The Christmas Scams That Fooled Even Our Travel Experts

While paying for a water bus in Venice, a travel expert came up short – Alamy

You can plan a vacation perfectly, but you can never prepare for the scams you might face along the way. These come in many forms, from sleight of hand by a taxi driver to daylight robberies at well-known hotel companies.

Our leading destination experts and in-house editors have traveled to every corner of the planet, accumulating many years of experience between them. So hopefully this will be comforting to you the next time you find yourself in a tough situation as they too can get scammed on the road.

Sleight of hand in Venice

By Nick Trend

When I was 19 and interrailing around Europe on a budget of £10 a day, I was camping at Punta Sabbioni on the mainland next to Venice. At the end of a busy and impatient queue, I paid for my water bus ticket to San Marcos with a 50,000 lira note, which in those days was worth about £25. On the boat I realized that, instead of four 10,000 lira notes as most of my change, the boy at the ticket office had given me just one, plus three 1,000 lira notes cleverly hidden behind it. They had cynically cheated me out of 27,000 lire (over £15), a huge chunk of my budget.

An empty wallet in Iceland

By Mike Maceacharan

I may be a professional traveler (sort of), but I’m not completely immune to holiday scams and Iceland is the king of scams in my opinion; the great father of daylight robbery. Twenty-five quid for a takeaway chippie from a street food van? That one hurts. Sixteen pounds for a bagel with an almost invisible stain of cream cheese moistening the inside? That hurts more.

Road on the Snaefellsnes peninsula in IcelandRoad on the Snaefellsnes peninsula in Iceland

Mike paid over £500 for a day trip to Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Getty/iStock

And that’s just the tip of the glacial iceberg. I recently visited the Snæfellsnes peninsula on a gray October trip filled with seasonal cold and was charged £300 for a drab room, no breakfast but a wet dog smell free of charge. The added surprise was a no-fuss dinner costing £67 per person. The portion size left me hungry or as an Icelander would say, it was “ekki upp i nos a ketti.” Not enough to fill a cat’s nostril. And with car hire, that all added up to over £500 for a day. Heavens.

An inflated rickshaw fare

By Gemma Caballero

There are those great moments when you see a scammer approaching from a mile away and you manage to avoid him. I still feel a pang of smugness when I think of the taxi driver in Shanghai who, not realizing I lived there, had tried to take me miles in the wrong direction to increase the fare. The look on his face when I unleashed a tirade from the back seat in perfect Mandarin still brings me great joy.

I wasn’t so lucky on a visit to Amritsar, India, when I asked a rickshaw driver to take me a couple of miles down the road. A normally long negotiation followed; I convinced him of what I considered, if not quite cheap, then certainly fair, and off we went. When we arrived, I looked down to count my rupees, and when I looked up, the driver had been joined by 20 of his friends, all of them big and serious. “The price has tripled,” he told me. A difficult situation that no amount of Mandarin would get me out of. In order to live to fight another day, I put my pride aside and paid.

A close situation in Naples

By Rachel Cranshaw

I arrived in Naples by train last year and took a taxi from the stop outside the station. We asked the driver if he accepted card payments, and he said yes, and we agreed on the fare because there was no meter. But when we arrived at our hotel, the card payment failed. We said we would try another card, but he wouldn’t let us, insisting on taking us to an ATM, with a now greatly inflated fee that we had no choice but to pay.

Naples, Via ChiaiaNaples, Via Chiaia

Rachel faced taxi scam charges and possible robbery in Naples – Moment RF/Getty

It set a bitter tone throughout the visit. Later that day, he was walking down a street with a group of four women when we stopped briefly for a couple of us to check our phones for directions. We noticed that two men were standing at opposite intervals from us, signaling to each other suggesting that they were about to assault us. We had to dive into a supermarket for safety.

Many people have told me how much they love Naples, despite its reputation for being a bit harsh, but as a typically savvy traveler, I was disappointed and embarrassed to have had such a stereotypical experience of the city. I would like to return one day and give it another chance.

Daylight robbery at dawn

By Chris Moss

Posh hotels are snakes and scammers: they beat up customers for exorbitant deposits; they fleece anyone who likes a bold miniature; They charge ridiculous fees. But their biggest scam is room service: the crazy markup for simply delivering an item to a room. When I checked into a five-star hotel after a long, miserable red-eye flight, I said I’d love to have breakfast. The reception staff smiled obsequiously and said there was no need to brave the dining room: they would send something to my room.

Half an hour later, when I had almost given up, a small selection of items from the all-you-can-eat buffet arrived: a strawberry deconstructed into ten slices, a cold coffee, some scones and wasted mini jars of jam. They later billed me $30 for the privilege. I know, I fell into a trap. They turned me into an idiot, or more accurately, they just assaulted me.

An opportunistic seller in Kerala

By Chris Leadbeater

On my first two mornings while staying in a simple hotel in Kerala, I noticed a man standing on the beach, holding items of clothing to buy, hoping that a tourist would emerge from one of the rooms upstairs. But it was a quiet time, the low season for Kerala. So, on my third morning, I decided to do the deed.

Kerala, IndiaKerala, India

Chris accidentally paid high prices on European streets to shop in Kerala – LightRocket/Getty

The clothes were actually of good quality. He had a selection of Nehru collar shirts, in a variety of primary colors. She had bright scarves and a variety of well-made pashminas. In fact, it was so well made that I decided it could be mass-purchased for a lot of upcoming birthday and Christmas gifts. I chose nine or so and prepared to pay him.

I’m still not sure what made the conversation go the way it did. But when he suggested a number, I panicked, took just a couple of hundred rupees from him and waited for his response. He paled a little, nodded, shook my hand, and we completed the transaction. Only when I returned to my room and looked at the latest exchange rate did I realize that he had paid a high price in Europe for my purchases.

I never saw the seller again. Delighted with his windfall, he had clearly taken the weekend off.

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