As you travel through endless unknown towns and cities, you end up getting “off the backpacker trail”. This only serves to make you a more raw and real traveller in my opinion, as you gain more and more local friends and go weeks without seeing a foreigner, or fellow backpacker.
A few years back in Taiwan, I was travelling the country with my local friend Eva Chung. If I wanted to bargain things down on my own, for sure I could. If I wanted to find out the price of things on my own, I also could. But there is one thing the locals know. They always know: The normal expected price of things.
So rather than rock up to a market stall in the city of Kaohsiung and buy a packet of dragon fruit, bargain it down and walk away thinking you were onto a winner, I thought “no, I’ll ask Eva”. I asked Eva what price a packet of dragon fruit should be. She told me what she would pay and I went along with it. You can test this type of thing easily in a few ways.
1. Leave your local friend hanging around in the background and go up to the market stall yourself to ask the price. (You already have an idea in your head about how much it should be based on your friends knowledge). If the price quoted is above what your friend would pay, you’re being ripped off. After you bargain to no avail, let your friend walk up separately and ask the price. She’s local. She’ll get it for the real price. Then you turn up and talk to your friend and suddenly the market stall guy looks like an asshole. He probably is one. But you got the product for the correct price. You asked the locals. You trusted your friend.
2. Get your friend to go to a number of market stalls and check the average price, after bargaining. You’ll save money probably by getting your local friend to buy them for you. Eva is Taiwanese – she looks local. She speaks the language. She knows the score. Backpacker Jonny Blair is Northern Irish. He looks foreigner. He thinks he knows the score, but he gets ripped off. Probably just because he is foreign. Of course some foreigners that speak the local language may impress the locals even more to the point they even get it cheaper!! That’s happened before as well. But in this instance, in Taiwan, I would have been ripped off had I not been with Eva. From now on, before I buy anything in a new town, city or country, I always ask a local (be it a friend, a hostel mate, a hostel worker, a person in the street etc.) what price I should pay for something. It’s not going to make you a millionaire. I know that, but you’ll save a few pennies here and there, you’ll meet some locals, you’ll almost become part of the culture for a while and you’ll be content. Ask the locals. The locals know. They always know. Trust them 😉