The fear, worries and annoyances of dealing with touts, scams and beggars can feel like a deterrent of travel, especially for women traveling alone. I’ll share ways I deal with these unpleasant encounters.
How to deal with Touts, Scams, Beggars
I encounter touts, scams and beggars regularly in my travels, and it is always uncomfortable to deal with alone. But it has taught me to define my safety parameters, toughen up, not automatically trust everything a stranger tells me and take responsibility for my actions and its potential consequences.
Touts often come in the form of aggressive salespeople, whether it’s a street or souvenir vendor, a taxi or tuk-tuk driver, tour agents, etc.. Often they want you to buy their product or service and their techniques is to pester you unrelentingly until you buy something. Everyone has to make a living, but it can wear your patience and smile down. Standout countries for me are Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Morocco, Indonesia, Italy, etc… but touts are common to practically, every country across the globe.
How I deal with touts as a female solo traveler
I always give a firm, resolute, confident and low-sounding “No.” Sometimes, I look them in the eye; at other times, I avoid eye contact. Eye contact can be misconstrued as inviting and engaging them into to a more aggressive courtship process.
Many of us, especially women, have been trained to be polite when dismissing something. Sometimes, we give white lies to soften the blow, like “No, maybe tomorrow“…
Never give a ’Maybe’ . ’Maybe’ responses are like a potential “Yes“. It can invite more aggressive behavior so they can convince you to change your mind. In some countries, street vendors may take your word as your promise and will return tomorrow to cash in on your promise. I’ve seen this happen in Vietnam, where Hmong locals in Sapa will wait outside hotels for tourists. Be careful of what you say.
If they persist– I run. It’s ridiculously effective as an endgame.
The more you travel, you are bound to cross paths with tourist scams. A female solo traveler cannot let her guard down in this regard of safety.
How I avoid tourist scams as a female solo traveler:
The best and most effective way to prevent scams is to know what scams exist in the country before traveling.
Always research possible scams in advance. If you know about they, you will recognize it’s face when you meet it. Travel bloggers, travel sites, guidebooks have already written about them or do a Google search about scams in the country you’re traveling to. Ask your hotel as they’re likely to deal with tourist issues.
Trust your intuition. The greatest thing travel has taught me is to trust my intuition. If you have a gut feeling that something is not right about a situation (or what a stranger tells you), trust that feeling.
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Learn from getting scammed. Sometimes, you might learn about them through the actual experience of getting scammed, like I did in Delhi, when my friends and I learned some tuk-tuk drivers take you to counterfeit tourism offices. Or when I almost got caught in a ping-pong show in Bangkok. The list goes on… Even travel bloggers get scammed, due to the fact we travel often and the more you travel, the greater your opportunities to encountering them.
There are many opinions on how to cope with beggars. Each situation can feel different and it’s entirely up to you as to what you feel comfortable with.
Poverty is a global concern and beggars are common, especially in large cities. There are many types of organization from government to non-profit, who are fighting to teach sustainable living to impoverished communities, get the homeless off streets, bring education to children, fight child trafficking, teach reform, etc… Are you aiding a crutch, getting suckered out of your money or helping a person walk proudly on their own merit?
How I cope with beggars as a female solo traveler:
I do not give monetary handouts (and seldom do), because… it could be a scam (where the beggar is working for a boss), the beggar can might use it to buy drugs or alcohol, it strengthens the belief that all travelers are rich (and encourages tourist harassment), It makes begging feel like a lucrative career, keeping a beggar (sometimes, a child) from going to school, getting a job, going into a homeless shelter or finding strength/help to improve their life through solid, self-sustainable means.
Note for female solo travelers: For practical reasons, giving handouts calls attention to me as a lone woman with a generous heart. This could make me a potential target for a scam, mugging or worse, if the beggar is working with others.
I spoke with a social worker once and she said the best thing you can do is look at them in the eye when you say NO. Beggars are an invisible part of society– often they’re seen as ghosts in society. Often, society doesn’t want to acknowledge poverty or deal with it. Thus, recognition can be a powerful exchange, reinforcing them on some level with the feeling that they are equals with us in independence, humanity and self-sustaining potential.
Watch the video version
How to Deal with Touts 01:01
How to Avoid Tourist Scams 02:19
How to Deal with Beggars & Responsible Tourism 05:28
Practicing Responsible Tourism in travel
The more I travel and experience different situations and economic backgrounds, the more I strive to practice responsible tourism. Responsible tourism is taking your travel decision making to the next level. Rather than thinking about how your choices affect your trip, you strive to make responsible decisions, based on how your actions will create an either, positive or negative impact upon the culture.
Here’s some cases to think about:
I’ve learned not to give …
… food, unless it is wrapped and directly from the store, because they could get sick from the food and if it’s in the U.S., they have a right to sue you.
… candy, to begging children because sweets can lead to cavities. Also, when you give candy to one, sometimes it attracts many. ( I always carry candy or cookies with me, so I’ve occasionally shared it with children)
… milk to begging mothers with babies. A common scam is they will return the milk at the pharmacy they took you to.
— Hire a child as a guide and you can keep them from going to school, because it’s lucrative work. Also, in some societies, if they are caught they can go to jail and would you want to be responsible for that?
In dealing with beggars, sometimes, the best love you can offer is hard love vs a temporary bandaid. But it can feel like grey area. My heart often softens for crippled, mentally disabled and seniors, who don’t have a means to support themselves.
But If you sincerely want to make a difference, join a volunteer program or donate to a government or organization which deals with the type of aid you wish to give.
Will your actions enforce or encourage a problem in that society?
What are ways you deal with touts, scams, beggars? Share your experience below.
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