China, Italy, Travel Advice

Lessons Learned – Avoiding Being Scammed While Travelling


Something we have been discussing a lot since starting our travel blog is how we can help others with their travel issues. But the question is, what are other people’s travelling issues? We can name our own, but what about yours?

Then we realised that actually, a lot of experiences we face when travelling the world are similar to others. We are not ashamed to admit that we have been scammed a few times. Here are the experiences we have had, and here’s hoping that they may help you avoid similar.


The Psychic

This will only work on a certain type of person (someone who believes in psychic and clairvoyant abilities – hi everyone, that’s me – Rachel). This would never work on Daniel because he doesn’t believe in this at all, so would probably just walk away, which is what you should do.

This story begins in Delhi, India. It was around ten years ago, when I was twenty years old, and it was at the end of my trip. I was alone in Delhi, and it was raining, the streets surrounding my hotel muddy. I was finally beginning to feel settled and well after a difficult bout of food poisoning, so perhaps I was not entirely in my right mind.

I was tapped on the shoulder as I wandered near my lodgings, and a man with a long beard was behind me, smiling. He told me, in not so many words, that he could tell me everything about myself and my future. To be totally honest, I do enjoy things like this. Despite knowing about myself more than any clairvoyant could, I am always intrigued by such claims. So, I listened. First of all, in the middle of the street, he wrote down my favourite colour on a piece of paper, and then asked me what it was. Well, what he had written was correct. Green. However, I realised later, I was wearing a green top, so maybe this was more of a guess than a psychic ability. Then, he told me that he could tell me more if I followed him to a café. I didn’t give this much thought, I had no plans for the day so off we went. I followed him down ever narrowing winding alley ways, doing my best to remember the route for my return, to a café. However, this wasn’t the establishment I had envisioned. There was no one else there, and it was dark and dreary. The person behind the counter knew the psychic, and they spoke for a moment. This was the first time that I began to feel uncomfortable, realising that I wasn’t sure of my way home, but, I decided to give him the benefit the doubt.

We sat down, and he showed me a very old photograph of a group of men. He asked me to focus on three, and not to tell him which ones they were. I chose. He told me, correctly, which three they were. Even now, I’m not sure what the purpose of this was. I suppose it’s a sort of cold reading technique to gain trust.

Here is where his mood shifted. Seemingly satisfied that the psychic section of the meeting was over, he demanded money from me. It’s worth mentioning here that we didn’t have anything to eat or drink in the café, and that I didn’t owe any money for any goods. The fact was, I had no money. I was leaving the next day for England, and I had enough for dinner and to get to me to the airport in the morning. I told him so, and he responded that I was lying. Of course I must have money, I had travelled to India. Again, I told him no. He demanded my jewellery. I was only wearing a silver ring, which was very sentimental, and again, I told him that I wouldn’t do that. The fact is, I would have probably paid money had I had some to get out of that situation. I was afraid. I was a young woman alone in Delhi, with no idea of the way back to my hotel. I was in a dark and empty café with a man I didn’t know, who was demanding money from me. So what did I do?

I got up, and ran. I paced through the muddy streets until I got to an area I recognised. That night I didn’t go out for dinner, I sat in my double locked room alone. I had scared myself with my own actions. The point is this – it is great to make friends when you travel, but make sure that you do not put yourself in any dangerous situations. If you don’t like the look of a place, if you would rather stay out in public, it is okay to do so, and say so. Now, at thirty years old, should I allow myself to say yes to a psychic, I would choose the location, and confirm any expectations upfront.


The Free Gift

This one is so common! We have been scammed by this once, but witnessed it many times in many countries. It comes in different forms – all presented as ‘free gifts’. This could be lucky heather, a signed CD from an ‘up and coming’ artist, or, in our case, a thread bracelet.

We were walking the streets of Milan, Italy, when this scam happened. Two chaps offered a bracelet to Daniel, and when he said no, said something along the lines of ‘But it’s just a gift, to say welcome.’ – this kind of thing is designed to make you feel guilty. You feel rude for brushing them off, so you end up saying okay. Or at least, Daniel did. They put one around his wrist, and before I knew it, they also had one around mine. It was on securely, there was no getting that off in a hurry. Then, of course, they demanded money. They wouldn’t let us pass them so there was no choice in the matter. Daniel offered up the change that he had in his pocket, but, they decided that it wasn’t enough. Eventually, we gave them five euros.

Now, five euros is not a lot of money, but handing it over was certainly painful. We hadn’t asked for the bracelets, we would have never chosen to buy them, and Milan is expensive enough as it is. That five euros could have bought us a couple of coffees, or a cheap dinner from a supermarket. We were irritated by this experience for around an hour, before we pulled ourselves together and decided to laugh at it. We made the decision to keep those bracelets on for as long as possible, and eventually they lasted for around three years before they fell off. So, five euros? What a bargain. Thanks guys, for the long lasting quality product.


And now, the scams we have avoided:

The New Friends

This is a strange one that happened to Daniel in Beijing, China. As I was studying at Beijing Normal University, I was elsewhere that day, and Daniel was walking the streets with a person staying at his hostel.

We had read previous to this that this may be a scam, which is why Daniel and his friend avoided it. Two young local women invited them to a tea ceremony. The idea of this is that you go to the tea ceremony, and are faced with a huge bill at the end that you are forced to pay. If you Google ‘Tea Ceremony Scam’ you will find many occurrences of this.

Best to politely decline, as Daniel did, and move on. If you do want to attend a tea ceremony that’s fine, but book it through a reputable company or via someone you know.

The Art Gallery

Again, in Beijing, China, we were previously warned not to accept stranger’s invitations to art galleries as this could be a scam. So, when we were approached on our way to a night market, we politely declined. This is similar to the tea ceremony in that you are pressured to buy art, and faced with a huge bill.


If you are scammed by any of these or others, don’t give yourself a hard time for it. These people are trained to scam, they have immense experience of cold reading and tricking people. Do your best to put it behind you and continue to enjoy your travels.

Do you have any similar experiences or tips to share? Let us know!



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