Tourist Traps – Tourist Scams

Although the connotation for the words “tourist traps” is often times less than appealing, many of these places are actually interesting on a less than mainstream kind of way. There are people in this world that would rather enjoy quaint, off-road, eccentric places than the most popular tourist spots. Tourist traps, as a rule, are roadside or tourist attractions that have acquired bad reputations. And this reputation has been steadily drilled into public consciousness by unscrupulous individuals who are after a quick buck. Their main victims are unsuspecting out-of-town visitors or overseas tourists who would not dare raise issues for fear of upsetting the locals’ sensibilities. These days, tourist traps have become synonymous with cheesy out-of-the-way places that offer nothing more than cheaply made trinkets with exorbitant price tags. More often than not, these places are surrounded by small stores offering food, beverage and even a sampler of the local brew. Interestingly, these small stores make a substantial income from tourists who just want to get away from the madness of the place. And yes, all these places have rest rooms – the one consistent element that makes them attractive to passer-bys. Unfortunately, some of them ask for a certain fee for performing normal bodily functions.

Tourist traps originally started as innocuous roadside attractions. There was a time when long distance traveling on solid ground became all the rage among erstwhile travelers – think for one moment of pre-commercial airlines flight period. These places were (and still is) frequently advertised all throughout main thoroughfares. Huge billboards and even haphazardly staked signs were created to catch the attention of tourists without planned itineraries.

These “places of interest” were considered as brief interludes to a traveler’s journey – except that some of these places had very little to offer, or in some extreme cases, were outright shams. These places usually charged for entrance fees, but their main bulk of income was from selling merchandise promoting the place. Postcards, cheap shirts and even cheaper caps were the norm. However, there had been other unique pieces like rocks harvested from the area, beaded jewelry made by the locals and other unique curiosities that you would most likely see in another part of the country (at a fraction of the price.)

These days, tourist traps remain virtually the same. Some of them evolved from previously respectable tourist attractions which became so outdated people wonder why they still exist. Others are places specifically created to attract more visitors to a certain location; great examples of these are establishments with novelty architecture (buildings with unusual shapes like a giant tea cup house or a large doughnut-shaped bakery); and small town places with one unique product (like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.) Others yet, are legitimate tourist attractions that are overrun by commercialism and unchecked tourist population.

Not all tourist traps are gateways to a prolonged hell, though. There are enough activities in some of these places; enough so that some of then are dubbed unofficially as “family attraction stops.” There may be services that offer arcade games, carnival rides, pony rides, thematic restaurants, and even wax museums. However, if you would rather not work the trails of the tourist traps, here are some suggestions as to how you can differentiate legit tourist attractions and tourist traps – and eventually, avoid them altogether.

There is a fine line as to what tourist attractions and what tourist traps are. Most legitimate attractions simply succumb to the call of commercialism; or rather, the entrepreneur minded individuals around the area take advantage of the glut of tourists, and inadvertently creating a tourist trap.

One great indication of a tourist trap is the price. If everything seems to be swimming in inflation, from the entrance tickets, to the merchandise and even the food offered in the place (anything at all that can be rightfully constituted to highway robbery,) then this is probably one heck of a tourist trap. If a specific location is just too much for your wallet, then it would be better to try your luck somewhere else. This is probably one of the best reasons as to why one should not subscribe to the offered packaged tours. Inadvertently, one of them will include a tourist trap; and since it’s a packaged tour, you really can not bail out of it.
Another indication can be measured by ratio. If there is a balance between the ratio of interesting things to see / do / experience versus the merchandise being sold in the place, then you are probably in a legit tourist attraction. Naturally, there will always be merchandise sold in these places, but its main focal point is the structure or architecture it represents. Tourist traps, on the other hand, have very little to represent, and they thrive on selling merchandise. It therefore goes without saying that in order to keep the economy afloat around tourist traps, entrepreneurs have to sell merchandise and price them expensively too.

Nevertheless, this ratio is not universal. There are some tourist attractions that are simply overrun with merchandise and hawkers. Take for example the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a truly magnificent place to visit; but with the number of people coming and going, the place can sometimes be choked with so many small-time hawkers that you can hardly experience what its like to be on the bridge.
There is really no way to counter tourist traps, other not paying for the fees and not buying any of their proffered goods. Most likely, if you find yourself in one, you should just go with the flow. Making an issue about it will only ruin your vacation. The very least consolation you have is that you now know what places to skip.


  • Portraits – A popular belief of many is that a trip to particular cities is not complete without getting your portrait done on the streets of the city of lights. If you are one of them, make sure that you check the artists’ work first. Not all of them are good. Take the time to observe some of them while they sketch. And then, before you sit on that stool and pose, agree on a price.
  • Beautiful View – More often than not, restaurants strategically located right in the middle of where everyone else goes to sightsee are ridiculously expensive. The further you go away from this kind of spots, the cheaper the food will be. Whether the price is justified by the beautiful sight, that is up to you to decide. If your answer was an absolute yes, make sure that you check the price for food AND drinks. Prices for drinks are mostly jacked up way higher.
  • Taxi Rides – Consult your map before you hail that taxi. Check out the street names and routes. Pretend that you know where you are going. Before you get in, make sure that you make it clear that the taxi driver should use the meter otherwise, you are not going to get in. The best way to avoid being cheated? Take the train, bus, tram or walk.
  • Suspicious Hotels – Smiling locals may approach you with a promise to take you to a hotel run by their brothers, mothers, sisters or friends. This offer could be the real thing from a very helpful local but be aware you could even end up in the middle of nowhere, lost and robbed of all your belongings. Do your research before you leave and don’t take people at face value. You can let other people earn their angel wings when you are more sure of your surroundings.
  • Guided Tours – Check the hour-to-hour plan and the price. There are tons out there which are definitely NOT worth it. Many times you will get more out of it if you go on a self-guided tour with LonelyPlanet to help you out.

If you want to try a certain restaurant, museum or shop, walk around the area or stand nearby. Try to listen in on conversations of people who are just about to leave the establishment. Or, if they seem friendly, ask outright.

Visit only the places you really want to see. If you want to go to a place that is seemingly a tourist trap then you may do so, you might actually enjoy it.

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