How to bargain when you travel

Overseas Bargaining for Dummies

When I arrived in Palolem, Goa, India to begin my second visit there in April 2009, my goal was not to soak up any particular amount of sun, but to buy as much as I could in as short a time as possible. If you’ve already read my recent article that deals with budgeting while on the road, you’re probably very confused at this point.

Don’t be. Unlike my first trip to the Indian subcontinent, I made my sophomore journey there solely for the purpose of purchasing inventory for what would end up being Indioma, my short-lived retail business re-selling Indian-made clothing here in Austin. The stock I shipped home never arrived, so once everything I carried back in my carry-ons sold out, the business folded and I was out thousands. The information I acquired while buying, however, was priceless, and I’m happy to present it to you in this travel blog post.

Bargaining Basics

I can tell you the secret to successful bargaining in three words: Don’t back down. Although conventional wisdom would tell you that it’s socially unacceptable to question a merchant’s offer — and common courtesy to meet them in the middle — you must understand that the first price someone quotes you is highest possible price she thinks you’ll pay, the one that will yield her the most profit.

When I was in Beijing in June 2010, a woman quoted me 450 yuan for a pair of fake Levi’s. I countered that I’d pay 80 and I got my price. No matter how low or high you prefer to start, however, it’s important to remember that the moment you begin showing resistance, the seller will work at bringing you up to where she needs to be to truly cash in. If, on the other hand, you walk away when you don’t get the first price you want, no matter how low it is, you’ll be surprised at how many salespeople will literally beg and plead for you to come back.

Just Walk Away, Renee

If you’re buying something in a market (or again, in some cases, at a mall), chances are it falls more into the “want” category than the “need” one. Because of this, however, my aforementioned suggestion — that you simply walk away if you don’t get the price you want — is probably a bit hard to swallow. After all, you want the item right? Here, it’s important to understand the psychology of sales. Like the cruel game of dating that is “playing hard to get,” you’ll have the most leverage over a salesperson who’s afraid you might not want the item — or, if you behave like I do, that you really don’t want the item.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you’re in a large market or mall and shopping for clothing, electronics is that the seller is competing against seller other shops for your business. This not only means he’ll be more inclined to eventually accept even your most low-ball offer, but that you can breathe easy if you walk away and he’s not calling your name. You’ll have another chance in a few minutes, with someone else.

Bulk Quantities = Lower Prices

As you can imagine, my visits to the retail huts and kiosks that line Palolem village’s main road were not for a single trinket or article of clothing. Indeed, if a seller’s goods appeared to be of high quality and style, I’d often purchase her entire inventory. Obviously, if you’re traveling — particularly if you’re traveling for a long time — you’re not going to have the room (or the funds) to do this. Even doubling the quantity of items you’re willing to buy from one to two can drastically lower your seller’s starting price point.

Except for in strange cases, the majority of these types of retailers have huge stockpiles of goods on hand, bounties they likely obtained for pennies on the dollar. As such, you have to understand a second point of sales psychology: Selling is sometimes a matter of shedding inventory rather than capitalizing on it. If you’re willing to help clear out the old and make way for the new, most sellers will be willing to accept your price.

The Bottom Line

Bargaining is not scary; it’s not difficult; and it doesn’t have to be stressful. Contrary to what you might currently believe, the buyer, not the seller, is the one with all the power. You choose which price you want to pay; if the other party doesn’t agree, you don’t pay it.

Most importantly, remember that the vast majority of items aren’t one of a kind — the worst possible outcome of an unsuccessful bargaining attempt is having to find another seller and try again. Need more tips? Head on over to the BootsNAll Travel Network and check out Rich Feffer’s post, which describes specific strategies for finding your way around Latin America’s markets.


About The Author

is the author of 670 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell.

Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

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