Avoid scams when backpacking. Advice from the inexperienced for the inexperienced.
We midlifebackpackers have sometimes felt insecure during our travels. We do not have the security of a travel plan, or tour arranged by a travel agent. Often we have wondered whether we would be streetwise enough when backpacking. How would we avoid scams when backpacking? We feared that we would be scammed, robbed, or left out in the cold in the middle of nowhere. The fear of the unknown and inexperience as travelers, not knowing what we were doing.
Arriving at a strange place.
All to often when you arrive at some or other bus terminus, everyone wants to “help” you. Everyone may say that they can take you where you want to be cheaper & faster. Everyone may warn you not to do this or that. All to often, it is quite obvious that a “helpful” employee of a bus company is in actual fact selling overpriced tuk-tuk trips to tourists who ask them how to get into town. Or that the so called “info center” at a station is merely a front to selling taxi rides. It never ends and is often obvious that whenever people approach you with help & advice, the next step is to sell you something. In South East Asia, everybody is desperately trying to make an extra buck on the side line by referring travelers to a friend. Even uniformed officials often beg, sell or con you into something.
Being overwhelmed leads to being scammed.
As we have gone along from place to place being hounded by touts trying to sell us something, or scam us into some or other scheme our awareness has sharpened. Not everyone is aware of how to avoid scams when backpacking. All to often we see young backpackers getting off one means of transport, only to be swamped with touts. Confused and looking bewildered, they are soon wizzed off by costly operators happy to have conned yet another starry eyed victim.
South African street savvy helps us avoid scams when backpacking.
We are actually starting to realize that as South Africans, we are a lot less naive as many other foreigners. As South Africans, we are not intimidated easily. Having been around the block as older “midlifebackpackers” also helps and generally South African are not trusting of strangers. We probably have inherent situational awareness that many foreigners do not have. All to often we get off a bus, say no to just about everyone who approaches us & then just watch listen and orientated ourselves as to where we were at. We get an idea of where we want to go, how we want to get there & what it should cost us. Then we approach the relevant people with confidence and information at hand & negotiate a fair deal.
Our advice to avoid scams while backpacking:
• Whenever you have the time to read up shortly before arriving at a destination, do so. A good time is while on a bus/plane/train so that the information is fresh in your mind when arriving. ( See our Resources Page for useful apps & web links. )
• Have a good understanding of where your are going to arrive or be dropped off. If you don’t know where you are, how will you know with confidence where or how to take the next step to get where you want to be?
• Walk, talk and carry yourself with confidence while in the presence of touts on arrival. If you don’t know where the hell you are, you are great prey. Just take a walk or sit down and have a relaxing drink & pretend to know.
• Don’t hurry or stress. It shows. Just sit down, organize your baggage, get the cellular phone/laptop out (if in a safe environment) & take your time “orientating” yourself.
• Without showing it, listen to those around you. See who is “selling”, see who is not. Learn to distinguish those around you who know what they are doing and see what it is they are doing. For example: If a local expat pitches up with a tuk-tuk, feel free to ask whether this is his/her regular reliable & trustworthy driver.
• Listen to other negotiating prices & see where this leads. Read up and know what to expect in terms of costs, before merely accepting a price. When you have determined one, stick with it when negotiating.
• Always be kind, courteous and have empathy for the fact that many of these touts are desperate for a buck. Whenever rejecting someone’s offers, do it with a smile & never loose your cool.
Stay focused when times get tough.
Most of the tips above are common sense. All too often, however, you need to be careful that the exhaustion, frustration, heat & things not going according to plan don’t make you forget these things, as that is when you loose something, take your eye of the ball & make mistakes that could be costly. Stay aware at all times and avoid scams when backpacking.
We are enjoying the experience of travel without a real plan. Each day we are getting better and better at is as experience & confidence levels grow.