6 common scams that target solo travelers & how to avoid them

Apr 12, 2023

Traveling solo is empowering— there’s nothing like the freedom of exploring the world at your own pace and on your own terms. 

But, some people see solo travelers as easy targets for scams and theft. And it’s amazing how crafty some of these scammers have gotten.

Because not much can ruin your confidence, mood, and perception of a destination faster than having someone pull a fast one on you, I’m going to lay out some of the most common travel scams that solo travelers should be on the lookout for. Plus, I’ll give you my best tips on how to avoid them!

I personally have fallen prey to 4/6 of these, and several of my friends have experienced these and more.

Learn from our stupidity, friends!

1. Taxi scams

  • Saying they don’t have change or giving back the wrong change

    • Carry small bills because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a taxi driver agree to a price, take me to my destination, they when I hand over bills, they claim that they don’t have change. Also, ALWAYS count your change. If they do give you change, they will likely short you. 

  • Not using their meter

    • Some taxi drivers don’t use their meter, especially in tourist spots or traffic jams. They HAVE a meter, but they don’t turn it on when you get in the car. This is illegal in most countries, but they do it and you get way overcharged because they can make up whatever number they want. 

  • Tricking you into patronizing their friends and families stores/restaurants

    • I enjoy shopping local and supporting family businesses when I travel, but not when I’m lured into it. Be aware of “friendly” taxi drivers who offer you ideas for stops like cheap tours, shops, or restaurants. They’ll take you to their cousin’s crappy restaurant or shop where they get a commission. You’ll be overcharged or sold worthless goods.

How to protect yourself from taxi scams while traveling solo:

  • Try to only use taxis with a meter. Don’t get in the car until the driver confirms that they have a working meter and will use it. Once you get in the car, watch them turn the meter on. Some drivers will say they have a meter to get you in the car, then not use it. You’ll be stuck with them in the car demanding you pay an outrageous price. 

  • If you’re going to use a taxi without a meter, don’t get in the car until you ask the price, haggle, and agree on the rate. 

  • Bring a personal alarm with you. I’ve had some SKETCHY taxi drivers, so better safe than sorry. I use the Papasafety 3 in 1 personal alarm— it’s tiny (fits in any purse!) and is one of the only safety devices that you can bring in a carry on bag.

2. Wrong charge or overcharging scams

Just like the overcharging with taxi drivers, other merchants (like restaurants, bars, and shops) will pull this constantly. Honestly, expect it and haggle EVERYWHERE you go or you’ll get massively ripped off. And again, merchants may also try to give you the wrong change — for example, giving you change for $10 when you paid with a $100 note. They count on you not recognizing the local currency notes until it’s too late.

With bars and restaurants, staff may push you to order without a menu or avoid questions about price— then you’ll get an expensive bill. A restaurant in Turkey (on a menu without prices) tried to charge 60 USD for 2 drinks and a plate of fruit last year. 1 USD is ~19 Turkish lira, so the cost for this should have been around 15USD max.

Before you travel:

  • Familiarize yourself with local currency

  • Get a sense of how much things cost

  • When you’re traveling, avoid using large bills to pay for small items. Read reviews of local bars and restaurants you intend to visit and always ask to see a menu. Check the price of food and drinks before ordering. Don’t accept extra food you didn’t order without confirming if it’s on the house.

  • Pay attention and take your time to check you have the correct change.

3. Pickpocketing scams

In crowded tourist areas, thieves may create a diversion. Allowing thieves to pickpocket you while you are distracted from your valuables.

Ways to distract you may include a crowd of beggars jostling you or an offer of help from someone you don’t know.

You can reduce your risk of pickpocketing by:

  • Staying alert in areas where pickpocketing is common

  • Treat any unusual event as a potential pickpocketing attempt

  • Put valuables in pockets that are harder to access

  • Use a tamper-proof backpack or handbag — check out the bags below that are super creative for safety! A scrunchie or scarf that you can hide cash in, a bra bag, and a theft-proof sling bag!

4. Credit card skimming scams

Card skimming is the illegal copying of information from the magnetic strip of a credit or ATM card.

Skimming usually occurs when you buy something and somebody takes your credit card out of your sight.

To reduce your risk of credit card skimming:

  • Ask for your card back straight away if a shop assistant wants to swipe your card out of your sight or in a second machine

  • Pay with a cheque or cash, or don’t buy the item

  • Never share your PIN, or keep a copy of it with your card

Solo traveler? Be sure to check out the 8 BEST travel safety products for women (most under $20 on Amazon!).

5. Visa scams

Visa scams involve travelers buying visas that are not needed, illegal or overpriced.

Some third-party websites charge a fee to submit a visa application on your behalf. Some of these websites are fraudulent.

Avoid visa scams by:

  • Applying for visas using links or organizations recommended by the embassy or consulate of the country you’re visiting

  • Reading the travel advice for information on entry and exit requirements before you travel

  • If you travel on a fake visa, you may be arrested, jailed or deported on arrival

6. Car, motorcycle, or other vehicle rental scams

Jet ski, motorcycle, car, and other vehicle rental scams happen a lot in tourist towns. The rental operator will accuse you of returning “damaged” vehicles and demand 1000s of dollars. The dangerous thing here is that when you rent a vehicle in a tourist destination, they usually take your passport as collateral at the time you take the vehicle. They will keep your passport until you pay for the damage.

To protect yourself from scams, before you hire a vehicle:

  • Read online reviews of local travel companies

  • Check the vehicle and take photos of any previous damage

  • Check your insurance covers you for recreational vehicles, especially if you’re unlicensed in Australia

  • Never leave your passport as a security deposit or collateral

Looking for more? Be sure to check out:

Are you new here? Let’s be friends! I’m Sarah— a solo female traveler (& world’s okayest travel blogger) helping you travel the world, discover surprising destinations, & have a laugh getting off the beaten path. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to stay in touch (I promise not to spam you- just to share the best travel hacks, guides, itineraries, embarrassing stories, and unmissable experiences)!

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