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Travel Safety Tips

Sadly scams used against gap year travellers exist all around the world. When embarking on gap year travel it is important to keep your belongings safe. Scams are a common way that thieves try to get hold of your valuable belongings. Below are some that have occurred regularly:


This is the most common scam. Thieves can work on their own, in pairs or in groups. Sometimes the thieves are just kids, so you shouldn't let your guard slip for children. It will usually involve one of them creating a distraction whilst the other robs you. There are many common forms of distraction, for example:

  • Someone accidentally bumping into you
  • Someone stopping you in the street to ask a question
  • Children or adults fighting in the street
  • Spilling something on to your clothes
  • Spitting on you

In these situations, hold your bag tight, ignore what is happening and keep walking. Carrying a secure, padlocked daypack on your front is one way to prevent thieves snatching your bag.

Bogus tourist and policeman scam

Some incidences of this have been reported, especially in Central and South America. What generally happens is a fake tourist tries to engage you in conversation in English. They are then approached by a fake policeman (normally not in a uniform) pretending that they are the Tourist Police. The fake tourist appears to abide by an order from the fake policeman and shows their cash, cards, papers and passport to them. They then translate for you to do the same. Some or all of your belongings are then taken from you. If you find yourself in this situation, don't simply agree to show them your belongings. There are a number of possible ways of dealing with this scenario:

  • You can roll your eyes and give him a look like you've seen this before and laugh it off as you walk away.
  • Flatly ignore them.
  • Or you could tell them that you will show them your belongings at the actual police station.

The chances are they will leave you alone and try it on with another tourist.

Tales of your chosen hostel/restaurant/tourist attraction being closed down or overbooked

This is a common one. Often a taxi driver will tell you that the hostel you are going to has closed down. Normally they will then suggest an alternative which just so happens to be accommodation owned by their brother or a place where they get commission. Don't believe everything you hear! Either phone the place to check, tell the driver you only made the reservation that morning, or tell them to take you there anyway. If they are telling the truth, then you can easily find somewhere else to stay.

Untrustworthy Tours

Only book tours through reputable travel agencies. Staff at your accommodation will be able to advise you of the best ones to use. There are some untrustworthy touts who work the streets and claim to have the best or the cheapest tours. Often they will demand money up front and give you a ticket in return. Surprise, surprise when you go to use your ticket, you find that it's invalid or that the company doesn't even exist. You may have to pay a little extra with a decent travel company, but at least you know it's legitimate.

Don't pick up a valuable item that looks like it's been dropped on the floor.

You may be accused of theft and then bribed to pay a penalty or be pick pocketed as you bend down.

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