Avoid random camels

While flipping through Budget Travel this morning, I came across a wonderful rundown of the latest tourist rip-offs.

I was reminded to watch out for semi-trained monkeys that go after your valuables—and wild ones that may “borrow” your camera for a self-portrait.

Photos: David J Slater/Caters, via Telegraph.com

I was also reminded that some scams are fairly benign, like the time Esteban and I got accosted by a beautiful Senegalese man in Milan. (“Where you from?” he asked in richly accented English. “Married? Any beebees?”)

By the time we’d divulged our marital/childless status, we were wearing  two lovely matching bracelets. “Only €2 each,” said our new friend. Rather than make a scene we paid up. In the end, those bracelets became a humorous souvenir—and the basis of a wonderful inside joke.

But other scams are a bit more sinister, like the classic “distract and rob senseless” ploy. The version I witnessed in Paris involved a man on a Métro train approaching a tourist to ask for directions. While the tourist struggled to understand his assailant, an accomplice sized up the foreigner’s backpack. I don’t think the thieves actually got anything in the end, though.

I’ve also been surrounded by mobs of teens who claim to be deaf and who only wish that I sign their petition (while they pat down my pockets). I’ve been asked if a “found” gold ring is mine, and I’ve been told by a Mexican cabbie that I owe him three times the amount shown on the meter. (“¿Cree que soy estúpida? ¿Me ve cara de turista?” I asked the cabbie in my native Spanish. End of story.)

For every tourist there are a thousand scams. After all, tourists are vulnerable: We’re often jet-lagged, lost, and less-than-conversant in the local language. Sometimes we’re also too kind (or gullible) for our own good.

But—thanks to Budget Travel—I at least know how to avoid getting scammed in Cairo.

The pyramids around Cairo are one of the world’s best photo ops, and some tourists up the ante by posing on the back of a camel. … Once you’ve paid your $15 and mounted the beast, though, some touts will insist that you pay again to disembark and hold you hostage on the hump until you do.

Solution: “Never just get on a random guy’s camel,” says Kara Lucchesi of STA Travel. Stick to rides arranged via an established tour company.

“Never get on a random guy’s camel.” Good advice, no matter where you are. Happy travels, my friends!


  1. Yes, don’t mount anything strange has always been my motto 😉 Sure I’ve missed out on the occasional good time but I think this rule has served me well in the end.

    In Paris so far I’ve had the ring trick happen to me; fortunately I was aware of the scam so I kept walking. Some friends who visited a few years ago didn’t fare so well and bought the hunk of junk out of politeness. As far as the deaf kids, I’ve come across this a little bit and believed them to be legitimately deaf–now I’m not so sure!

    I had one very close encounter in the Paris métro a year ago: I had injured my knee and was limping up a flight of stairs. My mom & sister were visiting at the time so I was chatting to them a mile a minute and well-distracted. This guy from out of nowhere slipped into the tight space between me and my mom behind me, and by the time I heard her yell at the guy he’d unzipped the front pocket of my messenger bag and half of my notebook was sticking out. Although I intentionally never keep anything too valuable in that outer pocket, it was a good wake-up call and reminder that they always go for the injured gazelles…

    Finally I love how you put the cabbie in his place with your perfect Spanish. What better way to show someone you’re not messing around. Sometimes in New York I’d come across a vendor in a touristy area treating me like a clueless visitor and it always bugged me. Damn this aloof boyish demeanor of mine!

    • What a funny coincidence, Corey — I was also targeted in Paris a couple of years ago because I was limping. (In my case, I sprained my knee by slipping on dog poop while wearing high-heeled boots. Un accident très parisien, n’est-ce pas ?) Fortunately my husband saw the hungry hyena coming and was able to issue a distress call. Glad to you hear that you survived unscathed, too.

      As for the deaf kids: I’m sure some of them are legit. But the band that swarmed me at Montmartre was definitely up to no good, as I received a patdown so thorough that it would have granted me immediate boarding on any airplane. I felt a little stupid holding my bag high above my head as I muscled my way past them, but better to feel stupid than to be sorry.

      Actually, your comment about the deaf kids got me thinking about the dilemma I face every time I’m asked for money. I never, ever want to turn away someone who is genuinely in need. But I also don’t want to throw my coins away on scammers. Trying to find that balance between being kind and being smart is, for me, one of the many, many joys of travel. What’s your approach?

      PS: I often damn my girlish demeanor, too. But I’m sure one day I’ll be grateful.

      • At the risk of sounding mean I’ve become a bit jaded about people asking me for money, thanks to ten years living in NYC. There you can get hit up for loose change 7 or 8 times just on your way to work. I’ll never forget one early morning in Manhattan I was alone on a street and passed a guy holding out a cup. At the time I was an extremely broke musician, living hand-to-mouth, but I decided to make an effort and give him a quarter. As I walked away he screamed back “Are you kidding me man? You aint got a dollar to give?” I was so amazed at the ungratefulness I moved back towards him offering to take the quarter back if he didn’t want it. “Yeah, just come over here and try it,” he threatened. Experiences like that make a person wonder if it’s even worth it.

        That’s actually something I appreciate about Paris compared to the Big Apple: in general fewer strangers ask you for stuff and there’s less of a sense of entitlement. But I agree it’s hard to decide who really needs help and who’s just taking advantage.

        • I don’t think you sound mean at all! I can see how you’d be tired of panhandlers after 10 years in NYC, especially when they harassed you even after you extended generosity. Each of us has to come up with our own approach based on our history, values, relative affluence at the moment, mood, yadda yadda. I will say ONE thing, though: Whenever I pass a really good street musician, I always tip ’em generously. And sometimes the mediocre ones, too. 🙂

  2. They warned us about the Random Camel Scam when I went to Cairo with school, as well as “Don’t go behind the pyramids with a mysterious ‘tour guide'”.

    The scam that caught both myself and a colleague when we were in Cairo was the “Ah-you’re-lost-follow-me-I-know-the-way” trick. I can only blame our stupidity on tiredness, and fortunately we only ended up in a shop, but it’s worth noting. Sometimes travel makes you leave your common sense somewhere back at the airport…

    • You are so right that sometimes travel makes us take leave of our common sense. I have also found myself trusting a stranger enough to follow him/her — but I’ll keep your other tip in mind if anyone ever tries to get me to go behind a pyramid. Grin.

  3. I wonder how the camel guy would react to someone who just said ‘fine, I like it up here! I could stay all day’ and proceeded to sit there, stopping other people getting on… 😀

  4. Brilliant article! We’ve been gathering information about scams all over the world for many months now (www.scaminfo.org) and you guys have managed to list quarter of them in one article & 10 comments in one go :)) Brilliant and well done. Would that be ok if we use some of your experiences on our website for the benefit of other tourists please?


    • Thanks very much for your kind comment. I’m absolutely fine with your sharing my personal stories if you think they’ll be of help to your readers. (In fact, I’ll gladly share some more, if you wish.) But if you use any of the content from Budget Travel, please give them the credit they’re due.

      Thanks again for your kind words!

  5. “To give, or not to give. That is the question.” Actually, it isn’t; but I’m sure the Bard won’t mind me paraphrasing. After my trip to Barcelona last year I wrote about this same dilemma and came to the conclusion that, in my own case at least, the scammers are only ripping off the needy because I refuse to give to anyone who simply asks; and I refuse to buy things I don’t want just because I’m expected to feel sorry for the seller. On the other hand, I too give to street musicians whose music entertains me, even if they don’t ask. It’s a tough world. But the scammers only make it tougher.

    • To give, or not to give … Actually, I’ve been pondering that question a lot, after digesting the comments on this post. I’m thinking I may have to do a follow-up. BTW: I’m glad you’re a street-musician-tipper as well. At least they’re *working* for their tips, right?

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