How to get the local price for anything while abroad

IMG_0041With the cash economy spread to every corner of the globe, it´s no hidden fact that travelers abroad are many times looked at more as breathing cash machines and less as curiosities from foreign lands. It´s not that people are necessarily looking to grab money from tourists, but rather that poverty incentivizes creative pricing where price tags are lacking. Those of us traveling on a budget for extended periods need to economize since we´re already putting a hefty bit of cash into the local economies of the places we visit, so let opportunists prey on the less saavy traveler. There are countless stories of visitors getting ripped of for many multiples of what the local resident would pay; these are the ways to avoid it.


Speak the language. At least a little bit, including numbers, will allow you to avoid "misunderstandings" in pricing. Flashing numbers on hands is an immediate signal to the merchant that you are ripe for monerary exploitation. If you´ve got a little bit of the language down, then the seller is more likely to assume you´ve been around the place at least enough to know general pricing.

Review the guidebooks. At their worst, guidebooks funnel tourists into cookie cutter travel experiences. At their best, they provide excellent recommendations with condensed information on local customs that can elucidate the nuances of buyer-seller relations. The writers of the guidebooks have probably been ripped off during their research, and it´s their job to tell you how it happened and how to avoid it. A little cultural education and scam awareness can be worth whole lot in saved money. If you´re not into carrying guidebooks (like me) but still value the information, stay in a traveler hostel recommended on Wikitravel or a hostel reservation site; they usually have Lonely Planet or similar guidebooks on hand that you can take notes from before taking off.

Recruit someone from the area. If you´ve got a local friend, it´s best to at least ask what the price should be before buying. Ideally, go shopping along with them have them ask the price for you. If this isn´t possible, and you´re making a big purchase, offering a small tip to a local resident to ask for you wouldn´t be a bad idea.

Don´t be in a rush. Sellers can easily make out a flustered tourist, and prices tend to rise in direct proportion to how out of sorts you are. Even if you are rushed, try to hide it.

Have a character. Pick one: be either cheerful or downtrodden upon approach. Being cheerful with a smile evokes feelings of friendship, and it´s hard to rip off a friend after a bout of small talk. Appearing downtrodder evokes feelings of sympathy, and no one has the heart to kick someone while they´re down. In any case, it allows you to reveal you are traveling on a budget and looking for a deal. Don´t look like you are really excited to buy (which you might be), nor that you are suspicious of the vendor´s honesty (which you should be).

Act surprised at the first price given. This obviously requires a bit of quick decision making, but if the price seems high give a quick frown and glance around at other vendors. Depending on how high the price is boosted, the vendor will quickly lower the price without you even making a counter offer. Still not at the local price, but we´re getting there. This needs discretion, since acting incredulous in response to a reasonable price can be rude. At the very least, act pensive. Keep a smile on your face.

Ask for a more economical/cheaper option. Sellers tend to initially offer their most expensive variety of a given good to the perceived wealthy foreigner, and this simple request can drop the price dramatically.

Ask what the local price is. This requires a bit of language dexterity. After the above, and with a cheerful smile on your face, ask, "But what is the X price?", where X is the name for a local resident (ex: Someone from Lima, Peru is called a limeño). The price won´t immediately lower, and the seller will probably affirm that they are citing the local price, but it psychologically warms them up to barter as if you were from the area.

Comparison shop and cite other vendors´prices. If it´s a fairly costly purchase (and even if it´s not), you´d do well to shop around. This is often facilitated in market areas since stores are often grouped thematically (i.e. electronics, household supplies, hardware, etc.). Go to a few different vendors and don´t be afraid to cite the price from others if it´s lower. This works two fold: First, you appear like you know what you are doing. Second, other vendors might have an eye on you and see that you are shopping around, making it more likely they give you a fair price on the outset.

Offer a price like you mean it. Pick a number at a locally acceptable percentage below the offer, and say it like it´s the actual price. If you mumble it with the intonation of a question, this indicates you have no confidence in what you want to pay and the vendor will hardly budge. You have to act like you know what you are doing.

Get a bundle discount. If you´re buying multiple things, make sure to mention it and request a lower price for your generous patronage.

Remember, bartering is far more than just offering a lower price than that offered and meeting somewhere in between. It is a psychological game where your very appearance is enough to boost the price, and sometimes you have to think outside the box. And and in the event you feel like you are taken for a bit more than the normal price, don´t sweat it. Likely that little bit extra means a lot more the person you are buying from than what it meant to you. Often purchases are small and not worth all these steps, so pick and choose the best for the circumstances.

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0 #1 Rosalyn Harvey 2010-02-17 02:18
Love it :) brings me back to Lake Patzcuaro/Janitizio when you were bargaining for those huaraches...that guy was a pretty tough bargainer though!
0 #2 Scott L. 2010-03-09 00:16
This is almost exactly the method I use when negotiating with scalpers here in Ann Arbor.

I guess that prick Tom Friedman was right...

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