How to Haggle Overseas

Haggling is still a way of life in many counties around the world. If you are new the to concept outside of purchasing a car or going to the local swap-meet and want to be prepared for the lively and sometimes overwhelming wild west of open markets you will confront abroad, have a look at the tips below.

1. Don’t get visibly excited. When you find something you like, get a solid poker face on and be ready to bluff your way to a good price. If your face lights up and give off the “Oh my god this is perfect” vibe, you will likely get an even higher markup from the vendor, as they know you really want the item.

2. Decide how much its worth to you. How much are you willing to spend on the item? If you don’t set a limit in your mind, the item may remind you of the high price you paid as opposed to the cultural memento it should remind you of.

3. Allow the vendor to give you a price. I typically cut that price by 1/3 to 1/2 of the asking price and work my way up from there. This cannot be a set rule as all counties and vendors are different. It typically depends on how much im willing to spend.

4. If you are not happy with the price, feel free to start walking away.  Often, they will bring the price down further. If not, you may have brought them down as low as they’ll go. There is no shame in walking right back to the vendor to make your purchase. The vendor has their tactics and we have ours.

More often than not, there is another store or market vendor near the one you are at which is selling a similar or the same item you are bargaining for. If you cant get the price you want, take a second to look around and compare prices. Its one of the greatest powers you have over the vendors.

Haggling is not about being a hard ass. It works for some, but I don’t recommend it. You are going to want to do haggle with a smile and try to connect with the vendor. This should be a fun experience. Maybe even learn how to say clever statements like, “you’re breaking my heart” in the native language. The vendor will likely get a kick out of it and laugh. If the vendor likes you, they will give you a better price than the person who says something like, “F%&$ that, ill give you $6”. The vendor would rather have fun at work, just like you when you’re at work. You don’t necessarily have to try to be their buddy, but try to be nice.

Also, if you are serious about your markets and want to make sure you are able to get the best price, leave the nice watch (which you shouldnt bring traveling with anyway) and designer clothes behind. If you reek of the big bucks, that’s what you’ll end up paying.

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How to keep you and your belongings safe while backpacking abroad

Keeping you and your belongings safe:

  • Don’t keep all your cash in one spot. Just in case you’re robbed, its best to have some backup cash in separate bag, shoe, or pocket.

  • Don’t walk around at night by yourself. Anywhere.

  • If you are robbed, don’t resist. Give them what they want and go your separate ways. Its not worth getting injured or killed.

  • Don’t leave your bags unattended. Not only could they get stolen, but if you’re traveling between destinations, there are cases where people have planted drugs in a tourists bag and use them as a drug mule until they transport the drugs to the destination without the traveler knowing.

  • Watch your drinks and never accept an opened drink from a stranger.

  • Don’t wear fancy jewelry, watches, or clothes. Yes, you will likely stick out as a traveler in the towns and cities you visit, but you don’t need to stick out more than necessary to thieves. I typically don’t travel with any material items i wouldn’t mind losing. This allows me to feel more relaxed when traveling.

  • Walk with a purpose. Walk like you have a specific destination in mind. Don’t give off the vibe that you’re lost. Thieves are attracted to people who look lost or confused.

  • Carry a money belt. Thieves know about money belts, so if you get robbed they will likely find it, but at least you won’t fall victim to pickpocketers. I don’t wear mine every day, but when I’m in cities, i feel more comfortable wearing mine.

  • Its always good to be cautious, but not to the point where you’re too afraid to walk out the door in the morning. Find your perfect medium between fun and safety and stick to it.

  • Be careful using your electronics. Here’s a few stories I’ve experienced:

    • I was in Laos a couple weeks ago (today’s date is 11/3/12)  and a girl fell asleep with her laptop on her stomach in the common area of our hostel. She woke up and someone had taken it right off her stomach.

    • Ipods are a popular item to steal. If you’re listening to your ipod in a bus or train, its a common occurrence for thieves to disconnect the headphones from the ipod, which is typically sitting on your lap. Make sure you keep it in your pocket if you think you may fall asleep.

    • One of the biggest internal debates i have on a daily basis is whether  to bring my camera with me when i leave the hostel. No fun losing a camera or getting it stolen, but you should document your trip. If you decide to take photos, be careful and keep a close eye on the people surrounding you. I was at Carnival in Brazil back in 2008. I was walking around with a group of friends with thousands of people around and one of my friends pulled her camera out to take a photo of the group. Just then, a guy came by grabbed the camera and ran down down an alleyway. Nothing we could do, but maybe not the best idea to pull out your camera with thousands of people partying in the middle of the night.

A lot of the time its just dumb luck when someone gets robbed. You’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t get stuck on the should have, would have thoughts if you do get your things stolen. It happens to the best of us and i promise you, your nerves will subside and you will still be able to enjoy the rest of your trip.

As a closing note, I’ve found I’m always a bit paranoid about my stuff for the first week of a trip and then my nerves calm down and I find my travel groove. I notice that keeping my stuff as safe as possible becomes a subconscious habit and it doesn’t take as much effort to stay safe. So, if you feel that same slight paranoia, give it time and let your nerves settle.

Uncommon packing list for backpacking abroad

Besides the usual t-shirts, socks, shoes list of things to bring that one should be able to put together for themselves, I have some uncommon items to consider for your trip.

  • Sham-wow or Quick-dry towel – Carrying a bath or beach towel, especially in humid and wet locations, can become big inconvenience. In Costa Rica, I was slinging it over my backpack, trying to let it dry out in time for my next shower or surf session. Drying off with a Sham-wow is perfect, as I can wring all the water out of it and put it back in its small plastic container.
  • First-aid kit – Band-aids, antibiotic ointment, butterfly bandages, tweezers, gauze and athletic tape.
  • Steripen – My previous post talk about the specifics of the UV pen, but its a great way to create clean drinking water and also keeps your waste level down as you wont be throwing away all those water bottles after every use. Also, good in emergency situations if you’re in the wilderness and need drinkable water.
  • Laundry Bag – Guard all your clean clothes by bringing a small laundry bag or plastic bag.
  • Rubber flip-flops – You do not want to take a shower in a shared bathroom without them. All the body fluids, dirt and foot fungus are waiting for a tender unsuspecting foot to stick to.
  • Pillow case – I don’t personally carry a pillow case, but i know a few people that are afraid of the cooties and other stains that frequent hostel pillow cases. Could help you from getting head-lice, which I’ve dealt with. It seems the headrests in buses are the culprit for the spread of head-lice.
  • Headlamp or flashlight – Even if you don’t plan to go on any late night walks, if you’re in a hostel dorm, you will definitely want a flashlight if you need to find something in your bag late at night. Your fellow roommates will appreciate it if you keep the main overhead light off if they’re sleeping.
  • Needle and Thread Kit – For rips in your bag and clothing or possibly for a bad wound away from civilization.
  • Anti-diarrhea pills – When you’ve had too much street food and you’ve been sitting on the toilet all night, it is no fun if you have to sit on a bus the next day without these. I have over the counter diarrhea pills and when I told my doctor I was going to South East Asia, he also gave me prescription pills.
  • Multivitamins & Vitamin C- I currently have a cold (10/01/12)  as I write this in Cat Ba, Vietnam.
  • Note Pad and Pens- Whether meeting someone on the street and you want to write down there email or the name of their hostel, to filling out boarder crossing paperwork, its great to have a pen and pad handy.
  • Copies of passport – In case its lost or stolen.
  • Electrical outlet converter
  • Depending on the country, you may want to get the local currency before you arrive. Also, look up the currency exchange rate, so you don’t get taken advantage of when you first arrive.

Feel free to add any items you’ve found helpful in your travels.