Good haggling is an art that takes time to master. The best deals are struck when you build a relationship with the trader and find a mutual price that suits you both, usually within minutes. Naming your price may seem daunting if you are used to paying set costs, but once you start sparring amounts you’ll soon get the hang of it. After spending time in India, Peru and Asia, I have picked up a few tricks which will help you in your bid for a bargain:
1) Confidence is key
Stand by your offers with conviction and a smile. It’s not a battle to try and rip off local traders, but you should be willing to dance a few rounds with them before settling on a price. Newbies reveal themselves within a moments hesitation or duff bid, so you should enter the deal with a maximum price already set in your mind and work upwards towards that. Once a starting point has been established and you’ve assessed the quality of the goods, typically go in at about a third of the price you are willing to pay. Be reasonable if you are offered a fair price, but don’t be afraid of seeing where the trader’s cut off point is. Even if you can’t find middle ground, you’ve at least found a biting point which you can use as leverage next time.
2) Learn the local lingo
Always try to learn a few words of the native tongue. This will help endear you to the locals and work miracles with your bartering prowess. Useful phrases include ‘how much?’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘that is too expensive’, ‘can you lower the price?’ and if you’re not too hot with numbers, ask ‘can you write the price, please?’. I once asked a Peruvian store owner if I could try on a bottle of rum, rather than take a closer look at it. She laughed and explained what I had said to her, and then rounded down the price out of pity for my poor Spanish.
3) Be cool
Those patterned harem pants will be an essential addition to your wardrobe, but the last thing you should do is show how much you want them. If the trader sees you gushing over something, the game is over and they can charge you what they like. I found the trick is to act slightly disinterested, or even better feign enthusiasm in their neighbour’s wares. You might even need to walk away and return another day to be extra convincing. The sell becomes their challenge, and you are then free to negotiate a lower price.
4) Good things come to those who wait
When arriving in a place it’s easy to go loco with the exciting local fares on offer. Traditional handcrafted panpipes, llama wool boots and cocoa bean jewellery are beautiful souvenirs that will remind you of your trip, whilst supporting the local economy. If it is a golden purchase that cannot be bought elsewhere, like freshly ground coffee beans or an instrument crafted by tribesmen, then go for it. Otherwise resist the temptation to splurge on your first few days. If you wait, you won’t have to carry it for the rest of your trip, you’ll work out how much things roughly cost, and you might find cheaper alternatives elsewhere. In Cusco, we discovered local women on the mountainside near Cristo Blanco were selling similar woollen jumpers for half the price of their counterparts down in the city.
5) Do the math
On a couple of occasions I’ve been so carried away with the process of haggling that I’ve come away feeling happy with my purchase, before realising I’m not sure how much I really paid. Converting the currency to your local dinero beforehand is important, and you don’t want to waste time working it out on the spot. Knowing the average cost of local amenities/products is important, and travel guides such as Wanderlust and online forums can provide practical information. Carrying small notes and coins is essential, as some sly traders will insist that they have no change.
6) Never be a tight tourist
In Delhi, we were playfully debating the cost of a tuk tuk ride with the driver when my friend realised that we were fussing over about 30p. As a visitor, you should expect to pay more than locals, especially if you’re flashing a fancy camera or iPhone as you shop. I always think of how much the same thing, such as a taxi or lunch, would cost me back home, and the comparative price usually seems much rosier. For many places, tourism is a pivotal factor so don’t be too reluctant to contribute and tip where appropriate.
‘How to Haggle Like Your Old Man’, The Art of Manliness, http://touch.artofmanliness.com/artofmanliness/#!/entry/how-to-haggle-like-your-old-man,502ecf86444f6789471f30cb
‘How to Haggle Like a Pro’, by Cameron McCool, Travel.NineMSN, http://travel.ninemsn.com/holidaytype/budget/8239861/how-to-haggle-like-a-pro
Practical information on a variety of countries, Wanderlust, http://www.wanderlust.magazine.co.uk/
‘Comparing Prices Around the World’, Chicago Tribune, http://my.chicagotribune.com/#section/-1/gallery/p2p-48874057/
‘Tips for Tipping Abroad’, The Independent Traveller, http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/passports-and-international-travel/tips-for-tipping-abroad