Photography & travel tips from an award-winning photographer, educator & wanderlust

5 tourist traps you need to know!

Have you ever felt cheated? wronged? taken advantage of and discriminated against?

Welcome to the world of traveling! It’s not all blue skies and colorful Instagram photographs. Traveling, as any other adventure, can turn from exciting and carefree to horrifying in a matter of seconds. Will you feel disgruntled, pissed off or want to never return to the same city/country ever again? What would you do in the following situations?

Tourist trap 1: Room switcharoo

You book a night at an inexpensive hotel through a well known booking service App. When you arrive at your hotel, the owner gives you the keys to a different room, which doesn’t feature a double bed you thought that you booked, but two bunk beds with very stiff mattresses. You come back down to the lobby, to voice your concern when the owner starts yelling at you and at the booking service, saying that his hotel is all booked and your dorm room happens to be more expensive anyway. He tells you to just take the dorm or “good luck finding another place on the weekend” (it was a Thursday). You mention that his customer service is poor and that you’d probably leave a poor review for his hotel, to which the owner replies that he doesn’t really care.

What do you do?

Tourist trap 2: Shoe fixers

Walking around the town of Hanoi, you notice that some locals start pointing at the shoes of foreigners. While some easily dismiss the locals, others lift their feet trying to figure out what is wrong with their shoes. Upon lifting their feet, a local takes your shoe off your foot and starts gluing it and fixing it’s sole with one of his ready to go soles out of his handy bag. Unable to put your foot down on the filthy ground, you just stand there, unable to grab the shoe back. Next thing you know, you OWE the local shoe fixer a few dollars for your new sole.

What do you do?

Tourist trap 3: Give me $1

As you’re finishing your meal at an outdoor restaurant in Cambodia, local children come up to you asking for “one dollar.” They look dirty and travel in groups, so avoiding them while still seated seems impossible. Then some of them start picking left overs off your plate, you truly start to contemplate whether or not they are truly hungry.

What do you do?

Upon asking the restaurant owner if the children are seriously hungry, she replies: “No, it’s just a job for some of them and their families to earn some extra money.”

What do you do?

Tourist trap 4: Bait and po-po

Walking around the city of Hue, Vietnam, you find yourself approached or frequently asked the same combination of peculiar words: “Mary? Smoke? Marijuana? Pot?

What do you do?

“No, thank you!” you reply and later find out that its a ploy for some locals to call the police on the tourist they sell drugs to and to get paid TWICE.

What do you do?

Tourist trap 5: Pricing mix-up

Walking around the streets of Siem Reap, you come across a price list, which you find hard to believe. It is the cheapest place in town, with 30 minute leg massages costing only $1. There are massage lounge chairs set up and a few foreigners are being massaged, so you walk in. A lady hands you a menu of massages, which you notice is different from the original sign. The price for a 30 minute leg massage is $3 dollars and includes a shoulder massage as well. A 200% markup!

What do you do?


Bonus: While traveling, don’t be completely aloof and forget to get your change back, because that, apparently, is also another tourist  trap!

Bonus 2: When getting into a taxi, don’t forget to make sure that the meter is turned on, otherwise good luck getting ripped off!


Traveling around SE Asia, paying extra here and there may not amount to much, but that is not the point. To some, experiencing or hearing tourist traps is scary and upsetting. Some bloggers that I’ve come across just start hating the people and the entire country, because they claim to always feeling like a cash cow to the locals there. Now, hate is a strong word and I imagine similar situations occur all over the world. While some people are opportunistic (or entrepreneurial, if you will), others feel like they end up on the wrong end of the stick. Certainly, I didn’t like being yelled at by a hotel owner in Hanoi, but maybe he was just having a bad day/week.

Personally, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. While encountering some people once, maybe that’s the only impression you’re going to get. Is that a way to generalize and assume the worst about the rest of the country? Definitely not!

In summary, stay educated, informed about a place you’re traveling to and be alert! 

If you’re traveling in Cambodia and Vietnam, you’ll now be on the lookout and hopefully avoid these five tourist traps.

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5 Tourist Traps to avoid by


  1. Nice tips! When I disembarked from an expensive looking ride outside a posh hotel in Ho Chi Minh, there were about five strides between the ride and the hotel door, and within that time, I local fella walking toward me attempted to start cleaning my footwear. I had just returned from a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels so I happened to be wearing hiking shoes. I was very surprised as the fella caught me completely off guard. I gave a firm, “no,” and continued to walk into the hotel lobby. Actually, I’ve experienced quite a few of the scenarios you mention above, with the exception of a hotel owner shouting at me… Sounds like your trip was anything but boring!

    • Tasha, I feel like you hit the nail on the head when you recommend saying a firm “No”. I found that doing that and walking away or not even creating eye contact is key.

  2. Woah! Good to know about that shoe sole scam. In a way you have to give them some credit for being so imaginative about it, but at the same time, how incredibly frustrating. Lol…I’d probably be one to just put my foot down and grab my shoe. I can wash it later, and it would make me so mad to have to pay for something like that. The massage on the other hand…I might still go for. Despite the 200% mark-up, it’s still insanely cheap!! 😀

  3. So what do you do in these situations? I had heard about some of them…but in others you’ve left me on the edge of my seat! What does a girl do? Is that your next post? 😉

    • That’s a tough question Kate. I think it depends on each person individually and on the circumstances. Once we were taken by a taxi driver for what should have been a $5 ride, but we paid $15 after a long, tiring flight when all you want to do is crash in your hotel. That may have been our only fluke. Otherwise, we’ve been good at keeping our wits about us. It also helps traveling with a like-minded individual. Although I’m definitely more stern when it comes to overly friendly locals, while my hubby ‘s judgement seems to be clouded with their niceness. I’m like “Great to meet you, we should go” “Are you ready? Remember we have that thing we have to do over there….haha” It’s not always fun to play that role, but someone has to do it, or we’d be stuck singing random karaoke songs in the middle of the afternoon at a local’s house somewhere in the Philippines (true story)

  4. Tourist scams are so annoying and frustrating, I always feel so awful when I see children begging but I know you should never give them money as like you said, for many it’s just an extra job and they aren’t hungry or homeless! Great list of scams for people to watch out for!!

  5. The shoe thing, haha. I’ve never seen that one. I have seen the one and had this happen to me.. where a girl comes up gesturing about bracelets and somehow manages to tie string onto my wrist and begin braiding and then tell me I owe her money for the bracelet she is now making me… didn’t ask for it. Don’t even know how a knotted bracelet ended up around my wrist in the first place. She was a winner.

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