How to Haggle While Traveling

Shopping abroad can be a challenging experience for a new traveler and learning how to haggle can be challenging. While here in the west we are used to having price tags on everything, in the developing world it is normal to barter for your goods.  It can be tiring and hard on your nerves at times, but if you keep an open mind and have some fun bantering back and forth it can be very enjoyable.  You will emerge from the market surviving one of the most rewarding experiences of travel.

Here are some ground rules that Dave and I always follow and you can use to learn how to haggle like a pro.

How to Haggle While Traveling

How to haggle

Learning how to haggle in A Market at Inle Lake in Myanmar

1. Always negotiate with a smile.

Haggling is fun and if you can laugh back and forth until you settle on a price,  you will get a great deal and have a good time in the process.  You will come out of it happy and you just may make a new friend along the way. I had read that people were very aggressive in Vietnam and were miserable to Tourists.  I was almost afraid to go shopping, but I ended up having some of my favorite memories of shopping at the market in Ho Chi Min. They just know how to haggle. I remember trying to walk away because we just weren't interested in what they were selling. The merchants would tug on our sleeves to come back and they would block our way as we tried to leave. They had huge smiles on their faces. They were laughing, we were laughing and we eventually gave in.  Their offers were just too good to ignore.

A Happy Vendor at the Market

2. Never try to devalue what things are worth.

Sure, you know that when you pay a few dollars for something that the person selling the item is making money off of you at “tourist prices”  But is there anything wrong with that?  Too many people become upset that they are not paying what the locals pay, but stop and think about this for a minute.  If you are paying 1 dollar for a T-shirt; is that something to complain about?  It is a great deal and that is all that should matter.

A Market in Wadi Halfa, Sudan

A Market in Wadi Halfa, Sudan

3. Have and idea of what you want to pay before you start negotiating.

One of the golden rules when learning how to haggle is that you don't want to waste their time or yours by bartering with no goal.  Do the research and know what the going rate is.  This goes hand in hand with my point above, yes, you shouldn't worry about paying a little more than the locals do, but you also shouldn't be taken to the cleaners just because you are a tourist.  Guide books like the Lonely Planet help to give an idea on what you should buy.

But also, taking your time before you buy helps a lot as well.  Walk around for a while and see what offers you get.  You will be surprised how much things vary from stall to stall.  Then you can feel it out by giving your first offer on something small.  If they scoop it up and accept it right away, well you could have gotten it for cheaper, but chances are, you still made a good deal. And by comparing items with the price of what you just bought,  you will have an idea what other things are worth.

Market at Aguas Callientas in Peru

Market at Aguas Callientas in Peru

4. The Rule of thumb usually has been to cut the price in half and go from there.

I personally still follow this rule.  It doesn't mean that I only pay half price, but it is a good start.  Sometimes half can be insulting, and you can easily tell  by their reaction. If you feel that you have offended and gone too low, well just up the price quickly with a laugh and a smile.  Sometimes in places like the Night Market in Chang Mai, half might not be enough.  I have bought things in Bangkok for a certain price and then gone to Chang Mai and they have marked it up considerably to the point that I am insulted.  Then again, in Peru, I found that people would only take a few dollars off of the price and when I decided that it wasn't a good enough deal, they let me walk away. That is when I know it was a good deal.

A Market in Moshi, Tanzania

A Market in Moshi, Tanzania

5. Dave and I have a routine where we seem to fall into the “good cop/bad cop role.”

I am the bleeding heart that will pay anything (which can make it difficult when you are haggling) and he is the hard core negotiator. Now I am not saying that he doesn't negotiate with a smile, he just really likes the game.  He will know what he wants to pay and will have no problem walking away if it is not what he is willing to buy it for. If it weren't for Dave, I would be taken to the cleaners everyday and then my traveling time would be cut in half. Not to mention, I would resent the fact that I payed so much.  Dave negotiates down to a super deal and I give in and give a little extra back.  Everybody wins!

So there are our 5 tips to help you learn how to haggle better when traveling.

It seems to work for us. We have a great time shopping and get a rush out of it. Once we start we get really into it.  We absolutely love all of our artifacts that we have gathered over the years. When people visit our place, they are amazed with how it is decorated. They are even more amazed when we tell them what we paid for everything.  To buy such things at home would cost a fortune, so even if we paid an extra dollar or two during our bartering process, it was still a bargain overall.

Happy Shopping.

Check this out for more tips on: How to Bargain Like a Pro

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