Nothing turns a trip sour more immediately than getting into a tourist trap. Trust me, been there, experienced that.
But hey, what if we all learn to detect those very suspicious red flags and be ahead of whoever it is that’s trying to rip us off, putting our vulnerable vacationing selves to their advantage?
So when someone asked the dear world travelers of Reddit to share “some of the worst tourist traps you have encountered?” and “what can be done to catch it beforehand?” they unknowingly did everyone a public service. After all, we all deserve an enjoyable and authentic experience abroad, without being used by greedy locals.
Sounds counterintuitive but when you go to Iceland, pick an airport restaurant and have a decent meal there, and stock up at the duty free shop. Don't just sprint for the airport exit - Iceland will still be there in an hour.
Most people are in such a rush to get out of the airport they don't consider that the international terminal is their final chance to dodge Iceland's impressively high tax on prepared foods and alcohol. The airport in Reykjavik has some pretty good food, and there's no tax in the international terminal.
If you're in a crowded area and anyone approaches you saying, "My friend, my friend" just keep walking.
As a general rule, avoid restaurants that are right near very popular tourist attractions (the Eiffel Tower, Sagrada Familia, the Colosseum). These places are probably there to lure in tourists who don't know any better. There are some exceptions of hidden gems in touristy areas but unless you've done your research ahead of time, avoid these spots.
If you're wondering whether a restaurant in Italy is authentic or a tourist trap, look at the opening hours. Legitimate Italian restaurants that cater to locals will open for dinner no earlier than 7 p.m., while tourist traps will stay open all day. There are obviously some exceptions but this works as a good rule of thumb.
If someone offers you something “ For Free!” Don’t f*ing take it! They will dump it on you. Make it as hard as possible to take it back, and then pressure you for money. I am talking about how in Italy people will approach you offering a bracelet attach tight and then ask you to pay them.
Also any restaurant that has watermark pictures on their menus.
At the pyramids in Egypt, people with fake badges will tell you that you are required to pay them extra to see the Sphinx. It's included with your park ticket.
My wife and I went to Rome for our honeymoon. This was my first time traveling abroad, but my wife had traveled her entire life. We were walking from the Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps when we were approached by a man, who gave my wife a rose and was very friendly to us. Immediately I told my wife to give it back, and she was irritated with me saying that he gave it to her as a gift. He was asking if we were from the US, if we were married, and if he could take our picture using our camera. While saying no to him, I kept telling my wife to give it back. She refused. After a few minutes his friendliness disappeared, and he jabbed me in the shoulder and pressed his index finder and thumb together, demanding money. We had been married for 5 days, and our first fight as a married couple is when I yelled at her “Give him the f**king rose back now!” She didn’t believe it was a scam until I pointed out all of the other men who were doing the same exact thing to other tourists. It doesn’t matter where you go, keep your head on a swivel.
Bring your own refillable water bottle.
Especially when travelling, but even just everyday, you'll save a ton of $.
Walking along the street and friendly locals will greet you with "bula vinaka" (hello) and beautiful smiles. Every now and then one will start a conversation with you and ask you for your name. Before you know it, they are carving your name into 'traditional' wooden spears and shields etc then asking you for money for the work you never asked for. They will look upset when you tell them you don't want it and they will explain that now they can't sell the item because they carved your name into it already and they will follow you down the street reducing their price until you finally agree.
Best advice: be friendly, say hello, don't give anyone your name.
Do not ride the donkeys or horses at Petra. They are terribly mistreated by their handlers and are often forced to carry more weight than they can handle. They are also kept in terrible conditions and starved. If you are too fat and lazy to do the hike yourself, don't force some poor donkey to carry your fat a** up the side of a f***ing mountain. Also, don't buy the sand bottles at Petra, as they take the sand/rocks from the archaeological sites which contribute to its degradation.
Another thing: if you take guided tours, there is almost always a part where they stop at some place like a factory or an artisan studio where they show you how people make things. I always just pass on these as they are usually overpriced tourist traps that the tour company has an agreement with. It's why I usually don't take tours at all.
I was in Paris walking with a female friend and some guy in front of us picked up a ring off the floor and motioned to ask if it was her’s. She said no but he insisted she take it. I said “don’t, he’s trying to get money off of you” and she said “no, he just picked it up off the floor!” Sure enough, he asked her for money, she gave him a little, I guess it wasn’t enough so he asked for the ring back. When we walked away I said “you know that guy just took you for a ride, right?” We’re from NYC so she felt very ashamed.
Edit: Speaking of being from New York, I work(ed. F**kin covid) in Times Square at a broadway theater. If you take a picture with one of those characters on the street, a bunch of them will come over out of nowhere and get in the shot and all expect money. I see it all the time. I’m not one of those dbags who’s like “don’t bother going to Times Square, that’s not the real New York!”, it’s definitely something to be seen, especially at night, but I suggest staying away from the costume characters.
This is for Paris. Great city. Couple of tips.
The Louvre. There's excellent art in L'Orangerie and the Musée D'Orsay, just a short walk away, without having two hundred tourists as part of the same tour group walking 40 abreast like a wall of humanity up the corridors. My recommendation is to make sure you have the Museum Pass (you can buy them online and have them shipped to you before you even head out) so you can enter museums when you like. Preferably later in the day when they're all doing something else like trying to fit 200 people into a small café. If it's too crowded, hit the next point of interest and come back another time. People pick the Louvre because it's popular, which makes it more popular, which makes people pick it more...
Travel. There's a travel pass that's never pushed to tourists because it was never designed for tourism, it's a Monday-to-Sunday-only weekly pass (there's a monthly one too that goes from the 1st of the month for longer stays) called the Navigo Découverte. You need a photo for the photo card, that part costs €5 on top, but even with that it's cheaper to buy that weekly Navigo that the Paris Visite card that's aimed at tourists ...and you look less like a tourist too so you're less likely to be accosted by sneaky people. This video explains everything about it.
Had some ladies pretend to be deaf in the plaza at the Louvre. They were deaf until I told them I had no money to give. They definitely heard that because they walked away pretty quick lol
If there is a host or hostess trying to lure you into a restaurant, walk away as quick as you can. Instead, ask the locals where they love to eat.
Scammers at Sacre Coeur in Paris. They block a chokepoint on the stairs up to the top of the hill and will pester you about signing some bollocks petition. I got "deaf refugee children charity". It's a tatty piece of paper with some black and white UN logos and crooked deaf symbols that they obviously made into a collage type thing and photocopied.
This scam is normally run by women and they are not afraid to use their children. If you are lucky they will just demand some money after you sign. If you are unlucky you'll get pickpocketd while distracted and signing. This happened to someone at my hostel. I was having none of it and told them in English I wasn't interested and tried to walk around. This pissed them off so they made a big scene about me being an "evil american who wants our deaf children to be murdered with bombs". Wailing and everything. It was quite something. I've come across alot of beggars and scammers but this was by far the most memorable.
My advice would be just pretend not to understand French or English, don't engage and keep your hands over your pockets. That pretty much goes for anyone that approaches you at any European tourist trap tbh
If you want a guided tour, arrange it ahead of time. A lot of popular sites are surrounded by unofficial tour guides. They may have a badge or an official-looking uniform, but if they approach you and ask if you want to hire a guide, it's best to politely decline.
A lot of them have no idea what they're talking about.
I had a guide at Machu Pichu who claimed that the Inca were "an ideal Communist society," then he took a break half-way through the tour to try and sell us essential oils.
Real tour guides won't approach you and give you a sales pitch. If you want a guided tour, arrange it ahead of time.
There's a Harry Potter gift shop in Kings Cross Station that's very popular with tourists. Outside the shop there's a free photo op where you look like you're pushing a trolley through the Platform 9 3/4 which leads you directly into the shop. It is just a small gift shop in a train station but it's always packed to bursting with tourists (covid notwithstanding) buying grossly overpriced merch.
The shop isn't even a film location and the station has been renovated since they shot the films anyway.
Likewise, any Harry Potter film tour of London. Be prepared to sit in a mini van and get shown various walls and doorways around London which have no obvious connection to the films.
If you're that interested in Harry Potter, honestly I'd advise you stuck up the price of the Studio Tour and go to that instead. Literally anything else you'll see surrounding the franchise is a tourist trap.
Source: I've either been to or worked at these places, and am still employed by one. Hence the throwaway.
I'm not a super well-travelled person yet, but I did get trapped pretty good in New Orleans.
If someone comes up to you in New Orleans and asks you where you got your shoes, the proper answer is "on my feet". If they ask where you from, "from my mama".
Keep walking and don't let them polish or clean your shoes, because they'll charge you for that and for their "talk"
If you're getting into a cab in Vietnam, know the general direction of your destination or follow the route on a map on your phone, if possible. I've had taxi drivers take me around the city for 45 minutes to rack up a fare, only to realize later that my hotel was just short walk away.
Navy Pier and the Sears Tower in Chicago.
If you're a tourist in the city take an architecture boat tour instead and have a drink at the Signature Room in the Hancock and enjoy the view from there.
The Staten Island Ferry is FREE. If people are trying to charge you for tickets, they're scam artists. If you're traveling to New York, it's worth visiting for the views, especially considering the cost, or lack thereof.
Do not go with the guy who says his friend is the owner of a nice hotel nearby. Most likely won't be nice or nearby.
In Jamaica, we went on one of the guided hikes through the Dunn’s River Falls. The exit is completely covered in a maze of pretty typical touristy gift shop type tents selling cheap manufactured garbage. Of course we “coincidentally” had to wait for the buses so we had nowhere to go except the tents. My gf and I (both 18 at the time, & from America) meandered around with zero intention of buying anything but we were dumb enough to entertain the salesmen by letting them talk to us. One asked our names and when we answered, he carved them into the side of a wooden tiki head and tried handing it to us. We were taken aback because we obviously hadn’t asked him to do that but then he started demanding we pay him for it because otherwise he would lose his stock for nothing. I tried to lie about not having money to spend on it, and it was uncomfortable at most until one of the other salesmen blocked the entrance out of the tent and started saying that we were essentially shoplifting from them. We knew it was possible to give them the name of the hotel we were staying at have them charge us through there but there was no way I was a actually paying them or letting them know where I was sleeping so I just put one of the other resorts and a fake last name and told them to charge us. Luckily they let us go. Pretty freaked out through. I kept that tiki head for about 10 years as my “trophy” for swindling swindlers lmao
Pay very close attention to signing for your hire car after a long flight. I told the server at Budget Car Hire in Miami twice that I didn’t want any extras and just to have what I’d paid for and he still sneakily slid on cover that I didn’t want nor need.
Same attempt by a different company in Ireland caught before I signed - sat nav for £100? I think not.
Read the print and question the numbers
Women, if you plan to visit cathedrals I highly advise you to bring a scarf to cover your head. It’s just a rule of thumb always pack a scarf. I’ve seen it too many times where there are people at the front doors charging some absurd price like 15 euros for a cheap little scarf to be allowed to enter the religious place.
In Portugal specifically Lisbon pick pockets were rampant through the public transit. A family member was almost picked 3 times in the matter of a couple of hours. Keep your eyes peeled for people moving in tight groups and look like they’re up to no good.
In some countries I’ve visited, restaurants in tourist areas will have an English menu and a native language menu with cheaper prices. I usually ask for a native language menu then google translate the menu. Works most of the time in getting a better price.
Prioritize what you want to see. All tourist sites are technically traps I guess. If there’s one site where admission is super expensive try and save the money so you can see more or try to have a nicer meal one day. If you really want to see that one thing to say you’ve been there by all means go for it.
Always pay in the local currency when you can. A lot of restaurants especially in Europe will ask if you want to pay in USD or Euros and it’s usually cheaper for your credit card to pay in Euros. Just know what your bank and credit cards do when you’re abroad.
If you're a young guy and some attractive women come out of nowhere thinking you're cute and asking to go to a bar, don't go.
There's a very common scam where they'll start ordering ridiculously priced alcohol for you all night. You only find out at the end of the night when you get a bill for hundreds of dollars.
When you're traveling somewhere new, learn how the public transportation system works and how late it stays open. When I was in China, we went bar hopping in Beijing and stayed out past when the subway closed. The taxi cabs knew they were our only way home so they charged us four times the normal fare.
We wanted to visit the Colosseum in Rome. All the way towards it from the tube station, there are dozens of people offering "discounted tours" - you join a group, they get you in for a reduced price, seems good. Except it isn't. These tour tickets are about €20 per person, which seems reasonable until you get to the entrance to the Colosseum and see that it's €12 for an adult, or €2 for a student. My wife and I got in for €14 because she still had a valid student ID.
The exact same thing happened on the way to the Vatican - people coming up to us insisting that it's cheaper to get in if we buy museum tickets. It costs nothing to go into the Vatican! They rely on tourists who don't know any better, see the queue for the Vatican museum and think it's the queue to get inside the city. It isn't.
Rome's touristy areas are unbearable.
Every single popular site or place features the same mob of sketchy and all around annoying characters. Friendship bracelets, fake petitions, fake charities, s***ty toys and souvenirs. You can't take two steps without somebody trying to hassle you.
The Vatican isn't even immune to this. While approaching it, you still have scammers dressed in outfits to trick people they are part of the staff. They basically scam elderly and others into believe they bought the wrong ticket. we joked that The Vatican felt like Hollywood BLVD, but religious.
Then, on top of all of this, the food around these areas are scams as well designed to trick gullible travelers out of their money. I ate the best pasta I've ever had in Rome, and I've ate the worst.
Don't get me wrong, I love Rome as a whole. But man do their tourist areas suck.
If you're flying Ryanair or a similar budget airline, familiarize yourself with the rules and hidden fees before you arrive at the airport. I once forgot to print my boarding pass ahead of time and was smacked with a hidden $80 fee.
If you go to Bangkok and are on the way to the grand palace, you will encounter very friendly guys falsely telling you that the grand palace is closed due to some ceremonies. They are very friendly and are good salesman. They offer to take you on a Tuk Tuk ride to other temples for a really good price. On the way to these other temples the Tuk Tuk driver will be very friendly and tries to win your trust.
After the second temple or so, he will start talking about some great promotion for a tailor that makes custom made suits, or about some promotion of emerald sales and will eventually drive you to one of those places and if you refuse to buy anything the friendliness changes. The Tuk Tuk driver will just take you the next temple and then disappears after you paid him.
How to avoid this scam: Be very suspicious of very friendly Thai people around the grand palace telling you that the grand palace is closed. The best is probably just to say thank you and not get involved into any conversation with them.
Las Ramblas in Barcelona.
Lovely city, but everybody hypes up this one street that’s crowded full of people. It’s practicallly highlighted in every tour guide of the city yet I still don’t understand the draw. Every restaurant and shop on the street is a tourist trap as well: overpriced and under-quality. It’s much more worth your time to stroll around the Gothic neighborhood if the city rather than Las Ramblas.
Always keep your belongings close when someone you don't know approaches you in a touristy area. In Europe, especially in big cities like Paris, pickpockets have a technique where they distract you to steal your things. If a stranger approaches you to talk, focus on your pockets, your wallet, and your phone.
In Phuket (Thailand) our taxi from the airport had to make "a quick stop" at a travel agency. He left us in the back of the cab so he could "go to the bathroom". We thought about getting out of the car but had no idea where we were or how to get a new taxi (pretty scary situation to be in). One of the salesmen from the travel agency came out speaking perfect English trying to trick us into buying every type of tour, luxury hotel, dinner, you name it and he was trying to sell it. We were very adamant that we had our itinerary and were not looking to buy anything. He eventually gave up and our driver came back a few minutes later. It was pretty uncomfortable but we were firm and acted like we knew what we were doing and that was the end of it.
In Mexican tourist towns like Playa Del Carmen or Cancun, when you go shopping there is a good chance someone will come up to you and act like they know you. They will say “it’s me ________ from your resort!” and try to make you think they work at your resort and remember you. Then they will ask what you are shopping for and whatever you say, they 100% have a “brother” with the perfect shop for that who will make you the best deal in town. That “deal” is around 3 times what you could find the same thing for at many other places. Also, if you book an excursion, make sure you bring some extra money because the will frequently have an extra $10 fee of some sort that they didn’t tell you about.
Look up exchange rates before you get there, and use ATMs inside bank branches. There are companies who operate ATMs in airports and train stations who just want to take advantage of confused tourists, by offering them s**t exchange rates and setting the default amount for withdrawal too high. In Prague for example, some ATMs have as their default withdrawal amounts the equivalent of a month's rent.
A note on English menus: If the menu has both the local language and English next to each other then it's probably fine, but if there is a separate English menu, make sure to compare the prices to those on the local menu.
Unlicensed cabs, always always use a registered company especially for safety never mind financially
A lot of countries have Uber equivalent... Philippines has grab, Bali has blue bird too
San Francisco, CA Do NOT leave anything in your car, ANYTHING...you will come out to broken windows. Also, be aware of your surroundings when using your phone, especially if you are elderly (you may get knocked down so they can steal your phone). Even in summer you may need a jacket.
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