How to Haggle With a Street Vendor in a Foreign Country

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

The idea of haggling while travelling may be intimidating, but anyone can do it. It’s really just seeing if you can buy something for less than the price being offered by a street vendor. But there is an art to it — it can be a hassle , especially if a language barrier mean you’re not communicating as clearly as you could be. So, here’s how you can haggle without the hassle.

Know before you go

As Westerners, no matter how broke we tell people we are, on a global scale we are walking around with dollar signs on our backs. Understand that you will automatically be given a higher price simply due to how strong our currency is over that of many other countries.

Because of this, I always find it much easier when I’m travelling to look up how much things should cost or possibly what another traveller has purchased it for. Thankfully, there are a ton of travel blogs and forums where you can search to find out just how much you should or could be spending on trinkets and other items you’re likely to purchase on the street.

Learn the lingo

If you’re not a native speaker of the language of the place you’re visiting, I would certainly suggest learning enough to get by — if only to help you avoid being offered an obviously unfair price while shopping.

Here are the things I always learn before making attempts to haggle:

  • Numbers 1 through 20, 30, 40, 50 and up to 100. Also 200, 300, 400, and up to 1,000.
  • “How much?”
  • “The price is too high.”
  • “I only have [insert lower amount]”

Bring a native

One of the easier ways to aid you in your haggling struggle is to do your shopping with a native speaker. During one of my first trips to Old Cairo’s Khan El Kalili, I was lucky enough to go with an Egyptian woman who would haggle on my behalf. However, when we were found to be together vendors wouldn’t give her a “local” price on my behalf.

Still, ultimately, having a native speaker with you can eliminate your potential for sounding silly by testing out your rudimentary language skills or the frustration of finding you paid much more money than necessary for a souvenir.

The price is right

A big part of haggling is going in with the proper mindset. You may not be wealthy, but if you’re a traveller you are indeed privileged in a way that people in areas you are visiting may not be. Hiking up prices in America is considered unfair because shops with set prices are the norm in our culture. That’s not the case in much of the world — and depending on where you are travelling, even a higher price than the locals would pay will be much less than what you’d pay for a similar item in the U.S.

When you are a traveller from the U.S. interacting with street vendors, you need to understand that they aren’t necessarily trying to rip you off — they have themselves and their families to support. As someone with the means to travel abroad, you probably can afford to pay a little more. That doesn’t mean you have to pay the initial asking price, but it will help you keep your transaction in perspective.

Taking a more benevolent approach to haggling can actually make the process feel more like utilising a skill than anything else — and that can make the process less fraught and more fun.

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