10 Haggling Tips for the Shy Traveler

 The wheelin’ and dealin’ of the traveling world can be a scary affair.  Keep your pride and your cash with some of these tips:

1. Accept the fact that you’re going to look stupid. 

Like really stupid. Lets just get this out of the way early. Unless you are a multilingual language ninja, an expert appraiser, culturally integrated extraordinaire and all around Master Of All Situations chances are that shop keeper is going to make you act a fool. If you can get past this initial awkwardness you’re off to a good start.

2. Don’t be intimidated.

Acting cool and being as suave as you can amidst the fast paced market atmosphere is key to having the best shopping experience. Peddlers and venders make their living off of negotiating, haggling, and sweet talking someone they think they can make a deal from. They are very good at it. All that quick talking and calculator punching can make you break a cold sweat.

Don’t let them smell your fear.

3. Scope out the merch!

Too many times I have picked up an item out of mere curiosity and within seconds the seller is all up in my business. I barely have time to look at what I’m holding when I’m suddenly being bombarded with dialogue about what a “good deal” I could get on the item or about how awesome the quality is. I end up focusing my attention on the seller instead of what I want to buy, and before I know it I’m haggling my way into purchasing a shoddy piece of merchandise.

Pull the reins on that bargain wagon. There are knock-offs and fakes abound out there as well as items that are hastily and poorly put together. A lot of them are catered for the naïve and ignorant tourist. So unless you brought along your Pawn Stars approved “Chinese handmade wooden lacquer chess set guy” then give whatever it is you are looking to buy a good and thorough once over before you commit to start negotiating.

Seafood market.  Qingdao, China.
Seafood market. Qingdao, China.

4. A little language always helps. 

The more you know the better obviously, but going beyond the standard “How much is it?” is a good way to enhance your shopping experience. Try at the very least to learn major denominations of numbers as well as a couple phrases. “I’d like to buy this,” for things that interest you. “No, thank you,” to diffuse pestering sellers and “Just a moment,” for when you want that minute to browse and inspect something.

The ability to communicate these little bits will steer the negotiations in a desired direction as well as gain the respect of the shop keeper. Score two points for the timid traveler!

5. Come prepared.

For when language fails you travel with a small notepad, a calculator, or a cell phone. You can use these to jot down your proposed price. Arabic numerals are pretty much understood worldwide so negotiating a price via writing or typing could get the job done. Many sellers these days have their own calculators for this very purpose but it never hurts to carry your own.

6. Take a lap!

I’ve found this affective on many different occasions. If the deal is too far from what you are willing to spend then walk away. No need for a finger snap and face palm, just gracefully bow out and communicate that the price is too expensive.

Stick around though. Maybe linger by another nearby stall or browse through items in an adjacent shop. Let your severed sales relationship marinade a little. Oftentimes, I am shortly approached by the previous seller ready to negotiate again with a lower price.


Farmers market.  Munich, Germany.
Farmers market. Munich, Germany.

7. Know the exchange rate.

This one goes without saying, but if you are like me and are terrible at math, or just cave under the pressure of having to do it on the spot, just knowing a simple conversion isn’t enough.

Memorizing a couple of commonly priced converted denominations helps give you an idea where what you want stands in the scheme of things. There are also a slew of currency conversion apps that do the hard work for you on the fly.

8. Don’t forget the “because you’re different” fee.

There is a multitude of places in this world where you can find yourself sticking out. People make assumptions. You’re stuck getting charged more for something purely based on the fact that you aren’t like everyone else. Lord knows I’ve fought this one.

“But it’s the principle!” I’d cry.

But guess what? Dorj, the clothing merchant doesn’t believe you aren’t a rich foreigner as you argue with him over those expensive cashmere gloves you’ve had your eye on. Give in a little bit and find a middle ground. You can pay a little more while still keeping your dignity. Your cashmere clad hands will thank you for it.

9.  Get cultured.

Plunging into a new country and new place can be full of new customs and taboos to learn. The subculture of a city’s markets can be a new animal all its own.

Do your homework and try to learn the ins and outs of habits surrounding markets and haggling. How you greet the seller, accept or hand over currency as well as the way you hold yourself during the negotiation can play a key part in the outcome of how the deal goes down. Learning the etiquette in buying certain political or religious items is also important. Having a heads up on what to expect is a good advantage. Plus, no one likes that red faced gringo screaming about overpriced alpaca ponchos.

Some places, such as China have a whole system of hand signs used for expressing numbers and negotiating prices. Throw up a couple of these bad boys during a deal and show him you mean business. No language needed!

10. Leave with something besides what you purchased.

Local markets are a fabulous place to get acquainted with the culture and people of wherever you may be visiting. Go for the experience of it all and consider your cool foreign purchase an added bonus to the venture. You should not walk away swindled and fuming angry nor should you walk away completely satisfied with what you paid, after all someone has to make money somewhere.

Take away the satisfaction that you learned something and take the outcome of your experience and save it up for a good story to tell back home. Those camel wool slippers will make a great prop.

Old City market.  Jerusalem, Israel.
Old City market. Jerusalem, Israel.


Categories: Travel Tips | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “10 Haggling Tips for the Shy Traveler

  1. I find smiling and flirting (just a little bit!) helps me sometimes..but only with the guys!!! haha….;)

    • Haha nice! Smiling definitely never hurts. I haven’t tried the whole flirting bit. I feel like it would not work in my favor haha.

      • Haha, don’t worry – I don’t have much going for me either but a compliment or two usually melts anybody…haha…:)

  2. Laura

    Very interesting.

    Sent from my iPad


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