For many westerners, it can be difficult to haggle or negotiate when traveling. In impoverished countries, you might feel you are taking advantage of someone when you can afford to pay more for a seemingly priceless souvenir. Other times, you might worry that you are being taken advantage of if you are unsure how much an item is worth.
After traveling across every inhabited continent, we’ve learned a thing or two about making a respectful deal. Here are our top 5 tips on making sure you leave your next destination with a treasured memento that doesn’t break the bank.
1. Research the shopping scene
Before you even touch the ground, try to learn as much as possible about your destination’s negotiation culture. Is haggling accepted there? And is it also expected? Once you have a better understanding of the destination as a whole, look closer at the areas you will be traveling to — are they heavily trafficked tourist paths? Chances are, souvenirs will be overpriced in these areas. Or, are you visiting a more unknown locale? Souvenirs here will probably be marked closer to their true value.
Beginner’s tip: When visiting the market, know what types of currency are accepted and exchange money prior to your arrival. Depending on your destination, cards might be accepted. However, carrying the correct currency is usually the best bet.
2. Go incognito
No, we’re not recommending you go in disguise on your shopping ventures. But it is important to maintain a low profile in market areas. Try to not dress like a tourist and you’ll avoid being pegged as an easy target (ultimately, allowing you to walk away with better deals). Equally as important, try to not act like a tourist. If you show too much interest over an item, the vendor will pick up on your excitement and will be more unyielding during the negotiation. Stay composed and you’ll stay under budget.
Beginner’s tip: Don’t wear expensive items of clothing or flashy jewelry that might lead a vendor to think you can afford to spend a lot of money. Also, never let a vendor see how much cash you have — if you're asking them to come down to USD 40 but they see you have USD 45+, they're less likely to meet your price.
3. Know your limits
Before you begin any negotiation, decide what is the absolute maximum you are willing to spend? Once this is decided, stick to it. In some cultures, the seller might act mad if you do not agree with their price — a trick to pressure you into agreeing with their terms. Don’t be bullied into making a purchase you don't wish to make. If needed, walk away from the item to show the seller it is not worth the hassle and you can live without the souvenir.
Beginner’s tip: Only walk away if you can actually live without the item! Otherwise, you must accept one of these outcomes:
1) The seller will not do business with you again, upon your return.
2) The seller will not make you a better deal (are you willing to accept the original offer?).
3) The seller sold the item after you left.
4) The seller will make you a better offer.
You have a 50% chance of walking out of the market with the item.
4. Know what you want
In most markets, you’ll find multiple vendors selling similar items. When you find the item you can’t live without, browse to see if other vendors are also selling it. By doing so, you might find it available through another seller. But it’s not just about the bottom dollar — although another seller might offer it at a lower price, you might also find someone selling a more quality piece. This is particularly true when looking for handcrafted items.
Beginner’s tip: If a vendor won’t come down to what you feel is a fair price, ask them to throw in another item for free to sweeten the deal.
5. Don't listen to advice from the internet
Wait, what? No, we’re not trying to waste your time with this article. We just want to emphasize that there are no set rules on how to negotiate around the world. The way you approach a vendor in Venice will differ greatly from how you approach one in Vĩnh Yên, Vietnam. And the way you react when a vendor approaches you can be an entirely different matter altogether. These are only guidelines to consider when preparing to haggle.
Beginner’s tip: Try to read the vendor’s body language — the best form of communication between cultures — and assess the situation before making a decision. This will help you determine if the negotiations are going well and will lend to a more enjoyable shopping experience.