Have you ever encountered the huge price disparities between meals, drinks and even cab fares in many parts of the world? This is not all due to differences in the price of local commodities. It is often due to the “how much can we charge this tourist, (or somebody perceived as a tourist/ traveler) or expat as opposed to a local” mentality and creates what we nicknamed the Tourist/Expat/Local economies.
In North America, we are so used to everyone paying the same price for the same thing; we are often unaware of these different economies or levels.
A tourist fresh off the plane is often considered fair game and will be asked to pay sometimes, extortionate prices. Especially if like us, they had just done a 15-hour marathon to get to Manila. We knew he charged too much but was horrified to find that our cab driver charged us five times what it should have been. We were victims of the Filipino sport of charging long-nose prices. Tip: If you think, you are being charged too much in the Philippines, smile and tap your nose. The culprit will grin at being caught and reduce the price.
A tourist enjoying his annual two-week trip to the beach, doesn’t really care that he is paying three times or more the going rate for a beer. He does not mind spending $5 for a beer and $15 for burger and fries. He is just happy to have a cold beer on a stunning beach, before its back to the grindstone.
A seasoned traveler or an expat resident pays a lesser price than the tourist. You may notice that as the tan’s get deeper and the hair longer, the lower the prices. Once the local vendors see you around for longer than a week, you start moving away from tourist class. The established ‘expat’ is happy to walk down the beach to the little rustic shack, where the service is not as polished and the misspelt menu is scrawled in chalk. After all, it has the same view. However a beer costs only $2 and a heaped plate of fried fish, rice and beans is $6.
A local, will avoid the tourist traps, often because of the prices, he knows exactly what a case of beer costs at the store. He also knows that just around the corner is the local hangout that serves cold beer for a $1 and a huge meal of comida typica (typical food or local food) for only $3.
Not all expats, even if full time residents ever get to the local level. Some cloister themselves in expat communities, others shop at stores that cater to the expat community and hang out at tourist or expat bars.
Others like Elaine and Danielle built a home in a small Panamanian community. They buy fresh produce from the van that comes by twice a week for the same price as their neighbors. These neighbors also share produce from their gardens and volunteer to pick up fresh fish at local prices for Victor’s famous fish fry.
Tips for paying local prices:
- Try to integrate into the community
- Learn the language
- Avoid the tourist traps
- Know what things should cost
- Shop at the local markets
- Use the local buses
The above take time, however the rewards are worth the effort.
Tip: When shopping let a local go first and watch what he/she buys and what they pay. It is a little harder for the vendor to inflate the prices when it is your turn. Once you have found a vendor who appears honest, reward them with your ongoing loyalty
By being aware of what prices should be, we can avoid setting a precedent. If the local water-taxi driver knows that, a tourist or traveler is an easy touch for an inflated fare. He will focus on those fares only, leaving locals—unwilling or unable to pay his fees–stranded. After all if one trip earns him $10 why should he do five trips at the regular $2 fare if he can earn it in one? This practice causes price creep for everybody. Tip: Find out what taxi and boat fares should be before you arrive. Tourism offices, hotel receptionists and fellow travelers are great resources as is Numbeo.com .
Whether paying Tourist/Expat/Local prices, consider it a game played by you and the vendors, sometimes you win and sometimes you loose. By avoiding the tourist prices wherever possible you can travel further and longer and still contribute to sustaining the communities you visit.
We hope you find these tips useful and we look forward to hearing your travel tales and your money saving tips.