Travellers have always been prone to highway robbery. Thankfully, our assailants don't usually point a pistol at us. Most often they see us as fair game and catch us off-guard on unfamiliar territory.
I was nearly caught out recently by a charming Madrid taxi driver who chatted to me during the ride from the airport. I happened to know that there is a €30 ($A48) flat fare which is not subject to a €5.50 supplement that applies to some other fares from the airport, but which is listed on the standard price sheet in a rather confusing way.
When I handed over the €30, he put on a big smile and demanded the supplement too, pointing to the sheet. I gave him short shrift and he drove off without a murmur. No one wants to travel in a constant state of paranoia and mistrust, but it is worth being alert – so here are some pointers.
1. Be alert on arrival
You're most vulnerable when you arrive – tired from a flight, adjusting to a new environment, anxious about finding your way, unsure about what things cost. The challenge is to keep a sense of perspective. Even just consciously double-checking with your travelling partner ("Does that sound like a reasonable price?") may help.
2. The tiger's smile
As tourists, we can't avoid the reality that many people see us as a potential source of revenue. Touts are easily spotted, but remember that even guides and tour escorts – although they are there to look after you and often feel as though they are becoming your friend – may not always have your best financial interests at heart. Ever been on a tour that includes a visit to a carpet factory or souvenir shops? They say they are recommending the best places, but they are undoubtedly picking those that pay them the biggest kickback.
3. Resist time pressure
The classic example of being pressured to sign something that may end up costing you is the car hire contract shoved in front of you, with a couple of scribbled "X"s where you are asked to sign. Forget the queue and take time to check what you are putting your name to.
4. Do the maths
If you can't easily convert a currency in your head, there are lots of conversion apps. In countries with high exchange rates to the pound, watch out especially for extra noughts surreptitiously added to bills, including on card terminals.
5. Do advance research
Ironically, you are probably most likely to overpay in countries where services are relatively cheap. A quoted price may seem good, but in local terms it is a rip-off. Doing some research on what things should cost will minimise the risk, especially in classic areas such as taxi fares – is it a legal requirement to use a meter? Is there more than one setting on the meter? If you can't find reliable guidance online, a hotel concierge is normally a good source of advice.
6. Drive a hard bargain
That taxi driver knows that you will be lost without him. But in a shop, the owner knows that if they don't make a sale, it's likely you won't come back, so be firm when haggling.
The Telegraph, London
See also: 14 classic scams travellers fall for
Podcast: Classic travel scams
To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.