Travel Tip – Don’t Buy From the 1st Shop You Enter & Be Prepared to Walk Away

Nairobi Traffic

Nairobi Traffic

Nairobi, Kenya. Where to even begin with such a different place than I’ve been yet. I know that I’m being repetitive saying that about each of the recent places I’ve been.

Emily and I arrived in Nairobi after ~24 hours of being in transit from MSY/PIT – DCA – DTW – AMS – NBO. Upon arrival sometime around 10, we found our taxi driver that we pre-arranged with Khweza Bed & Breakfast. We checked into our room and slept until the morning.

Without any real plans, we woke up relatively early and enjoyed breakfast on our B&B rooftop overlooking downtown Nairobi thru the smog and dust that fills the city. We walked into the city center without a plan, we made our way to The Stanley hotel and received recommendations from their staff for what to do for the day. While walking towards the City Market, we were approached by a gentlemen asking us to check out his brother’s shop shortly past the city market.

Still being in a travel fog, we obliged. Mistake #1.

While talking to this guy about where we were from, what we were doing in Nairobi, and more small talk, we followed him up the steps to the shop. We should’ve known better that he was gathering information on us to guess how big our wallet size was for spending at the shop. Mistake #2.

looking is free
and everything
is up for negotiation

We were quickly greeted by several men who stated that “looking is free and everything is up for negotiation” (which I’m dubbing the unofficial tagline of Kenya). We looked at the items ranging from art prints to wooden spoons and much more than you can imagine hanging in every nook and cranny of the small shop. While looking, our new acquaintance spoke with the other people in the shop in Swahili, which Emily and I know none of.

We perused the items and picked out a few things that we liked. I settled on a couple postcards, a magnet, and a little hand-carved bowl that the owner of the shop said he made himself.

Once we decided what all we were interested in, we sat down to negotiate the final price for the items. Having roughly known the exchange to being 100 Kenyan Shillings to 1 USD, a red-flag should’ve been triggered when they asked for 8,000 for my three items. The equivalent of $80 USD was wanted for two postcards, a magnet, and a small 4″ diameter dish.

They tactically separated Emily and my items for discussion, knowing she would be easier to get to agree to a higher price without me overseeing the negotiation. Mistake #3.

Eventually, I was able to get the guy  down to 3,000 shillings, while Emily agreed to 13,000 shillings. A grand total of 16,000 ($175ish USD) shillings to be pocketed by these tourist poachers. After leaving the shop with our purchases, I asked the guy who initially approached us if he gets some sort of commission. Without any hesitation, he said he will get around 300 Shillings for bringing us into the shop.

Hook. Line. Sinker. We fell for it faster than a veteran matatu rider stepping off his ride.

Curious about this negotiation policy and if we received a good value, I asked a few people about the dish I purchased. From my conversations, I found that the going rate was anywhere from 300 to 900 shillings. A massive difference from what I paid.

This is where the lesson from this story lies. If you feel uncomfortable with a quoted price, don’t be afraid to walk out of the shop. Also, before even contemplating a purchase, be sure to visit a few shops before purchasing anything.


Life-Long Learner, Explorer, & Web Developer. Currently a Software Engineer at Jazz.

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