The Art of Bartering

The Art of Bartering

Travel outside the realms of the western world and you are sure to bump into some haggling. If you haven’t, congratulations – you just spent a ridiculous amount of money and got absolutely fucked over. Not to worry though, here’s how you should barter.

The best thing to do is to find out what locals would pay. If you’re not sure on the cost of a taxi fare, ask your hostel what they would expect to pay. If you’re going to buy your mum some shitty souvenir, then see what others around you are paying and go from there. Expect to still fork out a slightly higher cost due to being a tourist, but at least you can ensure you’re not getting entirely ripped off.

If you can’t ask anyone, then try the 50% method. Whatever price is named, drop it by half. This can sometimes be pretty fair, although it’s also a well-known tactic for haggling, so the seller can outwit you pretty easily by starting off charging you four times the normal amount.

My personal favourite is to play hard to get. Start at a fairly low price, feigning disinterest, and see what the reaction is. From there, continue haggling and you should get closer to meeting in the middle. When you set a price and the seller allows you to walk away, that’s when you know you’ve hit the price you should be paying.

Mostly, it’s important to remind yourself of where you are. I generally find when a situation calls for bartering, I am in a country which is a far cry poorer than my own. This is where the “don’t be an asshole” rule comes into play.

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If you are bartering over a dollar which means nothing to you compared to the person on the other end of the haggle, you’re an asshole. If you are arguing with someone about the amount to tip them for carrying your luggage on the street, shining your shoes and other such tasks which you would never have someone do for you at home, you are an asshole. If you are intending to take away profit from the other person so you can afford another beer at the end of the day, you are an asshole.

Consider that the people you are dealing with are often in desperate situations. They need to sell that plate or take your fare or carry your bags to survive. They are likely to negotiate lower than they can afford to ensure you don’t go to same store down the street when they rely on that small income for their families. Meanwhile, you have the luxury of traveling to a foreign country and experiencing the world. Stop to think about the price difference you are arguing over, what it would mean to you back home and what it means to the other person.

By all means – get involved with haggling; just because you are a foreigner doesn’t mean you should be taken advantage of, plus, it’s fun and it feels like you’re getting a good deal. Just be aware even with your best haggling, you are often paying more than a local, and you should be: it’s likely you earn more money in a day than they will see in a month.