We like to think of ourselves as backpacking “vets”. We’re not rookies, we’ve been travelling a long time, we know the ways of the world and we know what to do and what not to do, right?


We had this humbling experience while trying to cross by land from Malawi to Tanzania.

It was supposed to be about a 4-5 hour travel day, but of course, everything took longer than expected!

We had been travelling all day, from 10:00am to 7:00pm, through many dusty towns, switching transportation more times than we’d like to count. Two of the vehicles we were in literally ran out of gas and we had to walk until we found another form of transportation – being in Malawi during the fuel shortage was not ideal.

travel in malawi
The transportation in Malawi left something to be desired! Constantly broke down and ran out of gas

We arrived at the border, exhausted, sweating, starving and totally fed up with the travel days we’d been having lately. We were going to change our Malawi Kwacha for Tanzanian Shillings at the exchange booth but figured we could get a better rate on the black market.

backpacking malawi
Back when I was happily having a beer at Cape Maclear in Malawi

As soon as we arrived in Tanzania, the money peddlers could smell us coming.

We were swarmed by about 10 guys all saying “I’ll give you a good deal man” “Change money, you have USD?”. We said no. They dispersed. Then one guy came back and we figured…how bad could it be dealing with just one guy?

We counted out our money, Nick had his calculator out, we agreed on a rate (one that was really good) and prepared to do the swap.

When we handed over the money, we were swarmed again by all sorts of guys offering motorbike rides, food, money exchange, places to sleep, etc. Basically they were just there to be a distraction and mess with our minds.

malawi tanzania border
Distracting us by trying to sell us stuff was a great way to mess with our minds

The man we had given our money to said we didn’t pay him enough and the deal was off.

We were both 100% sure that the guy didn’t give us the right amount of money we were expecting either. So, we both swapped our money back and just like that, everyone was gone.

What was left was me and Nick standing there as if we’d just been hit by a tornado.

backpacking tanzania
What just happened?!

We counted the money and realized that we were short about the equivalent of $40.

The guys had such an amazing sleight of hand that he was able to fold our money up and pocket some of it right in front of us! They were perfect at distracting us and basically, we just got duped! We just stood there totally in awe of what had just happened.

We know better than that! What were we thinking?

This was probably the most disastrous entrance into a country that we’ve ever made. In the end, we’re glad it was just $40…but when you’re backpacking, $40 is a lot of money. It could have been worse though, they could have robbed or hurt us.

We had changed money on the black market before and it had worked out in our favour, but not this time! Note to self and other readers, if something seems shady or too good to be true, then it’s probably best to walk away.

Have you ever been scammed while traveling? Share with us below!




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The Day When…We Got Scammed At The Tanzanian Border


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Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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18 thoughts on “Scammed At The Tanzanian Border: A Travel Tale

  1. There are countries where travelers have to be extra patient…. $40 is a lot of money.

    I never got scammed that way, but I’m glad you shared your story, I have dyscalculia (I can’t really make calculations very well) so I’ll be extra careful from now on.

  2. For sure. You definitely have to watch your back (and count your change!) in some/most countries while travelling.

  3. We managed to avoid the infamous border scam at Cambodia, but we have been overcharged for small things here and there (water at Angkor Wat, sandwiches in Hue). Alas, these things happen!

  4. Ah, the old sleight-of-hand trick… I’ve seen a video of a guy in Bali doing this. Definitely gotta be careful when exchanging money!

  5. Glad you dodged the scam at the border! Ya, we’ve been overcharged for things too I’m sure…100% sure.haha. That’s not so bad though, it’s when someone actually steals money from us right in front of our eyes that we get a little pissed!

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

  6. Yep, that ol’ trick! Can’t believe it was the only time it happened to us though if you think about it. We’ve changed money many times and this was the first time we had experienced it…and hopefully the last 🙂

    Thanks for the comment.

  7. Oh man, that really sucks! We’re headed to Tanzania in February so we’ll be extra alert.

    We managed to avoid scammers in Thailand thanks to reading up on scams before we went. A bunch of taxis refused to turn on the meter and wanted to charge us 300 baht for what was a 60 baht taxi ride the night before. We basically told them to [email protected]*k off and went around the corner to a hotel taxi stand. Got a metered taxi and, what do you know, the ride cost right around 60 baht!

  8. Even though $40 is a lot as a backpacker, I’m glad that was all they took and you guys are safe! It could’ve been a lot worse.

  9. That’s the best way to deal with taxi drivers. You have to get a metered taxi in places like that, or agree on a price beforehand. But they always seem to start at a price that is WAY too high…which always leads to us walking away.

    Don’t worry too much about Tanzania, only at the border did we have any problems 🙂

    Have a great time!

  10. I agree! At the end of the day, they didn’t get all that much money (we had more on us we could have chosen to exchange) and we weren’t hurt.

  11. This happened to my dad once in the Dominican Republic. My dad ended up changing about 100 usd with the guy. The guy counted the money in front of him and gave it to him, later my dad found out he got about half of what he was supposed to get.

  12. I’m sorry this happened to you but thank you for sharing your story. It’s a very valuable one for all of us no matter where we travel. We had a similar situation happen in St. Lucia but fortunately we were able to avoid getting ripped off. Great post guys.

  13. Brutal! It’s amazing how easy it is to get ripped off, even when watching the guy count the money right in front of you.

  14. I’m glad you guys were able to avoid getting scammed! Thanks a lot for your comment. Happy Travels 🙂

  15. My wife and I arrived from Colombia by bus in Piura, Peru on march 2013. We needed to get another bus to take us to Trujillo. The taxi driver and I had agreed on the fare and I had told him I had to stop at the bank to get some peruvian money so I could pay him. The driver right away took us to an alley where about ten guys tried to exchange money just to get rid of them a exchanged five USD. We then proceed to the Bank and got the peruvian currency. He then took us to the bus station but, was the wrong one the right one was just around the corner and the SOB tried to charge us for four rides becouse he had made four stops. I remind him our deal and he called other taxi drivers who sided with him. I just gave him five Soles and walked towards a police patrol car and the bastard took off faster than speeding bullet. That was my first bad impression of Peru. We visited nine more countries in South America and had not trouble at all.

  16. Wow! Quite the story. Why is it always the taxi drivers that try to rip tourists off?! If you think about it though, things could’ve gone much worse when he drove you down that dark alley…

    We’re off to South America sometime next year so we’re glad to hear you didn’t have any other issues in the 9 other countries 🙂

    Thanks for the comment…safe travels!

  17. surely, surely.
    Don’t blame Malawi for it, you just we’re way too, erm, don’t wanna say it. Welcome to African borders LOL. Really stupid of you to change money at a border. Your very own fault.

  18. Hello GregorR,

    We’ve changed money at borders around the world (3rd world countries included) numerous times and never had any issues. We were just tired from the long journey and should have known better in this particular case. Oh, and it was on the Tanzania side, not Malawi.

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