How to Haggle [While Traveling]

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Toddler shops for necklaces at a street market in India. Haggling not required as each one was hand made and priced $1.50
These handmade necklaces where priced at $1.50 each, no haggling required.

How to Haggle While Traveling

I’ve always been a bargain shopper but until my first trip to Thailand, I had no idea how far a dollar could actually go. During that trip, I learned that I love to haggle. At least I thought I did. As a tourist, it’s part of the experience, and there’s a thrill to be had when you get an instant massive discount for something after simply asking.

After living in India for 2 years, I’m somewhat over it. These days, when someone quotes me 4 times what I know to be fair I just laugh and walk away. I would rather find and give my business to local shops who don’t charge me that much more based on the way I look, but I digress. You’re here to learn how to haggle which will come in handy at any starting price. Lucky me, I have local relatives who have shown me how to haggle – although they still insist THEY could have gotten something for less. Read on for all of my tips and tricks to haggling while traveling.

So, What exactly IS haggling?

Haggling is often referred to as bargaining or price negotiation. It’s where sellers intentionally inflate place to get theist profit margin possible and buyers bargain to lower the price to get the best deal possible. It is a deeply rooted aspect of many world cultures. As a general rule, If it doesn’t have a price tag (or even sometimes if it does) feel free to haggle.

Metal handicrafts sold at a street market in Delhi.
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Steps to negotiating the rate

  1. Find something(s) you like but act indifferent
  2. Ask for the price
  3. Shake your head no or put your hand up and gently wave it back and forth while telling them the price is too high, it’s more than you want to spend or you’re unsure you want it.
  4. Avoid throwing out your own numbers – let them talk themselves down. Receive lower price from the seller
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until either a fair price is reached or they stop saying numbers

Then pick one (or more) of the following strategies. 

  • Pay up
  • Tell them an amount your comfortable paying. They’ll either counter with a higher amount or accept your offer.
  • Look sad and say “oh I only have x amount” – take out that amount and show it so they can feel how close they are to closing the sale. I keep small amounts of cash in each pocket, for this reason, the rest is in my purse. Never let them see how much cash you actually have. This is beginning to be less effective with more and more people having credit card machines.
  • Ask them for their “best price” aka final price – I’ve seen people skip the numbered steps above and go straight to this step and it never works. It must be done after some initial haggling.
  • Tell them you will buy more than 1 and ask for special pricing.
  • Start to walk away, if they shout a price you’re ok with as you walk away, great -otherwise actually walk away.

If you REALLY want something you walked away from and can’t find anything comparable at other shops, go back to the shop you walked out of and pay the last rate offered. I have never had any shopkeeper try to then raise the price, but if they do you can always walk away again.

Shopping Tips to Get the Best Bargains

Know local currency

Know the local currency conversion and be able to do rough math in your head. If you’re breaking out your phone your not only giving the seller time to think, you scream tourist and they’ll mark up the price.

Never shop with tourist groups

Rates will definitely be marked up and sellers will be less likely to give good deals because them everyone will want the same price.

Indian style earrings on display - you will want to learn how to haggle to get a great price on these.

Know when to say no

Say no to the “awesome” shopping places your cabby wants to take you to. They receive a commission for dropping off tourists. Seriously, there is no bigger waste of precious vacation time.

Check Amazon

If there’s an Amazon in the country you’re visiting check the prices of a few items (or that big ticket item you’ve been looking eying) before you shop. Amazon is priced for locals and you obviously can’t haggle. If you find a similar item in a local shop for more than 20% less, you’ve found a good deal. For example, I have been looking for a porch swing but the rates online were over my budget. I found a roadside stand with swings more beautiful than anything I had seen online and I was quoted 40% less!  Side note: the seller had been learning English online. For the last year, he woke up early and spent 2 hours every day studying English. I was the first sale that he was able to conduct in English and he was thrilled.

Holding a needle in one hand to make designs on banana paper.
One of a kind, hand created items won’t be found on Amazon.

Shop early

Many cultures believe the first buyer of the day holds significant value and will automatically give you better pricing. You can even use it in your negotiation by asking point blank for a lower price because you are the first customer.

Don’t be rude

Literally screaming at a vendor over $1.50 while the vendor walks away is totally unacceptable. Yes, I’ve actually seen that happen and yes, it was a tourist. Pro tip- if a salesperson is briskly walking AWAY from you negotiations are over and you most certainly lost.

Check out night markets

Night markets are usually held during certain days a week and therefore draw both locals and tourists. You are more likely to get local pricing at events that aren’t solely created for tourists and it’s a lot harder to inflate prices when they just sold it for less right in front of you.

Two women buy freshwater pearls in a Thailand night market. This was my first experience learning how to haggle.

Browse before buying

When shopping for generic and common items, it can help to browse a few shops with similar products and ask about pricing. Don’t buy anything. The point is to find out base pricing. You can then buy from a 3rd or 4th shop or go back to the one with the lowest starting rate and buy from them.

Call it like you see it

Don’t be afraid to call people out if they’re being shady. A man in Jaipur was trying to sell me a “silk” skirt.  I said “silk? really? because I’m pretty sure this is rayon” He smiled and with a bit of surprise said “you know rayon? ok, for you special price.” He lowered the price by 80 percent. I told him I would pay half that and walked away with my pretty rayon skirt.  If the stitching is imperfect, the dye is off, etc. tell them – kinda like how you get discounts on dented canned good back home 🙂

Speak the language

Learn a few words of the local language. I like to ask “how much” in the local language that way before the negotiations begin they realize you are (or might be) a local. When I do this, I almost always get lower starting prices. At the very least, venders are amused by my attempts and are more friendly in negotiations.

Value over priceArtist molds metal to make jewellery at an asian market

When shopping for art and handmade items, keep VALUE in mind. Sometimes I know I could get someone down further if I just took the time and drove a hard bargain. I also know that they are usually undervaluing their work. I also, also, know that an extra profit will do nothing but benefit the person standing in front of me. I’d be one thing if I really wanted something but it was truly out of my budget which has happened to me before, but usually, that’s not the case.

 

Buy multiple items

The more you buy, the more you save. I think this is my mother-in-law’s favorite strategy. She looks the salesperson and says “I will buy a lot from you but you need to give me a lower price” They say ok and she picks her pieces (while still no exact prices have been discussed) after spending time with them she asks what the price is for everything and only then does she start haggling. By the time they start discussing cost, the sales person has invested a lot of their personal time (and pulled a bunch of items off the shelf) so they are invested to see the sale through.

Do ALL Sellers Haggle?

No, not everything is marked up these days. Many shopkeepers are over haggling. They give a fair price and you are expected to pay for it. If you try to negotiate you can offend the seller especially if it’s their creation.

Toddler shops for necklaces at a street market in India. Haggling not required as each one was hand made and priced $1.50
These handmade necklaces where priced at $1.50 each, no haggling required.

I’ll give you an example. I was at a Mela held in Dehli each year. It’s actually the world’s largest craft fair and vendors come from all over the world (but especially from within India) to sell their handmade goods. It was the single greatest shopping experience of my life. Anyway. Many of the Indian artists are not used to selling to tourists because they live in rural areas so everything is already at a fair price. I went to buy a small rug. The man quoted me 200 rupees ($3) I did my usual “hmm that’s more than I want to spend” mostly out of habit and the man turned his back to me and started muttering angrily under his breath. He refused to speak to me anymore. I sent my friend over to buy the rug for me and she told me he was very offended because the rugs were all hand woven by him and take (as you can imagine) a very long time to create. I felt horrible but in the end, I love the rug he made and he got his 200 rupees. I hope to find him again next year and buy more to gift to my friends back home in the states.  Another example is the infamous British tourist who was chased by a Nepalese woman sick of tourists complaining of spending 1 Euro on a cup of Chai on a remote mountain.

Sellers understand supply and demand

I love buying roadside flowers in India I get beautiful bouquets for $2-$5 depending on my flower choices. On Mothers day I decided to buy my maid some flowers because not only is she a mom, she helps me to be a better mom myself. Anyway, the flower shop I stopped at tried to charge me $30 for a bouquet of flowers. I was shocked and he started schooling me on elementary economics. I went up the street where I bought a bouquet for the usual price. That same flower stand has been getting my business ever since.

What about malls and chain stores?

You *usually can’t haggle in chain department stores inside of a mall. You might want to try anyway, especially if buying a big ticket item. Just ask, or say it’s out of your budget a few times and see if they offer anything.

It doesn’t hurt to ask right? In the end, that’s what haggling is all about and most of the time, you get what you ask for.

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