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13 Common Travel Scams—And How to Avoid Them

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While the vast majority of travelers return home without incident, there’s no denying we make easy targets. Excited, disoriented, and unaware of local customs, petty scams play you for a fool. If you don’t want to buy in, leave the paranoia and neurosis at home, but pack a little common sense.

1. The Store Scam

Common in Southeast Asia, Turkey, and India, a friendly local starts up a conversation, inevitably leading to an invitation to visit a relative’s store for a great deal. Alternatively, your guide, tuk-tuk, or taxi driver insists you’ll find incredible deals if you just stop at a store on the way. It’s all run on kickbacks, where everyone wins—except you. Usually, they get a commission for bringing people to look; in the worst case scenario, a vendor won't let you leave until you buy something.

2. The Deal Scam

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Although you’d never fall for it at home, many travelers get duped into buying rings, watches, gemstones, and jewelry overseas. Everything seems legitimate—the stores, certificates of authenticity—until you get home and discover your “deal” is worth half of what you paid for it. So use common sense when confronted with a deal that seems too good to be true. It isn't.

3. The Change Scam

Always carry a range of bills, the smaller the better. It’s a quick and easy scam for vendors or stores to claim they have no change. The weirder the currency, the more likely you’ll just let them keep the bills. Fine when you’re just losing pennies, but watch out for $12 to be rounded off to $20.

4. The Practice English Scam

A local approaches you on the street and tells you he wants to practice his English. Seems innocent enough, and it is … until the conversation shifts to a sob story about poverty, a family member’s operation, the need to buy text books for school—all bogus, and an attempt to get money from you, so just keep walking. Unfortunately, this scam hurts genuine locals who really do want to connect.

5. The Taxi Scam

Taxi drivers can be ruthless. You have no idea where you are, or where you’re going, and unless you’re writing down names and licenses (if there is one), there are no repercussions. Three blocks can easily turn into an hour-long ride. In foreign countries, try and settle on a price first to get some idea of the cost, and only use official looking cabs. In North America, make sure the meter is turned on, and matches the rate displayed.

6. The Distraction Scam

At a busy attraction or on a bustling street, somebody spills water/ketchup/mustard on you. Apologetically, they start cleaning it up, but in the momentary confusion, they or their accomplice has fleeced you. If you get splooged, keep walking until you can stop in a less crowded space, and be extra aware of your personal belongings.

7. The Fake Tickets Scam

Foreigners are targeted at train or bus stations, particularly in India. An official approaches, asks if you want to bypass the heavy line-up. Together you visit an office nearby, and buy your official-looking ticket there. Problem is, the office and ticket are fake. Revisit the office, it will be locked, and paid-off security will shrug. Your best bet is to stay in line, no matter how tempting it might be to attempt a shortcut.

8. The Runner Scam

If a stranger asks if they can use your cell phone, listen to your instinct. Mom with a stroller could use a hand, but the single guy wearing runners might just disappear with your phone.

9. The Friendship Bracelet Scam

Walking around a historic old town, a local gives you a trinket, or ties a piece of wool around your wrist. It’s a gift, a friendship bracelet to say: “thank you for visiting.” Walk away, and you’ll quickly be pestered for a small donation. Too small, and the pestering will continue aggressively. If someone gives you anything, expect to pay for it.

10. The Spot Bribe / Fake Cop Scam

Depending where you are, the cops might or might not be real. Either way, if they’re hitting you up for some random on-the-spot fine, tell them you’ll only pay it at the police station. They might get aggressive, but insist. It’s the quickest way to make them move on to an easier target.

11. The Peanuts Snack Scam

Much like the Friendship Bracelet, only with food. Little scraps of paper with peanuts or snacks are placed on your patio table. If you touch them, you’ve just bought it. The guy will either gather them later, or watch them blow away in the wind as the cost of doing business. Popular on Rio’s Copacabana.

12. The Dropped Ring Scam

You're walking along a Parisian street when a local approaches you with a gold ring that they say they found on the ground. Is it yours? No? Well, it's far too big for the local, so you should have it. As soon as it's in your hand, the local will insist on some compensation, since they found it and it's real gold, after all. (It isn't real gold.) If anyone approaches you with a ring, say no thanks and walk away.

13. The “Let Me Take Your Picture” Scam

Visiting the Taj Mahal? A well-dressed, well-spoken local tourist offers to take your picture with the world wonder in the background. Very kind, until you ask for your camera back, and he asks for his rupees for services rendered.

All images courtesy of Thinkstock unless otherwise stated. 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

woman ready to clean a home
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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

Young Asian couple smiling
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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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For the First Time, You Can Spend the Night on New York's Governors Island This Summer
Michael Vadon, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Michael Vadon, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Soon, you'll be able to camp out on a 172-acre historical island without straying too far from the conveniences of a slightly bigger island: Manhattan.

This summer, visitors will be able to sleep under the stars on Governors Island in New York City's harbor for the first time, Lonely Planet reports. Collective Retreats will offer a glamping package that includes luxury tents, farm-to-table dining, and activities, which may include live music, culinary classes, wellness sessions, thought leadership seminars, or yoga.

Located a 10-minute ferry ride from the southern end of Manhattan, Governors Island served as a military base beginning in 1755, and was used most recently by the United States Coast Guard from 1966 until 1996. That year, it was designated as a historical district, and by 2006, the island had opened to the public as a car-free green space. These days, visitors can wander among 19th-century buildings, lounge in a hammock on a grassy lawn, tour two historical forts, rent bikes, and see public art.

Collective Retreats offers a premium tent starting at $150 per night. Or, you can spring for a luxury tent at $500 per night. That rate gets you a private bath with full-flush toilets and rain-style hot showers, complimentary breakfast and s'mores, and personal concierge services. Plus, your tent is stocked with a supply of filtered water, a mini library of travel and fiction books, Pendleton blankets, a chandelier, and outlets for your tech stuff. On select nights, you can take advantage of discounted rates and book a night in a premium tent for $75.

The glampsite can accommodate about 100 overnight guests total, and stays are available from May to October, when Governors Island closes for the season. To get to the island, all you need to do is catch a ferry from Manhattan or Brooklyn: rides are even free on Saturdays and Sundays until 11:30 a.m.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

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