Haggling For Newbies

Travel Tips
Haggling for a couple of kilos of tomatoes in Africa.
Haggling for a couple of kilos of tomatoes in Africa.
Oh the art, the fun, the pain in the ass of bargaining every time you want to buy something!
Haggling over price is the norm in many countries and in some areas, it's almost an insult if you don't join in the game. Of course I'm sure they'd still be happy to take your money for the highest price, but still. It can be fun and it can be just plain tiring after a while but it's part of the culture and it's expected. So let the negotiations begin!

You typically only barter in markets with individual owners. Proper shops, eateries, and grocery stores have set prices. But in the markets and souvenir stalls you can try your hand at eking every last penny out of your deal. Sometimes if you're not sure if you should offer a lower price, just ask "better price?" They'll certainly let you know if the price is non-negotiable.

For taxis, you definitely need to bargain the fare if you're not using a meter. The best thing to do is get info ahead of time from a local or by searching online so you know what the price should be. Stick to your guns. Taxi drivers can be hard core about trying to way overcharge tourists.

taxi fare
fresh produce and meat
bike rental
budget lodging
anything being sold on the street
public transportation (i.e. bus & train tickets)
mini and super markets
anything with a written menu
(most) food carts

Don't feel badly about doing it

In countries where it's expected, it's more like a sport; a fun game for both parties!

Language isn't usually a problem

These people are experienced at this game. Many a negotiation has been made strictly by using a calculator. They'll type in the price they want, then you can feel free to type the price you want. Back and forth, back and forth, until you come to an agreement or a stalemate.

Calculators are often used in the bargaining game.
Calculators are often used in the bargaining game.
Flickr Ironchefbalara

Learn the local numbers

If you can't read the script used in the local language, at least try to learn the numbers. That way if a price is advertised for the locals, you will be able to read it and know what the price should be. Because as a tourist, that price will be ignored and they will quote you about 3x that when you ask.

Sneak a peek at what the locals are paying

If you can manage to see what a local is paying for something, then you have a good solid target number to go for. You won't likely have a local buying the same souvenir you want, but they might be buying the same bag of oranges you want, or cold drink, and it works really well on public transportation (which is not usually a bargaining game, but a challenge not to get overcharged). It can be a bit difficult to keep an eye on the money being exchanged and recognize both what's being paid as well as the change given in the foreign currency.

Learn the local words for "how much?" and "expensive"

That will give you a slight bit more respect in the game.

Always remain good natured

You will want to hold your ground, but there's no need to get angry at any point. A little chuckle at their opening offer is acceptable.

You can usually get something for about half of whatever they ask

So make your first counter offer accordingly; like maybe 1/4 or 1/3 their starting price. Even locals have told me that 50% is the target for them!

Buy more than one

Buying more than one is a great bargaining chip. You can ask up front "how much for 3 of these?" but it's better to hold off. First ask the price for 1, then haggle down a bit, then bring up buying 3 of them. The low price becomes much easier to get to at that point.
This goes for lodging too. Ask the price for one night, then get the lower price for multiple nights.
Stick to your guns. If you can't come to a price you are willing to pay, walk away.
Stick to your guns. If you can't come to a price you are willing to pay, walk away.
Flickr Bonnie Ann Cain-Wood

Have your cash ready

Have the amount of cash ready (separate from your other cash) that you want to spend. If they won't budge, pull out the money and say "This is what I have." Sometimes seeing the cash will seal the deal.

The walk-away trick

This is a very important one. If they really won't budge. Be polite, thank them, and walk away. 9 times out of 10 they'll call you back to make the sale.

Honor your deal

If they do accept an offer you've made, make the purchase. It's bad form to negotiate them down and then not follow through with the deal.


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