"I'm a local!" the girl yelled, waving her ceramics in the air. "I get the local price!"
The vendor just stared at her. "It's 12 rials for three bowls. That's the price."
"It's 10! I'm paying 10 rials!"
I witnessed this exchange recently in Muscat, in Oman. A Kiwi tourist was attempting to pick up a few bargains in Muttrah Souq, the city's ancient marketplace, and was failing miserably. For the record, yelling at the vendor and trying to convince them you're a local and you deserve a certain price is not your ticket to a cheap souvenir. She paid 12 rials.
That attempt at haggling did get me thinking, however, about the various ways travellers get themselves ripped off while they're trying to shop overseas. If you've done any of the following, then there's a good chance you paid too much.
As evidenced by my Kiwi friend at Muttrah Souq, getting mad when you're haggling gets you nowhere. Yelling at people, becoming frustrated or getting obviously upset won't persuade a vendor to give you a better price or agree to something he or she isn't happy with. If anything, it will make them dig their heels in. To get the best price when you're in a foreign market, stay calm, and keep smiling.
The opposite to getting upset over the haggling experience is to just decide not to do it at all. You can see why people would do this: haggling is a hassle, it's a cultural quirk most Westerners are not comfortable with. The easiest way to avoid it is just to tap out. Pay the first price you're offered. You end up paying a lot more than you should, but it's also a lot easier.
Only shop at fixed-price stores
Another way to avoid haggling is to insist on only shopping at stores with fixed prices. This is the easy option, of course, but you also need to bear in mind that these shops, with their high comfort levels and minimal hassle, will inevitably be more expensive than the open-air markets just down the road.
Shop close to major attractions
If you're in Pisa, you don't go shopping for souvenirs right near the Leaning Tower. Same goes for the Colosseum in Rome, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Statue of Liberty in NYC, and pretty much any major attraction around the world. If you do your shopping in the immediate vicinity, you will definitely pay more than you should.
Don't do any research
It doesn't matter if haggling is a thing in the country you're travelling to or not. If you don't do some research and have a general idea of how much things should cost, then you're going to get ripped off. You'll pay too much for clothes, for souvenirs, for food, for taxis… for everything, really. Knowledge is power.
I'm a pretty terrible haggler, mostly because I tend to feel bad about taking advantage of people in developing countries and swindling them out of what for me is only a small amount, but for them it could be far more significant. And it's not a bad thing to feel that way. However, it is worth bearing in mind that a vendor is never going to sell something to you at a loss, or at a price they're not satisfied with. And that they're far better at this than you.
Believe the hype
Vendors the world over love doing that trick of running the flame from a cigarette lighter across anything that's supposed to be made of leather or silk. That's a legitimate test – though at the speed many vendors whip the flame across their dodgy products, you can never really tell the difference. The key to good bargain-hunting is not to believe everything you're told.
Be too obvious
Say you walk into a store and finally, after days of hunting around, you spy the exact thing you've been looking for. Don't, whatever you do, then whoop with joy and run over and pick it up and declare you have to have it. That's your ticket to paying far too much. It's better to play it cool, to check out other items before eventually showing that maybe you'd settle for that one thing over there, if you get the right price…
Get your heart set
Another mistake is to spot that thing you've really been wanting and to get your heart set on buying it. If you really want it that badly there's far more chance you'll pay too much for it. Better to be relaxed about the whole affair.
Buy all the small things
It's tempting to buy lots of little nick-knacks as you travel, to spend in small increments without even thinking too much about it. If you do that though, you'll end up splashing out far more than you would on, say, just one beautiful, memorable, expensive souvenir – and you'll also end up with a house full of tacky crap you don't need.
Rely on duty-free
Don't leave your souvenir shopping to the last minute, relying on duty-free shops at the airport to get what you need. Even without tax being charged you'll pay far more than you would from the local salespeople in the small shops and markets you've already visited around the country. Plus, it's better to give your money directly to people who appreciate it.
Have you been ripped off while shopping overseas? What are your techniques for getting the best price?
See also: 11 mistakes first-time travellers make
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