Financial Travel Tip # 125: Things Tourists Overpay For

by Nora on April 17, 2015

It’s almost a given that as a tourist, you’re going to overpay for things. This rule is exacerbated in countries where you stand out as a foreigner. But you don’t have to succumb to inflated tourist prices across the board; here are a few things to beware of, and how to avoid falling into (too many) tourist traps.

(See also: How Tourists Cripple Local Economies)



I have a thing about taking taxis in foreign countries; they’re not always safe, and if you’re in a dodgy taxi, you might be taken the long way around and overcharged. It happens all too easily if you aren’t familiar with your destination.

How to avoid overpaying for taxis? Ask a local or the staff at your hotel how much a taxi should cost to your destination before you go. Confirm the rate with the taxi driver before you get in.

And of course, the best way to avoid overpaying taxi drivers is to take public transportation.



At only a couple of bucks a pop it might seem innocuous, but buying water while you’re out and about takes a hit on both your pocketbook – and the environment. Bottled water is a pet peeve of mine, and I refuse to buy it. Instead, I carry a reusable bottle and fill it up wherever I can. If I’m in a country without potable water, I have a SteriPEN handy.

(See also: Dealing With Parasites – A Guide to Clean Water Around the World)



Did you research the tipping policies in your destination country before opening your wallet (and generous heart)? Did you know that in some cultures tipping is actually offensive? In other cultures it’s appreciated, but not expected to the level that many North Americans might be used to doling out.

For example, most restaurant servers outside of North America are paid proper wages, and tips are considered a nice bonus as opposed to a necessity. The obligatory 15-20% tip on meals in North America is uncommon elsewhere in the world.

Oh yes, and while you’re deciding how much to tip your server, check to see if gratuity has already been added to your bill (as is common in tourist areas or with large groups) – more than a few people have double-tipped their servers while traveling and wondered why the servers were so very nice to them on their way out the door.



I like a nice hotel as much as the next person, but if you want a locally immersive travel experience, a hotel won’t cut it. Why not try out hospitality exchanges, house-sitting, home exchanges, or other ways to live locally, and save a whack of money?

(See also: How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World)


Cell Phone Roaming

I’m still flabbergasted by people who take their cell phones abroad with their home plans, and are surprised when they receive a bill for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars on their return. One little phone call, or just a wee bit of data usage, can result in drastically overpaying for cellular services.

Instead, get an unlocked phone and insert a local SIM card. Here in Peru I spend maybe $10/month on cell phone expenses, and that includes the odd international phone call.

Alternately, if you want to be easily reachable by people at home while you travel or if you are traveling quickly, consider an International SIM Card (which I review here).


14 Other Things Tourists Overpay For

These are just five things that tourists overpay for while traveling. For a more comprehensive list of things that tourists overpay for, and how to avoid being another casualty of them, check out this post:

19 Things Most Tourists Overpay For – And How You Can Avoid Them


Recommended Reading

Nora Dunn: Financially Sustainable Full-Time Travel

In this podcast interview, I talk about the meaning of financially sustainable travel, why and how I sold everything and started my location-independent career, different ways to work on the road, financial planning for nomads, redefining retirement, and much more!


How to Spend $200 – Per Year – on Accommodation

Since 2006, I’ve traveled full-time (with nothing but carry-on luggage), spending less money than I ever did to live in one place. In 2011, I spent $173 on accommodation – for the entire year. And it was a splash-out on a hotel in Stockholm; the rest of the year I lived around the world, getting free accommodation. This guest post shows you how I did it:


Working on the Road With Nora Dunn

This short podcast with Craig Martin of Indie Podcast is largely about my experience working on the road in different ways, and (of course) my latest book.



{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emily April 17, 2015 at 7:21 pm

We were all about our Steripen in our travels last year – it was so useful and a bragging point when we were with other travellers who were paying inflated prices for bottled water!


2 Nora Dunn April 18, 2015 at 11:49 am

Hi Emily,
So glad you’re into the SteriPEN thing! It’s so much better than bottled water, in so many ways!


3 Julie April 18, 2015 at 12:58 pm

I work full-time and travel tons for fun. When I’m on my own dime, I am so careful to avoid those traps you describe, frankly preferring public transport over taxis, for example. BUT, when I’m traveling for business, I cannot help myself. I buy all of the overpriced bottles of water, turn on my international roaming on my cell and blissfully enjoy myself. Those crazy behaviors make it easier for me to turn it all off when I’m on my own time! (…evil cackle inserted here…)


4 Nora Dunn April 19, 2015 at 11:23 am

Hi Julie,
Ha ha! Whatever works…. 😉


5 Tim Leffel April 19, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Great stuff! Reaching for a single-use plastic bottle of water is easy. But besides the financial part, most people don’t even think about what’s going to happen with it after they’re done. Don’t complain about the garbage on the ground and in the river if you’re adding to it yourself. I take a SteriPEN everywhere–and it has never let me or my family down.


6 Nora Dunn April 20, 2015 at 8:35 am

Hi Tim,
Glad you’re on the same anti-bottled-water vein as I am! It was great to meet you (officially, in person and out-of-conference!) the other day. Happy travels!


7 Danial April 20, 2015 at 6:08 am

Food would be in the list too since a number of restaurants or cafes in the main tourist hub are overpriced. Not to say that I have to travel for miles outside the city center for a good bite but it’s one of the items that needs a bit of research before finding the best value-for-money joint.


8 Nora Dunn April 20, 2015 at 8:36 am

Hi Danial,
Food is indeed another overpriced item in the wrong places. Often treading even a few blocks off the main tourist drag can result in some more local, less costly, and ultimately better places to eat.


9 Sabine April 20, 2015 at 12:29 pm

I guess souvenirs should be part of the list too. Many tourists or travellers pay too much, but in the end, it is also what the item is worth to the person buying it. Great list by the way!!


10 Nora Dunn April 22, 2015 at 11:02 am

Hi Sabine,
Yes – souvenirs are tops on the list of things tourists overpay for! But you’re also right, in that things have different values to different people, and a souvenir that’s overpriced to one person might be just what another person needs – and is prepared to pay for.


11 rebecca May 6, 2015 at 11:38 pm

Taxis, I hate taking them when I travel. The one time I did in Poland I got ripped off terribly. So with you on the taxi front. Plus walking is a much nicer way to get around.


12 Nora Dunn May 9, 2015 at 10:28 am

Rebecca – agreed! I love walking around new destinations. Best way to discover a place. 🙂


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: