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Warning Sign for Bad Travel Business

A Deal is a Deal Travel Tip, Warning Signs for Bad Travel Business This is a travel tip about the warning signs that can show up when entering into a bad business deal when traveling, and also a parable of how I nearly entered into a questionable deal with a hotel. If everything is not [...]

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A Deal is a Deal Travel Tip, Warning Signs for Bad Travel Business

This is a travel tip about the warning signs that can show up when entering into a bad business deal when traveling, and also a parable of how I nearly entered into a questionable deal with a hotel. If everything is not upfront, if a deal is not a deal, if any of the terms change, then leave.

In travel, you meet people in the flash of a moment, and, in this perilously as short a period of time, you need to make judgments about them that will effect your well being — monetary and, sometimes, physically. Smiles and handshakes mean little when uncovering the sheets above someone’s mettle, rather, I know that I need to watch for certain signs, listen to certain cues when determining if I trust someone enough to engage in some sort of deal with them.

Most all but the simplest of deals in travel require a degree of trust, and I have a distinct lack of for most people. I find no reason to trust someone I do not know, so I instead trust situations, circumstances, I look for green lights that tell me to go ahead, and red ones that tell me to get away. I could not care less if someone is trustworthy or not, I often do not want to put in the time to figure this out, but I do care if the situation that I am getting into can be trusted.

My standard operating procedure for entering into deals with people when traveling has been honed through experience — in travel, you make deals with strangers all day long — and one of the major signs that I look for is if the deal that I am making is clean and crisp or if I am mislead, lied to, made the butt of “honest mistakes,” or if any element of a deal is broken. If the person I am dealing with reneges or changes any part of what he says that he is going to do, then I walk away.

A deal is a deal.

A deal is a deal - shake hands, get away

When it comes to renting rooms in a hotel or an apartment, you know nothing of the renter’s reputation, you have nothing to guide your course of action, there are few ways that you can tell if the landlord who you are dealing with is legit, or if the course of your partnership could be riddled with surprises, hidden fees, intentional miscommunication, headaches, and trials.

One criteria that I follow when engaging in an agreement with someone — particularly one which involves money — is that a deal is a deal: if any element of our spoken agreement is broken, changed, or in any way altered then I am served a flashing warning sign that I am possibly entering into bad territory, and should consider walking on.

A deal is a deal.

The world is big, there are lots of hotels and apartments. If one person breaks any element of a deal, I walk on to the next person. I do not want to deal with the hassle of determining a person’s trustworthiness, I do not even want to put it in question: if my deal is not straight forward and clean, if I have any doubts, I look elsewhere.


I stopped in at a hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. I asked the owner if he rented rooms by the month. He said that he did, he named his prices for a room in his hotel as well as for an apartment. The prices were good — almost too good. The guy was smiling a lot — almost too much.

I looked at the room in his hotel that I could rent out, it was adequate. We began talking about his apartments. We said that we would like to see one, as the price was good. We confirmed everything, the smiley owner said that the price included everything.

We followed his girlfriend to take a look at the apartments. We walked into an empty one and found it to be a perfect home for us. Before leaving the hotel the owner said that if we wanted to stay in the apartment that we would have to tell him soon because there were other people interested. We told his girlfriend right there that we wanted to rent it. She said OK, said that she would have someone come right over to clean it.

“When would you like to move in?” she asked us.

“Today,” I said.

I told her that we would be back in a couple of hours. She said that would be great.

Chaya, Petra, and I walked back to our hotel and packed our bags. We were excited, the apartment was perfect — it had a fireplace and a WIFI router right inside of it — and the price was good. We returned to the apartment an hour later. We had all of our bags, we were happy and excited to move right in. We knocked on the door and the owner’s girlfriend let us in.

There is a problem, she told us. Someone else just rented the apartment when you were gone.


She then told us that we could have another apartment in the same building — “it is the same” — in ten days. She added that until this other apartment was vacated that we could stay in the hotel for free. Sorry, sorry, sorry, apologies.

For free? I like the sound of free, the thought of a ten day free stay did not sound so bad — mistakes happen right? I thought on one hand. On the other hand I thought about how I do not like being in other people’s pockets, taking the services of a stranger for free is a good way to put yourself into their pocket. But I went to look at the other apartment anyway.

It was full of somebody’s things, clothes, underwear. We were told that they were leaving in ten days time and that all we would have to do would be to wait in a hotel room which we would not have to pay for.

Too good to be true . . . and all of that.

Then the girlfriend told us that the owner just told her that he wants a security deposit to rent the apartment for a month.

What? There was no mention of a security deposit before. We fully went through the process of being shown the apartment, we had agreed to stay there, came back to move in, was told to go shit in our hats, and THEN had a security deposit sprung on us.

A deal is a deal.

One deal was already broken — we were told that we could rent a room, when we showed up we found that this was not true — another deal mislead us — there was no mention of a security deposit in any of our negotiations. Two strikes, I began looking for a way out.

“No, we do not want to pay a security deposit,” I countered.

I have never paid a security deposit in my life. I refuse to give my money to someone else to hang on to, especially when they are not upfront with me from the start. I made for the door.

The girlfriend tied up my wife in nice talk, she said that she would send us back to the hotel in a taxi to talk with the owner. She said that they were sorry and would pay for the taxi, she sent the maintenance kid to go with us. I said that I would rather walk. The maintenance kid tried following us down the street, I told him to get lost.

I did not want to be locked into this deal. I wanted out. A deal was broken, that is all I needed to know.

But we walked back to the hotel to speak with the owner anyway. Maybe this was an honest mistake? Maybe it would work out to stay in his hotel for 10 days and then move into the apartment? We walked back to the hotel with our full load of baggage, we decided to give the owner the benefit of the doubt.

The owner was not there.

A third strike. The girlfriend tried to herd us into a taxi to go talk to the owner when he was not even at the hotel. This is an age of cell phone communication, the owner knew what was going on every step of the way, I am sure of it.

At the hotel, the maintenance kid tried to lead us into the room. Just come in and put down your bags.I knew that if I stepped foot into the room then I was signing my name on the dotted line: in the world of travel, nothing is free. If I took the free hotel room I would be locking myself into having to stay in this guy’s apartment. I would have taken something from him, I would be in his pocket, firmly locked in to having to deal with him and facing whatever surprises would come next.

I said that I was not going to the room until I talked with the owner. I sat on a couch. This deal was getting shady, there were too many indications that told me to leave — there are lots of hotels and apartments in San Cristobal. The maintenance kid called the owner on the cell phone.

I talked to him. He said that we could stay in his hotel for five days for free and then move into the apartment. His girlfriend told us 10 days.

A deal is a deal.

This deal was far too wishy washy. This guy’s prices were good, his apartments were better, his business skills lead me to believe that I was being suckered. I had only known this guy for a little over an hour and he had mislead me four times. There is no redemption for this, I was shown a big flashing sign telling me to walk away: there are plenty of other rooms in San Cristobal de las Casas.

People who justify the actions of strangers get scammed.

I hung up the phone.

I walked right to another nice hotel and booked a room for the month. No security deposit, no bullshit, I asked the price, was told the price, made a counter offer, had it accepted, paid, moved in. The deal was straight forward, completed in less than 10 minutes, as they should be.

A deal is a deal.

In 11 years of travel I have learned that I want to see people as being good, that it is easy to justify the actions of a stranger — “oh, he just made a mistake, he is trying to make up for it and is being so nice” — that I want to trust the people I meet, that I want deals to work out, and that I am willing to manipulate actual occurrence to see people in a good light.

I know that I need to trust my feet more than my head. I know that I need to have a standard operating procedure and stick to it:

If a deal is broken, if I am mislead, I walk away.

I do not want to decode people, I do not want to have to think if someone is lying to me, I do not want to question if someone is going to keep their word. I do not want to give someone else this much power. Thinking about if I can trust someone or not is too trying on the mind. If I even start thinking for a moment that I may not be able to trust someone, then it is already too late: I am done dealing with them.

Making deals — renting rooms, buying things, hiring transport — is part of the work of traveling the world. I want to work as little as possible: I want my deals crisp, clean, and to be over as quickly as possible.

I want a deal to be a deal.

And I am willing to walk away to be sure of it.

Filed under: Travel Safe, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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2 comments… add one

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  • Paul December 29, 2010, 5:07 am

    I just started reading your blog this evening, and I have to say this is the best advice I’ve gleaned from all my perusing around travel sites thus far. A deal is a deal, in all cultures.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 29, 2010, 2:44 pm

      Thanks Paul,

      Really appreciate it. If there is any particular travel information that you would like to see published here, just let me know.

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