Once travel restrictions forced upon by COVID-19 are eased and borders open, you may be tempted to get on the first plane out to tourist destinations.
But be warned. Aside from offering breathtaking views and adventures, travels abroad are made more memorable by the warmth of the locals you meet along the way.
However, as can happen everywhere, not all those strangers are as friendly as they seem to be. Some make their living victimizing tourists.
Take a cue from Christopher Dotimas, a 32-year-old Pinoy jetsetter who has visited 47 countries since he started solo traveling in 2013.
While he has many happy memories from those trips, Christopher also had his fair share of unfortunate incidents.
As a warning to travelers, the Pasig-based globetrotter has drawn up a list of tourist scams, which he uploaded on the DIY Travel Philippines Facebook group on June 5, 2020.
Watch out for these:
1. TUK-TUK FREE RIDE
For some tourists, a trip to Thailand is incomplete without riding its famous tuk-tuk—a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi that can also be likened to the tricycles here in the Philippines.
It may be an authentic travel experience, but Christopher cautions against drivers offering tourists a free city tour.
He got himself in a bad situation in Bangkok in January 2014.
(Picture shown is for illustration purpose only)
He recounts, "Ito iyong mga tuk-tuk na free city tour daw sila.
"Basta dadalhin ka niya sa mga accredited na souvenir shops 'tapos kahit hindi ka bumili, bawat limang tao na madadala nila doon, makakakuha sila ng three liters ng petrol.
"Siyempre, bilang Pinoy, ang hirap tumanggi lalo na nakikita mo lahat nagsisibilihan.
"So, bumili naman ako pero iyong cheapest lang."
Even worse, Christopher says the driver simply dropped him off in a spot unfamiliar to him.
"After niya ako dalhin doon sa shop, hinatid niya ako sa isang temple.
"Pero pagbaba ko, nawala na siya."
2. "DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?"
The Eiffel Tower is a must-see tourist spot in Paris, France. But be wary.
You can get lost in the beauty of it against the breathtaking Paris skyline, and absentmindedly respond to a stranger asking you, "Do you speak English?"
Although Christopher was aware and kept himself on guard during his trip in Paris in April 2016, it still happened to him.
He says, "Ito iyong mga tao na pakalat-kalat sa Eiffel tower. Lalapitan ka, 'tapos tatanungin if you speak English.
"Nawarningan na ako nito ng kaibigan kong madalas mag-layover dito...
"Nag-headset lang ako the whole time kahit walang music, basta wag mo lang pahalata na na-catch nila attention mo."
He says he managed to steer clear of these types until a woman forced him to donate money for what she called "deaf babies."
"Nakaiwas ako noong una, pero noong nagpicture-picture na ako sa Eiffel, wala headset ko... inabot sa akin ang form.
"Sabi niya, donation for deaf babies daw. Para matigil siya nagbigay ako ng two euros. Sabay sabi ng babae, 'Why only this?'
"Sabay pakita sa list ng donation ng iba na nasa above ten euros. Sabi ko, 'I'm Filipino, no money.'
"'Tapos nagbigay ako ng three euros na dagdag kasi pinapalibutan na ako ng grupo niya..."
The money that Christopher gave to the woman totaled five euros, "Aba, five euros, iyong time na iyon nasa PHP250."
3. TAGALOG-SPEAKING ROMAN THUGS
Scammers are wise in their ways. They will even go as far as learning your native language to get on friendly terms with you.
Christopher warns to be alert as he recalls his tour of the Colosseum in Rome in April 2016.
There, he met a man who spoke to him in Tagalog.
"Noong una, natawag niya attention ko kasi nagta-Tagalog siya.
"Siyempre, natuwa ako, nag-usap kami. Akala ko local [siya]. Siyempre, 'meet the locals' kasama sa travel goal natin.
"Sabay abot at hawak sa kamay ko. Sabi niya, 'As a sign of friendship...' gumawa siya bigla ng bracelets [sa braso ko], dalawa—isang maliit at isang malaki.
"Sabay sabi niya, 'This is seven.' Turo sa maliit. 'Tapos ten sa malaki.
"Akala ko mag magic-trick. Pinapapili ako between seven to ten. Ako naman, sabi ko, 'eight.'
"Iyon pala, seven euro and ten euro... Malelate na kasi ako noon sa bus papuntang airport.
"Sabi ko, 'Cut this off. I am not paying for something I didn't ask for.'"
Christopher thought he could escape the rabbit hole until a muscular man started harassing him, "Sabay lapit isa niyang kasama, malaki katawan.
"Sabi niya, 'You need to pay him, it's his job' in Italian accent.
"Medyo nasindak ako. Bigay ako ng five euros 'tapos sabi niya, 'Add more.'
"'Tapos nagbigay ako ng additional five euros kasi maiwanan na ako ng bus.
"Imagine, PHP500? Hayyyy."
Christopher remembers, "Kaya pala noong nag-iikot ako sa Colosseum, may mga bracelet na nakakalat sa sahig—mga nabiktima din pala nila."
He adds that the same fraudulent scheme also abounds in Milan.
4. FAKE MONEY CHANGERS, COPS
Christopher had heard about the fake money changers and cops in the Czech Republic even before he flew to the country in April 2016.
He tells PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) via Facebook Messenger he was constantly on guard when he roamed the capital city of Prague city.
He was prepared when a suspected fake money changer approached him.
Christopher relates, "A man asked me while I was walking to the castle if may euro daw ako,.
"If willing daw ba ako makipagpalit ng pera for a lower rate kasi hindi niya na daw need iyong koruna [Czech Republic's currency].
"Tumanggi ako kasi meron na akong koruna na allocated for the day...I was warned about it kaya I came prepared."
Christopher also remembers seeing fake cops in the area.
"Ito iyong mga magdedemand na makita ang euro mo kasi nagkakalat daw ang mga fake euros. E, hindi naman euro ang main currency nila doon...
"Nakita ko iyong mga fake police sa Klausen Synagogue area na nagtatanong sa mga tourist.
"Sabi niya, pulis daw siya at may kumakalat daw na fake euro. Noong narinig ko iyon, umiwas na ako."
Klausen Synagogue is a Jewish community of worship. Klausen means "small buidlings." A fire in 1689 destroyed the three original buildings, which were remodeled in 1880s.
5. FREE ROSES in athens
This is a scam that Christopher did not experience firsthand, but saw it happen to fellow tourists in Athens, Greece in April 2017.
He described it like this: "'Free Roses' Ito iyong mga babae hahabulin ka, bibigyan ka ng rose.
"'Tapos kapag kinuha mo, magpapabayad... Sasabihn nila donation daw so you can give as little as you want.
"Pero kukulitin ka nila by saying na the last person gave them ten euros."
MORE ADVICE ON HOW TO AVOID TOURIST SCAMS
Christopher emphasizes that his intention for highlighting these scams is not to prevent travelers from visiting these tourist sites, but merely to remind them to take extra precautions.
In his case, he always has "stupidity budget" for the swindlers to keep him from falling short of cash when he travels.
"Ever since, lagi ako nag-a-allocate ng budget. Tawag ko 'stupidity budget' para hindi ako ma-short if ever maranasan ko ulit maging shunga-shunga hahaha," he says in his post.
He details to PEP.ph how much he allocates for it, "Two to three percent of my daily allowance.
"If exceeding na, then I have to get it from my food allowance.
"In Europe, I always allocate 45 euros per day for food, transpo, souvenir and hostel.
"Natuto na din ako manlaban if ubos na stupidity budget ko."
But overall, Christopher says it's best to be on alert when walking around the tourist spots to avoid the scammers.
"My technique diyan, iwasan mong makuha nila attention mo. In my case, naghe-headset ako kahit walang music.
"Para kahit tawagin nila ako or kulitin, dahil hindi ka naman nila puwede hawakan, hindi ka nila mako-corner.
"Also, walk like locals—iyong mabibilis maglakad na parang may hinahabol na train schedule 'tapos iyong facial expression mo, dapat grumpy.
"Basta act like locals, huwag iyong parang kada kanto, napapa-'wow' ka.
"Halata kasi sa atin minsan iyong pagiging excited natin.
"Iyong smile mo reserve mo na lang for the picture.
"If nagsabi sayo na 'hello mah friend,' iwasan mo na most likely sila iyon hahaha.
"If it's too good to be true, kahit nakuha na niya attention mo, walk away."
Christopher also clarifies that the majority of his encounters with friendly strangers have been genuine.
"Huwag din masyadong tamang hinala. May mga totoong locals din naman na sincere.
"Mga French, Hungarian, Russians, Germans, and Belgians na nakilala ko sa streets. Very helpful sila."
CHRISTOPHER'S TRAVEL PLANS AFTER THE PANDEMIC
He says, "While I can't travel, I like sharing my experiences to people with the same experience or kahit doon sa mga hindi same ang experience. At least, they are learning."
But not even the pandemic can discourage Christopher from planning more travels.
He tells PEP.ph, "I always watch travel videos, blogs, and vlogs para law of attraction.
"My target is 80 traveled counties. I want US or Japan to be the 50th or 51st.
"Ngayong pandemic, if allowed na mag-travel, I will visit Philippines destinations muna.
"If allowed na international travel, I also would like to visit countries in the Balkan peninsula."