In This Post: Love it or hate it, negotiating (aka bargaining or haggling if you’re intense) is a necessary part of budget travel. Here’s how to do it effectively to get the best price on anything from goods to food.
Negotiating or bargaining is a necessary part of most backpacking or budget trips. From souvenirs in markets, to street food, to transportation and even restaurant prices, most things are negotiable. Often, the expectation is that you will negotiate. Those who don’t wind up overpaying and maybe even getting swindled (yikes!). But bargaining can be so awkward. Scary. Uncomfortable!
Once you get over the initial aversion, though, negotiating can actually be fun. For those of us who enjoy getting a good value, it can even produce a sort of high. Here’s how to do it right.
How To Bargain & Avoid Overpaying For Things While Traveling
Know The Market
It’s a good idea to ask around to ensure you understand the negotiating conventions in the country/city you are in. You can also do a quick search online to find out if they negotiate, how aggressively, and what percentage of the price you can expect to get.
Start Way Low
I usually start my negotiation off at least 50% below the first price they tell me. This is standard, although it varies by country (so try to ask around or research first, per tip #1).
Don’t Be Overzealous
Even if you love love love something and know you are going to buy it no matter the cost, act disinterested! Pretend it’s just OK. Pretend you’re not sure. Do not grab a dress and start modeling it in the street. Do not smile ear-to-ear and beam while stroking a lamp. If you are visibly excited with an item the vendor can see it, and will know you are willing to pay more. If you’re meh on an item, they need to convince you to buy it. And what’s more convincing than dropping the price?
If you’re seriously interested, touching the item will show the seller you may want it and they may be more open to negotiating than if you are doing a casual walk-by. Conversely, if you are not actually looking to buy and just browsing or scoping things out, DO NOT touch items under any circumstances. This is also a good way to reduce vendor harassment (link to post).
Be Reasonably Aggressive
When it comes to bargaining, if you’re not at least a little aggressive you won’t get a good deal. If you’re really passive or nervous or willing to take the first offering price, you won’t get the deal. So go outside your comfort zone and negotiate! If you feel weird keep it in perspective: these are strangers, you won’t see them again, you can always say “no” politely and walk away. Nothing to lose!
…But Still Be Nice
How can you be both aggressive and nice, you may ask. I assure you, it’s possible! You can be forceful and kind at once. This means being polite. Say “thank you so much” when you’ve agreed upon a price. Say “no thank you” if you can’t afford the item even after bargaining. Don’t yell (aggression is not synonymous with a raised voice – shocking, I know). Don’t insult the vendor or talk down to them. Don’t demand things. Don’t curse. Don’t make wild gestures or storm off. All of this will backfire on you. Not to mention it’s just plain inappropriate. (I shouldn’t have to state these things, but I see them happen a lot).
Think About It
Sometimes, this isn’t even a tactic. Sometimes I’m genuinely not sure and need to think about if I will buy. However, if you begin to think at the stall the longer you wait the lower the price may drop. So it can be a tactic. Talk it over with a friend. Do a price conversion on your phone even if you already know it in your mind. Stand and make faces that indicate indecision! despite any language barrier.
My best bargaining tip comes from times when I wasn’t even trying to bargain! If the price is too high or I’m just trying to get a frame of reference and I don’t actually want the item – I walk away. It is not a tactic or trick, I am literally just walking away. During these times, though, I found the price always suddenly drops even more. So maybe I sometimes use the “walk away” trick as a tactic.
Know Your Limit
One of the best bargaining tips I’ve ever been taught is “know how much you’re willing to pay, and don’t go over it.” it’s as simple as that. If you are unable to negotiate down to your limit, they don’t buy it. Just as a seller has in their mind a final price they are willing to give you, you should have a final price in mind that you are willing to pay.
Go Late (Or Maybe Early)
Sellers are often trying to make one last sale at closing time, so if you go when they are packing up they might be more willing to let something go for less – especially if it’s been a slow day. The same might be true in the morning, when sellers often offer a “first sale of the day!” discount (although I am quite skeptical this is a real thing).
Don’t Bring A Lot Of Money
If you cannot control yourself and stick to your own rules, or you want to barter in a less-stress way, only bring a small sum of money with you. If you only have a certain amount of cash you literally cannot pay more.I find usually a seller will give it to you for forking over all the money in your wallet.
Pretend You Didn’t Bring A Lot Of Money
If you’re negotiating, it’s not great to barter hard then open your wallet to loads of bills. Either leave the bulk of cash at home, or transfer some into your pocket so when you are negotiating and paying it seems reasonable you actually don’t have tons of cash.
Bring Exact Change
Sometimes people honestly (or dishonestly) do not have change. Having the correct and exact change will ensure you pay what you agreed upon. It can also help swing the sale your way if you display that you have the exact price you are offering.
Ask For Help
If the thought of negotiating still makes you nauseous or you just really suck at it, it may be best to seek help. Many travelers find “the sport” of bargaining fun and are more than happy to assist.