How to Barter at Local Markets

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I know a lot of people who love to shop when they travel (ahem, Natalie DiScala), especially at local markets where you can usually find authentic crafts and gifts. When you go to markets like these, it’s always wise to try bartering, since sellers often jack up their prices for tourists. In fact, in some places, it’s actually expected that you barter. In some destinations, it’s even seen as a game.

There are tips and tricks that a good local guide will tell you, but if you don’t hire a guide, you should make sure to do your research in advance. To help, the New York Times just published a story on Sunday called “How to Get a Deal at Local Markets.” Their tips include venturing off the beaten path to find the best markets and negotiating a price that’s 30% lower than what the vendor initially quotes.

My key to bargaining, no matter where I am, is to be friendly, smile and go really low to start. For example, I was told once in Marrakech that if the starting price is 100, I should offer 30 and settle somewhere between 40 and 60. You have to be prepared to walk away and let the vendor know it. Usually, after a few steps, the seller will come get you, and meet your price. (If they agree to your price, it’s rude not to complete the purchase, so don’t bluff.)

What’s your advice on haggling at local markets?

 

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Johnny Jet

I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

2 Comments on "How to Barter at Local Markets"

  1. I have mixed thoughts about this blog. As an American I have the privilege to travel around the world. Sometimes I travel to countries with high poverty rates. While traveling in Mexico years ago, an acquaintance listened to me bargaining at a market. I thought I was clever. As we walked away he told me he thought that bargaining with vendors who live in 3rd world countries is morally corrupt. In many instances local vendors are scraping by, supporting families, and living at poverty levels. I looked around the market, which was pretty typical for many Central and South American countries- or Asian and even African countries. I thought about how much I spent on my flight, for my hotel room and my food. I had to agree with him. Saving $10, $20 or even $5 was fun for me. However for the vendor, it could be the difference of how well the family ate, or what medicine they could buy, or the advantage of school tuition. Or perhaps even what kind of shelter they lived in. Now, when I visit a market on a trip, especially in a poor economy, I really think about how can I contribute to the local economy… can I help make someone’s life a bit better…

  2. I agree with much of what Mary says, but having lived in several countries in Asia and Africa, I think it can be a bit more complicated than that. There is a social communication/exchange element to bargaining, and especially in
    Asia, as a westerner one can seem rude and impatient if you do not bargain – as if you see the merchant as too inferior for you to take the time for the ritual of bargaining. . But that is not a reason to penalize people financially. I personally have been greatly offended to see well-off compatriots at an outdoor restaurants in Bali, for example, offering local peddlers literally nickels and dimes for their wares, even as they spent the equivalent of a month’s wages for a local on their own meals. And sometimes these little roadside merchants are so desperate for cash that they sell their wares at a loss, which is awful. Personally I bargain briskly – I enjoy the process, and there is no rule that you can only get 30% off – but having agreed on a price, I then usually ask if I can make a contribution to his or her children’s education. I find this a face-saving way of paying more than the bargained for price. Like Mary, I’m acutely aware that these sums mean so much more to the vendors than to us.

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