Travel Tips

How to avoid being ripped off abroad

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…


Trust nobody

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

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8 thoughts on “How to avoid being ripped off abroad

  1. Great list. My other trick is to ask a local (sometimes at the hotel where I am staying) how much they would pay for certain services. I can give you a range of prices to expect and determine when you are being ripped off. (Suzanne)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really good article Elizabeth. This is something I’ve thought a lot about over years travelling every continent. I hope you don’t mind me sharing my perspective…

    I don’t fully agree with not trusting anybody. This is impossible, but I get that it’s meant as a general guide. My philosophy is simply to stop and think, to make a judgement call based on a basic risk assessment, in particular, not risking more than I’m prepared to lose. Many services (reasonably) require payment in part or full upfront (like a hostel bed, ferry ticket or entry to an attraction). If you truly trust nobody you’ll refuse to pay a dime until you’ve received everything you believe you’re paying for, and that’s simply not always practical (or fair – tourists/travellers rip off local vendors too!). Travelling has restored my faith in humanity – there are far more good, honest people than not in this world. Assuming someone is good an honest while taking the sensible precautions you’ve listed is a viable approach, and getting stung a couple of times is a small price to pay for thousands of positive experiences.

    A few tips I’d add are:

    Never let anyone keep your passport. Hotels and bike rentals may (reasonably) need to see it, or photocopy it, but do what you can to keep it in your possession at all times. Carrying a number of photocopies of it can help. Once it’s in someone else’s possession, you lose any negotiating power.

    Do not be scared of the Police. I’ve heard several stories of people being thoroughly ripped off and threatened by the vendor during the dispute that they’ll call the Police if you don’t pay up, etc. Unless you’ve got something to hide (like an invalid Visa, in which case you’re an idiot!) the Police in most countries are surprising reasonable and encouraged to help tourists/tourism, and the vendor is probably far more scared of them than you are! If a vendor threatens to call the police, tell them to go ahead, or tell them not to bother, you’ll do it for them (better to take the initiative!).

    I’d like to add that living in fear of being ‘ripped off’ can be unhealthy and detract from your adventure. I’ve hooked up with a handful of fellow travellers over the years who fight very aggressivley to negotiate the best possible bargain on every transaction. In some cases, I’ve found their behaviour rude, disrespectful, embarrassing and ultimately it adds negativity to typically wonderful experiences – needless to say I often part ways with them pretty quickly. A lot of the world doesn’t work like the West does, where typically everything has a set, fixed price. Other places operate more on the traditional methods of trade – that buyers and sellers negotiate to identify a mutually acceptable price. If one is agreed, the trade is made, if it is not, the dialogue is over – smile and move on. This is not combative or a game of who can win, it’s about achieving a win-win. Ultimately, it’s about what something is worth to you, whether what you’re prepared to pay for it is what they’re prepared to sell it for. If that tuk tuk across town is worth $1 to you and you can negotiate this price, congrats! Pay it and be happy. The fact a local may be able to negotiate it down to $0.30 is neither her nor there. Paying more than somebody else is not, in my eyes, being ripped off. Paying for something you then don’t get or that was intentionally mis-sold is not being ripped off either, it’s being mugged/conned.

    I’ve heard many people complain about ‘officially’ different prices for locals than foreigners and it really pisses me off. An example is Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The tourist price is something like 20 times higher than the locals’ price. But think about it, the alternative is they set a fixed price somewhere in the middle to be ‘fair’, the result being that 99% of Cambodians wouldn’t be able to visit one of their country’s most important and beautiful places. Is that ‘fair’? ‘Travellers’ are often, I’ve found, fairly left-wing in their political beliefs. They often believe that when it comes to taxes, the people with more money should pay a higher %. The justification for this is, I presume, that wealth often comes from luck and circumstance as much as from hard work and achievement – does a teacher or nurse study less or work less than a banker!? If you agree with all this, and if you are determined to compare what you pay to others, think about this the next time you’re bartering with a father of 4 for him to spend an hour driving you somewhere in his car for a fraction of what you got paid for an hour of delivering newspapers on your push bike when you were 13.

    I don’t know how much money I could have saved if I had got truly local prices for everything I’ve purchased/done on the road over the years, probably not a huge amount, and I see it, if nothing else, as a ‘tourist’ tax that I’m happy to pay to offset my incredible good luck, against all odds, to be born in a rich country.

    So yes – be smart, be safe. But don’t live in fear, don’t see every transaction as a game of win or lose, don’t assume everyone’s out to get you and whatever you do, do it with a smile and respect for others.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Richard- I certainly agree that nobody should travel in fear of being ripped off! And that’s exactly the point of my article; having your wits about you will allow you to avoid doing this, and make sure that it doesn’t happen.

      I also agree that tourists should not expect to receive the same prices as locals when it comes to buying goods and services- I actually mention this in the article. And this certainly isn’t a bad thing- I like to think that most tourists are aware of this and not unhappy about it. However, it’s also very important that tourists do not go around throwing their money about and paying too much for things, and that they therefore know how much is a reasonable amount to be paying in whatever country they may be. Flashing the cash is, frankly, as disrespectful as demanding an unreasonably low price, and it also makes tourists look stupid and like they haven’t made an effort to understand a country. It’s all about knowing how things work in the place you are visiting.

      I’d also just like to say that when I say ‘ripped off’, I mean it. I’m not talking about paying a little more than would usually be expected but still well under what you would normally pay at home- I’m talking about walking away from a sale, doing the maths to work out exactly what you’ve paid and noticing that, in your panic, you handed over more than you would ever be happy to pay, in your home country or otherwise- I certainly wouldn’t pay £15 for a tour in London, as I stupidly did in Marrakech! The point of the article was not to provide tips on ‘how to save money’, it was really on how to avoid being genuinely ripped off, which unfortunately does happen a lot, including in western countries. There have been a few stories from London recently, for example, where tourists have been asked for over £100 for 10 minute rickshaws rides. And it’s exactly the same story as the ‘guide’ in Marrakech- the rickshaw driver was trying his luck that the tourists didn’t know how much a ride on a rickshaw in London was worth, or hadn’t got used to the currency, and if he was right, he would have had a lucky day. Fortunately for those particular tourists, they laughed in his face and the story ended up in the papers. I dread to think how many times he succeeded in getting the money…

      Also, although I agree that the majority of people are fair and helpful, and wouldn’t dream of demanding more money than they know it’s worth, there are also people in the world who are out to get your money, as well as some who are simply opportunistic- it’s sad but true, and denying it could land people in trouble if they are too trusting. My tips are for avoiding exactly those kinds of people. So yes, it’s important to be wary of people when you don’t know what somebody’s intentions are. When I say ‘trust nobody’, I think you might be taking it a little too literally- if we utterly and entirely trusted nobody, we would never get into a taxi or pay for a bus ticket, as you say! I simply mean analysing the situation before you get in too deep. I know I’ve certainly avoided trouble on my travels in the past by taking this approach.

      And thanks for the tips about the passport and police- good advice! Safe travels 🙂

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      1. Thanks for the response Elizabeth. All very fair comments. It is a constant balancing act to embrace a relaxed and positive outlook whilst staying on your guard and taking sensible precautions. I’m sure your objective tips will really help people to do both.

        Liked by 1 person

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