travel: don’t let them scam you!

In big cities that attract a lot of tourists, it’s hard to steer clear from the tricks that locals try to use to take advantage of you. Having spoken to a couple of locals in Venice and Rome, it was clear to see a lot of differences between “the real deal” and tourist scams.

I don’t want to go into full detail, nor state any “facts” that I can’t support. Therefore, I will tell you a little about my experience and what I learned from my own mistakes while travelling these two large Italian cities. I haven’t been there yet, but I’m sure Paris and London are quite similar.

As much as you can, avoid restaurants and cafes situated directly beside tourist attractions. Coming out of the Vatican, we were starving, and ran into the first restaurant we saw. The first “oh, no” was the host standing outside begging us to come in. This is a huge warning sign for any Italian restaurant: TOURIST SCAM! Due to our hunger, we gave in. To try and save some money at this trap, we ordered a pizza to share between the two of us, no drinks, and got a very rude look from the server. No. Shame.

I can’t speak for other cities, but one way to avoid the 2Euro waterbottles every couple hours in Venice and Rome, is to buy one in the morning nearby your hotel/apartment/hostel at a supermarket. In the less touristic areas, they can cost between 50 cents and 1 euro. You can then keep the bottle for the rest of the day, and refill it in fountains located all around the cities. This fountain water is clean, safe, and ready to drink!

Something common in these cities is “free gifts” from not-so-Italian-looking locals. Something like a rose, or crumbs to feed pigeons at San Marco Square. They claim they are giving you a gift, but as soon as you give in to taking it, they begin begging for a tip. These guys will pounce on you like tigers, and you have to maintain a strong personality to make it clear you’re not interested in their “gifts”.

Amongst these not-so-Italian-looking locals giving away free gifts, there are also plenty of shops or stands with the same type of owners. Something like this is common in Venice, to try and seduce you into buying “50% off” Murano glass products and Venetian masks, which are in fact not made anywhere near Italy (more like in China). If you want one of these souvenirs, be prepared to pay the extra buck, and double check for authenticity.

And of course, my favourite, tour guides. These guys are beyond ridiculous. You take one step near the Vatican, and they are pouncing at you, screaming “you speak Russian, right?! Here, I can get you to skip the line!” and trying to stop you from taking a step closer to where you’re trying to go. Again, another scam. They overcharge for their tours, there’s no promised VIP line-skipping, and you end up in a herd of 40+ people listening to a boring guide through headphones. The best thing to do is to book a free tour. Your line-skipping can be provided by buying your tickets in advance.

This one, I am ashamed to say we fell for it. The city sight-seeing bus. We didn’t do our research in advance, and when we got to Rome we assumed our only way to get to Vatican City without taking a taxi, was by jumping on the big red bus full of tourists. We bought a 2-day pass with the intention to use it get around all the big attractions in Rome. And here was the funny part: 5 of the 7 stops were all in walking distance from each other, and the rest were easily accessible by subway. Do your research! Look at the subway/tram/bus system around the city, and take advantage of it. We ended up ditching the red bus, and using the subway for the rest of our visit.

Hopefully these little tales and observations will help you in your travels around big tourist cities. Unfortunately it’s not just in Europe that this happens, but it occurs in cities such as New York and Los Angeles as well. If you have any other tips, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments!

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