The Art of Haggling for Travel
Haggling for prices in foreign countries isn’t just about savings a dollar, it’s a full blown tactical sport. Natural competitive instincts kick in, you size up your target and attack it with a well thought out game plan. Sometimes the shear thrill of the chase can take over and become the best part. But before you hit the local markets and souvenir stands to try your luck you’ve got to have a strategy. Going in unprepared is the fastest way to watch those precious travel savings disappear. If you’re a seasoned veteran then most of this stuff will be common knowledge, but for those new to the art of haggling this will give you a good grounding in a very vital skill. Like reading a chapter out of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, this article prepares you with an appropriate battle plan, because you’re going to need it!
Learn the Local Language
Even a basic knowledge will get you started on the initial negotiation. If you can’t haggle in the language they’ll pin you for a sucker straight away, no matter how decent you are at getting the job done. You’d be surprised how far knowing the numbers and some really basic conversation skills will go. Vendors are used to foreigners having zero language skills, so you’ll impress them into some great travel souvenir bargains. If you’re cruising around Latin America be sure to check out some of the best choices for a Spanish school in Guatemala.
Do Your Souvenir Research
If you come into a negotiation with a rough idea of what you should pay it will make it a lot easier to whittle them down. Visit a few places selling the same things and practice before making a purchase. Work out an average estimate and start with that. Know how much you should paying and then work on it from there.
The Walk Away Tactic
Never disregard the power of the walk away. If you find yourself in a little stand-off with someone over a price, try telling them politely ‘no thanks’ and walk away. 90% of the time you’ll get them down lower. Even if they decide not to budge on the price, you can always give in and go back if you really want the item. Don’t let pride get in the way of a decent travel memory.
Know Your Transport Costs
Always pre-settle transport costs before getting in a taxi, bus, etc. Once on the road you’re in their world and abide by their prices. Don’t be surprised if it costs more than you thought when you ask them at the end of a trip. A lot of the time if you ask how much it is, chances are you’ll pay more. Be confident with your price knowledge and tell them how much it should be. Maybe even start lower just to rattle them.
The Bulk Deal
If you’re interested in buying a few items never tell them straight away. Haggle your first item down, and then start round two on the next item. Ask them for a discount if you buy 2 or 3 and I guarantee they give you one. If you and a friend are thinking about buying some items be sure to shop together and bundle as much into the deal as possible. Any smart vendor will start dropping prices for the next few items if you’re interested in purchasing a new wardrobe.
The Best Haggling Method
Try your luck on different things and see what works for you. You’d be very surprised just how negotiable prices are. Ask for discounts or to round prices off with a friendly smile. I’ve managed discounts at pharmacies, set menu restaurants and even clothing stores. It’s not about being cheap, it’s just ensuring you get the best price available so you can travel longer.
Don’t Fall for the ‘Special Price for You’ Trick
Before they’ve even met you they’ve opportunistically pumped up the prices. As soon as you show your face they’ll ‘drop‘ it for you out of good fortune. Their salesmanship charm can be a little cheesy at times, but they’re only trying to turn a buck. The price that is special is usually the start of the negotiation process, so don’t think you’ve already got them down too much. There’s still a little juice to squeeze.
Don’t Show Too Much Initial Interest
If you go in guns blazing they’ll see you as a walking cash machine right off the bat. Don’t walk into a store with wallet in hand and an eager look that says ‘I want to spend shit loads of money‘. Leisurely cruise in, ponder over items, hum and ahh and examine things you might not be interested in. If you act casual they’ll try harder to put the sale you on and start the bargains before you even ask.
Find the Balance: Don’t Become the Rip Off Yourself
At the end of the day there’s a definite line between haggling, and becoming the rip off artist yourself. Some people will drop their prices lower than they should because they’re desperate, and you shouldn’t take advantage of that. Haggling is a bit of fun, and in some cultures is part of the purchasing process. Next time you aim to pay record low prices, remember that a 50 cent savings for you won’t go as far as an extra 50c for them, especially in developing countries. You’re already traveling in their country for a fraction of the price, don’t be a tight ass on everything.
7 thoughts on “The Art of Haggling for Travel: A Beginner’s Guide”
When you come to an agreed upon price for a ride, however long, open a page in your travel journal, write both the starting point and the destination, preferably exact addresses, then write the total cost all inclusive of, for example, transporting luggage, opening your door for you, removing your luggage from the trunk, handing it to you, moving papers and debris from the seats for you a place for you to sit, giving you hotel/dining suggestions, passing you a joint to toke, being nice, not taking you the long way, you know, stuff like that. Make sure you understand what currency they are thinking. Write that too, in their language. Write the number out in number form and word form. I know all this sounds a bit time consuming and over the top. But take it from someone who has been dumped in the street in a bad part of a small Colombian town, with luggage, bags, computers, camera equipment and a six pack of beer, two bottles broken with sharp menacing jagged edges (looking like a quick weapon if needed)
arguing at the top of our lungs with not one, but two rip off cabbies who now insisted on getting 10 dollars instead of the 5, agreed upon less than 15 minutes earlier. A crowd gathered, and from the looks of them and their crop of motorcycles at the corner, I didn’t think they would be on our side. They could most likely taken a 50 something slightly out of shape woman, but I stood my ground out of principal.
After a ten minute standoff, with me at the corner taking a video of it all, and them standing their ground with arms folding next to their taxis, they huffed and puffed, yelled a few things into the crowd, got into their tiny cabs and zoomed off. Anyway, this was actually not the first time this has happened to us. The trip after this one, we asked 25 times how much it would cost, at the end of the ride it was almost double. Luckily we were at our hotel so we just paid him the agreed upon fare, and went in to take a nap. He was still there when we went to eat, I admired the persistency, but we were not to be intimidated and had been harassed at better places than this, the Vatican to be exact.
Jules, you can shorten or delete this if you want.
This is a great guide to haggling! Thanks for sharing it. I am a big fan of the walk away, especially after I’ve given more than the merchant. There is one more tip I would add. Never start too low. It is not only likely to offend the merchant but it will drive up their initial price! And as you point out, $0.50 goes a lot further for them.
Yeah I agree, there is definitely a line between being too cheap. I usually always do my research before I start haggling so I don’t offend. A tricky art that takes a lot of practice!
Man, the taxi stories can be a little scary. My boyfriend and I have been so grateful every time we are in a city that has Uber (especially in Cape Town) where we don’t have to deal with money at all.
Yea, taxi drivers can be sketchy and intimidating sometimes! I’ve only used Uber in San Francisco, but it was super easy!
Well-laid out tips here guys, thank you. Another strategy that I noticed works well, particularly in east Asia, is to avoid an automatic halving of the first price. Sellers tend to expect this and usually aren’t moved by this tactic to hook me up.
I’ve found a strategy that’s better-received, especially in China, is to ask for the second price. It’s here that I’ll show a little more interest than I had at first, and if things are going well I usually ask for the third price. Usually this is a lot closer to what I want to pay.
If it still isn’t in my ballpark, then I take your strategy number three and walk away. If they don’t call back, done deal, it wasn’t meant to be.
And finally I think it’s good to respect the generally poor folk who are peddling crap to people on the street. They usually aren’t too well off, and from my perspective at least it seems right to give a little more back into the economies of places I visit, even if the people there have (frustratingly, yes) grown accustomed to taking more from foreigners passing by. It works as a part of responsible travel I suppose.
Hey Dave thanks for the great comment and extra tip. We’ll have to remember that special ‘third price’ when we go to China 🙂 Agree with your last point about pushing the hard sale to the poor street vendors. There is definitely a time to stop haggling and except that 50 cents means a lot more to someone else than it does to you. Cheers buddy!