Even the most seasoned of travellers get tricked out of their money abroad. When you’re new to a country and unfamiliar with the currency and the cost of living, it’s impossible to know how much something is worth without a little shopping around – whether it’s the cost of a taxi ride, a bottle of water or an item of jewellery.
On my first day in Marrakech a couple of years ago, I managed to be tricked out of £15 (about $21) by an extremely demanding fake tour guide, for a five minute ‘tour’ through the tanneries. I had stupidly not memorised the exchange rate, and in the fairly deserted street I was worried what the man, seemingly getting angrier and angrier, might do if I refused to pay up. As soon as my mind cleared afterwards, and I had calculated how much I’d handed over, I was so mad I vowed never to be tricked again.
So here are eight tips for avoiding being ripped off abroad, and it’s all about remaining level-headed and asking plenty of questions…
This sounds like a bit of a sad way to go about travelling, but when you’re unfamiliar with a place and its customs, it’s the most sensible way to be. Always make sure you know somebody’s intentions before you cooperate.
Know the exchange rate
Make sure you know the exchange rate properly before you get to a new country. As soon as you set foot out of the airport you are a potential sales target (often to people who try to help you with your bags to the taxi!). If you want to start spending your dollar (peso, rupee, euro…), make sure you know what it’s worth before you have time to panic.
Never accept something without first asking the price
Nothing is free. Always ask the costs before you accept anything from a stranger, whether it’s food, a tour, and so on. Often even when you ask they’ll say it’s free, but then you’ll invariably be asked to cough up. Ask the cost of the taxi ride before you get in, and if you’re unsure how far you’re going and therefore how much the ride is worth, ask the driver the distance. You’ll probably know if he’s lying if he says it’s five kilometres away but boots you out on the next corner. Never accept their first offer; start low, even if you think it makes you sound stupid. You’ll feel stupider if you get ripped off. And often they love the bartering game!
Think clearly and don’t panic
It’s easy to panic and lose all reasonable thought in a stressful situation, such as when somebody is demanding money from you and you’re unsure whether you should be paying up. This is a completely human reaction to a stressful situation. Try to keep calm, think clearly, and remember that you never have to give them ANYTHING if you don’t want to.
Don’t let harsh words get to you
If you don’t want to hand your money over, don’t. Salespeople will try every trick in the book to get you to buy something, and a popular one is to try and make you feel like the bad guy so that you pay up. Don’t fall for it. A common argument is that you’re “taking the piss”, or something along those lines, since whatever they’re selling is obviously worth far more than you’re offering. If you don’t think it’s worth it, don’t pay it. In Montenegro we were called “bad tourists” simply for asking for the change from our taxi journey. We made sure we got it.
Always shop around
The harem pants at the first stall you visit might seem really cheap compared to back home, but you don’t know what the standard price is until you’ve shopped around a bit. The worst mistake you can make is buying the very first ones you see.
Market stalls are also usually much cheaper than actual shops, and often sell exactly the same items. In a lot of places the exact same things, made by the exact same manufacturers, are sold everywhere, but all at different prices. Ask other tourists how much they paid for theirs or where they’ve seen it cheapest, or ask your hotel host how much you should be paying. But remember that if you’re not a local you’ll often pay a premium.
Never let on that you’ve just arrived
A common trick to test how rip off-able you are is to ask how long you’ve been there – NEVER say you just arrived, as they’ll feed you lies about how much things cost. Say you’ve been there a while already so that they think you’re familiar with the prices and the hoaxes, and they’re likely to ask you for less.
Don’t flash the cash
Dodge extra trouble and avoid getting a wad of cash out when you’re paying for something. Keep your money in smaller amounts, and try to break bigger notes up in large stores like supermarkets or when paying for accommodation.
Although it’s tempting to take out larger amounts when you visit the bank in order to avoid too many bank charges, carrying around huge amounts of cash abroad is impractical and just tempting fate. You’ll feel a lot more at ease when lugging all of your worldly possessions around if you only have a few squid in your pocket.
Do you have any tips for avoiding being ripped off abroad? Or a story of your own that left you out of pocket? Share in the comments!