Is that your final offer: The art of bartering abroad

Is that your final offer: The art of bartering abroad Markets Abroad by vtveen

This article was written by Arthur Reagan, published on 29th November 2010 and has been read 7421 times.

Travelling around South East Asia gave me the chance to see some of the finest beaches, I quickly noticed that although I got a good deal on my flight and accommodation (£500 all inclusive), I was not getting the most out of my money in terms of pricing for foreigners. Bartering was a sport I hadn’t really got to grips with, in the UK. Sure, I’d been travelling to Africa and the States in the past, but here, it was a different story. At first, unaware of the real cost of things, I gladly coughed up the few đồngs, thinking I was onto a bargain.
However, I soon realised there was a way to get essentials and souvenirs at a much cheaper price - no, not getting some form of balaclava around your face - I’m talking bartering. Not the easiest of things to do, especially if you’re from a culture where you pay the price advertised. But it can be a lot of fun, and if done properly, you and the seller will get a laugh out of it at least! Here are my top tips for bartering (special thanks to Susie and Lou, as well as Marc in Peru):

1) Do your research
Go round the markets quite a few times, asking for the price of your chosen item to make sure you aren’t too far off the mark when it comes to closing the deal. Most of the time, people get ripped off purely because they don’t know the going rate of souvenirs/memorabilia. Do your homework!

2) Look disinterested
One of the best tricks of the trade is to look disinterested when browsing the seller’s goods - ask for many items’ prices, not just the apple of your eye. That way, you can get an idea of the merchant’s pricing, and know whether you’re getting a good price for each item. You can even start to walk away - usually, vendors lower the price as they see their buyers walk off.

3) Get a discount
By buying lots of pieces, sellers usually agree to a discount. If you don’t fancy buying the whole shop and travelling back with everything but the kitchen sink, try and find a discount sidekick - a group of friends interested in buying some bits and bobs for family back home should do the trick. You could also try and wring a discount if the goods looks a little faulty/damaged, though don’t get too cocky or you might end up insulting the seller!

4) Make it fun
Which brings us onto my next point. Some of the best discounts I’ve been offered were because I managed to joke and muck about with the street sellers. If you show them you’ve got a sense of humour and use your charm (whether you speak the language or not), you’re more likely to get a bit of the price knocked off. Speaking with other friends who regularly barter, most agree with my opinion that it’s a lot like flirting - you need to seduce the vendor into giving you the item for a lower price, thanks to your honey-scented words!

5) Give yourself a limit
When you first come across a cool market, with loads of new and exciting things, you can get a little carried away...I know I did, after having spent about 20 quid on trousers, shirts, T-shirts and local produce. Make sure you bring a limited amount of money, preferably in smaller notes, and keep a larger sum in one pocket, with smaller notes in the other. It’s a great way of showing some charlatans who may try and wriggle more money out of you that you don’t actually have. It can also stop you from impulse buying - whatever item you’re after, give yourself at least half an hour thinking time before going back to it, to make sure it’s something you really want.

6) Picking out the cream of the crop
If you’re on your year abroad and it’s a local market, it makes things a lot easier as you’ll know what typical and what’s tat. If you’re travelling through, things can get a little harder, as you might fancy buying something that, on second glance back home, isn’t exactly as folkloric as you once thought! Walk around and get a feel for what’s on offer, and you’re more likely to get something truly worth buying. 

7) When thou shall not barter
Though you may get bitten by the bartering bug, sometimes it’s best to leave your silver tongue back where it belongs and accept the asking price. Some people feel it’s fair if the goods are straight from the craftsmen, though according to experts, this is when you may get the best deals, as there are limited overheads. Trust your instincts. If the vendor isn’t willing to lower the price, and you feel you really must have that bobble hat, quickly convert the price back into your home currency and decide whether you can put up with handing over your cash. 

And finally...Make sure you have enough space in your luggage to bring it all back with you!

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