You want me to buy what?

5 ways to avoid touts while you travel

If you’ve traveled enough, this becomes a familiar scenario:

“My friend! My friend! You looking for a bar!? ::Grabs your arm:: Come with me. My friend! I’ll take you there. Come with me”

“You want a watch? ::Flings open leather pack with dozens of fake watches:: You want to buy a watch!?”

“Taxi, sir! My friend, you want to take taxi? I will take you there! ::Tries to grab luggage:: Come now, I take you there!”

You want me to buy what?

You want me to buy what?

The global phenomenon of “touting” — getting in your face to sell you goods or services you don’t need has become an increasing nuisance in highly touristed places like Bali, Barcelona, Thailand and Prague. They’re annoying, extremely persistent and won’t leave you alone without trying to get you to part with some of your money.

I’m all for experiencing a local culture, and shopping for local goods is certainly a part of that, but many of these people do a disservice to legitimate business owners, are one of the biggest sources of scams and ripoffs and can often ruin an otherwise lovely city center (old town Prague comes to mind) if taken to the extreme. Anyone that starts a conversation with “My Friend…” is probably not your friend.

But there are a few ways to drastically reduce the hassle these overeager salesmen pose, keeping you sane while you try to enjoy a new city. Keep in mind that this post is how to avoid aggressive salespeople, not how to be antisocial and hostile to the majority of absolutely wonderful people abroad.

1. Headphones - “I can’t hear you!”

Wearing headphones allows you to be upbeat and engage on your terms. "Nope, I don't want to buy a toy, but have a great day!"

Wearing headphones allows you to be upbeat and engage on your terms. “Nope, I don’t want to buy a toy, but have a great day!”

One of the easiest ways is to just wear a pair of cheap earbuds with the music off while walking in highly touristed areas. If it’s your third day in Las Ramblas, you’ll know what to expect and you can just point to your earbuds and shake your head, indicating you can’t hear a word they are saying. Extra points for making it more difficult for pickpockets, since if someone takes your phone, they’ll presume your earsplitting music will stop and you’ll notice what’s going on.

2. Playing the dumb foreigner

“No English, No understand!”

In some places, if touts or panhandlers are that aggressive and won’t leave you alone, pretending to just be dumb as a brick can be very helpful. They’ll usually assume you speak English or the local language, but you don’t have to indulge that assumption and instead can just look increasingly confused. This is often great when someone is trying to pull a soft-con and you can’t easily exit the situation, say a cab driver trying to explain there is an extra charge to ENTER the airport (Chile) or a waiter claiming that the waitstaff isn’t paid unless you tip (NYC). Look extremely confused and if you haven’t interacted much, venture a few mispronounced broken words and they’ll give up, heading for riper victims.

3. Out-tout the tout - “No, MY friend! Come with me to MY bar!”

This is probably my favorite technique, and it can be quite fun if you have the confidence to pull it off. When someone tries to get in your way, just mimic their behavior back to them. If they are trying to sell you a watch, point to yours (or the empty space on your wrist) and try to sell your (possibly non-existent) watch to them, saying things like:

“This is THE BEST watch! VERY NICE Quality!”

If they are trying to pull you in the direction of their bar, grab their arm and drag them in the opposite direction, saying things like:

“No, my friend! Come with me to MY BAR. I know THE BEST bar. You will like my bar. Come, my friend!”

They will very quickly get the hint, give you a “F@#% YOU” look and depart for deeper pockets.

4. Hire a tout to keep away all of the other touts - “Back off vultures, I have a hired gun”

Bring your own bouncer!

In some parts of the world, if touting is really extreme (Marrakech comes to mind), it can make sense hire a local “guide” whether official or unofficial. They will likely try to take you to friend’s shops to entice you to buy, but they will also keep away the swarms of other hucksters you’re bound to cross paths with in the Medina. There are also plenty of legitimate guides that will show you unique and off-the-beaten path reaches of the city, just be aware that even in official channels, there is still some bakshish or kickback occurring.

5. Avoid the center of the tourism vortex - “Wow this street next to the ::Famous boulevard/Walking mall:: is just as nice!”

Palermo, a neighborhood in Buenos Aires, is infinitely more interesting than the tourist center around Florida St. downtown.

Walking and stairs are like kryptonite to most tourists, so walking even a block or two away from the mechant stalls and hordes of visitors can dramatically improve your experience. Places like Dubrovnik and Barcelona suddenly become absolutely wonderful, beautiful cities if you take mere steps away from the tourist drags.

Part of exploring is not taking the exact same pictures millions of others have taken. You’ll often find shop keepers and restauranteurs that are less burned out from the constant demands of rowdy tourists and a much more peaceful trip overall.

Hopefully these tips will help you find your travel zen!

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