Tips to Avoid Tourist Traps and Scams
One of my biggest worries when we started traveling was getting stuck in a tourist trap or scam. After years of travel to many countries, it has become a bit easier to spot them. Now, I am not talking about the tourist attractions – the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Times Square – these places are there the reason tourists visit those destinations in the first place. So no, I am not here to tell you to skip the Eiffel Tower – especially at night, it is wonderful!
But when it comes to other aspects of a trip to fill in the blanks around those tourist attractions, that is where the tourist trap risk comes into play and there are ways to avoid them. What we are going to focus on avoiding tourist traps and scams in areas like restaurants and food, transportation, and more.
First thing to do is research! This is really the best way to make sure ahead of your trip you are not scrambling to find somewhere to go. If you need help with this part of your trip planning, let DESKRIB Travel do the work for you!
Research Through Reviews
Doing research is one of the best ways to avoid tourist traps and scams. Reviews are going to be your best friend!
Here is what you should be looking at to evaulate reviews:
- The average rating of the reviews – Start by looking at places with at least a 4 star rating and in some destinations – especially metropolitan cities where the things to do and places to eat are so high – you can even increase that to 4.5 stars. This will weed a lot of choices out by setting a high standard.
- The number of reviews – Actually not as important as you may think. The total number of reviews does not necessarily have to be high as some of our best meals had a small number of reviews but of that small sample size, the reviews were all amazing. Know too that the more reviews there are, the more likely the average rating will be pulled down. Sometimes you do not want to go to a place with thousands of reviews, sometimes you do. When I stumbled upon Reverie Supper Club, the average review was 4.9 for a total of 150 and I knew we had to go!
- The quality of the reviews – Reviews should provide some dialogue explaining the rationale for the rating. Having broad statements or short “good meal” comments are not helpful when distinguishing places to visit. You want to look for trends for consistency to help give you an idea of what to expect. Some reviews also include photos which can be helpful in identifying things you may enjoy.
- The native language of the destination – This is most important for international travel! If you are traveling to Italy and there are many positive reviews but all in English – that raises a flag to me that it caters more to tourists. If I am traveling to Italy, I am looking for something with Italian reviews to try and locate the local spots. You can sort reviews by language and the Trip Advisor one is particularly good as it also indicates the number of reviews in each language.
How to keep track of what you find? Google Maps! Use stars or other icons to identify the places that interest you. You can even pick different colored markers to indicate different things – food vs attraction vs cafe vs store – combinations are endless. This way when you are ready for your trip, you have a beautiful array of personally vetted options to choose from. Even once you have made selections to create your itinerary, it is always good to have back up stops so marking them ahead of time has advantages. When we were in Lyon, the dinner spot I picked out on our first night was unexpectedly closed – so I went back to the Google Maps and found another spot nearby that did the trick. A big benefit of Google Maps is that you can download the map for offline use so you do not need cell phone data while you are using it.
Finding Places to Visit
If you need help finding places to visit, espeially restaurants and shops, during your researching stage of trip planning or even when you are on vacation, here are places to look.
- Check reviews – When in doubt, head to places like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google to start. Use reviews to ensure the place you are going is the real deal.
- Follow travelers that focus on the destination you are visiting. Social media and bloggers are great for this. For our trip to Florence, we started following (and still do) Girl in Florence for her expertise in things to do Florence. We found many great recommendations here, including a meal I recommend to everyone who tells me they are going to Florence – Pandemonio di Casa Brogi. And of course, where to find the best gelato!
- Avoid places directly near the tourist attractions – Go there to see the sites but do not plan on eating or shopping there. You are not going to find anything by spending your money near the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Times Square. Nearby these attractions are also where the likelihood of scams rises since people know tourists visit there. Take the extra time to walk out of the tourist circle and you are usually rewarded with local gems for food and artisan souvenirs. Many of our best meals were an adventure to find and that is part of the fun. Our favorite meal on our try to New Orleans Mosquito Supper Club was in the middle of a residential neighborhood, far from Bourbon street.
And sometimes no amount of research can replace a local’s recommendations. This is why I love Airbnb and Airbnb experiences so much. You instantly have a network of local goodies available. I always ask our Airbnb host for recommendations for places to eat and things to do. In all of our travels, I have yet to find a host that is not willing to share and make sure the guest is going to have a positive experience. When we visited Belize, the Airbnb hosts went so far as to book excursions and dinner reservations for us!
Airbnb experiences has been a new favorite of ours, especially ones done with a local. One of our favorite meals in Bologna was found by asking our pasta making chef – if you could eat anywhere tonight, where would it be? And that is how we found Trattoria da Me – a place that even through all of my digging and research, I did not find. This can also apply to any guided tour you may take where you trust the guide. We have even gotten recommendations from our Uber/Lyft drivers! When lunch plans fell through since the location was closed, our Uber driver took us to his favorite Korean BBQ place and it was fantastic.
While you are visiting a destination, here are a few more tips when it comes to picking places to eat:
- Watch where the large tourist groups are going and avoid those spots
- Menus or descriptions in English in a non-English speaking place
- Someone standing outside trying to get you to come in
- Pictures on the menu showing the dish – this is especially true for Europe
- In certain destinations, do not be afraid to wander from the main areas but do so carefully and be aware of your surroundings
Beware of Scams
Scammers know that tourists unfamiliar with the destination are going to visit the tourist spots – the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Times Square. While petty theft or scams can happen anywhere, it is more likely to occur around these tourist locations where large groups congregate and may not be aware of their surroundings.
- Nothing is free so when someone is handing out trinkets or bracelets for free, its not. There are also distraction tactics that may be used to divert your attention for a snatch of your wallet or purse, or demand money in exchange. Always keep your belongings on you on high guard.
- If someone asks to help with your luggage – hold onto your bag tight. There is a scam where people ask to help you take your bags and then they do just that – they take the luggage and run away.
- When possible, stick to ride share services with an app that you can validate the driver and the license plate as the person coming to pick you up. Those services also have the added advantage of tracking the vehicle so in the event something ever happens, there is a trail of where you are. There is a scam with taxis where the meter is conveniently broken and they drive you somewhere and demand a ridiculous amount of money. Regardless, if you are forced to use a taxi or non-ride share service, validate that they are a real taxi and then settle on a price ahead of the service. Do not get in the car until the destination is understood as well as the agreed upon price.
- Always keep your valuables secure
- If traveling internationally, always have your passport on you and make sure to have a picture on your phone or photocopy it and store it in another secure location – here are more passport tips!
- If wearing a bag, make sure if is securely attached to your body – either by sling or cross body to make it more difficult to snatch
- Minimize what you travel with to avoid losing important valuables or having something stolen
- Be aware when you have your phone out – it can be easily snatched
- If you do not know where you are going, instead of standing outside find a store to hop into – then you can search on your phone in a more secure space
I hope these tips will help you for your next vacation! If you have additional tips for avoid tourist traps and scams, please share!
If you need help with this part of your trip planning, let DESKRIB Travel do the work for you!