In my experience, the best part of international travel isn’t the stunning natural vistas, amazing historical sites, or incredible food. It’s the people. Spending time with the locals is both fun and broadening. Sharing a conversation or laugh with residents of your vacation destination brings their culture to life while reminding us how much we human beings have in common, regardless of where we call home.
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the community is by shopping in the local markets and stores. In many parts of the world, bargaining comes standard with every purchase. Haggling, when done properly, offers you a chance to learn about the culture while, perhaps, getting a great price on the perfect souvenir.
Here are some tips for making the most of your trip to the bazaar:
Be nice, be sociable. Take a slow and easy approach to your interaction with shopkeepers. Try to build a connection before you start beating them up over the price of that oversized sombrero. Ask the clerk or owner questions about their business, and life. Share a bit about yourself. If you know some of the local language, use it.
Be informed. Take a spin around the marketplace before you begin a negotiation. The ring or dress you covet may be available at several stalls, at widely varying prices. Use that information when you start negotiating with a seller.
When an item catches your eye, be sure to ask the merchant if it carries a price tag. Tps If the seller has set prices for his merchandise, you might offend her by haggling. On the flipside, if you don’t ask the price, you might unknowingly make an opening bid that’s higher than what the seller would accept.
Bonus tip: Do some research on your target marketplace. The best deals may be available during typically slow times of day, or near the end of tourist seasons. (The latter is absolutely true in Alaska, for example.
Be discreet. Never tell the shopkeeper how much you are willing to pay, no matter how many times he asks. Your opening offer should be no more than 30% of what you’d actually pay for the piece. The idea is to negotiate up to your price range, not down to it. That lowball opening bid will give you room to maneuver on the way to getting your ideal price.
Be ready to walk. The key to winning a negotiation is to care about getting what you want – but not too much, according to legendary negotiator Herb Cohen. This is an iron law of the bazaar or marketplace. You must be ready to walk away if the merchant doesn’t meet your price. That doesn’t mean you must go home without that hand tooled leather purse. On the contrary, walking away might force the seller’s hand, or send you in the direction of a shopkeeper willing to sell the same piece at your price.
Regardless of how many bargains you score, a stronger sense of connection to humanity is the best thing you’ll take home from a day of travel shopping. You can’t put a price on that.