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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Bobby, who fell victim to a common travel scam. Here’s what he had to say:
My wife and I took a last-minute trip to Barcelona around July Fourth. We initially planned to spend the whole trip there, but the night before we departed, we decided we wanted to rent a car and explore outside the city for a few days. When we picked up the rental, I noticed that the rear passenger tire was brand new while the others were normal, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.
On our second day with the car we were driving out of Barcelona and headed to a gas station when a guy on a moped pulled up next to us signaling that our tire was flat. No indicators had lit up on the dashboard yet, but I acknowledged the guy with a wave and we continued on to find the gas station.
Then a car pulled up next to us and told us the same. He turned down a street, expecting us to follow; when we didn’t, he circled back to us again. Coming from Hawaii, we think everyone is friendly, so we followed him the second time. I dropped my guard, and that was when the fun part began.
He indicated a spot for us to pull off the road so we could get out of the way and call for help. Then the moped guy came back again, and though I was wondering how he found us, he just walked up to ask if we needed directions. Meanwhile, his buddy from nowhere slashed our tire and grabbed two of our bags from the car while we were distracted.
We finally made it to the gas station to fill the tire, and that’s when we noticed air hissing out of the side rim. Suddenly the bulb lit up in my brain — I had been tricked just like in travel horror stories I’d read. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it at the time; I was so focused on paying attention to the road and getting to the gas station, I didn’t think more about what was happening.
They took about $100 in cash, a credit card, my wife’s license, power banks, clothes and towels, but luckily they didn’t get anything too important. Thankfully, we still had our cell phones and room key. Feeling disappointed in humanity, but determined not to let it ruin our last day there, we started cleaning up the mess. We canceled the credit card on the phone app immediately, and waited as roadside assistance came and plugged the two stab wounds in the tire. Then we went back to our room to grab the backup credit card, to the rental agency for a new car, and on our way.
The guy at the rental agency told us it happens frequently. We knew not to accept roses from strangers (as that happened to us in Paris), but this was another learning experience, and we were lucky it didn’t end up worse. You can read about these situations and prepare, but don’t ever think it can’t happen to you!
Unfortunately, scammers can be found just about everywhere, and they often target travelers. From fake vacation rentals to dishonest Uber drivers to bag snatchers like the ones Bobby encountered, it’s difficult to protect yourself completely. Nonetheless, there are simple measures you can take to make yourself less vulnerable.
One is to be prepared: Basics like reading up on your destination beforehand and storing valuables in a hidden pocket are good preliminary defenses. Similarly, steps like leaving a backup credit card at your hotel and keeping a copy of your passport or other important documents can help lessen the damage if you do fall victim to a scam. Perhaps most important is to be aware of your surroundings — it’s easy to lose yourself in the reverie and excitement of a vacation, but paying attention and heeding the voice in your head that says something isn’t right will help you avoid trouble altogether.
All that said, I think it’s also important not to be overly concerned or distrustful of others. I’ve had inspiring, joyful, memorable experiences across the world thanks to kind strangers who were willing to offer their time, advice or company. Don’t let the relatively few bad actors out there stop you from exploring the world and engaging with the incredible people in it!
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Bobby for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to email@example.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Feature image by MCS-Photography / Getty Images.
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