How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off (Gringo Priced) While Traveling
Anytime you travel, you going to get ripped off to some degree. That’s just part of the deal.
Tours, taxis, and food (among other things) are all more expensive in tourists areas. Locals know you have money, you are expecting to spend it, and that you likely won’t think twice about spending it on a souvenir for your kids.
We are not any exception.
If you are only in an area for a few days, like we were for Miami or Cozumel, you may not have enough time to figure out how pricing works, where the cheap restaurants are, and how much you should pay for souvenirs. The only anchor you have is that of the prices back home, which may or may not be of any help.
If that is your anchor, you are paying way too much.
Before I go any further, let me state that most tourist areas NEED you to spend your money. For a lot of places we have visited, the entire economy will likely collapse if tourists stop spending money. Likewise, the street vendors, restaurant owners, and tour operators probably need your money more than you do. Do not haggle with people just for the sake of haggling. We think it is completely justified to negotiate a fair price, but just keep an open mind about sharing your money with those that need it more than you do. We will explain a few ways in which you can do that below.
When you first fly into Puerto Vallarta, or most cities in Mexico, you are going to need transportation to your hotel or final destination. Unless you are traveling with a large family, small kids that need car seats, or you have some special circumstance that requires you travel in a large van, our suggestion would be to not hire a van or big SUV to pick you up. These will run you at least 40-60 USD (if not more) and they will not get you there any more safely than a taxi will. When we first moved to Puerto Vallarta, we hired a van to pick us up at the airport because we had so many bags that they literally would not fit in the small cabs. That set us back 60 big ones! This price is comparable to what you may pay in Dallas or LA for a similar service, but is way overpriced for Mexico!
A taxi from the airport to the same destination costs around 200 pesos or 10 dollars!
Taxi Pro Tip
If you want an even cheaper ride-and this is what we do now-when you come out of the airport turn left and walk across the pedestrian bridge and catch a cab there. This should save you about 80-100 pesos compared to the taxi services right outside the airport main doors! Sure, you have to walk with your luggage about 400 yards or so, but if you are into saving money (who isn’t?!), this is the way to go.
Another taxi tip: always, always agree upon the rate before getting into the cab. Trust us-you are setting yourself up big time for a rip off otherwise!!
Here is how it works: you need to catch a cab from El Centro to the Airport. You find a driver at one of the numerous taxi stands and wave to get his attention. Walk up to the passenger window and ask how much it costs to get to the airport (or whatever your destination is). If you know Spanish, I suggest performing this interaction in Spanish if possible. We have found that people are a little more friendly and willing to bargain if we use their language.
The driver will give you a price, say 200 pesos. If that price is way above what you know the “real” price should be, tell them so. Something to the degree of “No, no. Cuesta 150 pesos, no?” (No, it costs 150 pesos, right?), will do.
NOTE: If the price they quote you is reasonable, we suggest that you do not bargain with them. The rates are somewhat standardized and the drivers cannot go below the base rates. Click here for more information on taxi rates for Puerto Vallarta.
Usually, once they understand that you clearly know the real taxi rates, they will budge and go down to a reasonable price. If the driver does not try to charge us too much and they are friendly in the car (they usually are) then we will usually give them a small tip. Please note: tipping a cab driver is not expected, required, or even highly recommended in this area. (We just happen to rarely leave a taxi without having made a new friend and sometimes will toss in an extra 20 pesos on top of the fare.)
Whatever you do, do not get into a cab before agreeing upon the price. They may try and say “I’m not exactly sure where that’s at. Once we get there I will know how much to charge.” NO NO NO. We fell for this once and the guy ripped us off, of course. Lesson learned. All the taxi drivers know all the destinations in the area and how much the fares should be. If they cannot agree to give a price upfront, simply walk down the street and find another cab. There are a ton to pick from!
This section will be short. Most food prices are not negotiable. Either that or we have been severely ripped off! If the menu says something is 100 pesos, that price is not up for discussion.
However, there are ways in which you can get ripped off. Eating at a super touristy restaurant is the most obvious way. If there are a bunch of white people there, it is likely overpriced. (That is our rule of thumb, anyways!) Okay, that is not always true, but if it looks like a typical American restaurant, you can bet that it has typical American prices! We urge you to visit places off the beaten path a little bit. Look for restaurants one or two blocks off of the water. These are almost always cheaper than the waterfront locations. In our experiences, the food has been better at these places too! If you really want to experience the city you are traveling to, look for smaller restaurants that mostly have locals there. That is guaranteed to make for an interesting experience!
Beware of restaurants advertising 2 for 1 specials. These are almost always overpriced and typically do not impress the taste buds either.
Always a bad idea: wandering around hungry. Do a little research on Tripadvisor or elsewhere. Find 2-3 options for food before going out. Check out their menus to see how much dishes cost or at least see how many dollar signs Tripadvisor has assigned it.
Pro tip: we highly recommend you check the hours—I know this seems obvious, but several restaurants are closed on a random day of the week and there is just nothing worse than tasting tacos on the tip of your tongue and finding your favorite place being closed that day.
Pro tip #2 (okay, we are not really pros at all, but do eat out a lot) if you simply ask for a water, the waiter/waitress will likely bring a bottle of water. This raises the price of the bill and is not necessary (unless you happen to be a water snob, which it totally fine too). If you are fine with tap water, which is completely safe to drink in Puerto Vallarta, make sure you order a glass of water, or “vaso de aqua”.
Ah, souvenir shopping. So you want to buy a cheesy shirt and a coffee mug? Here are our top suggestions.
Know what you want. There are a ton of souvenir shops in Puerto Vallarta (and most other tourist destinations). If you are not sure what you want, it will be apparent to the shop owners and they will bug you about every dang thing they sell. Go in with a mission! In and out! Can you tell a guy is writing this!?
Once you know what you want, let’s say a hat, walk around the hat section a few times and try and determine how much they have their hats priced at. Determine if that seems like a price you are willing to pay.
In case you have not picked up on the theme, the hats (and everything else in the shop) is probably way over priced.
Let’s say the hat is priced at 200 pesos. Now you need to determine what you actually want to pay. Let’s pretend that 100 pesos (5 dollars) seems reasonable to you.
Now the fun can begin.
Your counter offer to the 200 pesos price should be at about 65 percent of the target price. So that is 65 percent of 100 pesos, or 65 pesos. It’s likely there is no way the owner will accept that price– That is okay.
Your next three “offers” should be 85, 95, and finally 100 percent of your target price.
Your initial low price of 65 pesos has anchored the owner to an extremely low number. You will seem pretty reasonable by the time you eventually go up to your last offer of 100 pesos.
Remember to be friendly with the owner, maintain a calm spirit when you are negotiating, and finally (and most importantly), you must be willing to walk away. If you are not willing to walk away, there is no way you will get the price you want. It will be obvious to the vendor that you really want that stupid hat and that you are willing to pay good American money to get it. You need to hide your affection towards the product as best you can. Otherwise, you have already lost the deal.
Just because you now know how to negotiate to get the prices you want does not mean you should completely take advantage of people. The people that operate many of the taxis and shops in tourist areas live and die based upon revenue generated from tourists. Sure, you can get something for a really cheap price, but that will likely negatively affect the person on the other end of the transaction. I know that is how capitalism works, I am not that naive. However, if you are haggling over 20-100 pesos, just step back and take a moment to put things into perspective: you are looking at saving one to five USD!
Find a price that seems fair for both parties. You get what you want and the shop owner gets to walk away with some profits too. Even after a few minutes of lengthy negotiating, feel free to throw in a few extra pesos as a propina (tip). This way you get the benefit of feeling like like an accomplished negotiator, but the seller still makes some money from the transaction.
In conclusion, the best thing you can do to avoid getting ripped off is to have a good idea of what prices are in an area. Do research before you go. If you see prices that are twice as much as the ones quotes online, a little red flag in your mind can go up and your negotiating skills can turn on full blast!
Here’s to not getting ripped off!
Keep it Kinetic,
Greg and Hillary
Seriously, please, please don’t be so cheap that as to take advantage of the locals where you travel. We hesitated to even write this post because of our fear of people abusing this knowledge. If you have good food, find an awesome product, or just have a good conversation with a vendor or taxi driver, show your appreciation through a friendly smile and possibly an extra tip. After living in Mexico, we have seen first hand just how far an extra few pesos can go for a family. Happy shopping 😉