Walking down Khao San Road in Bangkok, Jalan Jaksa in Jakarta, or the Old Quarter in Hanoi the same thing always happens…
One, you see local residents approaching travelers and trying to engage in conversation, and two, you see the travelers closing up like a clam and either completely ignoring them or simply shaking their head saying “no” regardless of what is being said to them. You know what we are talking about, right?
Tourist Scam Phobia
They have become immune to approachers from being stopped every 2 seconds, and/or they have been bitten by the “I am NOT gonna be scammed, NEVER, EVER!” bug. It is sort of like a vicious circle. Tourists attract scammers, pickpockets, and gold diggers. These people try to take advantage of the insecurity, the naivety, and the good hearts of travelers. Once being aware of the dangers, in turn the travelers put up an impenetrable invisible wall to all local residents, unless it’s the cashier at the convenience store. This is perhaps a good strategy in the most touristy areas, but if the traveler brings this mindset along to less touristy areas, it can hurt the ability to experience the unexpected and find the meaningful in traveling.
So as a consequence, travelers risk cheating themselves of one of the biggest travel treats in the world – engaging with local residents, making new friends, and learning about the country they visit from insiders.
Tourist Scam Websites and Warnings
There are travel destinations where you will quickly learn to fend for yourself if you didn’t know how to already. But if you have done a little research, you have probably stumbled upon forums, guidebooks, websites, and blogposts that warn about the different scams you should be aware of as a tourist. Here are a few examples:
– Buyer Beware: 10 Common Travel Scams by Lonely Planet
– 21 Most Common Scams in Thailand by TravelScams
– 10 Travel Scams to Avoid in South East Asia by South East Asia Backpacker Magazine
– 15 Common Scams of Southeast Asia (And How to Avoid Them) by Livin Pura Vida
– 40 Tourist Scams to Avoid This Summer by Just The Flight
– BangkokScams.com, an entire website dedicated to share and inform about tourist scams
Photo credits: BangkokScams.com
These resources offer good advice, but also present the danger of occupying your mind into thinking your holiday is more about not being outwitted by scammers than by enjoying your destination with an open mind.
Being afraid of tourist scams is a bit like being afraid of leaving your home:
The odds that you will not be scammed are pretty good, and so are the odds of you being safe in your home, respectively. The problem is that you miss out. This chart shows the relationship between meaningful interactions with local residents and exploring the destination you are visiting in relation to the tourist scam phobia. Basically, they don’t go together.
Our point is, you should be aware but not afraid of tourist scams. Be a heady traveler, don’t walk around drunk on the street, don’t put your wallet in the back pocket, be sceptical if an offer is too good to be true (then it probably is too good to be true), and so on. These are completely basic rules that not only apply to any travel destination, but presumably also to your home town. By using common sense, you will avoid the majority of scams, and should it happen that someone fools you one way or the other, at least you have a story to tell. But don’t let the tourist scam phobia rob you of engaging with your chosen travel destination.