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8 Common Travel Scams (and How to Avoid Them)

By Daniel Bortz
January 27, 2022
Man With Suitcase Looking Out Window
Anyaberkut | Dreamstime.com
These eight common travel scams can dupe even the savviest of travelers. Read our tips on 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.

Car trouble

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.

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Travel Tips

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.

Travel Tips

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.

Travel Tips

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.

Travel Tips

​How to Plan a Whisky Tour to Scotland's Speyside Region

In the pastoral region of Speyside in northeast Scotland, whisky is everywhere. Vast, blond fields of barley stretch under open skies. Wooden whisky barrels sit stacked behind low stone warehouses. Whisky bars and bottle shops line the streets, the signature pagoda-shaped chimneys where malt is roasted peek above the green hillsides, and the sweet smell of fermenting barley fills the air.There are more than 100 whisky distilleries operating in Scotland, and more than half of them are located in Speyside, a subregion of the Highlands. It’s the capital of single-malt whisky production in Scotland, and in fact, the world. More single malt whisky is produced here than anywhere else, and tiny towns with just 1,000-2,000 people often support at least two or three working distilleries. For whisky lovers – particularly Scotch whisky lovers – Speyside a playground for the palate. And for those who've never so much as sipped a dram, there's no better place to learn the ins and outs of whisky production and sample a wide range of styles. Here’s your primer on tasting your way around Speyside. Distillery Tours While each distillery puts its own unique spin on things, the basic processes are the same. Rather than trying to tour every distillery, focus on visiting a cross-section of distilleries, or choose brands you’re especially passionate about (they may have some distillery-exclusive bottles you can’t get anywhere else). A street in Dufftown © Katie Hammel / Budget TravelAberlour runs a very informative tour and tasting that’s great for beginners. The 90-minute tour costs £15 per person and includes a walk through the distillery, an overview of how whisky is made, and a tasting of six whiskies. Continue your education at Balvenie, which grows and harvests its own barley onsite and is the only distillery that still practices floor malting in which barley is germinated on a floor. Small-group tours are offered three times per day for £50 per person, and you can bottle your own Balvenie for an additional £30. To see the future of whisky production, head to The Macallan. One of the most modern distilleries in the region, both in design and production style, The Macallan distillery is a gleaming, glass-and-steel monument to whisky and an architectural marvel. Half of the structure is built into the hillside, sheltered under a living roof covered in grass. Underneath that grass, some 2500 individual sheets of Scandinavian spruce – held together only by pressure, with no glue, nails, or other materials – form the distillery ceiling. And, almost all (95%) of the distillery’s energy comes from renewable courses. Ninety-minute introductory tours cost £15 per person, while 2.5-hour tours that go deep into the state-of-the-art production area cost £100 per person. One of the most inexpensive options for tours is Glenfiddich, where a 90-minute tour with three tastings costs just £10 per person. And if you don’t want to spring for that, you can simply wander the bucolic grounds dotted with stone buildings, a small lake, several warehouses, a gift shop, and statues of founders Elizabeth and William Grant. You can even catch a peek at the copper stills. Or, head to the Malt Barn where you can sample by the dram along with soups, salads, and sandwiches that range from £5-8. To work off a few of those whisky calories, join the Dufftown Distilleries Walk. This 3.5-hour tour combines a leisurely stroll through woods and meadows past nine Dufftown distilleries – both active and historic, now-defunct distilleries – with up to 18 drams representative of each distillery’s style. The tour is fully outdoors and doesn’t go inside the distilleries or tasting rooms, but it’s an informative and active way to learn more about the area’s history while sampling a wide variety of whiskies. Once you’ve toured enough, continue your education at the local pub. Most pubs in Speyside boast expansive whisky collections, knowledgeable bartenders, and drams starting at around £2, so you can sample quite a bit for a small bit of cash. Head to the Seven Stills in Dufftown, The Mash Tun or The Still at the Dowans Hotel in Aberlour, or the Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel. A tasting the Balvenie with cheeses © Katie Hammel / Budget Travel How to Plan Your Day Nearly all distilleries require that you take a tour if you want to sample the goods, and most tours last 1-2 hours. Factor in lunch, and typically you can do no more than three distillery visits in one day – and honestly, that’s plenty if you want to be standing by 6pm. Most distilleries open for visitors at 10 or 11am and close by 4 or 5pm, and while not all require reservations, it’s wise to make them as tours do sell out. The most popular tours, like Balvenie, book up weeks in advance. Assume one tour in the morning, a break for lunch, and then one or two tours in the afternoon, and when possible, cluster them within one town or area to eliminate unnecessary travel time. Or, plan one of the activities listed below in the morning, before tackling the distilleries. What to Do When You're Not Drinking Whisky While there are enough distilleries that you could spend a week or more doing nothing but touring, your liver might not be up to the challenge. Thankfully, there are plenty of other things to do in the region. To learn more about whisky production, head to the Speyside Cooperage where you can watch master coopers repair the barrels used for storing whisky. You’ll learn all about the barrel-making process and can watch the lightning-fast coopers from a second-story observation window. Thirty-minute tours are offered Monday through Friday for £4. Nearby, the crumbling ruins of the 12th-century Balvenie Castle are also worth a look (closed Oct 1 to March 31, admission £6). Head to the town of Elgin to visit the Johnston’s of Elgin cashmere and wool mill. Free, daily guided tours take visitors through the entire production process from dyeing to weaving, as the famous mill creates fabrics for high-fashion companies including Burberry. Reindeer spotting in the Cairngorn Mountains © Katie Hammel / Budget Travel Speyside also offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun. There are hikes both big and small, from the 65-mile Speyside Way trail (one of four official Long Distance Routes in Scotland) to a 20-minute walk behind the Aberlour distillery that leads to a lovely little waterfall. There’s canoeing on the River Spey, or you can go fishing, ATVing, or clay shooting at the House of Mulben. And, if you’re up for an hour drive, head to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in the Cairngorm Mountains. The reindeer that used to roam these mountains vanished centuries ago, but they were reintroduced in the 1950s. Now, visitors can take a guided walk (£16) to the herd to meet the reindeer, hand-feed them, and learn more about the important part they play in the local ecosystem. How to Get around Speyside Scotland has a zero tolerance policy on drunk driving. There are strict limits for the amount of alcohol you can have in your system, and just one drink can put you over that limit. Distilleries will not allow designated drivers to sample, however most distilleries offer a driver’s tasting kit. For a few extra pounds, they’ll fill up small sample bottles with each of the tastes that were offered onsite, so you can try them all at home. If you’ll be visiting a few distilleries, bring your own; Amazon sells the sample bottles individually or as part of a whisky-tasting kit. If you’re not willing to delay gratification and want to taste onsite, you’re left with three options: public transport (bus or train), private driver, or taxi. Public transport is the cheapest, but provides the least amount of flexibility; you’ll need to limit your travels to distilleries in and around towns served by busses and trains, and forgo visits to any distilleries in the countryside. Between bus and train you can easily travel between the main towns; train fare varies and the bus is typically under £3. Traveline Scotland has an easy-to-use website for planning routes. Hiring a private driver is more costly. Speyside Whisky Experience offers full-day tours with private transport for up to six people that include three distillery visits and time for lunch for £275-£325.A taxi can be a good compromise; you have more flexibility but it’s not quite as pricey as a private driver. Taxis aren’t found in abundance so call well in advance and set a pickup time with the driver when they drop you off. Depending on the distance, the cost might be £15-40 per ride; many taxis, such as Craigellachie Cars, will also offer a single price based on a pick-up and drop-off schedule booked in advance. Where to Stay While you could base yourself an hour west in lively Inverness, to really immerse yourself in Speyside, choose one of the central towns, such as Aberlour, Dufftown, or Rothes, which are surrounded by distilleries. Rothes, a workaday town set on the River Spey, has a residential feel. While it’s home to two distilleries, a couple of pubs, and a fish and chips shop, it doesn’t offer as many tourist diversions as Aberlour and Dufftown. What it does have is the luxurious Station Hotel, a 14-room hotel housed in a 1901 stone building. It doesn’t come cheap, but the Caperdonich Suite is a stunner, with a four-poster king bed, gas fireplace, and a mezzanine level where a deep two-person tub overlooks the room. Room rates start at around £196. Four miles south, tiny Aberlour (population 972 as of the last census) offers accommodation across the budget spectrum in a quintessential Scottish village. The main street runs parallel to the River Spey and is lined with shops, including the Walkers Shortbread Bakery Shop (the factory sits on the end of town), and the Spey Larder, a great spot to load up on picnic supplies. Check into the Dowans Hotel, conveniently located right on the edge of town (rates start at £150 per night). The 18 plaid-and-velvet-adorned rooms call to mind an old Scottish country estate, and the onsite bar, dubbed The Still, houses a collection of more than 500 whiskies. On the lower end of the budget, try the Mash Tun, a pub and whisky bar with four cozy upstairs rooms starting at £120 per night. Rounding out the trio of towns, Dufftown is the Goldilocks: slightly larger and busier than Aberlour and with a bit more charm than Rothes. Home to six distilleries, it produces more whisky than any other town in Scotland and offers lots of options for dining, drinking, and shopping. The Highland Spirit Bed & Breakfast offers three sweet rooms in the heart of town starting at £139 per night including a full Scottish breakfast.

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