As someone who has lived and traveled abroad, I can tell you that tourist scams abound, and they're the worst.
Designed with stealing your money (and sanity) in mind, these maneuvers are the tools of the trade for schemers all over the world. Since summer will be here before you know it, let's go over what you should be on the lookout for when you hop on a plane to your dream destination.
After all, nothing says "please get me out of here everything is terrible let me go home I quit" quite like losing your cash, credit cards, and passport to some lady who just threw her baby at you (more on that later). If you're planning on visiting a major city abroad this summer, here's what you need to know.
1. That guy handing you a friendship bracelet is 100 percent not your friend.
Remember those bracelets you used to weave for your besties in elementary school? Well, when in Rome (or anywhere else for that matter), don't let some strange dude on the street lure you in with false promises of friendship. He isn't Becky Williams, and this is not the third grade. By the time that heartless fraud wraps a colorful lie around your wrist, he'll have asked you for all of your money. Nothing is sacred anymore.
2. The lady holding a rose will come between you and your significant other.
This scenario is a lot like the friendship bracelet situation, but this time, you'll look like a bad person in front of your guy or girl. Here's how it usually goes. The woman offers a rose to a couple strolling by. One half of said couple reaches out and takes it, because free flowers are the best flowers — but it's not free. After the rose is taken off her hands, the lady demands money for it. Say yes, and the victim of this nasty enterprise contributes to a really irritating system. Say no, and they look like a miserly partner. Not cute.
3. Someone will throw a baby at you.
The good news is that it's usually not a real baby. The bad news is that you're probably not a pile of human garbage, and you'll instinctively try to catch it anyway. While you're fumbling through what is absolutely the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you (and I can tell you from experience that it is), mom of the year will steal all of your valuables.
4. You'll give yourself away after you see a wallet on the ground.
You revel in not being "that guy" by reaching for your own wallet when you see one on the ground. If you're wandering around in a major European city and you see a discarded wallet, do not reach for yours. It's still there. You just used it to buy really overpriced shoes. Scam artists plant those wallets just to figure out where you keep yours.
5. Your taxi driver is taking his sweet time.
Taxi drivers exploit tourists by taking the longest routes possible to jack up rates. This will cause you a world of emotional and financial hurt, so familiarize yourself with the roads that lead to your destination, and call that nonsense out if it starts happening! I didn't, which ended in a hefty, tipless payment to my driver and a frantic sprint to my terminal. It was the least fun.
6. People on packed trains are good at stealing your personal space (and your stuff).
One of my favorite things about living abroad was using public transit, which is sorely lacking here in the States. Take advantage of these inexpensive services when you travel, but if a train is crowded enough to leave you scrunched up under some guy's armpit, zip up your bags and hold them tightly in front of you. Scammers love crowded trains, so be mindful of your purses and pockets.
7. If an overnight bus from one country to the next for almost no money sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
While you're just trying to live your life on the night bus and snooze between Spain and France, someone's in the luggage compartment stealing all of your valuables. That pretty much kills those bargain vibes.
8. Get all of your own luggage out of the car.
Hiring a private car to get you and your bags from the airport to the hotel is a great option, but if you can, take all of your own bags out of the vehicle. While most drivers offer to help you with luggage just to be nice, others will remove your largest bag, quickly hop back in the driver's seat, and zip away with the smaller ones.
9. Fake cops are not the good guys.
If someone who looks like a police officer approaches you and says that there's fake money circulating and he needs to check your wallet, ask for ID. If he doesn't present you with proof that he's an officer, get all up out of there. He's posing as a cop to take your money.
10. Always count your change.
As a way of skimming a little off the top, cashiers sometimes exploit tourists by handing them less valuable coins when giving them change, since it's hard for people to identify foreign currency at first glance. Familiarize yourself with what bills and coins look like prior to departure if you can! It's not like any of us need to be more broke.
11. Don't trust anyone when you're purchasing tickets.
Seeing plays and concerts abroad is basically the best thing ever, but when it's time to buy tickets, go straight to the booth or the official online vendor. Scammers target people waiting in line at theaters and arenas and offer them tickets for a fraction of the cost. The only downside is that they're usually fake.
12. Always deal directly with your hotel concierge if money is involved.
Because everything is awful and the world is a spinning ball of pain, scammers will call you late at night, posing as your hotel concierge to confirm your credit card details. They know that people are less likely to venture downstairs later in the evening, which makes it easy for them to steal your info. If you suspect foul play, it never hurts to go downstairs and see what's going on.
13. Everyone finds strength in numbers, including the kids who want to take your money.
Going back to the part about you not being a piece of garbage, it only makes sense that you'd want to help kids begging on the street. This gets tricky when they approach you in massive groups. If the kiddos come out in droves to hassle you, keep a close eye on your valuables. While you're brushing one or two of them off, the other three will set their sights on your wallet.
14. That overly friendly local at the ATM isn't helping you use the machine.
Even if you're struggling with an ATM in a foreign country, take a deep breath and figure it out on your own. Do not, under any circumstances, allow someone to help you. Although it seems like the locals are trying to help you use the machine, they're actually memorizing your PIN so they can steal your card and use it later.
15. Beachgoers beware: those free massages will cost you a pretty penny.
Locals love offering up "free" massages to tourists sipping mai tais on the beach. I'm sure you can guess by now that nothing in life is free, so be on the lookout for amateur masseuses. Even when tourists resist, they're often pestered into shelling out pretty serious amounts of money.
16. Think twice about taking pictures for strangers.
Sadly, being nice to people on vacation isn't usually rewarded with anything but a headache. One trick that locals pull on tourists seems innocent at first but quickly turns into something awful. Someone from a group approaches a traveler and asks them to take their picture. As the photographer is handing the camera back to its owner, the scammer purposely drops it and demands payment for the broken device.
Traveling is a blast, but you can never be too careful. When you're out of your element, scammers know that you're ripe for the picking. Maybe getting one of those horrible neck wallets your mom can't stop talking about isn't such a bad idea, after all.