5 Tips to Haggle like a Pro During Your Travels

As I’ve said before, I’m a big opponent of the tourist price and unscrupulous tactics used by greedy salesmen in order to con you out of your hard-earned money.

Traveling in countries that love to haggle will absolutely test your negotiation skills and well, after haggling with street vendors for most of my life, I’ve developed 5 wonderful tips for improving your negotiation skills while traveling.

Who said that traveling couldn’t be educational?

Souvenirs from Mexico

Souvenirs from Mexico

Travel Haggling Tip #1: Analyze the minimum wages of said country

This might sound complicated but trust me, it is easy as pie. The minimum wage of an Indian citizen is an average of 3 USD per day and, at the same time, even at the most run-down bazar, people will try to sell you a saree for 5 USD or more.

Think about it for a second: How can the average Indian man afford to buy 10 different sarees for his wife and still be able to support his kids, pay for his house and so on? The simple answer: He can’t. Why? Because he can buy a saree for basically pennies.

This applies to basic items of clothing that even the poorest person can afford to wear but, for some reason, sellers try to measure how much you can afford to pay instead of how much the item really costs.

In Mexico, an indigenous blouse can set you back 10 USD and yet, there’s simply no way that the impoverished Indigenous people can afford 10 of them and yet, still beg for money in the streets.

It just doesn’t add up.

If you want to get a fair price, just ask a local to buy it for you. I did this when I was traveling in India with my mother, where we constantly asked our driver to negotiate prices for us.

We ended up saving so much money on food and souvenirs that we really feel sorry for the people who paid the tourist price!

Souvenirs from Belgrade, Serbia

Souvenirs from Belgrade, Serbia

Travel Haggling Tip #2: Location, location, location

A Vietnamese hat can be bought for less than 0.50 USD at the streets of Hanoi but if you want to buy it at Halong’s Bay departure port, be ready to pay 5 USD or more.

If you’re in a touristy place, the only way to get good prices is to ask the locals where they buy their stuff. Whenever I’m at an archeological ruin in Mexico, the temptation to pay 200 pesos for the all-inclusive buffet is very high, specially since it would seem that this is the only place to get food in this isolated area…

Except it isn’t.

You know who never eats lunch at the buffet restaurant? Drivers, guides and souvenir salesmen. Do they starve to death? Do they bring their own lunch?

No, what they do is to eat in a secluded space away from the visitors’ eyes where you can get a complete meal for under 40 pesos. Ask and you shall receive.

If you’re short on time and/or don’t like to haggle, the best place to get fair prices is, surprisingly, a supermarket. You won’t believe that the same souvenir that is sold at Wal-Mart for 2 USD is also sold by street vendors at 10 USD!!!

The reason is because most of the vendors actually buy their merchandise at Wal-Mart!!!

Vendors at the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

Vendors at the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

Travel Haggling Tip #3: A Win-Win situation is better than a Lose-Lose situation

In negotiations, we have basically four basic outcomes: Win-Win, Lose-Lose, Win-Lose and Lose-Win. When haggling for prices, you want to achieve a Win-Win situation where you pay the lowest minimum price while the vendor receives the lowest possible profit without loosing money.

A Win-Lose situation is when the vendor actually sells you an item below his margin of profit, meaning that he actively loses money while a Lose-Win situation is when you overpay for an item and the vendor greatly profits from you (i.e. he rips you off).

What is a Lose-Lose situation? A no-sale. This is the worst outcome for both parties since you don’t obtain the item you wanted while the vendor doesn’t obtain any profits at all.

The reason why I love Chinese souvenir vendors is because they are the smartest ones you can find in the entire World.

Chinese souvenir salesmen are willing to take a 1% profit because they focus on selling in bulk, this is a big contrast with Mexican souvenir vendors who are keen on getting at least a 50% profit and then complain about why nobody is buying from them.

Not all vendors are as smart as you, but trust me, the Chinese ones are leagues above everyone else, even if you have an university degree in Marketing & Sales!

Whenever you enter a negotiation, estimate the lowest possible profit, make your initial offer somewhere below said point and negotiate from there.

Turkish souvenirs

Turkish souvenirs featuring the Whirling Dervishes

Travel Haggling Tip #4: Always think of the opportunity and real costs of the vendor

On October 2013, I visited the Taj Mahal in the company of my mother. We had hired a private car to take us on a road trip from Delhi to the region of Rajasthan and a stop at the Taj Mahal was a must.

Upon entering the premises, a guy approached us and offered to be our official photographer for only 5 USD plus tips. Of course, we both said no but he wouldn’t budge. He followed us around and told us that we would only have to pay if we liked the photos.

We agreed and, after a quick photo session he went to burn them in a CD and told us to meet him at the exit.

Once we did, he asked for 10 USD and presented us with printed versions of all the 20 photos. I said “no thanks” and walked away. My mom was perplexed since we both loved the photos and I quietly told her: “he’ll be back, don’t worry”.

Desperate over the costs he had already incurred (printing the photos and the CD’s), he was willing to take anything that wouldn’t signify a loss to him. In the end, I negotiated 2 USD for the CD and five of the photos.

Of course, he gave me the other 15 photos as a gift. After all, what use would he have for said photos?

However, some vendors are really keen on taking a loss. When I was at Chichen-Itza for the Spring Equinox, I wanted to buy a pink Zapata Mexican hat.

At 11:00, the vendor asked me for 200 pesos and I offered 40 pesos (the average manufacture cost of the hat). He lowered the price at 100 pesos and I walked away.

If this were China, he would have followed me until I offered 41 pesos but no, he was keen on getting a big profit. At 16:40, just before closing time, I approached him again.

To my non-surprise, he had sold absolutely 0 hats in the whole day.

“So, are you gonna sell it to me for 40 pesos? I can offer up to 50” I said. “No, I will sell it tomorrow for 200” he replied. “Really? How many hats have you sold this week?” I asked.

The number was 0.

Souvenirs from Acapulco

Souvenirs from Acapulco

Travel Haggling Tip #5: If everything else fails, appeal to the vendor’s good ethical side

If the vendor is still keen on charging you a premium price for a very average item, my best suggestion is to call him out on that and appeal to his good side.

Of course, this might not be a good idea in an isolated place where he can lash out against you but trust me, this has worked for me 3 out of 5 times when it comes to haggling.

When I was in Vietnam, I desperately needed a haircut and I went to a street barber in a very shady alley. After he was done, he tried to charge me 5 USD.

Yes, it’s not that much when it comes to global standards but come on, this was a street barber on Vietnam!

I politely asked him: “Do you charge the same to everyone else?” and right before he could answer I added “Lord Buddha wouldn’t approve of unfair practices…”.

In the end, I paid the same 1 USD as the rest of the local people and out of gratitude, I gave him a big tip and encouraged him to charge the same to everyone else. After I told this anecdote to a dear friend of mine, she called me crazy. “You could have been in danger in that dark alley” she said.

“Not really, I had faith in his good side. Every person in the world has a good heart. It’s just that sometimes they tend to forget that” I told her.

What are some of your tips when it comes for haggling for prices? Share them with me and let me know what you think!

5 Travel Tips for Haggling Like a Pro

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56 Responses

  1. isbergamanda

    Having negotiated at markets in both Mexico and China I know exactly what you are talking about! I too, have experienced the unbudging vendors of Chichen Itza and the very push-run-you-down-the-isle Chinese vendors. My best negotiation tactic is to be willing to walk away if you don’t get the price you want. Be willing to go to the next vendor who most likely has the same thing and start all over again.

    -Amanda at http://teachingwanderlust.com/

  2. aroundtheglobewithkat

    These are great tips. The difference between the persistence in vendors across the world is astonishing, I’ve bartered in countries such as Italy, Indonesia and China and all seemed to have different goals when trying to sell me something! Great post! :)

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Exactly, I find it quite confusing that some vendors don’t really want to sell, they just want to make a huge profit with clueless visitors (and in this day and age, the number of clueless visitors has been decreasing).

  3. Michael Huxley

    Totally agree with the tourist pricing on goods! I don’t mind paying a little over the odds for any given item compared to a local, but sometimes they just take the ****. I walk away most of the time too. But with taxi drivers? Don’t bother with their ethical side. Most don’t have any. Taxi drivers around the world are often the worst scam artists around and usually give me the biggest headaches. Even where meter use is a legal standard they will try it on and quote you 10 times the going rate or more. What I do in those circumstances is find out how much the fare SHOULD be with a meter (easy enough to figure out once you have used a few legit taxis, then if any driver starts trying it on, not using the meter, jacking up the prices, adding spurious charges on, then I won’t say anything and let him get me to my destination, leave the correct (or maybe even slightly under) amount on the dashboard and get out and walk away. They know they are in the wrong, they know they have the right fare, so if they say anything I threaten them with the police, if that fails (which it never does) then hey, I’m 6″2!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Some taxi drivers are ethical, although I believe that it is one of the professions where a big percentage of the negotiation power lies in the other part. After all, if you don’t pay what they want, you’re risking having your luggage stolen or worse!

  4. Pablo

    Walking away always gets them to lower their price. If I can, I’ll often get two people with the same product bidding for me to buy from them. I’ll get one price then go to the next stall and ask for their price. Go back and forth once or twice, when they realize the other person is trying to win the sale they’ll both start going lower and lower until one gives.

  5. Aaron @ addictive backpacking

    I had this in China! if your in a busy place with lots of vendors that sell the same item loudly say what you are willing to pay and other traders will take you up on it!, I did this at the Great wall and ended up getting it for less than I was willing to pay! when 3 vendors took me up on it and one of them lowered even more!.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      That’s a very good tip, Aaron! I will definitely try it next time I’m there, as I said before, Chinese vendors are THE most intelligent ones in the entire universe. Countless books could be written about how adopting their mentality would help improve the economy of the World!

  6. Samantha @mytanfeet

    Excellent tips! I’ve seen my grandparents haggle in Taiwan many times which is so interesting to see. In the end, they want to sell and it has nothing to do with pride or ego if they lower their price. It’s all about making the $$ even if it’s taking less than they originally wanted but like you said, they sell more to make up for it!

  7. Margherita

    Great post. The ins and outs of bartering are always kind of tricky to grasp… I remember embarrassing myself in a Thai market after employing the same bartering techniques I had used in Marrakesh. Loved all your haggling stories by the way!

  8. fatou

    This is a great article, thank you! Sometimes what happens though, is that local prices actually do not cover the average unit cost of producing that item (I have seen this in Senegal a lot, with leather products), so what the vendors do is sell to the tourists at a higher price to cover for their local losses. I don’t know if you have experienced that.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      That’s a very interesting take and I guess it makes sense in a tourist-driven economy: Locals get a sort of “subsidy” from the vendor while tourists pay a higher price to make up for the loss. Thanks for bringing this issue to light, I will definitely investigate more about it!

  9. Gabor Kovacs

    Great tips Raphael. I think it’s always a good idea to try to talk with another local (not the vendor) about the price he would pay for something. Anyway, I think simply practicing negotiation your skills automatically get better, I saw this in our own example:)

  10. aluxurytravelblog

    I’ll second “walking away”. It gives you a good idea of how keen they are to make the sale happen. I had someone follow me for about half an hour around a market in Nepal a few months ago so felt pretty sure he was eager! :)

  11. Elena (http://gonewiththebackpack.blogspot.com/ )

    Great tips! the “walking away” one helps a lot but what Gabor pointed out makes sense too – it’s always good to check first with locals what the real price is and then you know how far you can go haggling…It happened to me a few times that I bargain down the price too low and they get offended and don’t even want to talk to me anymore…Also if you speak their language…you take the whole process to another level, they don´t take you as the typical tourist anymore (at least in Russian and Spanish speaking countries, eastern Europe too)

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Great tip about Russia and Eastern Europe, I visited Moscow and St. Petersburg and didn’t buy a lot of souvenirs other than the obligatory Onion-Church Musical trinket haha

  12. Jules and Christine (@DontForget2Move)

    I definitely agree that there are some significant tourist mark up prices and that haggling is the way to go. We’ve even published an article about haggling and our constant experience of having to negotiate even the smallest of items. But there is also a fine line between getting the best bargains and forcing someone to cut their losses because they’re desperate. Everybody in the world hopes to turn a profit if they are in sales, and things are always going to cost more than the bare manufacturing costs. In the Western world we pay ridiculous amounts for iPhones and computers when they are made cheaply in developing countries. Yet we’re happy to do it and don’t haggle with companies because there is rarely room for negotiation. We should take these tips on board, but also bring some empathy to the negotiation table.

  13. Chris Boothman

    Great tips here! You have to realize that every country is different so you have to custom your approach to different situations but adopting certain philosophies will generally work everywhere. Definitely walk away and if they want the sale, they will call you back!

  14. Manouk - Bunch of Backpackersm

    What may also help (if you don’t have a local by your side) in negotiating, is negotiating in the local language and just be friendly. A smile usually does the trick for me :)!

  15. Stefania @The Italian Backpacker

    Very good observation of how the haggling should go. I don’t mind paying a few dollars more in a third-world country, though. Also I don’t think it’s fair to generalize about Muslim vendors just because of one bad experience. In the meantime, happy travels!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      That’s definitely true, although taxi drivers can sometimes be very violent in almost every city, Muslim or not. That’s why I prefer public transportation :D

  16. chritsine

    Great article! Totally agree with these. It’s easy to go to a foreign country and assume that everything should be dirt cheap, but if artisans have spent hours or even days working on something, the price should reflect that.

  17. Grietje @TravelByPolaroid

    One of the hardest things while traveling! Thanks for the tips.
    I don’t like it to negotiate, but I am happy to find myself getting better at it!
    Knowledge (about what prices should be and the quality of what you’re buying) are indeed the best ways to pay a fair price.

  18. Lyn

    Great article on how to save money with good negotiation… Agreed, the price of meals, souvenirs, etc are so much cheaper if you ask the locals.

  19. TheTravelAnimal

    I just haggle for fun – In Vietnam in the Ben Thanh market – they start at such ridiculous high prices you have to go in so low ts almost embarrassing in order to reach a fair price, In Thailand they seemed to be more reasonable – in India the walk away and let them chase you down the road trick works well .

  20. inpursuitofadventureblog

    I feel that taxi drivers in general just try to rip you off, it’s amazing what some of them have tried to get away with when we travel.

    Great tips of negotiating though, I am absolutely horrible at haggling so it’s always nice to get some tips!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Whenever people arrive at a bus station, it is common for taxi companies to scare you off about how “metered taxis outside the station” are planning to steal your luggage and/or rob you, convincing you to pay for their on-site taxi which will charge you double or triple.

  21. Travelling King Blog

    Great points however in the end if you are arguing over pennies or a dollar or 2 – who cares? When we were in Thailand we “bargained” over an item and after sitting down afterward and working out that we were arguing (bartering) over 35 cents! Sometimes its worth just giving in :) I think Leanring to Bart is key!

  22. Travelling Book Junkie

    I love tip number one. I have never really thought about this before. Whilst I can of course, relate to the fact that wages across the world differ and in some countries are considerable lower when it comes to bartering my power of thought seems to all but leave me. I will take this on board next time I am travelling somewhere and want to barter and also attempt to use my local resources to help secure the best price. :)

  23. Alana - Paper Planes

    It’s good to get a sense of what minimum wages are, but it’s not fair to base what you’re willing to pay for items off of them. You never fully know what the seller’s costs are, or if they’re working for someone else and only receiving a commission, and often minimum wages aren’t enough to sustain basic living costs.

    After living in Thailand for three years (a country where the daily minimum wage is around $10), and being in a relationship with a Thai who’s job involved selling to travelers, I’ve consistently seen foreigners demand ridiculously low prices and expect everything to be dirt cheap when it’s not. Of course you don’t want to get completely ripped off, but it’s not okay to completely lowball either.

  24. Emma

    I visited Istanbul a few weeks ago and I had pretty big problems with a few salesmen which changed the prices.
    After a few minutes I paid more for the same service and I remained with a bitter taste.
    However, in April this year I need to go back there so I will try your tips on them I hope I can get something in my favor.

  25. Jill

    Interesting conversation. Years ago I was on a cruise and a fellow cruiser who was a travel agent told me that vendors in tourist areas sometimes use different colored bags to signal to other vendors the customer’s negotiation skills. I’ve never heard that again and have never been able to confirm it. Has anyone ever heard of this?

  26. 5 Travel Tips for Business Travelers

    […] Most business travelers that I’ve met usually don’t have any idea about the country or city that they will be visiting and thus, they either pack poorly or simply aren’t prepared for the cultural norms such as tipping and haggling for prices. […]

  27. Thomas

    Enjoyed your post. I also hate haggling and luckily it isn’t appropriate to do in most situations, so I’ve been able to avoid it for the most part.

  28. Joe Beckman

    Thanks for the tips. I spent an entire day haggling for gifts in the China markets and what I found is you need to figure out what something should cost. (not easy) Unfortunately the only way to do this is to find the floor with one vendor so you can negotiate with another.

    Most sell the same stuff so you walk in start negotiating for one item to find where the owner is comfortable selling. If they agree too quick you know you’re over priced. You then walk away to get a better price and then start negotiations with another vendor below that price. Helps you find the market price and balance the inequity but it does take more time and I feel a little bad for the tough for the first vendor. With that said both were probably willing to charge me double what I should pay without this method.

  29. John

    I agree with all these tips. One other suggestion, you must know what you are getting for you buck!

  30. Robert

    I really love traveling. All your tips will be very helpful to my next adventure in Asia. Thanks

  31. Kavita

    I just stumbled across your blog and really like some of your articles. I’m Indian and just want to point out – 3 usd daily wages is completely untrue, it is portrayed by govt so they can claim less people are poor. Getting a saree in 3 usd will be a steal.
    – Getting negotiated by a driver is very bad. He will make a good commission in between. Anyways if a driver takes you to any darn place where you spend money be it resturant or shopping, it will be for tourist and you will be charged more. When I go on Indian holidays face the same thing. Even they will outright refuse to take to your places.
    Best way is go shopping on your own where you see crowds and quote you in indian rupees. Anyone doing in USD is a tourist price. I faced same thing in Kenya. Local currency is way cheaper than USD.