You want how much for that pot of tea?! Here’s one from China: English-speaking tourists are approached by “Chinese students” at popular tourists sites in Beijing and Shanghai, for example, who want to “practice their English.” Because this isn’t so abnormal, sans scam, the tourists aren’t on guard. The Chinese students then ask the tourists if they want to go for tea, or to see a traditional tea ceremony. Why not? Seems innocent enough, right?
The bottom of the tea pot leads to the bottom of your wallet– when you slurp down the last drop of tea, you’ll find yourself staring down the barrel of a big, big bill that adds up to hundreds of dollars. Said one blogger, who was a victim of this scam, “there seemed to be an extra zero on the total.”
And what is there to do? You don’t speak Chinese, they barely speak English. Most people just cough up the cash and move on.
The bus station scam: my travel mates and I fell victim to this one in Delhi. One of my travel mates had only two days before she flew back to London and was desperate to see the Taj Mahal before she left. We went to the bus station to get tickets a day in advance. As we approached the counter, a well-dressed man approached us (and, yes, alarms started going off in my head at this time) and asked us if we were going to Agra. One of my travel mates said yes. He told us that there were no seats left on the public buses, but hey, we were in luck! We could book a seat with his company. He promptly hustled us out of the bus station and into his travel agency.
“You guys,” I whispered under my breath as we were filing into the office just a stone’s throw away from the bus station, “the Lonely Planet warned about this. We’re being had.”
But my travel mate really, really wanted to see the Taj Mahal before she went back to London.
Despite my protests, we ended going on a “tour” the next day. It cost us double what going on our own would have cost… and we felt like we’d been kidnapped. The “tour” lasted over twelve hours and included not only the “obligatory” stop at an Agra marble store, but also stops at various Krishna-related temples and sites. At one of these temples, we were strongly urged to donate money (which we didn’t).
We were the only Westerners on the bus and the Indian tourists seemed equally appalled at being scammed– by Krishna worshipers, nonetheless.
This leads me to my last points…
Remember that you can be fleeced no matter where you are in the world. Just as the Indians on our “tour” were scammed in India, you can be scammed in your mother country. And not all travelers are fellow innocents– travelers can be scammers, too. Stories abound about tourists who have been had by other tourists.
With all this said, I wouldn’t recommend going through your travels overly concerned about scams and strangers. In fact, some of my best travel experiences (including sleeping in an old man’s bed in Syria) have involved total strangers. Travelers must walk a line between weariness and openness.
OK, now it’s your turn! Share your travel stories– good and bad– with me…