order to get the owner to send them money and then they disappear. Your best form of protection is to stay vigilant. If a timeshare company contacts you, do your homework to make sure the business is legitimate. Contact local consumer protection agencies in the state where the company is located, as well as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), to see if there are any existing complaints about the organization. The bottom line Buying a timeshare is a good idea for some people, but it’s a bad idea for others. By understanding the pros and cons of owning a timeshare, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision for your travel needs.
6 Ways to Use Google Flights to Save Money on Airfare
Booking airfare is a common cause of buyer’s remorse. You diligently research the best fares, track them with price alerts, and finally book — only to see the price drop unexpectedly just before takeoff. Google Flights, part of the search engine giant’s new raft of travel-savvy features, aims to prevent that buyer’s remorse. It’s so sure of its tracking prowess that it’s offering a price guarantee. Here are the details: When Google Flights’ algorithms confidently identify the lowest available price, it tags the fare. After you book, Google Flights continues to monitor the fare. If the cost drops before take-off, it will refund you the difference. Sound too good to be true? Well, keep in mind it’s a limited-time offer available for select flights booked through September 2, 2019. Travel must be completed by November 24, 2019. Finally, the difference in price must be greater than $5 and less than $500. But even after this price guarantee ends, Google Flights still has several features and tools that can help you get the most for your money. Here’s how. Use the Tips section to know when you’re getting a good deal Google Flights uses more than 300 partners including airlines and other travel aggregators to display offers. It automatically sorts results by the best price, but the Tips section provides further insights. It contains notes that let you know whether you’re getting a good deal. Tips may note that prices are unlikely to drop before you book, that prices are less than usual, or prices are likely to increase. Google develops these tips after analyzing price trends of past flights and similar trips. Use the Explore Destinations feature Still trying to decide where you want to go? Let the Explore Destinations feature be your budget-friendly travel agent. It allows you to select your departure city, the proposed length of your trip, and the month in which you want to travel, then delivers destinations with the lowest airfares. For example, if you’re planning a one-week trip in November, but aren’t sure of your destination, you may opt for New York over Washington, DC, when you discover you’ll save $100 on the airfare alone. Be flexible with your dates If you have a fixed destination in mind, but can be flexible with your travel dates, Google Flights can deliver savings. Once you’ve input your destination and proposed itinerary dates, click on the Date Grid. This reveals how airfare prices fluctuate on the dates surrounding your proposed departure and return. Similarly, the Price Graph lets you explore how fares vary by month or week, which can help you identify the best times to travel that route. Experiment with your route Sometimes our travel plans take us to destinations that can be reached via multiple airports. If that’s the case with your trip, use the Airports feature. For example, if you’re headed to Tupelo, Mississippi, you might opt to fly into Birmingham, Alabama, or Nashville, Tennessee. Let your pocketbook pick. Filter by bag fees When looking at airplane fares, it’s easy to forget the other fees we may encounter. Baggage fees are chief among them. If you already know whether you’ll be checking a bag or bringing one onboard, Google Flights can show you flight prices that include any associated fees. Turning on this filter doesn’t remove any flights from results. Instead, it updates prices so you can get a true picture of your total trip cost. Set Fare Alerts Even though Google Flights offers several convenient features to search for the best price within its platform, you may not want to turn obsessive fare checking into a hobby. In that case, set up a Fare Alert. Just enter your travel details, including destination and dates, and click the Track Prices toggle. Google Flights will keep tabs on price fluctuations and send you an email notifying you of price changes. The only drawback to Google Flights may be that it doesn’t index all flights. For example, Google Flights doesn’t publish prices from Southwest Airlines. If a route is available that meets your needs, it will display that a flight is available but will redirect you to the airline’s website for site for further details. However, overall, Google Flights is fast becoming a top airfare search and research tool.
10 Foolproof Tricks to Beat Flight Anxiety
Does the idea of flying cause you to break out in a cold sweat? You aren't alone. More than 25 million Americans suffer from some form of flight anxiety, making aerophobia (fear of flying) the second biggest fear in the US after public speaking. If you do fall in this category, you've probably had friends and family remind you numerous times that flying is the safest mode of transportation. While that's very true – your chances of dying in a plane crash are about one in 10 million compared with a one-in-272 chance of dying in a car crash – that's not always enough to quell the jitters. And advice like showing up early at the airport to eliminate unnecessary stress is practical as well, but for the most nervous nellies among us, it takes a little bit more to get us up in the air. We turned to the experts – Todd Farchione, Ph.D., of Boston University's Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders, Martin N. Seif, Ph.D., ABPP, of the Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center, and Captain Steve Allright of British Airways' Flying With Confidence program – to find out exactly what to do to help alleviate flight anxiety. Thanks to their advice, we put together a 10-step guide to help you conquer your fear – because nothing should stand between you and the vacation you deserve. 1. Name your phobia Figuring out what triggers your fear in the first place is an important first step toward conquering flight anxiety. Different aspects of flying can trigger different fears depending on the person – for instance, one person may be afraid of turbulence and feel nervous during a perfectly normal takeoff, while an individual with germaphobic tendencies may be more concerned about the spread of germs in a confined space. "The common denominator for more than 90 percent of flight phobics is the fear that they will become overwhelmed with anxiety during the flight," says Seif, a clinical psychologist who runs the Freedom to Fly program at the Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center in White Plains, New York. It helps to recognize that your phobia is irrational, but you need to be able to pinpoint the cause of your fear before you can take that next step. 2. Familiarize yourself with airplane noises You're about to land and the plane is rattling like both of its wheels are about to fall off – is it time to panic? No, the carry-on luggage and the seat-back tables are shifting slightly – just like they do every time the plane takes off and lands. Sometimes all it takes to combat anxiety is a little information. Read up on the typical bumps and noises that may occur during a flight. It also helps to understand just how rigorous safety measures are for aircraft. For example, aircraft must be able to support one-and-a-half times the maximum load it would ever carry and weathering environmental extremes such as 120-degree temperatures. "Our anxiety is fed by 'what if?' catastrophic thoughts. Once you become knowledgeable, your 'what if' thoughts will be limited by the facts," said Seif. 3. Check the turbulence forecast While turbulence is a perfectly normal part of flying – it happens when the plane encounters normal weather patterns like air currents or clouds – the idea of shaking while in the air can be very unsettling. Turbcast (iTunes, $1.99) was designed by a pilot and analyzes weather patterns as a pilot would, giving fliers an inside look at factors like air pockets and thunderstorms that can cause turbulence in the first place. Translation: The more you know about what causes that shaky feeling and how much of it you can expect while you're airborne, the less you'll be afraid of it. 4. Bring a photo of your destination Visualizing your destination and imagining yourself there can be a powerful antidote to stress – and can help keep you focused on the prize at the end of the journey. You can do this with or without a photo, but having a physical image to refer to – whether it's a picture you've downloaded on your phone or a postcard – can help to keep your mind from wandering. Allright says another method is to "imagine yourself in a safe place, somewhere you feel comfortable and safe. Your bedroom, perhaps, or on a beach. Take yourself there with your eyes closed and relax." The idea is to take your mind off the little things that make you nervous about flying and focus on the positive aspects of your journey. 5. Skip coffee and wine Captain Allright says to avoid both caffeine and alcohol, as they can leave you feeling more dehydrated during the flight, as well as aggravate anxiety issues. Nervous fliers should avoid a seemingly comforting pre-flight alcoholic beverage, since alcohol can also make it harder for your body to adjust to being airborne and bring on a nasty bout of jet lag. Instead, opt for water and a light meal pre-flight, or carry along a light snack like carrot sticks, nuts, or an apple to keep you feeling nourished. 6. Distract yourself In a nutshell – distraction works. Airlines now provide the little comforts of home – like televisions, music channels, and magazines – to help distract you from noises and bumps during the flight and make you feel more at home in a strange place. One of the best ways to distract yourself during a flight is to bring a book that you've already started and are deeply engrossed in or a season of your favorite television show. Farchione says if people associate televisions with being safe at home, and there's a television on the plane, they will feel similar familiar feelings of comfort. 7. Tell the flight attendants Dr. Seif says it's a good idea to let others know you're not too keen on flying – you may be able to speak to the pilot briefly while you board the plane or receive extra attention from flight attendants during the flight. If you're traveling with friends or family members, talk to them about what makes you nervous so they can help alleviate the tension, but don't let the conversation spiral into a contest over who has had the scariest flight experience. Sometimes just knowing that others are available to help you in case your anxiety surfaces is enough to help keep that anxiety in check. 8. Embrace safety information No, your plane is not going to crash (and whatever you do, do NOT start envisioning disaster scenarios). But knowing that you're prepared for anything can be empowering. Watch an airline safety video while you're still in the comfort of your home so that you can "master" the procedure in your head (Air New Zealand did an especially entertaining take on the safety video, featuring characters from The Hobbit, as well as a hilarious safety video starring fitness guru Richard Simmons). Once you're on board the aircraft, take time to read the airline safety card in the seat pocket in front of you. If it makes you feel better, you could even go so far as to book your seat in the back of the plane, which has been repeatedly shown to be the safest part of the aircraft in the event of a crash. 9. Use this breathing technique Allright says deep breathing is very important during takeoff and other points during the flight where you experience anxiety. "If someone is very anxious, it is actually very difficult to change their breathing pattern," he says. "Try holding your breath and then breathing deeply, or better still, force yourself to breathe out for as long as you can and then take a long, deep breath." Seif and Farchione both recommended taking deep breaths, since this triggers the calming response and can help to prevent hyperventilation. Try to maintain a relaxed posture as well, and not cling to the chair's armrests, since this can heighten any anxiety you may be feeling. 10. Have relaxation remedies handy Some doctors prescribe anxious fliers with fast-acting anxiety medications like Xanax or Valium, but Farchione warns that you should be aware that each has its own side effects and that you may feel tired for hours after the plane has landed. If you don't have a prescription, herbal remedies like St. John's Wort or Scullcap may help calm nerves too, according to an article by USA Today. Bring the medication or the herbal remedy, but hold onto it as a "last resort" option. When you feel jitters coming on, start by employing a minor relaxant, such as sipping chamomile or peppermint tea. Farchione says that doing the things you associate with being calm and content will help remind you to remain calm as you fly. You may find that simply knowing the medication is there in case of emergency is comforting enough – and you can reap the benefits without the side effects.