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How to Barter on Holiday

Travel may be one thing, but getting stuck into some serious bartering is quite another. In countless cultures, the thrill of the haggle is a battle of wits and smiles held in high esteem. And just because you’re visiting the exotic souks of Morocco or the packed street jamborees of the Caribbean, it doesn’t mean you have to take the prices offered by those merchants at face value.

Join us on a quick overview of the best ways to barter on holiday, and what to watch out for.

The basics

There are a few holiday haggling tips it’s smart to have under your belt before we look into the cultural side of things. Wherever you go, the chances are there’s a street market or other kind of merchant meet-up where you can get your shop on. Obviously, most of us are smart enough to know that more standard places to shop, like brick and mortar stores, have prices set in stone that we can’t change. And luckily, beers abroad are cheap enough that nobody’s going to want to barter down the supermarket!

If you’re worried about causing offence by bargaining at your chosen destination’s local market, don’t be. From weekly markets in Goa to the famous Grand Bazaar in Turkey, sellers expect a little friendly challenge against the prices they’re offering you.

In fact, by and large, you’re more likely to cause offence if you barter for an item you don’t genuinely want. For example, if a street seller in Florence offers you some of that city’s amazing leather and you draw out a conversation on how fine the coat is, find the right price and then walk away… well, you can imagine that’ll leave a sour taste in your new friend’s mouth.

Things to keep in mind

In terms of what you can haggle for, there’s not a limit as such. That said, if it’s clear you’re dealing with a craftsperson or an artisan, the chances are the handmade objects they are selling have been made with care and compassion. That’s probably the only time in which haggling down the price might be in bad taste.

Otherwise, items as diverse as rugs and shawls through to local olive oil or jewellery are all fair game. As a general rule of thumb, a fair haggling place to start if you’re feeling shy is at 20% under the asking price. The more bold among us could begin at half price and work our way up through a battle of wits with the seller, but expect to settle closer to 30% off unless you’re a real master of the art.

A flair for the dramatic

Bartering is like a game, and as such, there can be a little bit of play-acting involved. That runs both ways, from the buyer to the seller and vice-versa, so don’t be shy in flaunting it a bit.

For example, the seller might give you a bit of a song and dance about how they’re relying on your money to feed their families. While it’s true many of the world’s sunniest places also happen to be the most hard up, take a quick look around. Countless other holidaymakers surround you, so it’s pretty clear this seller isn’t relying on your cash specifically to get through the day. Tourism is big business and prices are often marked up at these markets to anticipate that. Don’t be shy in walking away from a bad deal.

In fact, the idea of walking away is a powerful one. If you feel the bartering back and forth has run its course and you’re still not happy with the offer, send your seller a big smile and a warm apology and begin to turn to walk away. Often you’ll find a little flurry of activity from them soon follows, as they call out and remark that maybe your price was the one they wanted to agree on after all!

In broader terms, it also often pays to play it cool. That’s the oldest trick in the book in many ways, and the go-to rule for boot sale fanatics across the land. Yet it rings true even overseas. If you act casual, your haggling tends to fare better. Often, sellers who sense how much you want something will use that to bump up their profits.

Planning and preparation

While you’re definitely going on holiday to relax, this is one time when showing a little bit of research about your chosen destination can lead to big savings. Doing a touch of homework can put you in a good place to barter with confidence, especially if you do some light reading to liven up your flight.

This is a good way to find out what hot ticket items are available at your destination, but also gives you a chance to see what the hidden treasures are. It also pays, quite literally, to have a good understanding of how the pound back home compares to the currency of where you’re going. Sometimes, when people know you’re visiting from the UK, they might try and bump their prices up more to take advantage of how well our cash translates overseas.

At the ground level, you’ll find another fantastic thing to have on your side is timing. At the end of the trading day, prices take a tumble as trader try to offload anything they don’t fancy having to pack up and cart home. Likewise, days where the weather isn’t so great or tourist levels aren’t so high often mean fairer prices and an easier time of bartering.

Overall, remember to have fun and enjoy the game. Bartering is a big part of life in any number of communities you holiday to, and if you’ve got any of your own stories or tips, definitely let us know in the comments.