A local travel experience includes negotiating like a local!

Article by WTN? Team member Costa

If you want to spend like a local, you’d better start negotiating like one!

After spending 3 months in Vietnam, I’ve encountered way too many travellers that share the same ignorant way of thinking: “I am on vacation, so why bother negotiating? I pay whatever they ask me and continue on my journey without worrying about it.” If you recognise yourself in this sentiment, you are one more person contributing to the on-going cycle of tourists getting screwed out of their money, no vaseline.

Every time you accept the demanded price without negotiating, you are encouraging the locals to think that foreigners are walking ATM machines and are willing to pay three to four times the normal rate. Let me put it into perspective. You might think that paying $3 for your meal is cheap compared to ($10 +) back home, but this is where things get interesting. Thinking that way is wrong for many reasons. In Vietnam for example, the on-going average salary is 6 million VND (around $260 USD) per month. Do you think locals can afford paying $3 for one meal? If you want to travel smart, better get in a local mindset, find out what the locals are paid on a monthly basis and you will be able to have a better approach when it’s time to pay for things.

If you tend to travel between one or two weeks at a time, saving a dollar here and there might not seem like much. If your reasoning for this is that you’re helping the local economy, then make sure that you’re only accepting higher prices from locals who are visibly in need and not in bustling businesses that bump up the prices as soon as they see that you’re a foreigner. From my experience after having travelled to over 30 countries, the lower class is always more honest and fair with the prices, regardless if you’re a tourist or a local. Businesses targeting tourists such as hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, tour agencies or bars, will always increase the price when they see that you’re not from their respective country.

 For tourists spending many weeks or even months abroad, getting overcharged on a daily basis amounts to huge sums in the long run, whereas people who visit for a week or two may not notice it.

For tourists spending many weeks or even months abroad, getting overcharged on a daily basis amounts to huge sums in the long run, whereas people who visit for a week or two may not notice it.

There is absolutely no shame in turning down the first price asked and lowering it to something a local would pay. If you have no idea how to negotiate, I’ll give you a simple tip that can get you very far: go to a shop, for example a restaurant, and observe a local ordering and paying. You can then proceed the same way, order the same thing and pay the same thing or use it to have a better idea of the on-going price for the goods you’re purchasing!

After reading this, you might still want to take the easy way out during your next vacation by not negotiating because you don’t care but hey, it’s your choice. I don’t negotiate because I’m cheap, I negotiate because I know the real value of things. It’s more about the principle of knowing that you are getting things at the correct price. Travel like a local and you get an authentic experience- but in order to achieve that, you need to change your mentality. Think like a local, spend like a local and travel while applying local customs, especially negotiation!

Negotiating

If you have any tips, advice, or travel stories on negotiation, leave a comment below! We would love to hear from you.

77 Comments
  1. The person who doesn’t fear loss has the most power.
    The person with the most options has the most power.

    If you remember these two concepts when shopping, you will have massive amounts of financial success.

    I went shopping at a market with my dad in Beijing and showed me a cool little trick that gets you the best price possible: show interest, tell them YOUR price, mention competitors, be firm with your final offer, and WALK AWAY. They will literally chase you saying “OK OK I’ll give it to you”. The first time I saw this happen in person, I was like “oh my god, it works”.

    If you have a knowledge of what things cost on a wholesale or variable cost level (AKA how much it costs to make with materials/time), and a knowledge of what the competition offers, you can use these two pieces of information to your advantage when you counter with a price. It’s best to make your first counter offer extremely low so you leave room for the seller to meet in the middle (aiming for a 50% off at least).

    ALL small businesses in Asia or stores run by asians EXPECT bargaining to happen…. if you don’t do it… you’re making it too easy and you’re actually missing out on some fun associated with shopping in Asia.

    To me, bargaining is pretty fun – I get a few laughs at it, and most of the time, I walk away with a great deal.

    1. Thanks for the comment Elton, and nicely put! Yes, having a good idea of an item’s actual worth is a great starting point. Without it, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why we suggest observing other shoppers to get an idea. When you implement those steps and see them work for the first time, especially if you come from a country where bargaining isn’t done, it really opens you eyes. And as you say, it can be a lot of fun! Without negotiating you miss out on learning about a big part of the culture’s mindset, and therefore travel experience! Thanks again for the read!

    1. Negotiating is an art! There is a lot to learn and the best way to do it is on the field, practice, practice and more practice!!

  2. This is a great tips when travelling. I don’t usually buy from vendors that doesn’t put their price up and tried to avoid buying at touristic places.

    1. That’s a very good initiative! I dislike the feeling of getting ripped off, especially when they laugh in your face and take you for a fool!

  3. I am such a poor negotiator. I know the value in items and what not to pay, but feel a little intimidated by the process. But I haven’t really been in a situation where negotiating is needed. I will have to get braver though.

    1. It’s a psychology game, a lot of times, being firm and walking away if they refuse to lower the price does the trick. Whoever gives in first at this mental game is basically the person overpaying! And wow, surprising that you didn’t have to negotiate yet, where have you been?!!

  4. Thanks for the tips. I think that I need to haggle/negotiate on price more and after reading this post it makes sense to challenge the sellers especially while abroad.

    1. You’re very welcome! Nobody should be ashamed of negotiating! It’s part of Asian culture to start with a high price and its your duty as a buyer to settle down for something reasonable! Cheers

    1. It really is a cultural matter; some people learn it when they’re young, while other have to adapt! 🙂

  5. I don’t travel for long periods of time, but this was certainly eye opening! I’ve definitely been that person that thinks “Huh, that seems kind of expensive” when going to a restaurant in another country, but I just accepted it because I was a tourist. You’ve definitely made me think about how I may do things differently next time I travel abroad!

    1. I’m glad I opened your eyes! Sometimes we tend to forget where we are and the true value of things! Put yourself in the shoes of the local and think if he would pay that! It’s as simple as that!

  6. Such a great point! It’s always nice to save on vacation and it’s sometimes forgotten when being a tourist. I think it’s absolutely awesome that you negotiate for what you know the worth of.

    1. Definitely, by saving on the smaller things, it will add up eventually. With those new funds, you can treat yourself to a good restaurant, spa or a special activity, why not? It’s always important to think of the bigger picture! Negotiation skills are very underrated!

  7. Another tip I’ve found while traveling, was to learn in the local language, “I’m a local”. When hagglers or beggars try to bully money out of me, I just say I’m a local, and that usually makes them back away quickly.

    1. That’s a really good point, Emi! If the vendors know that there’s a possibility that you’ll be back, whether that means to follow up on the quality of something they’re making for you, or just to eat at their establishment again, they’ll be more inclined to give you a fair price.

    1. It’s something that you have to learn, especially if it’s not already part of your culture. In North America for example, it’s generally seen as rude if you try to bargain. Glad you found this interesting, and thanks for the feedback!

  8. Interesting post. I guess the way I look at it is unless I think it is an obvious rip off I probably won’t be haggling on vacation. When I go to the mall I don’t haggle I pay what’s on the item tag or look for something that is on sale already without asking employees for a deal. The people in these other countries work a lot harder for a lot less and I don’t mind spending the money if it helps them out and it doesn’t break my bank.

    1. Haggling on vacation or not, is a mindset, a way of living. At the mall or at the market, it’s exactly the same, you either agree the price asked or you asked for a discount. In both situations, you can get a negative answer but you won’t know until you’ve tried! I work as hard to get the money in order to travel and I choose to spend it smartly and not throw it away. I respect that you’re being abroad and trying to help others, but there are many other ways to help, volunteering being the first one. Giving extra money to vendors will only reinforce their social status, in most countries, you only have two social classes, poor or rich and jumping from one to the other is extremely hard if not impossible. It’s a safe bet that someone who owns a store and deals with tourists is already doing pretty well for himself.

    1. We’re glad we could show you a different perspective while travelling. So many people don’t think of negotiation as a priority.

  9. Travel experience with negotiation with locals is Impressive and helpful for me as I’m not that much good in negotiations.

    1. Happy to help! Negotiation is a skill, and practice makes perfect 🙂 But it’s always nice to have some tips on where to start!

  10. I agree to your idea that foreigners are giving locals the impression that they are walking ATM Machine.. And haggling, for the heck of it, is part of every travel activity here in the Philippines.

    1. Haggling isn’t a part of most Western cultures, so not everyone knows that they should adapt! But it’s so important to do as the locals do. When in Rome… 😉

  11. Totally agree! It’s really out of principle, also you feel much more like a tourist when you know you’re being cheated. Locals negotiate, why shouldn’t you? Man, I got ripped off once in Vietnam actually, trying to buy grapes. I gave the woman the money, definitely a significant amount more than the grapes were, and she had told me I had not given her the money. None of my friends saw, and next thing you know we were both yelling at each other. Obviously I didn’t understand what she was saying. Anyway she was a b**** and the people around her knew this was gonna happen, they gave one of my friends a suggestive comment while we were arguing. Live and you learn right! 🙂

    1. Always try to have a witness if possible but that’s not necessary! In that situation, use a calculator, pass it back and forth until you agree on a price and its clearly marked, no one can change their mind once its set stoned! It happened to you in Vietnam but it could had been any country in the world, language is an important barrier! Take it as a valuable lesson! You learned and won’t repeat the mistake in the future!

  12. This is same case with other Asian countries. Vendors tend to give a really high price for tourist. First, check the quality of the product and estimate a value before asking the price, then you would know how you should bargain. I would normally bargain 75% off the given price so that there is a big chance we would agree on 50% of the price. Sometimes, walking out helps you get the price you want 😉

    1. It’s valid all around the world, not only Asia haha! bargaining is a very useful skill and it takes years to perfect it! I negotiated items from 20 to 200% 😛 , a lot of vendors, especially Chinese focus on selling quantity, they will sell close to the cost of producing!

  13. Hey! Cool post, I didn’t know that was the average salary in Vietnam. I usually do haggle but sometimes I feel a bit mean – an extra few pounds often means more to them than me so I don’t mind spending if it means helping them out a bit. 🙂 I think it always depends on the situation for me. Great post xxx

    1. Once you know some factors and you are well informed, it changes the perspective you have on negotiating! A few pounds more from you, a few pounds more from another person and the merchant will only get greedier on the long run! It will make it very difficult if not impossible for others to haggle if he gets used to charging more! Glad you liked it 🙂

  14. I totally agree with you that the lower class is more honest and fair with prices.I love this part the most
    ”I dont negotiate because i’m cheap.I negotiate because I know the real value of things.”I hope we all learn from this post.Cos I just learnt mine.

    1. Glad you could relate, Jessica! Knowing the value of your money as well as the things you’re purchasing is so important.

  15. Great points! Not negotiating doesn’t help other tourists… I’ve also found that the working class are more honest in general.

    1. The poorer the people in general, the more honest they are! I find that negotiating things sets everyone with the right mindset!

  16. I’m not a big traveler (due to $$$), but this is a good point. When I was in Central America for work, negotiation was part of the fun of it. Haggling with locals over prices not only allows you to save a few bucks, but creates a lasting experience for you. To pay $5 for a t-shirt may not seem like a lot, but you’ll soon forget that whole encounter in the years to come. But think if you interacted with the locals as other locals do, you create a memory that’s long-lasting. Plus, as is mentioned, you help save face for the rest of us so when we come to visit, we don’t get overcharged too much lol

    1. Definetely! Negotiating can be a full time job! You will truly feel accomplished once you settled on a fair price , knowing you work hard and earned it!Interaction with the locals is the key! And knowing the language helps, captain obvious strikes agaiN!

    1. That is the wrong mindset unfortunately! You can always and i mean ALWAYS obtain local prices if you know how to approach the merchant!

  17. I didn’t think of it this way, but you raised good points. I will definitely try to bargain when I travel to other countries. Thanks for sharing!

  18. So many people get fooled bc they don’t know how to negotiate or don’t negotiate at all. Thank fully i’m a master negotiator😁

    Love Always,

    Zineb

  19. Great tips! It is correct that the easy way out is not to negotiate. As you said, the small extras accumulate. Negotiation is sometimes stressful though.

  20. Lovely article, negotiating is never an easy task but once you make it part of your lifestyle, everything is suddenly so much cheaper!

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