Shopping while traveling- 7 tips

Excuse me” a woman said to me tentatively at Bangkok airport, “ I have been hearing your accent and was hoping you are an ally.”

She pointed to two matching suitcases. “We bought one at home . We just bought the other one here in Bangkok airport. We worked out that we paid way more than we would have back home. “

When she and I discussed the price, it was clear she had indeed paid much more than she could have due to:

  • a lack of research
  • poor knowledge of the exchange rate and
  • no bargaining confidence

I have made it my discipline while travelling is to be as efficient with money as possible.


Here are seven of my disciplines:

1. I Know what i am prepared to pay for stuff. I keep a list of things I want with the prices I have found on my iPhone. A quick google while standing in a store will bet me what the real cost is. If it is a local item eg a shirt or a craft item, I try and resist buying the first one I see. It’s amazing how many “handmade” pieces crop up again and again!

2. When in the middle of a remote market in Burma or a restaurant in England or patisserie in Paris, it’s hard to know what the real currency exchange rate is. I try to know automatically what the true cost in my home currency -whether it’s using the XE app or a paper based method

3. Airport prices are usually way more than anywhere else. That goes for so called “duty free”. I have been shocked at the prices items are sold for in airport duty free store. Sometimes I could go down town in a cab, buy what I want and come back and still save money!

4. I do not buy in tourist areas. We avoid them back home, why do we frequent them overseas? A cost of a sandwich around some parts of london is triple that of identical sandwiches sold streets away. Restaurant prices on Singapore’s Clark quay are many more times what locals pay in their own restaurants. In Bangkok, tourist oriented boutiques charge 20 to 30 percent more than a Thai person would pay at one of their own stores. Follow the locals!

5. I Pleasantly ask for the price if you pay cash. Sometimes they will drop the price. Of course this is meaningless in cash only market stalls

6. If it’s a bargaining culture-know the way to do it- politely. If it’s a non bargaining place, do not force them to do so. As a westerner, I get embarrassed at the nasty lengths, some of us go to for a few cents off a price

7. Ask if a place will give a discount for a Youth hostel member or AA member or senior citizen (whatever category you are in)

8. Know the discounts attached to your credit card. Sometimes department stores or amusement outlets will give a reduction for holders of a visa or Amex card

9. When I get “ripped off”, just chalk it up to experience!

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  1. After 14 years living in Thailand I must admit I’m no good at bargaining. I find my biggest problem is not being able to walk away if the seller is friendly, I feel obliged to buy. I wonder if that’s just me, or do many other people feel the same.

  2. Great blog post Martin, we were planning a trip to Thailand. I love shopping and found your post to be very interesting and useful. Your seven disciplines are really effective and I think these tips will help us a lot during our Bangkok trip. Thank you Martin for sharing them with us.

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