The do’s and don’ts of haggling on an international trip

For most Americans, haggling over price does not come naturally. But for nine-tenths of the world, price negotiation is part of daily life. It would be great if there were a list of hard and fast rules about how to haggle and where you can do it, but there isn’t. There are, however, general rules of thumb to follow that can help you get a fair price without insulting anyone.

Finding local goods

For many travelers, finding something made or gathered by artisans in a specific place is an important part of every trip. These treasures are tangible reminders of wonderful experiences we want to remember long after we’ve returned home. If you plan to come home with a handmade rug from Turkey, a Russian amber necklace, or Trapani sea salt from Sicily, do your homework ahead of time. Make yourself knowledgeable about the product and how to shop for it and learn how much it should cost.

Choose your haggling location carefully

Read up on local haggling customs before you go. For the most part, many parts of Europe are non-haggling zones, but this is not 100% true. Check your guidebook or the internet for info about bartering in your destination country. Wherever you go, flea markets, street vendors and some small stores are more likely to have negotiable prices then department stores, where the price is fixed and bartering is just not done. But don’t expect to haggle at produce stands where margins are extremely slim, and the price is the price.

Know roughly how much things should cost

Be aware that in many countries, prices will vary widely depending on where you are shopping. If you are in a street market frequented by tourists, you can expect to be charged what the vendor thinks you can afford. This could be well above what a local would pay for the same item. Ask the locals where they buy certain items, and then go there if you really want to pay the minimum. Another good strategy is to find a supermarket and look at souvenirs and other local items there first. A supermarket is likely to be frequented by locals, and the prices you see are more likely to be the fair prices.

Decide how much you want to spend

If you know what you are looking for and you’ve done some research, set a limit on how much you want to spend on the items that interest you. Carry only that amount with you. If necessary, you can show your money to the seller to demonstrate “See? This is all I have.”

Shop with small bills

A common tourist mistake is to bring large bills to a street market. Small bills are your safety net. You can pay the exact, negotiated amount, and you won’t fall victim to an unscrupulous vendor who claims to have no change for you.

Don’t be unreasonable

Just because you are in a different country, don’t assume everything should be dirt cheap.

Knowledge about what prices should be and some sense of the quality of the item you are choosing should be your guide to whether or not the price is fair. Remember that every sales person, no matter where you are in the world, needs to make a profit in order to survive. Balance your need for a deal with the realities of the situation on the ground. Remember that your goal is to get a fair price, not to argue your vendor into a hole.

Not sure if haggling is okay?

If you aren’t sure if haggling is appropriate, look interested in an item and then shake your head and indicate through body language that it’s just too expensive, sigh. If the seller reacts by coming down in price, you know you can get down to business and haggle.

Be willing to walk away

If you don’t like the price on offer, leave. Walking away carries a universal message. If the vendor wants your business, they will pursue you and offer a different price. If they don’t, you haven’t lost a thing. You can walk to the next vendor with a similar item and start the process again.

Show that you are having a good time

Bartering should be a pleasant and profitable experience for both parties. Be friendly during your transaction and show the seller you are having a good time. Better deals come to those who are a pleasure to work with. Once you’ve concluded the deal, finish with a thank you and a smile.

Is there a magic number?

Many guidebooks list this as the standard for haggling math: Offer 50% of the asking price, then settle at 60%. But be aware that sellers in tourist areas know this is what the guidebooks advise and set their starting prices accordingly. Also, sellers in many other countries assume that Americans are rich, so if the price is flexible and you are recognizable as an American (which you are), you will be given the highest price as the starting point. And, while negotiating, don’t look too interested. Go for the “I don’t really care” facial expression. You can also enlist the help of a fellow traveler to try and pull you away because you “are late” for something, which can get you a better offer faster.

A final bit of advice: Prices can drop at the end of the day when sellers are starting to close up for the day. If you are really interested in an item, circle back and check to see if the price is lower.

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