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I recently realized that I’m quite good when it comes to haggle when traveling. At least I’m better than other travelers when bargaining. As I was talking with fellow travelers, I realized I’m often the one who paid the least, either a taxi ride, a day trip, a souvenir… In fact, a lot of Westerners don’t know how to haggle when traveling, others don’t even try. It’s logical, we have our own Western codes (we pay what we are told to pay). Unless we’re buying a house or a car, when we know we can negotiate, back home we just pay the price the seller told us to pay.
But in many countries, haggling is the norm. I’m thinking about India, all over Southeast Asia, Morocco, South America… That’s part of the culture in many areas of the world. It’s even seen as a game for some people. Taxi rides, souvenirs, hotel nights, excursions, bus rides, at the market, sometimes food… You can haggle for anything! We finally get it on the road and we start to haggle when traveling after some time. Let’s face it, as a tourist, we will never pay the same prices as the locals. But haggling gets you that much closer.
Even if you’re not talented, a few methods will help you drop the prices. Before getting started, you need to understand that as haggling is part of the culture of your destination, you don’t have to feel guilty. Indeed, some travelers don’t feel comfortable at the idea of haggling, or they feel like they’re disrespecting the locals. Hell no, that’s part of the game! Here are a few tips to haggle when traveling!
Don’t look interested
Even if you are interested by the items! While you’re wandering between all the items on sale, the seller keeps an eye on you. He spotted you as the foreigner from a Western country, meaning you have money! If you spot something you like, you usually stop and look at the item you desire for a few seconds. Then you take it and touch it with your hands. The seller sees it and knows you’re interested. The negotiation doesn’t start out well because the guy is gonna sell you what you desire at full price! Therefore you have to keep a certain distance, your eyes still scanning the room/stall, and check the items interesting you but also the ones you don’t really care about. It’s a good way to put up a smokescreen 🙂
Set yourself a maximum price
Before starting to haggle, set yourself a maximum price, and ask yourself if you really want to buy the items piquing your interest. If that’s the case, the negotiation won’t be to your advantage, because you’re interested anyway. If that’s not the case, then it’s easier. Set yourself a price (but don’t go too far), and try to reach that price when haggling. If you can’t make it, you can still walk away and not be disappointed.
Talk with the seller
It drives me nuts when I see fellow travelers, not even greeting the sellers, ask -or I’d rather say bark- “How much is it?“. They shoot themselves in the foot and don’t even realize it! You need to talk with the seller, make a joke or two, make them laugh, set a relaxed atmosphere… You create a bond for a few moments! When you do that, the seller will be a lot more inclined to lower his price. It’s even more effective if you say a few words in the local language “Hello” “Please” Thank you” “How much is it?” “It’s too expensive!” It’s not a lot, but it has an impact! Sometimes, the seller himself decides to lower his prices, just for you!
Don’t make the first offer
Sometimes you’ll realize what you want to buy is actually cheaper than what you were expecting. And the price announced by the seller is the highest price you’re gonna pay, so you can start to haggle from there. If you’re the first one to make an offer, very often you’ll be fucked. And the price you’ll give will be the lowest price you’ll be able to pay, cause the seller will be like “Hell no, it’s way too low, I can’t!” He’ll raise the price, and you’ll be stuck!
Check how much the locals pay
It’s very effective, I remember doing it successfully in Pai, Thailand, at the market! Stay in the background and check the transaction between the locals. It will give you an idea of what you should pay, and they won’t be able to lie about the prices afterwards! It always works! At the market, if there are no locals around, have a walk around, check a few stalls, ask for the prices, and then start to haggle “I would have loved to buy, but the guy over there is cheaper. I’m happily going to buy if you align your prices to his, otherwise it won’t be possible sorry“
Pay with the exact money
You spent five good minutes, you did a great job, you’re about to pay 50 baht for a souvenir initially sold 200 baht and then… You hand a 500 baht bill to the seller! Not cool! The seller feels like he was taken for a fool, and he’s right! “He’s haggling over a few bahts, although he has pockets full of money!? It’s ridiculous!” Not only it’s not respectful, but you also look like a vulgarian with no good manners! It’s very simple, in this case, the sellers usually say “I don’t have change“. Either you end up paying your souvenir at full price, or you leave without it. Think about it, always have small bills and coins, and pay with the exact money!
Always take your time
Remember you’re haggling when traveling, meaning you have time. Never rush to accept an offer. As I said earlier, the seller sees if you get excited, and he’ll raise his price! Think for a second “Do I really want this?” When spotting a wonderful item, avoid to suddenly have your eyes lit up (easier said than done). You always have to look hesitating, a bit nonchalant.
Overplay your reactions
If you followed my advice, you let the seller make the first offer. Then you have to make use of your talents as a comedian, and have a shocked look “What!? My friend was in the area yesterday and paid the same thing half the price! No sorry I can’t!” I tried a few times, it’s rather effective!
Take several items
If you’re having a hard time haggling, you can try to buy several times, and ask for a bulk price! Or accept the price, but see if you can get another item too! Sometimes it unfreezes the negotiations! It also works if you wanna do an excursion, buy a bus ticket or a train ticket with a group. Ask for the price… then say you can buy several tickets if they give you a discount. It only works if you’re alone when haggling. If you’re buying with all your friends, it won’t work. The seller will know that you’re all gonna buy a ticket anyway.
Don’t flaunt your money
I saw several people doing this, and I don’t get it… They haggle with their wallet in their hand, and we can clearly see a big wad of bills poking out. Needless to say, the sellers are the ones who have the last word! Just haggle as usual, and get your money once you found an agreement. Don’t hesitate to turn your back to the vendor or face a wall, it’s not considered rude. However, something that works quite well, is to haggle with one bill in your hand and say “That’s all I have“. You’re basically saying “This bill will be yours if you accept to give me something at this price. Otherwise, no problem, I’ll leave with my money!” You can do it if you’re not particularly interested by an item.
Stay courteous and smiling
Never disrespect a seller. Many times I saw travelers losing their temper and getting mad because the sellers didn’t want to lower their prices. I mostly saw begpackers getting mad! It’s ridiculous! You really want to buy this souvenir? Just pay! You may know save a lot of money doing so, but for the seller it might be a huge amount of money! Don’t get mad, and walk away if you don’t find an agreement.
Haggling with taxi drivers
You can apply all the rules I listed on this article. Ask the driver to turn the meter on, and insist if you see one. If there’s no meter, then you have to haggle. With no meter, let the drive make the first offer, and don’t forget to ask him how much is the ride! If you get in the car and don’t ask for the rate, you’ll pay a lot of money once you get to your destination! Be careful, sometimes there are set prices for certain destinations (airport, train station…).
Once you find an agreement, you can’t go back on it
Once there’s an agreement between you and the seller, never ever go back on the price you agreed on! It’s a total lack of respect! You found an agreement, now you have to pay! While we’re at it, never haggle over something that you know you’re not gonna buy. Again, you’re disrespecting the seller, but above all you’re wasting his time!
If you don’t find an agreement, walk away
As I said earlier, it’s useless to get mad, lose your temper, yell… If you can’t find an agreement with the seller, calmly put an end to the conversation and walk away. Maybe you’ll be luckier elsewhere. Sometimes, when you leave, they’ll run after you, and they’ll over an unbeatable price this time!
That’s it! I think I gave you all my little secrets! Sometimes we’re too tired to haggle, we’re too lazy… We know we paid way too much but that’s okay! It happens! Sometimes we’re proud of our haggling skills, but when we do the conversion, we realize we just fought over the equivalent of one euro… Anyway, to haggle when traveling is an art we learn on the road. Do you have other tips to haggle successfully when traveling? Let me know in the comments!
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