How to Negotiate for Souvenirs When Traveling

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Shopping for items in the US is typically very different than shopping for items while abroad. You wouldn’t think about negotiating, bargaining, and haggling and your local market or nearest H&M. But while traveling, especially in certain countries, you’ll find haggling for everyday items extremely common. Western travelers often feel uncomfortable and find this to be very challenging.  

Yes, haggling for everything can be tiring or hard on your nerves at times, but once you learn a few simple rules you’ll probably find the process to be pretty enjoyable! Let’s jump in exactly how to negotiate while abroad and what you should and shouldn’t do in different situations. 

It’s Not Rude To Haggle 

The very first thing you might need to hear is that it is not rude to haggle. In fact, in some cultures, it’s simply tradition. Purchases rarely happen without bargaining, and it’s considered an essential part of the transaction. 

Don’t Start Till You’ve Done Some Comparison Shopping 

Before getting into long-winded negotiations over an item take a full walk around the market/souk/street fair/what have you. Many of the stalls or shops carry the same items from the same wholesale suppliers.  

While wandering, simply picking up an item can prompt the owner to tell you an initial price. Setting it down will get you another price, as will walking away. Most of the time you can do all this without saying a word.  

Getting a good idea of the various prices offered will give you a good idea of what you should actually be paying. It also gives you negotiating power since you can say you were offered a similar bag for X dollars at a stall down the road.  

Use The Local Language 

You don’t have to be fluent but you should know some key phrases. I’m not just talking about numbers here. Saying good morning (or afternoon or night) and making small talk helps immensely.  

You’re guaranteed to get a bad deal if you walk into a shop and instantly bark “How much is this” in English. Countries that rely heavily on haggling are some of the friendliest countries because every transaction is a personal interaction. Make as much small talk as you can and try to negotiate in the local language. 

But, if you only speak English, don’t worry! You can still make small talk with most locals. Many know more than enough English to hold a conversation and are happy to have a REAL conversation with you.  

For example, while I was in Morocco, I wandered into a rug shop (after comparison shopping) and started talking to the owner about the states. He had recently traveled to LA! We talked about the weather there compared to NYC, how gorgeous beaches are on the west coast, and even some politics – all in broken English. We shared pictures on our phones and then when it came to buying stuff and making deals he gave me some great prices because we were actual friends, not just a quick customer. 


How simple right?  

Keeping a smile on your face goes a long way. The old adage; you get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar is so true here. Haggling isn’t a fight, it’s two people trying to find the best common ground. Smiling also promotes confidence and puts others at ease. It’s easier to strike up a conversation with a smiling face and build a genuine connection. 

Let The Seller Set The Price 

After comparison shopping, you may become overconfident and think you know what things are worth. Never pick up an item and offer a price. Let the seller set the price and possibly lower it a few times before you even counter. 

There are some people who say you should never pay more than half of the first price offered. In my opinion, it honestly depends on a ton of different factors. Did you come in speaking the language? What item are you trying to buy? Do you look friendly? Do you look American?  Certain countries are notorious for offering different prices to different nationalities. If you’re from Spain, the starting price is X. If you’re from Europe, the starting price is Y. If you’re from America, the starting price is Z. Americans do tend to get the highest markup for items but if you haggle correctly you can bring that price down. I think the biggest thing to remember is there are no hard or fast rules. 

Keep Your Wallet Away 

Along with obvious safety reasons, you should keep your wallet tucked away during negotiations. If the seller sees your wallet full of money he won’t drop the price as low.  

Keeping your wallet away also ensures you can use a popular negotiating tactic. The seller finally drops the price to $33 and then you say you only have $30. All of a sudden that works for him.  

Follow Through  

There is nothing ruder than negotiating with a seller only to back out once he drops the price to your offer. Maybe you realized you really don’t need it. Or you think you didn’t go low enough. This is a huge reason I encourage you to comparison shop beforehand. You should only start negotiations for stuff you really want and you should only throw out offers that you’ll actually follow through and buy. Backing out is a huge sign of disrespect and often ends with unpleasant words. 

The Walk Away Negotiating Tactic 

One of your biggest bargaining chips is simply walking away. Often times a seller will follow you and lower the price even more. But remember this is an absolute last ditch effort. If you walk away and hear no lower price offered you can’t go back. If you go back the seller will jack up the last offer because now he knows how much you want it. If you leave the shop, be prepared to leave the item behind if an offer doesn’t pan out.  

Stop Getting Upset Over Tourist Prices 

Many travelers get upset that they are paying “tourist prices” for items. Why should you pay $5 for a shirt when a local pays $3. But when you think about it, is there really anything wrong with that? Locals may make vastly less per hour than a typical westerner does. If you’re getting a good deal, for your income level, embrace a good deal and move on. That’s all that should matter anyway. 

At the end of the sale remember that everyone is friends here. No one is trying to take advantage of one another. This is just how sales go down in other cultures.  

Coming up 

In my next article, I’ll be going over all the small ways you can save money when packing for a trip. 

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