Five travel scams I fell for (and how to avoid them)
TRAVEL blogger Jayne Gorman has tweeted her way around more than 60 countries but her trips haven't always gone without a hitch.
From rogue taxi drivers to fraudulent tour operators, Jayne reveals to Skyscanner Australia some of the scams she's fallen for on her travels and how you can avoid them if faced with the same dodgy dealers.
THE SCAM: 'YOUR BUS HAS LEFT ALREADY'
My first ever trip to Vietnam was a little (shall we say) challenging.
From the very first moment my girlfriend and I arrived in the country we were faced with resistance from cyclo drivers who just didn't want to take us where we asked to go. This was to become a theme throughout our trip.
We'd come to Vietnam from Cambodia via a serene cruise down the Mekong River. Our plan had been to catch a public bus to Ho Chi Minh City from the point we disembarked the boat but getting to the bus station proved tricky.
Two minutes after climbing into the cyclos we'd hired to take us to the bus station, my driver says: "But the bus station closed, your bus left already."
We knew this was not true, having just checked the details with our tour leader on the boat, so I told the driver firmly, "Please take us to the station". He refused.
Despite our insistence, we were dropped at his friend's place in a quiet rural street and instructed to board this guy's rickety mini-van. We pleaded with our driver to take us to the bus station and tried, to no avail, to catch another cyclo or taxi.
Eventually we gave up and went with his friend who drove us the six hours to the city, arriving much later than our intended bus would have but in one piece at least.
How it could have been avoided: I now try as much as possible to arrange transport in advance via my hotel or a reputable taxi service. Word of mouth recommendations from other travellers are great. This may cost extra but at least you can rely on the driver to take you where you ask them to.
THE SCAM: 'YOUR HOTEL IS NO GOOD'
In Cambodia a few days earlier we'd encountered a different kind of scam from a taxi driver. Upon hopping in his tuktuk and giving him the name of our hotel the driver inquired, "Have you paid for this hotel already?". It was a strange question but I answered truthfully (bad idea!), "No. Why?" "This hotel no good," he tells us, "I take you to a better one instead."
Long story short, the driver drops us at a hotel who gives him a kickback rather than the one that came highly rated in our guide book. The Lake View Hotel the driver recommended sounded delightful but our room turned out to have no windows with which to enjoy said view.
How it could have been avoided: Stick to your guns and tell any enterprising drivers that you've paid for accommodation already. If you haven't prepaid I recommend doing a quick inspection of any rooms you are unsure of before handing over your money - this avoids the whole no window issue!
THE SCAM: FLUCTUATING CYCLO PRICES
I told you transport issues were going to be a theme here! Almost every taxi I took in Vietnam involved some sort of back and forth over the price. (One cyclo driver raised the price by ten times at the end of our journey insisting I had misheard him. I had not - I held fingers up to check and everything!)
Another scam to watch out for is the cyclo driver who insists he can pedal both you and your friend for a fixed fee and then asks his mate with a motorbike to shunt you instead. That change of plan costs us double the agreed price.
How it could have been avoided: If you can find a metered cab there should be a lot less of a surprise at the end of the journey. Cyclos are a fun way to get around on short trips in Vietnam but just be prepared to pay a little more than you anticipated for each journey. (I generally give a big tip to those who have been straightforward anyway!)
THE SCAM: THE ALOE VERA TREATMENT
There I was happily sunbathing on the beach in Barbados when suddenly I felt a cool goo being massaged into my feet. I yelped and opened my eyes to find a dreadlocked chancer massaging natural aloe vera into my mosquito-bitten cankles. "I'll make you better," he said.
Except I didn't feel better, just a little violated.
My manners kicked in so I politely asked him to stop and then began packing all my beach stuff away when he ignored me. "That will be $5," he tells me as I get up to leave. I laughed not sure if he joking but it turns out he was deadly serious.
I had no change on me as the resort was all inclusive but that didn't stop him coming to the resort every day and demanding $5 for the treatment he administered without my permission. I learned the hard way to stay alert on public beaches in the Caribbean.
How it could have been avoided: In hindsight I wish I had been more forceful about this unwanted "treatment" and clearly said from the start that I'm not interested. When he continued to pester me every day I alerted the hotel staff about the issue and they made sure he wasn't allowed into the resort. I took to sunbathing at the pool instead.
THE SCAM: THE TOUR THAT NEVER WAS
And finally, back to that first scam-filled trip in Vietnam which ended just the way it had begun. On our last day in Ho Chi Minh City my friend and I booked a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels through a random tour agency in the city. As instructed, we waited several hours on the steps on our hotel but our transfer never came. We flew home the next day with disappointment in the air.
How it could have been avoided: Instead of saving a few bucks with a random operator we wished we'd booked through our hotel or a reputable online operator and followed up with them as soon as it appeared like no one would be coming for us. You live and learn! In Vietnam's defence, I went back a few years later much less green and had a brilliant experience.
This article originally appeared on Skyscanner.com.au.