Solo Travel Danger Part III – Recognizing Danger

Avoiding scams.

Parisian taxi drivers are known for overcharging. Watch the meter and ask questions if the price doesn't sound right.

This is the third post in the three part series on solo travel stranger danger. Part I emphasized the kindness of strangers. Part II told a cautionary tale of an experience I had in Paris that was very dangerous. Today, we delve into strategies for recognizing potential danger so that it can be avoided.

Next week I start a series on solo travel safety.

Let me start by continuing on last week’s story, Caught in a Con Game.

After I phoned my friend’s friend in a panic and lost all my money, I hopped into a cab and made my way to her place – she said she would pay the fare. On route, the cab driver started  flirting. In my limited French I explained that, no, I didn’t want to spend the next day with him. And I explained why. Oh, he wanted to show me that the men in Paris could be wonderful. I still refused. Then, when we reached my destination, he tried to charge me double what was on the meter. My friend came out to pay for me and tore a strip off him for trying to rip me off.

We really have to be careful. So, how can one recognize dangerous situations so that they can be avoided? Here are some ideas.

Take note of how you feel.

  • Follow your gut. When your Spidey senses tingle, pay attention. Malcolm Gladwell studied the potential of an intuitive response in his book BLINK: the power of thinking without thinking. Here is a very good summary. It’s from a review by Barbara MacKoff on

The key is to rely on our “adaptive unconscious”–a 24/7 mental valet–that provides us with instant and sophisticated information to warn of danger, read a stranger, or react to a new idea. Gladwell includes caveats about leaping to conclusions: marketers can manipulate our first impressions, high arousal moments make us “mind blind,” focusing on the wrong cue leaves us vulnerable to “the Warren Harding Effect” (i.e., voting for a handsome but hapless president).

  • Don’t be rushed into making a decision – whether its a purchase, transportation, accommodation…. If you feel rushed you won’t be thinking clearly. Rushing causes confusion and poor decision-making. Unsavory characters know this and use it to their advantage.

Read the obvious red flags
Being aware of your surroundings and how people are acting is critical to your safety.

  • Recognize the signs of a bad area: poor quality buildings, poor lighting, closed stores, few people, no families wandering around just people of one gender or generation.
  • Recognize the signs of an unsavory person: contradictions in their story, difficulty maintaining eye contact, making inappropriate demands
  • Services that don’t look legitimate: as person on the street offering a great exchange rate for money, unofficial accommodation offers, gypsy taxis.

Know the common scams before your travel.
Watch out for people:

  • Posing as police, showing fake ID and asking to see your wallet for counterfeit currency. Scam.
  • Giving you something apparently free such as a bottle of water or a flower and then demanding payment. They can be very difficult to say no to but you have to. They’ll demand payment as soon as the item is in your hands.
  • Taking your picture for you and then demanding a fee.
  • Spilling ice cream on you or causing some other distraction so that their partner can pickpocket you.

Next week I’ll start a series on Solo Travel Safety starting with common sense then self defense. Watch for it the next two Wednesdays.


  • Robin

    I swear in Egypt I met each one of those scam artists you listed. I have traveled all over the world and have never been approached by scammers as much as in Egypt.

    I had a lot of trouble with the cab drivers trying to scam you or talk you into alternate destinations such as their brother in laws camel riding business or perfume factory.
    One of my favorite scam type stories is with my son. We were at the pyramids; my son had wanted a few small souvenir pyramids to take home. I had the money in my hand to pay for them, the man then pushed a bunch of his things in my arms and grabbed the money away. I was shocked actually; my son then yelled at him “you are a bad Muslim”. The man stopped eyes wide and said no “you are a bad man” this went back and forth a few times finally the gentleman in a huff grabbed his souvenirs out of my arms and threw the money on the ground.
    One that was prevalent was the person tried to say they had family or were from Canada trying to build a connection then lead you to a shop or area you really did not want to go. We caught on after the first time this happened as we followed an Egyptian “Montrealer” shoe maker all over the markets. From then on we would pick random countries such as Lagos Africa, and amazingly enough they too had family or were from there.
    After recognizing the scams and scammers we ended up having fun with them smile make a joke and wander away from them. I do recognize that the scammers mostly are just trying to survive and feed a family in usually a third world country with no social safety net. What else you can do, you can’t let these people ruin your travels. .

  • pam

    I think about dogs. Dogs growl when they see something off, they don’t hesitate. They’re not always right but they have a better conduit to their instincts than we humans do.

    Crappy neighborhoods aren’t always a bad sign — it really depends on where you are on the planet. But a lack of humans around in an urban area? Yes. And being able to see? Yes to that, too.

    I dragged my husband back to the hotel once in Cambodia… the streets were just too damn dark for us to be out walking around. I might have been wrong, but I’m okay with that.

  • Mary

    I am embarrassed to say that I fell for the picture taking scam while touring a museum in Havana with my daughter…maybe because I sometimes extend the same offer to travelling couples when they are snaping pictures of each other.
    Although she was well dressed maybe the tip-off should be a local touring a museum?? Even 53 year olds can be naive.

  • JJ (RVing Toadless)

    When I lived in Atlanta, window washing was a scam. You stop at a red light, someone washes your windows and demands a fee.