Top tips for haggling like a pro!

Learning to haggle is definitely a skill that every traveller should learn. But did you know that it’s not only good for your pockets but also local economies? Here are our top tips for haggling like a pro when you travel!

Table of Contents

Introduction

For some people, haggling is as intuitive as breathing. For others, there is nothing more intimidating and unnatural. If you fall into the second camp, it can be really tempting not to haggle altogether when you travel and try and get back without having to think about it at all. However, haggling is an essential part of many cultures, and to dismiss it is to dismiss that part of the culture you’re visiting!

Additionally, those who don’t haggle are missing out. As daunting as it is, haggling is designed as a means of moderating prices in local markets in many countries and a way of deterring street vendors from overcharging. It’s good for your pockets and, for reasons we’ll explain, it’s a must for responsible travellers.

Let’s dive right in so you know exactly how to do it…

A Socotri man in a local spice shop re-stocking bottles of honey
Shopping for local produce in Socotra

Why is haggling good for local economies?

We’ve come across well-meaning travellers many times who are of the opinion that if you come from a wealthy country, you shouldn’t haggle. They really are well-meaning with this. They believe that not haggling is the least we can do to pay back into local economies. Here’s the problem though: if we tourists are willing to pay significantly higher prices than locals, who do you think local street vendors will want to sell to?

We tourists are not the only people who want to make purchases. If vendors only want to sell to tourists they can get more money out of, where does that leave locals? Either, they’ll have to pay higher prices too, or they’ll be driven out of the market entirely. Put simply, they won’t be able to afford to buy the products they want.

Over time, this can cause an inflation of local economy, particularly in heavily or overly-touristic areas. Again, over time, everything in this area will start to increase in price until eventually, unless wages also increase to reflect the difference (which doesn’t always happen at an adequate speed), locals are priced out entirely. They will struggle to afford to live in these areas and may even have to leave their homes.

By haggling when presented with an obviously increased price, you can slow this inflation. The opinion of local salespeople is formed over time, so by showing them that not all tourists are willing to pay high prices, we help stop them demanding higher prices from other tourists.

Lots of golden lamps and artefacts in a shop in Egypt
Markets in Egypt, Islamic Cairo

Why is haggling good for tourists?

The problem is that the impression some tourists give, that all tourists can afford to pay more, if simply not true. There are often many factors at work. While many people who travel do come from wealthy backgrounds and can afford a little extra, not everyone does. Not everyone who travels comes from a wealthy country themselves and they may have had to save up for a very long time to get away. Even those who do come from wealthy countries may not be excessively wealthy themselves and may be travelling on a backpacking budget or very low income.

Our behaviour impacts how people see us. If we are willing to pay high prices in a country that expects you to haggle, locals will believe that we have more money and, whether we mean it to or not, this might form the basis of their impression of other tourists. Even if you’re only there for a short amount of time, remember that you still leave an impression!

A note on ‘tourist prices’

We often hear people saying that they know some places just have ‘tourist prices’. It’s often said with a shrug, the implication being ‘that’s just the way of things’. I’ve even heard people say that it’s just typical locals trying to take advantage of tourists.

This can be true, but actually often local shopkeepers will start high for everyone (not just tourists). ‘Tourist prices’ form over time as they realise tourists are usually happy to pay a lot more. I believe that people are inherently good and most local people will not just want to ‘rip tourists off’. They act on an impression they have that most tourists are willing to pay more. If tourists are wiling to pay more generally (and a lot more at that), we can’t put the expectation on local street vendors – it’s totally natural they would charge more if they think 1) tourists can afford it and 2) they don’t mind paying extra.

We can control the impression that locals have of tourists by the way we behave. By showing that this is not the case, locals are less likely to employ tourist prices at all.

Emma and Murray are sitting on the front seat of a tuktuk
You should usually haggle for a tuktuk!

When and where is it appropriate to haggle?

Of course, haggling is not appropriate everywhere. It would be very weird to start haggling, for example, in the supermarket for groceries!

When should you haggle?

  • In countries where haggling is common. You can usually find this out with a little research in advance of travel.
  • When buying products in souvenir markets or local produce. This is usually only the case for products with no price clearly displayed. Note this does not usually include every day grocery shopping, though it can at some markets. Best to avoid haggling for groceries if in doubt!
  • When negotiating the price of services such as tours, tour guides, taxis, tuktuks, private cars. Note that usually it is not the expectation to haggle for public transport like buses

When is it not appropriate to haggle?

  • In certain cultures, haggling is not acceptable. This includes the UK and much of Europe, Japan etc. You should not try to haggle in these cultures as you can cause offence.
  • Where items have prices clearly marked. This can include supermarkets but also certain tourist shops. In this instance, it is not appropriate to haggle as the vendor has already named their price.
  • Restaurants and food stalls – it shouldn’t be necessary
  • Entrance fees to tourists sites etc – these will usually be set prices
A bunch of bags of spices in Zanzibar. Haggling was not expected since the prices are clearly marked
If the prices are clearly marked, you don’t need to haggle

How to haggle

Haggling is not an exact science and everyone has a different technique and style. Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ way to do it. It also varies in different countries. For example, we found in Burundi that prices were generally very fair and we didn’t need to haggle too much, but elsewhere we have found a serious inflation beyond the local rates. If you want a general guide, you can use the below ‘how to’.

Sample Haggling Strategy

  • Decide on a price in your head by comparing rates in a few places. Most souvenir markets will have a lot of similar items for sale so you can ask a few places and get an idea. Start with a counter offer slightly lower than the price you have in your head.
  • If you’re not sure, start at half the asking price
  • Don’t change your price for a few rounds of haggling. Let them suggest prices and come down, while sticking to the price you originally said
  • As they start approaching your price, up your rates a little bit
  • They should start to agree or come to a price near enough to yours at this point. You can either settle or, if you’re not happy, walk away.
  • Walking away is a great technique because, if the seller wants the sale badly enough, they’ll usually back down. If you’ve gone too low, and they don’t want to sell at that price they’ll usually let you leave. Remember that you can always come back later and pay their higher price
  • Pay up!
A shelf full of colourful candles shaped like safari animals
Beautiful locally-made candles in Eswatini

Top tips for haggling

  • Have cash and make sure the right amount is ready to go if you can. This avoids any awkward conversations about change after you’ve negotiated.
  • Learn some of the local language (at least numbers if you can) or have Google Translate downloaded just in case. It’s better to speak some local language if possible, as this gives you credibility and will separate you from other tourists who may not understand the haggling culture.
  • Don’t be embarrassed! In places where haggling is common, locals expect you to haggle and actually often find it strange when you don’t. You’re not doing anything wrong and, as previously explained, you’re helping the local economy.
  • On the flip side, try not to go too low. Traders will often give you clear indications when you have passed the price they are willing to drop to. They may look a little uncomfortable, they may start saying no more emphatically. It’s in their body language often, so use common sense and stop when you’ve gone too far. Of course, it’s good to get a fair price, but it needs to be fair for everyone.

For more top tips on how to be a responsible tourist, head to our post on 50 ways to be a more responsible traveller in 2024.

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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