7 Highly Amusing Ways to Deal with Aggressive Touts

In Ubud, Bali there was a taxi driver who asked every day if I would like to go on a tour with him. Every single day, for 4 weeks straight. And every day, I politely told him “No, thanks.” Yet he continued to give me the same pitch as if we’d never met. It was a little like being trapped in my own private “Groundhog Day” where I got to live the same part of every day over and over again. And every day it drove me a little crazier.

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If you go anywhere where there is a dearth of travelers, you’ve more than likely encountered the phenomenon of the aggressive tout. Maybe they want you to look at their hotel. Or they have a special collection of gems for you to peruse. It might be a stack of illegally burned DVDs or hookers (or illegally burned DVDs of hookers). Whatever they’re selling, they want you to buy it and they are serious about it.

I tried many techniques with the persistent taxi driver. I did the silent treatment, pretending that I couldn’t hear anything coming out of his mouth, but then I just felt bad for ignoring him. I lost my temper, letting him know how I really feel about being harassed every time I stepped out of my guest house, but then I had to deal with the awkwardness of walking past someone every day that I’d treated poorly.

Night Food Sellers in Java, Indonesia © Riza Nugraha

The reality is that many of these touts are just trying to make a few bucks and have honed their tourist-harassing skills to do so. Good for them, bad for us. So, after many trails I’ve found seven ways to deal with aggressive touts that allow me to keep my sanity and have a little fun with one of the more annoying aspects of traveling. You’re going to come across this in nearly every place that you travel. You may as well learn a few ways to deal with it and have a chuckle in the process.

#1: Offer Them Something to Buy, Too

They have something that they want to sell to you, so why not return the favor and sell something to them? When they offer you cheap prices for DVDs, try to sell them the the bananas that you just picked up at the market. When they show you a map to their guest house, pull out a picture of your own house and tell them that you’ll rent it to them on the condition that they sign a 3-month agreement. This is a win-win situation: not only will the touts probably walk away, you also might be able to sell that ridiculous keychain you’ve been schlepping around for the past couple of weeks.

#2: Old-fashioned Bartering

Paying with paper currency is so 20th century. Why not a bag of peanuts or pocket lint? While they’re trying to tell you how many Baht it is, you can insist that the only currency you use is rambutan skins. And as far as you know, 1 Baht equals approximately 3 whole rambutan skins, which means that you don’t have enough money. Maybe next time.

#3: Speaking in Non sequiturs

Many locals think that foreigners are slightly crazy and weird, so play into that. Channeling your inner Ralph Wiggum, speak in completely random non sequiturs. This will assure you that you don’t have to buy anything.

Would I like to see your guesthouse? My aunt once had a cat named “Boots” because of the white color on its paws.

Come inside to see your menu? If I had to be a Baldwin brother, I’d choose Alec.

Repeat as necessary. After a couple of these, the touts will move on to another tourist who is more understandable.

#4: Insist on Buying Something that They Simply Don’t Have

I learned this one from a friend after unwillingly being taken to a gem shop by our taxi driver. When they insisted that he buy some gems to take home with him, he calmly replied that he’d love to, but first he would need to protect himself from the sun. Did they have any hats? Oh yes, those fake diamonds were absolutely lovely, but if he didn’t get a cowboy hat, he wasn’t going to buy anything.

His utter calmness and insistence that he needed a hat before making any other purchases ensured that we got to leave the shop way before any of the other unfortunate tourists who were dropped off there.

Restaurant Tout in London © Clive Power

#5: Take Everything They Say As the Truth

I know they’re lying. They know they’re lying. It’s a little hard to believe that they have the best restaurant in town when the cook is asleep and the menu says that they have special “crap legs” (instead of “crab legs”). But for once, let’s just go with the illusion that everything they say is true. Congratulate them on their culinary success! Let the DVD tout know that, yes, he does have the best selection of girly movies in town. Admittedly, this may not get you out of buying anything, but it’s much easier to deal with someone if you believe everything they are saying.

#6: Be a Mime

Unless you’re completely fluent in the local lingo, you’re used to miming things. You can have geopolitical discussions with nothing more than your facial expressions and hand gestures. Why not channel your inner Marcel Marceau and do a full-on mime impersonation? They want to sell you some burned CDs, but you’re trapped in a glass box! Can you get out?

(Oh, wait, there’s the invisible key that you needed. Crisis averted!)

#7: Listen and Respond Truthfully

If none of these are your cup of tea, there’s always the fall back of just listening and telling them the truth. After all, as annoying as touts may be, they are just people trying to make a living. So, maybe the next time someone’s yelling at you to buy something, just say: “No, thanks. It looks lovely, but I don’t want one.”

Just keep your cool, be prepared to repeat it ad infinitum and say “serenity now” in your head. Serenity now … serenity now …

  1. A stern face w/o comment+ waggle of your index finger is a good start in Latin America. Just keep walking. Most tourists make the mistake of engaging touts with even simple conversation, even if it’s the word ‘no.’

  2. I love these. Touts offered the best opportunities to engage in social experiments. At a night market in Bangkok, after being harassed by a taxi driver, I stood in one place completely silent and motionless (not even moving my eyes) for a solid hour, seeing if this would deter any tuk-tuk driver, vendor, or taxi driver from stopping their incessant attempts. It didn’t, not in the least.

  3. Hahaha, great job. Everyone obviously gets annoyed with touts and has their different breaking points. I love the speaking in non sequiturs idea. That’s classic. I bet you get some crazy looks by doing that. I usually just take the ignore route, and that has always served me well. The problem is that my wife gives them the time of day more than I do, so we get stuck sometimes. I have ZERO problem simply walking away and being rude after a while. Sometimes you just have to.

  4. @craig, ignoring does work, but I sometimes feel bad about it. I mean, they are just trying to make a little cash, annoying as it may be. I’ve actually gotten some laughs out of people doing different things.

    @turner, for some touts, I think doing what they do is just a reflex when they see foreigners. In Chiang Mai, we have our own scooter and there have been several times that while getting off the scooter, we’ve been asked if we want a tuk-tuk. Ummm…hello? We have our own transport!

    @adam, I am a person who doesn’t have a lot of patience, which is why I came up with other ways to deal with this. I really try my hardest not to be rude, but, ya, it can get tough sometimes.

  5. @kyle — It can be hard to overcome some of the manners and guilt that’s been embedded in you by your parents/culture, but it’s a different game out there and you too must adapt or perpetually stuffer from it.

    Simple truth is the longer you’re exposed to it, the less you care. I’m completing my 5th year of global wanderings in two days. I could honestly care less what that aggressive tout thinks of me. Because at the end of the day I’m as quickly forgotten by him as he is by me.

  6. I don’t find ignoring touts rude. The way I see it is that I’m not going to buy what they’re selling and they’re not going to take no for an answer, so why waste both of our time? The quickest and easiest way to end the situation is just to walk on by. Some of your ideas are great, though. I’ll have to try some out when I have some time to kill.

  7. Funny stuff. Some will work well- others might get you in trouble. The cowboy hat is a dangerous one as they can go next door, get the hat, then you are on the hook to buy. Also never tell them maybe tomorrow as they will miraculously remember and find you.

  8. Ha ha, I like this one. We’ve had the same problem, and we feel bad when we just ignore people. Sometimes we haggle to ridiculously low prices, then counter with one higher than the original offer. This works to varied effects: a) the tout will give you a smile and accept your humour, or b) he will get a little peeved and walk away. Either way you no longer have to deal with him and you’ve let him off nicely. Sometimes we also speak in gibberish and pretend we can’t speak English.
    Anyway, we’ll be using your “sell him something back” technique! I could probably get rid of some foreign coins.
    Thanks for the post! A great read.

  9. Oh another one is to act like you think everything they’re offering is free! “Oh these are nice sunglasses, thank-you sooo much! Wow! The people of Morocco are so friendly!”

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