How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off (or Worse) When You're on Vacation

Tourist woman in hotel having problems with credit card payment


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Tourist woman in hotel having problems with credit card payment

Safe Travels

Beautiful locales can also be home to some dangerous characters. As the summer travel season ramps up, the last thing you want is to have a trip marred by becoming a victim of crime. Read on for some tips that will help sharpen your vacation chops to help ensure a rewarding trip. 

Happy couple walking and talking in the countryside

Talk to Experienced Travelers

Tap the expertise of experienced travelers who travel in your style and have recently been to a destination you’re interested in, says Kate McCulley. This experienced world traveler, the publisher of the blog Adventurous Kate (devoted to travel for independent women), and the editor and publisher of New Hampshire Way, says: “For example, a random uncle who’s never been to Mexico might tell you that it’s nothing but cartels and violence, because that’s all he sees on the news, but an experienced traveler will tell you the truth: Most of Mexico is safe to travel, including as a solo woman, and what you actually need to look out for in Mexico is water safety and noise.”      

Group of Young People Boarding on Travel Bus

Keep Your Valuables on You While in Transit

Hold tight to what matters. As McCulley shares, “One mistake travelers often make is keeping their belongings buried in various parts of their main luggage, which is away from them, in the hold of a plane or the bottom of a bus. Keep it in your day bag and don’t let it get away from you.”

Young woman with FFP2 mask on an escalator

Consider an Accessory with a Hidden Pocket

It’s not a cliché — an accessory with a hidden pocket can be a smart purchase. McCulley recommends the Speakeasy Travel Supply Scarf, as she says, “These circle scarves are gorgeous, work for every destination, and come with the best perk — a secret pocket. This pocket is perfect for hiding cash or even your phone. And no pickpocket will even know it’s there! I don’t even need a purse when I wear one of these scarves.”    

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Spending, payment or bonus concept with pile of US dollar banknotes in black leather wallet on wood table
Nuthawut Somsuk/istockphoto

Invest, Literally, in Your Safety

It never hurts to be prepared with a back-up fund. As McCulley says, “I always put aside an extra ‘safety fund’ that I know is there when I need it. That money could go toward an Uber instead of taking public transportation late at night. It could go toward a new hotel if someone in the hotel is making you feel uncomfortable. The important thing is that it’s there when you need it.”

Woman holding in hands wallet with euro money. City girl is taking out money from wallet

Don’t Flash Cash

While many people rely on credit or debit cards these days, sometimes you may be using cash. If you’re in an unfamiliar destination, one where the money system is different, it may be disorienting at first. Avoid flashing a wad of bills and asking “Is this enough?” You’ll get attention but not the kind you want. As The Broke Backpacker once noted, “Try to avoid flashing your cash and instead be ready with small bills. 99% of the time, the world is a very safe place to travel in. You can get that percentage up to 99.9% if you are smart — don’t make it obvious that you are traveling with cash.”

Group of  young people hands toasting and cheering aperitif beers half pint
Morakot Kawinchan/istockphoto

Don’t Overindulge

Sure, you want to enjoy your vacation, but a tipsy traveler is not always a prudent traveler. Your judgment may be impaired by one too many drinks. As they say, enjoy responsibly — and you may not regret it in the morning. As the National Crime Prevention Council shares, “Avoid using alcohol and other drugs. Impaired judgment can put you in potentially dangerous situations.”     

Related:21 Cheap Ways to Protect Yourself From Thieves

Strangers at a train station.

Don’t Overshare With Strangers

Yes, you want to meet people when you travel, but don’t leave your common sense at home. If someone is asking questions that seem too personal (your income, your specific travel plans, etc.), use caution when responding. As the National Crime Prevention Council reminds, “Don’t tell strangers the name of your hotel, your room number, or other personal information.”

Dark City Corner

Avoid Dangerous Areas

Adventure and travel go hand in hand — but so should safety. Yes, some avant garde galleries or secret clubs may be in “emerging” neighborhoods. Visit, but don’t leave your awareness behind. Sometimes, you may end up in an unexpectedly dangerous area, as Urban Survival Site cautions: “The moment you enter a bad neighborhood, your goal is to get out of that neighborhood as quickly as possible. Don’t stop to get gas, take a break, grab a bite to eat, or ask for directions. Just keep driving (or walking) until you’re safe.”

Close-up of mobile phone and accessories on picnic blanket at beach

Don’t Leave Items Unattended

Be aware of your personal belongings (use a locker) when visiting a spa or pool area. Also, leaving your phone unattended on the beach blanket or an e-reader on the café table when you go into the restroom can tempt trouble. As Vagrants of the World suggests for a day at the beach, “Only bring the minimum of electronics with you, or better still, none at all. Try switching off for the day. Consider an actual book, magazine or newspaper over an E-Reader.”

Modern man in city using mobile phone

Check Out Credentials

Before taking advantage of a local babysitting company or an excursion idea such as an afternoon cruise or helicopter sightseeing tour, take the time to investigate the firm’s local reputation using sites such as TripAdvisor, CitySearch, and more. Also, ask the real locals or chambers of commerce.

Waiter bringing the bill

Double-Check Before Signing Receipts

It’s the stuff of urban legend. A tourist in a dark, loud pub signs a credit-card receipt, thinking they are paying, say, $100 for a fun night out. Then, they are home and the bill comes in — for $1,000? reminds you to read your receipt carefully before signing: “This is a good idea whether you’re traveling or just using your card at home. Never sign a receipt before reviewing the charges. Once a receipt bears your signature it can be difficult to dispute those charges — which could potentially put you at financial risk.”

Travel Bag With Padlock Suitcase And Baggage With Lock

Secure Your Luggage

Lost luggage is one thing. Stolen or pilfered luggage is another. Student Universe says, “Protecting your luggage has never been as important as it is today. In the digital age, many travelers bring expensive devices with them when they embark on their global adventure.” It suggests good locks, while also reminding, “A line of sight is the best security.”

Tourist paying with digital wallet at the ticket machine

Beware of Scams

Vacation scams are out there. As World Nomads says, “You arrive at the bus terminal and someone approaches you with tickets to sell, claiming they are at a discounted rate or that you can jump the ticket queue. You purchase a ticket only to find out when you board the bus that it’s fake and unvalid. The seller? Nowhere to be seen and your money is gone. Some of these sellers even go to the length of dressing official. Always buy your tickets from an official ticket booth or window.”    

Related: Airbnb Rental Scams to Watch Out For

Hotel safe
Gorica Poturak/istockphoto

Use the Hotel Safe

If you must travel with valuables, take advantage of the hotel safe when the items are not in use. S-RM, a global intelligence and cyber security consultancy, further suggests carrying “copies of important documents when leaving the hotel. Ask advice in hotels about keeping passports with you. In some countries, it is a legal requirement for travelers.”


Check out who’s knocking

S-RM further suggests using spyholes in hotel doors before opening them. Once you let someone unsavory into your room, it may be too late to prevent a crime.

Close up shot of female thief trying to steal a smartphone while customer is looking at clothes in a store

Keep Moving

You may have been a fidgety child, one who was always told to stand still. When traveling, though, it’s a good idea to avoid standing still. As S-RM notes, you should “get into the habit of moving around, swaying or fidgeting while in queues or public spaces. This makes it much more difficult for pickpockets and bag-snatchers to make sudden grabs for your belongings.”

Young tourists enjoying on vacation, having fun together in the city. Concept of tourism

Don’t Draw Attention

You want to blend in as best you can. As Nationwide Insurance suggests, “People who look like they’re from out of town are especially vulnerable to crime, so try to blend in as much as you can. Choose inconspicuous clothing that won’t attract attention. Be discreet when looking at maps and approach people carefully if you need to ask for directions.” 

Related: Travel Clothes That Real Road Warriors Swear By

Dialing emergency call

Be Ready to Get Help Fast

S-RM also suggests always being prepared. You don’t want to anticipate a problem, but it’s always better to have help at the ready — and can offer help if you feel threatened. “Check the local number for the emergency services and have emergency contacts pre-programmed into your phone.”

Travel insurance documents to help travelers feel confident in travel safety.

Investigate Travel Insurance

Many policies cover travel interruption and illness, but some also cover theft. “Travel insurance is vital for health issues and accidents/injury abroad, but in many cases can also help you out if your stuff gets stolen, too,” according to the travel blog A Dangerous Business.

Related: Your Flight Is Canceled or Delayed: What Can You Do?

woman hands holding phone with app vpn private network

Use Wi-Fi Wisely

If you cannot unplug from work — or want to update those at home with a quick email, make sure you are careful. As Nationwide Insurance notes, “Don’t let the convenience of internet access cloud your judgment.” Hackers look to steal personal information from public Wi-Fi, so Nationwide suggests, “If you do need wireless internet service, set up a virtual private network (VPN) that will allow you to access the internet securely while traveling.”

young woman taking selfie at Brandeburg Gate in Berlin

Save Those Selfies

You’re thrilled to be somewhere you only dreamed of … and you want everyone at home to know how much fun you’re having. Be discreet. As notes in a recap of an Experian survey, “Sharing your agenda or location on social media allows potential thieves to keep track of where you are, making it easier for them to time a crime. Instead, wait to post about your trip until you get home, the report said.”

Businessman taking a selfie in hotel room

Keep Someone in the Know

Sure, you might want to go off the grid, but be realistic. Having someone “at home” know where you are going is a backup safety plan. As has noted, “The best way is to email the full itinerary to a few family members (and double-check with them that they received it – don’t just assume it landed in their Inbox, make sure it did). Then, if you can, check in from time to time.” You don’t want to go missing, and have no one notice for weeks.

A person withdrawing money from a atm machine

Use ATMs With Care

Getting cash out of a machine safely means more than just covering the screen when you enter your PIN. Be aware of your surroundings. Use machines with legitimate markings. Avoid those in places that themselves seem sketchy. And, adds, “Another overlooked factor is where other people are when you’re at the machine. Can someone peer over your shoulder? Are they close enough they could grab the cash and run off? If so, use another ATM elsewhere. Better safe than sorry! Never let anyone ‘help’ you with your transaction either." 

Related: Scumbags Are Targeting Seniors in New ATM Scam

Modern Car Door Panel

Caution in the Car

Many people travel by car, either domestically or when in another country. The Springfield, Missouri, Police Department offers a wealth of safe-travel advice including a number of tips related to vacation travel by car. In addition to not picking up hitchhikers, it notes that you should always lock your vehicle after entering or leaving it; park in well-lighted areas; check the backseat before entering your vehicle; and always place valuables “out of sight, preferably in the trunk.” Basic advice that bears repeating.

Getting around the city

Trust Your Instincts

Your gut is there for a reason – trust it. You know when something isn’t right. As Nationwide Insurance notes, “A big part of the joy of traveling is the opportunities it affords to meet new people and learn about their cultures. But if someone near you is acting suspiciously, or if you feel uncomfortable, leave the area immediately.” After all, you want a vacation that’s rewarding, relaxing – and full of happy memories.

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