If you ever get the chance to wade through the markets of Marrakech, Bangkok, Shanghai or any other place where haggling is the norm, expect to get “tourist prices.” But you can dodge these wildly inflated figures.
By haggling, you can either pay what you want or keep your cash and move along. Here’s what you need to know.
Determine your target prices
Before the market: Confirm with Google or locals that you should haggle. If so, learn how much you can expect to cut prices. “We always feel good if we can get them to half price,” says Deb Corbeil, co-founder of The Planet D travel website.
Look into popular market products, too, so you know what to shop for (maybe slippers for Mom) rather than being tempted to buy everything in sight.
Matt Phillips, digital editor at Lonely Planet, recommends looking online or asking your tour guide, host, waiters and taxi drivers what to pay for that specific item. Learn that you can get those slippers for $18, and you have a negotiating target when a vendor wants $30.
Once you’ve arrived: Bring the local currency in small bills, but don’t flash your stuffed wallet while negotiating. If you do, you’re asking to be upsold — clearly you can afford not just one pair of slippers, but three.
Browse without buying first and note the prices vendors offer you and other shoppers. (That guy got slippers over there for $15!) And when you evaluate products, ask yourself what they’re worth to you, Phillips says. Consider the cost to get them home, too, and whether you’ll enjoy them later, he adds.
Use this research to determine the highest price you’d pay for an item, suggests Dave Bouskill, co-founder of The Planet D and Corbeil’s husband. By paying only this price or lower, you’ll stay within your budget.
Embrace the power of walking away
Once you’re interested in buying something, Bouskill recommends asking for the vendor’s best offer first. Then request a lower price, maybe 50% of the original offer or a little less than your target price, depending on your research.
If the vendor doesn’t agree to your target price after some back and forth, move on. Say thanks when you do and be kind, Corbeil says.
She says that often, sellers will run after you with a better offer. She adds that if they don’t, you just got a valuable scoop: Vendors really want to make sales, so whatever price you walk away from is probably a good deal. Remember that when you negotiate for the same item at other stalls.
If asking to cut the seller’s price makes you uncomfortable, remember that you’re expected to, says Will Hatton, founder of The Broke Backpacker website. “It’s about engaging in the great art of haggling … and diving into the culture,” he says.
Dive in respectfully, though, by aiming for your target prices rather the very least you can pay. “The goal is to have a fun interaction where you get to a price where everyone is happy,” Hatton says. “Normally when I’m haggling with people, I’ll be laughing [and] they’ll be laughing.”
Bouskill says, “Even if I didn’t get the best deal possible, if I’m happy with the price I paid, then, hey, I’m all good.” You probably still spent less than you would have for the same item back home or at the airport — and in this case, you got an interesting experience. “Chances are you didn’t fly to a destination to get a good deal on a carpet,” he says.
If the market doesn’t sound fun, skip it
Haggling can be fun — and sometimes overwhelming. So it’s not the ideal activity if you’re exhausted, grumpy or hungry. “Don’t go into the market if you’re not in the mood for it,” Corbeil says.
Bouskill and Corbeil often save their haggling for the end of their trip, when they’re more familiar with the culture and know a few helpful words. At that point, it’s easier to get in a market mood.
Haggling is like climbing a mountain, Corbeil says. “You’ve got to be in the mood to climb a mountain that day. Otherwise, you’re going to hate it.”