The Art of Haggling

You’ve found the cheapest flights. Booked the budget bed. Google Mapped the best value munch. So that’s it, you’re a bona fide Budgeteer, defending your bottom dollar as you duck under foreign borders. But can you haggle?

The term “haggle” comes from hoggva, which is Old Norse for “chop”. It sounds terribly brutal, but ask any hardened traveller and they’ll tell you it’s an art. Like ballet.

Unlike ballet, haggling is an integral and accepted part of most cultures. And let’s face it, as a visitor feeling your way through a new destination, it can be a great way to reveal the signals and body signals, which make a country’s people tick.

Those knowing nods, winks and smiles. The level of eye contact. The intensity and respect of eking out a deal. You learn the lines, of where to cross, or hold, or retreat. Through a market seller’s eyes, it’s possible to feel his country’s heart.

Going for broke ...

image courtesy of t3rmin4t0r

So here we go, chop chop, let’s get you clued up on the wondrous ways of the haggler, and best of all… save you some money!

Top 10 Haggling Tips


  1. Do your research
    Swagger into the Haggle Arena blind, and you’ll take a few unexpected blows. That’s all I’m saying. If you know what you want, then spend a moment to discover what you want to pay for it.
  2. Haggle o’clock
    Contrary to common belief, the perfect time to haggle is not with a back-up crew of forty friends. Keep it discrete; the fewer people who witness a seller drop their price the better. If you’re bartering for perishables, such as fruit, head to the stalls towards the end of the day.
  3. Set a (secret) limit
    Pick a price, any price. Don’t let me see it. Now, is it £30? No. Maybe £88? Nope. £2.50? You’ll soon reap the benefits of keeping your cards close to your chest; revealing your hand too early is akin to dripping honey on a bear’s beak. They won’t let go.
  4. Talk. Smile. Talk
    Have you ever tried smiling and talking at the same time? It’s a curiously happy-happy-la-la experience. Your horns retract, your fangs retreat, and your eyes become veritable rounds of happiness. Take this tactic to the trade-off, and avoid being banished for bad vibes.
  5. Own the silence
    You talk. They talk. You talk. They go silent. “Ohmigod! He hates me! He’s thinking I’m an awful person and he’s going to tell my mum! I’m sorry… here, take my money. Take all of it!” Woah. Woah. Woah. Hold back, soldier, don’t be tempted into No Man’s Land. Own the silence.
  6. Patience. Confidence.
    Be the deal, be the deal. I’m not saying you should eyeball your reflection and beat your chest before storming down to the market. But, have a little word with yourself. Be confident, and take your time. You’re not brokering world peace, you’re probably buying a rug.
  7. Power up!
    Don’t be downbeat when your pleas for a saving falls on deaf ears. It could well be, that the kind-faced trader has had his margins cut so low that he’d be committing commercial kamikaze by selling at that price. Change tactic: how about if you bought two; or even three?
  8. Keep control
    The most successful dealers are so fast thinking that you’ll be tripping over your tongue before you’ve even considered the exchange rate. Blink, and you’ll be swept into a figure-of-four times the price you wanted to pay. Stay in control.
  9. Be prepared for “No!”
    When all is said and done, the entire showdown will come down to one of two of the world’s smallest words: yes, or no. You should be prepared to down the duel when it becomes clear that no, really does mean, no.
  10. Exit stage left
    On the flip side, perhaps you’ve changed your mind mid-gig? Have yourself an original excuse line, because believe me, the seller will have heard them all before and they will have well-rehearsed answers to them all. Be courteous, and swift.

And one for the road: discretion. While both may have downed shields, you’ve just completed a deal which is indubitably tailored to your individual wants and desires. Now, I’m not your boss, but to puff your chest out and punch the air with a roar would be considered pretty bad form in most countries.

Just a simple shaking of hands — or the local equivalent — will suffice.

Do you feel empowered by this run down of the ancient art of haggling? What more would you like to add?