Budget travel: how to haggle like a champ!

Jonker's Walk night market in Melaka, MalaysiaWho wants to pay full price?

Savvy budget travellers are always looking for a bargain, and there are plenty to be had in places like Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East. In these places, haggling for goods and services is more than a way of life – it’s practically a national sport.

The seasoned sellers at the best markets in Southeast Asia, for instance, are to haggling what Manchester United is to football. Suffice it to say, you may face a pretty heavy defeat if you show any sign of weakness.

With that in mind, here are some handy hints and tips about haggling for goods and services. You’ll be haggling like a champion in no time and your travel budget will go much further as a result.

  • Do your homework first. What is the going rate at other market stalls and shops?
  • Bring the correct change. There’s nothing more awkward than pulling the old, “I don’t have that much money on me” trick and then you have to pay with a large note and wait for change later on.
  • What is your preferred price? Before you start to haggle, think about how much you’re willing to pay. Later, in the midst of haggling for a good deal, make sure you don’t surpass that figure.
  • Start low. No matter what your initial offer is, crafty dealers are likely to laugh in your face and make out like it’s far too low. So give them something to laugh about and give yourself plenty of room to negotiate at the same time.

The vibrant China Town at night, Kuala Lumpur

  • Play hard ball. They laughed at your offer, right? It’s time to give the seller some of his or her own medicine. Make out like you wouldn’t dream of paying the price they just told you.
  • Talk is cheap but it can save you a bundle. At this point, I like to tell them that I saw a cheaper item down the road. Or now is the time to say you don’t have that much cash on you.
  • Meet in the middle. It may sound like common sense but you’d be surprised how many people immediately bring their offers up to almost match the seller’s asking price.
  • Walk away. Do it slowly, mind, so the seller has plenty of time to chase you down – because that’s exactly what they’ll do if your offer is anything over their cost price.
  • Learn as you go. If that old trick doesn’t work, you shouldn’t worry about it. Chances are that won’t be a one of a kind product or service. Use what you’ve learnt next time and adjust your game plan to suit.

And that’s how you haggle like a champ.Remember that it’s okay to get ripped off once or twice; it’s just part of the game and you’ll know for next time. But if you’re constantly overpaying, well, that’s bad news for all budget travellers because it’ll soon become the market rate.

You might also enjoy my article about the backpacker budget in Thailand and the price difference between the Thai mainland and the islands.

Have you got any haggling advice? What tips and techniques do you use to get the best deal you can while travelling abroad?

About Simon Petersen 296 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

1 Comment

  1. My husband historically has been the worst haggler, instead of meeting in the middle, he always comes up almost to their price. He is getting better. My problem is often guilt. I try haggling for a dollar here or there, but when I am in someplace like the countryside of Myanmar, I just feel bad knowing the dollar means more to them than to me. That said, when I know I am being taken on a price, I just walk away. The great thing about markets in SE Asia is every vendor has the exact same crap, right?

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