The Ultimate Haggling Guide

Whether you are hitting the road for the first time or setting up an online business, learning how to negotiate is pretty damn important…

In some countries, haggling isn’t really a part of the culture but when backpacking in places like India, if you don’t learn how to haggle you will often find yourself paying ten times more than you should.

So, if you’re keen to learn how to travel cheap around the world, learning how to haggle is a pretty massive part of it if you are going to stretch your funds as far as possible. In most countries there is a ‘local rate’ and a ‘foreigner rate’ and in some countries, like India, it’s very much ingrained in local culture that it’s OK to try and rip off foreigners.

How to haggle

Harajuku, Tokyo

Most decent human beings will instantly drop the price once they realise that you are not fresh off the plane although some bastards will continue asking for far too much money. Haggling becomes increasingly important when you are trying to buy something like a souvenir, a tour or a room for the night and simply don’t know how much you should pay, in general I like to pay about 30% of the starting price – however, there is no one size fits all number as it hugely varies based on where you are in the world.

Top Tips for Masterful Haggling

Local cash: Make sure you have the right money before you start negotiating. Locals will never give you a good exchange rate as this is a simple way for them to make more money out of you. It is usually worth having local money and some dollars as well, occasionally you can get a better rate for dollars than for local currency. Make sure you have a good understanding of what the local currency is worth.

Research: If you know what you want to buy then it makes sense to ask around and see what other travelers have paid for similar items. Make sure to ask for stall recommendations and about other traveler’s own haggling experiences in the area. Know what you want to pay and then aim for ten to twenty percent less for that when haggling. Always start below your preferred final price when haggling.

Language: Do not get angry but do stay assertive, avoid the use of “umm”. Even when you think someone is taking the piss with prices it usually is not a good idea to get angry. Learning a few phrases and some numbers in the local language can be extremely helpful and will help you get a better deal especially if you can say things like “This is too expensive”. Rather than saying things like “Is X amount ok?” instead use phrases such as “OK I’ll give you X amount as that seems fair to me”.

How to haggle

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Stay Calm: Do not get too excited, act nonchalant and be honest; do you really need a massive, camel leather, lamp? OK, so you don’t need one but you do want one providing the price is right. The best way to get a good price is to pretend you don’t really want the lamp, having a reluctant partner can work wonders as can walking away after entering negotiations; the price will rapidly plummet.

Take your time: Often I will haggle for the same product with two or three vendors, I will see what the absolute lowest price I can get is from all three and then go for the cheapest one and try to knock another 10% off. When you enter a store or a market make sure to have a look around, usually there are lots of identical products on sale with the most expensive being at the stalls with the best location, go deeper into the market for fewer customers and better deals. Make sure to inspect your chosen product carefully, if you find flaws and point them out this can usually lower the price. The ancient art of haggling takes time, practise and patience…

How to haggle

Hua hin, Thailand

Do NOT ask for the price straight away: Pretend you are browsing and do not ask for the price, after a while the vendor will say something like “Very good price my friend”, you can then ask how much it is without seeming particularly interested.

Body language: One of my favourite techniques is to nod and stick out my hand for a deal ending handshake when I suggest my final price in order to get the vendor to agree with me, beware however the vendor will often try this same technique on you as well!

Bulk purchases: If you intend on buying several of the same things haggle one down as low as possible first and then try and get a further discount for buying multiple items.

How to haggle

Varanasi, India

Keep your money hidden: Showing off a wallet stuffed full of cash is never a good idea, I tend to have a pocket of smaller bills easily accessible for small purchases. If you need to get out more money from your wallet turn your back to the vendor and if possible face a wall, this will not be considered rude. I strongly recommend picking up a specially made security belt with a hidden pocket. 

You should not get the ‘local price’: Ultimately even broke backpackers tend to have a little bit more money than most of the locals in third world countries, I don’t have a problem with driving a really hard bargain in a proper shop or from a tour company but if you are buying something small from somebody operating over a stall or out of a small shop then do not try to screw them out of every cent of profit. It seems fair to pay the local price plus ten to fifteen percent however it is definitely not fair to pay some of the ridiculous prices that vendors will often ask in places like India. Happy haggling amigos!

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  • Avatar Jack says:

    Hahah where exactly did you take the last picture of the two people? The guy on the left is me ?

  • Avatar Matt says:

    Bollocks, 10-20% less, still getting ripped off. Vietnam and Cambodia in particular it is very commonplace to be able to cut 50% off items like bags, clothing, souvenirs. I got a fake pair of Nikes from $30 to $8 in Sapa, a NorthFace jacket from $40 to $13 and a NorthFace bag from $20 to $5 in Cambodia. Don’t be as tame as in here. Remember that business is business and that these people won’t make a sale if the price is too low, so play hard ball.

  • Avatar Sally says:

    Great article. I love to haggle! I always feel bad when I agree on a low price and then realise I only have a big note!

  • I also use this tactic: get the right amount of cash for the price I want to pay out of your wallet and just hand it to them and smile and start walking away with what you’re buying. Cheeky but always works. And telling them you “know” what the proper price is a good one too.

  • Avatar Will Hatton says:

    I know exactly what you mean – learning to haggle is an incredibly valuable skill! 🙂 I tend to buy painting personally 🙂

  • Complimenti per l’articolo, davvero interessante, spero tu possa pubblicare altre informazioni così interessanti in futuro, tornerò presto a leggerti. Buona giornata

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