How To Bargain While Traveling

What I am about to tell you is a vital part of smart traveling and is customary in the majority of the world. In Canada, there is very little room for bargaining: prices are set, customers pay, end of story. Very rarely will a customer request a discount which may eventually be successful after a manipulative speech with the store manager reducing your cost by a minor 10-15%. In other parts of the globe, the merchants are masters at selling. These professional bargainers can analyze where you’re from before you even speak, your body language, how much money you have, what you may be interested in and how to approach each individual customer strategically.

The skilled merchants will greet you in your native tongue: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Cantonese; and they know all the major phrases in all these languages.  Using their master skills, their first step is to “reel you in.”  Step two is to “analyze what you may be interested in.” The second step is accomplished by judging your hair, clothes, shoes, accessories, hats, tattoos and by asking you personal questions.  Whatever they can use to get a better picture of their customer, they will do it. Step three is they see you are interested in something, so they know they have what you want.  Now it’s time to bargain! Before you bargain, I think it’s important that I tell you this is part of their culture, bargaining is vital to the buying-selling process at any level of income. It is seen as an insult to many merchants if the buyer pays the initial price. Why would that be an insult? Well, the merchant sets his/her first price high so that the buyer responds with a low price and the two negotiate somewhere in the middle, this is expected. When you pay their initial high asking price, it portrays that the buyer has the money to spend and doesn’t want to waste energy over getting a lower cost, this is very disrespectful. Another reason is because as a foreigner, the merchants price is already going to be 3x-10x the price they’re going to give to a local! You don’t want to be the traveler who pays full price and makes the seller think they can rip all travellers off.

My father once told me a story when he was in the Middle-East looking at hand-stitched carpets for sale. The salesman tried to sell him a beautiful carpet for an asking price of $20,000!!! No way would my father spend that amount of money! After fifteen minutes goes, the price of the carpet is lowered to $10,000, followed by $5,000. One hour later and the carpet which was once $20,000 was now $20! SOLD. My father is by no means a great bargainer, and this is a very extreme price difference however, by showing less interest in the product and no interest in the price, he saved himself $19,980. Walking away in the middle of a deal can make the deal happen in your favour.

Okay, back to step three – bargain! It’s important to have an idea of the item price you wish to buy. You can figure this out by visiting several shops and finding out basic prices first. If one merchant sells a shirt for $10 and the next sells for $40, you know who’s trying to rip you off more. Once you’re ready to bargain and know how much your item approximately costs, you can either set the price you want to spend or hear their price. Remember just as not bargaining is insulting, it is also insulting to set a price too low. Low-balling the merchant tells them that their product is cheap and not worth them making a profit. They are running a business and deserve to make a profit, but they do not need to rip you off to do so. A great way to reduce prices is to learn some of their language. If you walk up to a shop and ask “how much is this?” in their language, you get an automatic discount for appearing less like a tourist. Easy! Other great phrases to learn are “too much” and “i only have ____ much to spend.”

Bargaining does get tiring, but it does save you a lot of money at the end of the day. It is also very important to know a scam when you see it. I was one of the millions of travelers who fell victim to a sales scam. Hopefully by sharing my story you can prevent this from happening to you. I was in an enthusiastic mood in Indonesia in a very artistic city. On my walk exploring the city a gentleman with a shop asked if I wanted to see any paintings down the road done by several students who are selling their pieces to go to school. I really did not care to buy anything but I would still check them out anyways. Down winding alleyways, I finally reached this very nicely displayed art gallery. I already felt that a scam was underway but I had no idea how bad. I was greeted by a nice old gentlemen who served me tea (which I did not drink out of fear that it may have been spiked with sleeping pills). He showed me some pieces and asked me which I liked, it was coincidentally pieces done by his son, one of a kind style. Also, 50% of all sales goes towards helping those injured in the earthquake recently in the news, leaving thousands of Indonesians homeless. How much was the piece? $20o.  After some bargaining I proudly paid $100! I felt like a hero! I made a good bargain, I helped put this man’s son through school, and I helped earthquake survivors! Unfortunately, hat feeling was soon to change. I should have seen more art shops first. The painting I bought turned out to be by a local artist who was an old man with hundreds of very similar pieces, sold at about $10 a piece! I was furious! Not because I was overcharged 10x, but the fake story that went alongside the art. They used victims in their own country, and a fake child to rip off a helpful traveler. I went back with Kristen who was very flustered, and told them we would call the police for lying to us about earthquake donations. In the end, I learned a valuable lesson, lost some dignity, scared the gallery workers to try it again, and got an extra painting for my troubles.

I’m only charging $50 for this information I just gave you, okay…..$40, but that’s my final offer!

Siya Zarrabi began his travel lifestyle at the age of 16, embarking on a four month solo trip to Paraguay. Since then, he has filled passports with stamps of foreign borders.

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1 Comment

  1. March 12, 2012 / 11:58 pm

    Bargaining is so hard at first, we set ourselves challenges and set maximum prices we would pay for things to make it more fun. 

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