How to Successfully Barter Abroad

Picture this – you’re in a colourful, bustling marketplace full of exotic sights and smells. You are a traveller who is wandering through the market stalls trying to take it all in – suddenly, you spot the most amazing handmade item you have ever seen. You instantly know that it would be the perfect thing to bring home to commemorate your travels and you MUST have it. In your eager excitement, you pick it up and ask the merchant how much it costs. He tells you an amount in the local currency and once you do the conversion in your head you realize – this amazing item costs a small fortune.

What do you do?

Depending on where you are from, bartering may or may not be part of your typical purchase exchange. In North America, for example, it can be rare to go into a shop and start haggling with the storeowner. Usually, the price is whatever is posted and that’s the end of the story. But this is not the case in many places around the world.

What is Bartering?

Bartering used to mean the direct exchange of goods or services for other goods or services, without the use of money. For example, I will give you my cow for 3 of your goats. Today, bartering typically refers to the process of negotiating on the value to be exchanged for goods and services. Usually, money is involved. In the example above, you find an item at a market and you wish to negotiate the price of this item before buying. This is referred to as bartering. It is important to be aware that bartering can be a pleasant experience, in fact that is the goal. If you follow some key rules and if you are dealing with a merchant who also abides by these rules (most do), then you’ll have a memorable experience and hopefully some new treasures to bring home with you!

How to Barter Successfully: 3 Key Rules

I have had a lot of experience bartering abroad, and I have narrowed my experience down into three key rules for how to barter successfully:

  • Be Kind and Respectful: from the moment you begin to engage with the merchant or store owner, be sure to approach the situation with kindness and respect. Being overly aggressive or showing disrespect at any point during the exchange is not only going to hurt your chances of getting a deal, it also makes the exchange unnecessarily uncomfortable.
  • Know your Limit: One of the best strategies when you barter, is to decide on two things right at the beginning (i) how much are you willing to pay, and (ii) how much do you want to pay. The first one is the worst-case scenario: what is the highest you are willing to go. The second number is the best-case scenario: what would you ideally like to pay for this item (try to be reasonable about this – obviously $1 or Free is great but not realistic). This way when you begin to barter you know that as long as you get somewhere in between those two numbers, you are going to feel good about the purchase.
  • Be Genuine and Understand the Other Perspective: Although bartering is necessary and indeed expected in many places, be sure not to get yourself too caught up in the ‘game’. Bartering is supposed to be an enjoyable experience and the goal is definitely to haggle the price; however, it can be helpful when you get down to the final numbers to remember that in some cases the people you’re bartering with needs that extra $2 much more than you do.

Closing the Deal

Once you have decided on a number, I have found that there is often a respectful handshake and some light-hearted chit chat. If this happens, engage with the merchant. If the barter went smoothly and led to a sale then chances are both parties are happy. Tell them about your travels or compliment the country you’re visiting – it can go a long way to end the bartering exchange on a positive note!

In addition to being an exciting experience, bartering – believe it or not – can do some good in this world. Bartering often happens in small shops and marketplaces where the goods are typically made locally and your business can help support the local economy. Plus, buying local is better for the environment since it reduces emissions from not having to transport goods from other countries. So next time you’re travelling abroad, fine some treasures, barter with a big smile on your face, and buy local treasures. The planet and your wallet will thank you.

I want to hear from you!

Do you guys have any other tips and tricks for successful bartering? What about a particular experience that went really well, or not so well?


~ Earthly Traveller

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