Don’t Let Bargaining Ruin Your Trip

fruit market bargaining

Today’s guest post is by Greg Kamphuis.

“I had fun, but I got tired of everyone trying to rip me off.”

bargaining during travelIt is surprising how draining it can be to have to bargain for everything. By the end of my first trip I dreaded every time I had to go buy a mango, jump in a taxi, or buy a souvenir. After a while, I even started walking everywhere I could and eating only at places that had a posted menu.

I began second guessing every purchase I made, getting angry with vendors in my head. I would try to bargain but then they would look angry with me. The mental game was exhausting.

This happens to lots of people. I can’t tell you the amount of travelers who have let getting overcharged for a trinket color their view of an entire culture, slowly the little old lady in the banana stand becomes a thief and you become a walking wallet.

The solution to this problem is deceptively simple: just decide beforehand what you are willing to pay.

If you haven’t traveled much, you won’t know how much is normal, but that isn’t important. The important part is how much it is worth to you.

fruit market bargainingThat is the point of bargaining after all, to see how much each party is willing to trade. If you think about it, it is actually a lot fairer than a set price. Is it really fair that you can travel to their country but they can’t travel to yours just because your currency is worth more?

It is a bit hard to wrap your head around when you come from a country that thinks of fair as equal. Our minds immediately think we are getting ripped off, but if you take a look around, it is not just you who is bargaining. Locals have to bargain too.

This is not an evil ploy to take travelers’ money, this is just part of the culture. This is that magical thing that you are looking to experience when you come traveling, a whole different perspective on life.

In this culture, fair equals each party getting what they want. Fair is relative, and when you bargain it is about what you are willing to pay for that thing.

If you approach bargaining this way you can’t possibly get ripped off. You think, I would pay 50 cents for a mango shake right now, you go and ask how much it is and they say, “60 cents”. You say “oh, sorry I only want to pay 50 cents,” and you move along.

Here is where two tips about bargaining will come in handy.

The first is that people who bargain for their livelihood are good at bargaining. The majority will give you a sour or angry look. Nine times out of ten this is a bargaining technique because they don’t speak English, don’t feel bad.

The second is do not get upset. This is probably the most overstated bargaining tip out there, but for good reason. If you get upset, you are doing it wrong. Imagine a local getting all grumpy every time he or she went to the market, their life would be terrible.

I generally use how much I would pay for a thing at home as my max price. Ideally I would like to get things for marginally more than a local would pay. I throw out a price and if they come back with a price that is higher than my max price, I don’t even bargain, I say sorry no thanks, and walk away.

That is my strategy, you need to come up with one that works for you and gets you a price that you can be happy with!

Note: I strongly encourage people to shop at the local markets and food stands. The majority of supermarkets and touristy restaurants are owned by foreigners, meaning that less of your dollars make it to the local people. Worst come to worse, check out the supermarkets to get an idea for local prices then go try your hand at bargaining, you’ll find that it can be fun outside your comfort zone.

Greg Kamphuis is currently living in Cambodia. He recently quit his job in Canada to give himself a year to build the Buy Better Mall ( , a tool for finding sustainable businesses to shop from. Check out Buy Better Mall on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Let Bargaining Ruin Your Trip

  1. I love to bargain (learnt it from my mom who’s an expert on it) but I now would tend to pay the quoted price especially if it’s coming from a street vendor. Sure, 10 cents is not much of a difference to you and me but it could be worth a meal to them.

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