How I’ve Been Ripped Off While Traveling and What I Do to Avoid It

rip-off-travelingWhile traveling to other countries (which is what I’m doing while writing this post), I (and other travelers, I’m sure) constantly have to deal with paying for things in different ways than in the U.S. This makes me uncomfortable since I’m not always familiar with the going rates and customs of where I’m visiting. I always wonder: Is tipping customary at restaurants? Or is it included in the service? How much should a taxi ride from the airport to my hotel cost? Is it a flat rate? Or should the driver run the meter? These are the types of money things that I think about a lot when traveling.

Unfortunately, I don’t always spend the time to research the locales (I didn’t do anything for this trip to Cancun), so I’m sometimes unsure if I’m “doing it right.” However, after this trip, I’m confident that it pays to be prepared from now on.

A few bad experiences

Although my travels haven’t been that extensive yet, there are a few bad experiences that come to mind.

The first happened when I arrived back into port in Athens after a trip out the the Greek Isles. We were ambushed by cab drivers upon our midnight arrival. Taxis drivers were demanding all sorts of crazy rates, like 50 Euro for a 10 minute ride. Luckily, my sister, who was traveling with me, was onto their game. We walked out of the port area and grabbed a taxi elsewhere, which ended up costing closer to 10 Euro.

A similar situation happened when we got to the Cancun airport on this trip. Once we stepped out onto the sidewalk, we were swarmed by people selling rides on buses, cabs, and vans. The airport officials must know they’re ruthless, since there were barriers set up that these travel salesmen were required to stay behind. One guy even tried to sell us tickets on the local bus for 3 times the amount they actually cost! After both of these experiences, I have little trust in taxi drivers and others looking to take advantage of foreigners.

I’ve had issues with restaurants, too. My travel group in Greece reluctantly chose a restaurant in a touristy area, since the vegetarian place in our tour book allegedly went out of business and the other options in the area were pricier. That was probably mistake number one. We ordered bottled water, which we suspected was an open bottle refilled with tap water. Our food was mediocre at best. When we got the bill, it looked like other charges had been added for things we didn’t order. Even though we ordered in English with the waiter, the bill was written in Greek. We had no easy way to figure out what was what, so we were pretty much stuck. We were tired and decided not to argue, so we just paid up.

These experiences are by no means the norm, but they’re still a bit disheartening when they do happen.

A few ripoff prevention tips for travel

I’ve learned a few things along the way so far:

1) Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you’re being pressured. Being bombarded by taxi drivers and tour guides asking for your business can be stressful, and it’s a situation that you want to get out of as quickly as possible. But, unless you’re in a rush, don’t make any snap decisions just because people are hovering over you. Just tell them you’re not interested, ignore them, or walk away. Looking back, I could’ve saved myself from getting ripped off many times just by doing this.

2) Research ahead of time. This can save a lot of headaches when looking for decent restaurants instead of getting stuck in overpriced touristy places. Use guides or search online to find a few places that offer good, local food at a fair price. Most guide books also give cost estimates for tours and transportation as well as restaurants so that you don’t have to guess if you’re getting a good deal or not. Research doesn’t have to take long. Just flipping open a book or a quick Google search will only take a few minutes.

3) Ask people that don’t have financial interest for help. Often times there’s free information available in airports that doesn’t come from a taxi or tour company. Consult them to figure out the best route and what it will cost. They might not always be the most reliable and trustworthy source of advice, but often times it will give you some idea if someone else is seriously trying to rip you off. You can also attempt to ask locals in the area, too.

4) Always know or agree to the terms with a taxi or other transportation before setting out. As Chris Guillebeau points out in #10 of this post on traveling, the terms you set with a taxi before driving are not negotiable after the ride starts. Be careful in places where taxi drivers insist on not running the meter. They may be trying to scam you. On my recent trip to Mexico, there were no taxi meters, so it was essential to negotiate terms ahead of time.

In the end, I’m not even sure it really comes down to money for me as much as it does the feeling that someone is stealing from me. I’ll happily pay $20 more for an awesome meal with local flavor or for an excursion out into a picaresque area. But if a taxi driver dishonestly charges me $30 for what should be a $10 taxi ride, it really bothers me. I feel like I’ve been cheated just because I’m unfamiliar with how things work in this new place. Maybe I just need to get over this and not let it bother me so much. I don’t want these negative experiences to be what I remember most about my travels. After all, it’s a part of almost every journey, and it’s tough to avoid 100% of the time. Still, no one wants to be taken advantage of.

Have you been ripped off when traveling? How do you prevent it?

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photo by: twicepix


  1. I hate cab drivers that rip-off tourists!  Like you mention, the rates are not just a little higher, but absolutely outrageous!  

    The best anti-dote is good research and a friend who is local will be a great help!

  2. Hunter @ Financially Consumed says

    Thos taxi drivers probably make a ton of money every day from tourists. The odds are stacked against us.

    The businesses in our home town in Spain often ran a credit card and said there was an error. They would then ask to run the card again. The transaction would be sent to the CC company twice. If consumers didn’t actively check their credit card statements, or reconcile online often, then they would pay double. This happened so often that it was clear that it was a deceptive strategy.

    • That’s true, Hunter. I guess that’s why I should probably just let this go.

      Pretty crazy story from Spain! I can’t imagine not checking my credit statements for scams like these.

  3. Jesse Smith says

    The fact that you’ve just gotten off an international flight and are likely exhausted is a real disadvantage in these situations. 

    I’ve been fortunate enough to stay at hotels in Cancun that can send their own van to pick you up. Making transportation arrangements from the comfort of your living room is always nicer, though sometimes it’s tricky finding the REAL hotel van…

    • Hey Jesse! Thanks for stopping by!

      Very good points there. I did notice that the hotels do have vans, and there were a TON of them! We were staying outside of Cancun, so we had no such luck on this one. But that makes sense for a lot of places other than Cancun, too.

  4. I’ve used both of those sites and guides, too! I try to follow the warnings about pickpockets and thieves in certain places as well. Unfortunately, in places like Barcelona, they seem to be in some of the more popular locations!

  5. Actually this was quite common in India too. Cab drivers targeting international visitors and charging them a lot more than locals. Or using the meters but taking a very long route unnecessarily. Luckily the Government has implemented a prepaid system, you can prepay certain amount from Point A to B. You don;t have to pay the cab drivers. This has been a great help I hear.

    When we went to Cancun we booked the transfers online before leaving the US. So we didn’t face this problem with taxis.

    Great advice!

  6. Tip #1 is definitely something a traveler needs to become familiar with.  In Indonesia I was always surrounded by vendors wanting to sell me all kinds of things.  It’s good to learn the words “No Thank You” in the native language.  And if you are really not interested never pretend that you are just to be polite.

    In Bali we were accosted by a guy giving away scratch-it tickets and said we won the grand prize which ended up being the joy of spending two hours listening to a time-share salesman.  Thankfully all we lost was 2 hours.  Later that week I noticed the same guy approching couples and each time one of them was the “Grand” prize winner.  Live and learn!  Great tips!

  7. Tips have been generally given by the Americans. French and Australian nationals and perhaps others don’t have the culture of giving tips in their own countries and find it difficult to handle the demands of tips when they travel to countries like India. The locals who expect tips do not understand this difference of nationalities.

  8. Hey Justin how about the actual currency exchange as a form of ripoff? IMHO the oldest trick in the book. Exchange offices on the high street could charge up to literally 10% of the money transferred (airports exchanges are the same). Proper research and preparation can slash a few good percentages of costs.

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