How Not To Get Scammed in Prague or Anywhere Else
Okay. I’ve done my research. Before going to Prague, I am aware that like most cities, there will be people who will try to take advantage of tourists. Tourists = Us. I went through it in my head many times and discussed it with Jaysen. We had a game plan. It didn’t pan out, unfortunately :)
Prague was our second to the last stop in this whole trip. We took the earliest DB bus at 7-ish AM from Munich to Prague and we got there a around lunchtime. This bus doesn’t stop at a “proper” bus terminal like the Praha Florenc but rather it drops you off the street by the main train station. You will see this stop as Praha hl.n. (Autobusová St. Wilsonova). Anyway, we got dropped off the train station’s side entrance on street called Wilsonova St. The entrance is quite odd and a little detached from the main station. So there we were, disheveled and a little confused on how to jump start our Prague escapade. We were sleepy and hungry with no kronas on us. our first order of the day was to change our dollars to kronas so we can get moving. All caution and prepping went with the wind. That’s what hunger does, my friends.
I’m sharing our mishaps so that, hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes.
1) Don’t have your money changed at the first money changer you see. Also, have your money changed at reputable, international money changers.
This was our biggest mistake. We needed some local currency to get around and we made the huge mistake, we ignored all warning signs and had our money changed at some random money changer in the train station. The money changer’s stall was right inside by the entrance of the train station. It was a little dingy, a shabby guy was manning the stall and he had his tiny dog on the counter. There was no queue, it was just one Chines-looking guy in front of us. Sounds far from legit, right? But we went for it. I have no idea why. We need money fast and I figured he is inside the train station, the station management must have allowed him there. Plus, he’s got a cute dog, he can’t be sinister. Wrong and wrong. Our dollar was only exchanged to almost 60% of actual value. The saddest part of it was that we only figured out we were duped two days before our Prague leg would end. I guess, you can also say we were blissfully ignorant that we got scammed. Haha. So please, use the popular currency changers like Travelex or Western Union. They might charge more fees, or the exchange rates might not be the best, but at least you know it’s legit.
2. Count your money.. again and again.
All these currency conversions will confuse you. So when you buy something in cash, count your change twice. Beer gardens are popular in Prague. The merchants only transact in cash and business is swift. Don’t get caught up in the rush. Count your change before you leave the counter. Then count it again. On our last night, we went to a beer garden near our BnB. I bought some stuffed mushrooms which were very popular. I paid the got my change, I counted my change and though that it was correct. So I got my food and proceeded to our table. Later that night, when I was fixing my wallet, I realized that the I only thought I got the correct change because some of the bills were folded or crumpled. Oh well.
3. Never allow yourself to get hungry.
Nothing good ever comes out of a hungry tummy. We rushed into critical decisions such as money changing or choosing restaurants. These ended up to us getting scammed or paying exorbitant prices. Those crackers and chocolates come in handy, eat them first before making a decision. :)
4. Don’t have your dollars changed to local currency all at once.
While you have probably made an estimate of how much you want to spend during the duration of your stay, it would be best to spread out your conversions. This way you can minimize your exposure to getting conversion scams. Or you can use the money machines (ATM). Bank fees vary for international transactions but over the counter conversions charge you as well. I figure this will be cost neutral or very minimal. Should you choose to use the money machine, take the usual precautions. Use a machine that is in a well-lit, high-traffic area. Check the machine itself. I usually give the keypad and the card slot a firm nudge to make sure no skimming devices are hidden.
5. Use your credit card when you can.
Some hesitate to use their credit cards abroad because of the international transaction fees that the card company charges. If you compare those fees to the service fee and going currency exchange rate of the over the counter conversions add to that all the loose change you forgot to use and bring home with you, it’s actually makes more sense to use the plastic. Admit it, it’s easier to use bills and we get so much loose change at the end of the trip and you don’t know what to use it for (last bus/train ticket, maybe). As per usual, be smart when using your plastic. Only use it if the server brings the terminal to your table. Never let you card out of your sight. If they only have one terminal, you can ask to go to the cashier and personally swipe your card. If you are asked to enter a pin, cover the keypads and bring the terminal closer to you.
Traveling will never be perfect, but it will always be treasured.
So there you go! Hope this is helpful for a fun, scam-free, regret-free holiday. :)