Haggling abroad comes easy to some people. After all, it’s the same skill you use when shopping at a yard sale or car dealership. But I don’t fare well in those shopping situations either. Someone names a price, and I feel bad counter-offering — as though I’m insulting them for wanting to pay less than $25 for a clay ashtray. So I haggle my way down to $20, and they accept. I should have paid three.
But not everyone’s as bad at haggling as me. My boyfriend Jeff owns a small beach store in North Carolina, where he sells handi-crafts and handmade clothing from our travels around the world. He’s gotten unbeatable deals on hundreds of tapestries and brass work in India, earrings and wood carvings in South Africa, sundresses and ceramics in Mexico and knock-off sunglasses and tie-dyes in Thailand — just to name a few.
So instead of boring you with my useless tips on “how to pay way too much for an item when traveling,” I’ll let you in on some of his tried-and-true tips for getting prices even the locals can’t believe — starting with his No. 1 tip, “Never pay full price.”
Brush up on the currency exchange rate and local customs before you start haggling with anyone. Basically, you want to make sure haggling is a common practice in the country (or even the specific store) you’re visiting. And knowing how to count to at least 10 in the local language can help get your point across more smoothly.
Once you’ve brushed up on the basics and spotted something you want to buy, stop by a number of other shops or vendors to ensure they’re not offering the same product for a better price. Many vendors and shops in tourist areas sell the same items, so you may be surprised that the starting price varies greatly from one to another. A vendor who doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar store or who operates in a less-desirable location, may be able to offer a lower price.
You don’t have to be a retail store owner like Jeff to get a good deal on buying multiple items at once. Shop owners and vendors love to sell multiple items (some don’t sell more than a few items per day), so they’re willing to lower prices even farther when you suggest that you’re going to buy more than one product. For instance, if you’re spending a day souvenir shopping for your friends and family, buy them all from the same shop or vendor to get a much better deal than if you’d bought them at separate shops. But don’t forget to haggle on all of the items individually, then haggle again on the total bill.
Many travelers recommend asking a fellow tourist the price they paid for a product, but most tourists are just as unsure about haggling as you. The better option is to ask a local (such as a hotel attendant that you’ve come to trust) the price they’d pay for the product. You can even use the phrase, “I want the local price,” when haggling with a seller. And even better, bring a local friend with you to the market to help you get the local price.
Haggling is supposed to be fun, and if you’re in a country where haggling is common, the seller is expecting to enjoy the process with you. Make the experience fun by smiling and laughing with them as you lower your price. Being a jerk can force them to hold firm or abandon the sale altogether, while a smile and a joke will often inspire them to accept a lower offer.
“Tell them how absolutely crazy their price is, but make sure you’re smiling and laughing as you say it,” Jeff recommends.
When your haggling has reached a stopping point, and the seller refuses to go quite as low on the price as you’d like, nicely explain that their price is too high and walk away slowly. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s very likely that the seller will call you back to the shop to haggle a little more. When that happens, you know you can get the price even lower and probably find a purchasing point that’s beneficial for both of you.
On the rare chance that the seller didn’t call you back to their shop, you’ll know that you’ve reached the lowest possible price they can offer. If you still don’t feel the final price was reasonable, move on and haggle with another seller.