How to Avoid Being Scammed: International Bazaars

This post is a part of a student-written series, 20 Ideas for Travel Bliss. Ryan Dennison is a student at  Taylor University in Upland, Ind. Check out Ryan’s personal blog — Electronic Fawkes Market.

DennisonTraveling abroad presents many incredible opportunities for tourists: beautiful scenery, lifelong memories, and souvenirs. Those who do not have experience, however, are at risk of being ripped off, particularly at overseas “international bazaars,” like the ones found here.  The merchants who run these bazaars have years of experience in manipulating the emotions of unwary travelers. Here are a few tips to avoid being scammed :

No, he (or his friend) didn’t make that. This is a subtle trick that most would-be buyers brush aside. They’ll say things like “I started learning to sculpt when I was six years old!” Even if their audience doesn’t believe the seller actually crafted the souvenir in question, the “homemade” label can still stick subconsciously. There’s no point in trying to call them out on it, unless you’re a professional sculptor. But being aware of the trick can help minimize the effect it has on your subconscious mind when buying souvenirs.

No, friend, you don’t have that much in common. It’s an unfortunate truth of the marketplace that people lie. A lot. In fact, you might say that every word that comes out of their mouths is probably false. (It’s easy to be offended by this fact, but keep in mind that many of them have to lie in order to make a living.) Merchants will ask the occasional personal question—don’t be surprised when it turns out they’re practically you. Religion, country of origin, Alma mater, career, favorite band or movie—they’re all fair game. They’ll call you “friend,” and declare what wonderful people you both are. Once again, it’s a cheap scam, but one that builds an instant relationship with a would-be victim. Be ye warned.

No, there’s no tax on that. It’s a cheap, easy trick to try and pry a few more dollars out of you. Once the seller agrees to a price, don’t let him talk you into paying a cent more. Because they will—I once had a merchant at an African bazaar try and get me to pay extra for soap to clean the socks I’d used as a bargaining chip to knock down the price a little. Don’t fall for it.

No, you don’t want to meet his friend. People hate being rude (though it’s hard to believe, sometimes). Nevertheless, merchants will use this tendency to rope you into purchasing more than you want. Often they’ll pretend they need to help another customer, and walk you over to their “friend” (a fellow merchant) to wrap your purchases. This friend will slowly go about his business, while showing you a whole host of wonderful souvenirs you just have to have. And then he’ll walk you over to his friend, and so on….

No, I don’t want a $20 chocolate bar. A friend of mine made this mistake, much to her eternal embarrassment. There’s a reason knowing the exchange rate helps with merchants—they can’t talk you into anything too absurd if you’re constantly double-checking how much you’re spending in “real” money.

No, I won’t pay more than $5 for your new Lexus. International bazaars are notorious for being difficult to escape. It’s like a black hole—no matter how hard you try, the merchants keep dragging you back in. Sometimes, the easiest way to break free is to offend the seller. Offer them a pittance for something that’s obviously valuable. Oh, they’ll make a big show of how much you’ve offended them—in fact they may never recover! But you owe them nothing, and if forcing them to act hurt is the price of escaping with your wallet intact, well, so be it.


Even with the best advice, you’ll probably get ripped off at some point. These people have years of experience, and you’ve been shopping at their international bazaar all of ten minutes. Still, following these tips above may spare, or at least warn you, of the numerous scams out there. Be bold, but cautious, and you’ll walk away with some great memories and souvenirs—and only slightly overpriced ones at that. For tips on negotiating a better price, check out this bazaar guide.

What sort of experiences have you had at overseas bazaars? Any tips to avoid being scammed? Feel free to share them below, along with any tales of miserable failure!

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  • Adam Oxner

    sounds like your grade is based on your Klout score lulz

    • Ryan Dennison

      You nailed it.

  • Gloria Dennison

    We encountered many street merchants in Italy and France selling “authentic” Prada bags for the equivalent of $20 US.

    • Kendra Beutler

      You know, sometimes, if you can’t tell the difference… :)

  • Jean Dennison

    Watch your wallet and purse. The bazaars and tourist areas are notorious for pickpockets!

    • Kendra Beutler

      I hear that’s true, Jean! Thanks for commenting!

  • Sue Orumayknowmeasmomc

    very informative with good pointers. The story about the African bazaar lets me know you have traveled internationally which lends credibility. Nice.

    • Kendra Beutler

      Thanks for the comment, Sue!

  • Nathan Palmer

    Thanks for the tips!

    • Ryan Dennison

      You’re quite welcome, Nathan. Thanks for the comment!

  • H. W.

    Ha- all these are SO TRUE. (Personal, semi-related story time!) I was in Belize for a mission trip and we had our fun day in Caye Caulker. My friend (maybe the worst bargainer of all time) and I went looking for souvenirs. He had his heart set on a “handmade” “real local stone” chess set. Y’know, one of those miniature ones inlaid with “real mother-of-pearl” with a built-in drawer to keep the pieces in. We spotted one in a certain booth owned by a pair of Mexicans, and my friend began examining each set to pick out a favorite while I looked at the other wares. Suddenly he yelled and almost dropped the set. I rushed over. He pointed a shaking finger at the half-open drawer, from which a pair of long, elegant antennae were poking- the antennae of a cockroach. I decided we’d better point that out to the owner, indicating the antennae and trying to explain in my rather poor Spanish.

    Meanwhile, my traumatized friend finally settled on a set, brought it over, and found out that the guy was asking $300 Belize for it ($150 American). I took over and got it down to $100 Belize (50 American), still a bit more than it was worse, but less, it turns out, than several other people in our group paid for the sets. With a somewhat sour look, the owner began wrapping the set up as we continued browsing. I kept my eye on him, and sure enough, as soon as our backs seemed to be turned, he slipped the set my friend had selected from the paper and put in the set with the cockroach instead! Needless to say, I pointed out to him that, um, that wasn’t the set my friend had picked out.

    The point is, if you annoy the shopkeeper, for heavens sake don’t turn your back on him/her.

    • Ryan Dennison

      Ha! That’s a fantastic story!

      I didn’t mention it in the article, but I’ve fallen for all of these at least one. The shopkeeper asking for soap money actually got an extra $1.50 out of me. (Though, in fairness, he probably needed it. Some of my socks are still stained from that trip… and it was four years ago.)

    • Kendra Beutler

      That IS a great story! So glad you were keeping an eye on things. That would’ve been a bad surprise later!

  • Erin Lyle

    Sometimes it helps when you have your own friend with you to help lower the price. When my friend and I went to Scotland during the summer Solstice, the vendors charged ridiculous prices for random jewelry, but since my friend and I kept going back and forth like “you know, we could get better jewelry at that OTHER stall. Her pieces had BLUE stones.” “Yeah, you’re right, and it was cheaper, too.” the vendor usually lowered the price because we outnumbered her and were so reluctant. Not to mention since the people gathered for the solstice were so superstitious about how their trinkets worked, and we played along like “oh, but the other stones…” she thought we were legitimately critiquing the crafts, even though we just liked the knot-work.

    • Kendra Beutler

      Funny, Erin! I bet having a friend along DOES really help! Thanks for sharing that story.

  • Carol Grant

    Great advice! So different from “shopping” in America. Takes some time to get used to how things are done in other countries.

    • Kendra Beutler

      True! This advice is a great place to start.