Haggling is a way of life in many countries and is certainly a great part of the backpacker experience, but some travellers can go too far and take haggling to the extreme, which isn’t good for anyone. How do you know when and where to haggle on your gap year? And how do you know when to stop? Read on.
We’ve all seen them on our travels, those backpackers who brag about how cheaply they managed to get those tie dyed fisherman pants off the local market, who will argue vehemently over every last penny, baht or peso, no matter how small, and those who will go out of their way to squeeze every last bargained coin out of local vendors, despite the fact that they are getting whatever souvenir they are haggling for at a fraction of the price they would back home.
These cheapskate backpackers give us all a bad name. It isn’t right, and all they do is hurt the local economy, foster bad relations between backpacker and vendor and make it much harder for the next traveller to come along to bargain a fair price for both parties.
Don’t get me wrong, I know all to well the other side of the coin too. I know those vendors who will quadruple the price the second they see you are from a Western country and judge you by the cargo shorts and Chang beer singlet you are wearing. I’ve been on many of those markets where backpackers are seen as simple walking ATMs for the locals, and they will chase you halfway down the street and practice their already slick con game on you to get you to part with as much of your money as possible. I know all about the tourist tax and the rip offs and scams travellers face every time they see something they want to buy. I’ve seen so many travellers grow so weary of this they can get burned out by it. I’ve been a victim of that myself!
I know this is why real haggling is absolutely essential on your gap year. No one likes to be ripped off at the end of the day.
But that works both ways too.
You want to get a fair price for that souvenir you are buying, but so does the vendor. There is a balance, and that balance is reaching a fair price where both you and the vendor are happy with the price. You get a good bargain for something you want, and they get a little profit.
In fact, when it is done right haggling can be a hell of a lot of fun. It is a game of back and forth with some of the best haggling sessions turning into a scene from the local amateur dramatic society, and done right, both parties win. Haggling can and should be a positive thing, and is a part of the backpacking experience that you should enjoy.
If you have haggled the vendor down to somewhere between half and two thirds of what they originally quoted, to what is essentially a fair price for both of you, and you are still arguing over that last baht or rupee, especially if one or both of you are starting to get aggravated, it’s time to stop. You are going too far.
Now a good dose of common sense is needed here too. Shop around before you haggle for anything so you know roughly what a fair price is. Don’t accept a price that is ridiculously high, but don’t expect them to settle on one that is ridiculously low either. Remember that the difference in what you are haggling over may literally be pennies in your home country.
Remember too that by shopping at local markets (tourist markets are not counted in this definition), you are supporting the local economy too. This is someones livelihood, and if you are being too cheap you are undermining their business and making their lives a little harder. By having the right attitude about haggling and not sweating over every last penny, you are ensuring that independent gap year travel has a positive, responsible impact on the local communities that you are visiting.
So by all means haggle away, but don’t sweat the small stuff! Remember to keep things in perspective. Get a price that is reasonable for both parties involved and will leave you both happy and parting with a friendly handshake.
Most of all enjoy haggling! It is supposed to be fun!
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